Nancy McFaul is explaining just how a crumpet differs from other baked goods. "Bread dough is stiffest; when you form it into a ball, it holds its shape," she says, cupping her hands over the table to illustrate. "English muffin dough is more like pizza dough," she continues, turning her hands over; "it flops over. And crumpets are made from a yeasted batter." Which is what gives them their fluffy, tender, air-pocked texture, like a thick pancake.
The batter's precise composition is a trade secret at The Crumpet Shop, but McFaul does say it's just flour, water, yeast—and experience: "It's like making good pie dough," she says—a matter of practice and having just the right touch. And I do get to watch, early one Saturday morning, as a baker dips cupfuls of batter out of a big plastic tub and fills rows of crumpet-shaped metal ring molds, 50 or so, sitting on a hot griddle. Minutes later the baker flips them two by two ("We eyeball it," McFaul says, when asked how long baking takes), and when both sides are browned, removes them to a rack for cooling. Then she speedily pops the finished crumpets out of their rings and stacks them. When you order one at the Crumpet Shop, it gets a quick warm-up in the toaster and is ready for slathering with butter and any of several toppings both sweet and savory, from pesto to almond butter, honey to ricotta.
McFaul and her husband, Gary Lasater, have run this Pike Place Market institution for more than 31 years. The decision to specialize in crumpets was accidental: Lasater (a lifelong Seattleite) wanted to open a breakfast place, a friend suggested crumpets, and Lasater bought a commercial recipe. The place is still, as far as they know, the only cafe in the world where you can get crumpets made fresh on the premises. Neither McFaul nor Lasater is a drop English—a surprise, considering their shop emphasizes tea over coffee, sells jars of Marmite, and includes on the back wall a mural of scenes from Alice in Wonderland.
After the pair married and had two kids, the Crumpet Shop became a family concern. "I've been spilling jam on the floor since I was little," says son Rob, now old enough to manage the shop (when he's not performing with hip-hop band Verbatim). Daughter Allison, who has also put in time at the shop, is part of the Teatro ZinZanni troupe.
McFaul is the Crumpet Shop's day-to-day face, supervising a staff of a dozen or so full- and part-timers, while Lasater keeps the books and orders the teas from around the world. They also make their own tea and chai blends, and McFaul formulated the recipes for the scones ("no worries—they're not dry," says one of the many hand-lettered signs that cover the walls) and the Scottish groat bread they sell. Her interest in art and design gives her a creative outlet, too—one of her abstract figure paintings on the wall includes some of the same shades of blue, mauve, and lavender as the brightly colored streaks in her hair.
It's her customers in particular, McFaul says, who have kept her enthusiastic after all these years. Like a small-town pastor, she's watched customers grow up and bring in their own kids to become a new generation of crumpet lovers. She's also proud that the Crumpet Shop, with its lovingly handmade goods, was a pioneer in Seattle's conversion in recent decades into a foodie mecca: "Don't you think good food is always an inspiration to someone?" &mdash Gavin Borchert — 1503 First Ave. (Pike Place Market), 682-1598.