As I'm always reminded on nights when I've stayed at the office too late to eat out, Seattle's notably short on delivery options. At my home in Queen Anne, if I don't want pizza from Zeek's or Pagliacci's, I'm pretty much limited to second-rate Chinese, Indian or Thai.
Admittedly, I was spoiled by a service in Asheville, N.C., a small town where the logistics of home delivery are considerably simpler. Blue Ridge To Go, since renamed Gourmet Valet, offered delivery from dozens of top local restaurants: Within an hour of placing my online order, I could have a jerk chicken burrito, coffee-marinated ribeye or fennel sausage orecchiette at my doorstep.
So when I learned AmazonFresh had added restaurants to its lineup, I wondered if the new amenity might mark the return of my ordering-in glory days. But a trial run suggested start-ups such as Gourmet Valet thus far have little to fear should Amazon decide to expand its service beyond Seattle.
AmazonFresh's "Seattle Spotlight," which is folded into its standard grocery delivery site, currently features 38 restaurants, bakeries and specialty stores. Sweets are especially well-represented on the roster, with Trophy Cupcakes, Top Pot, Theo Chocolate, A La Mode Pies and The Confectionery participating. But customers can also order up entrees from restaurants including Skillet, Samurai Noodle and Daniel's Broiler.
Because it's integrated into the AmazonFresh site, the Seattle Spotlight is exceptionally well-organized and easy to manipulate. Users can easily bounce from one purveyor to another, upping the quantities of bisques from Pike Place Chowder or striking a buffalo stew from Eat Local. But it's also subject to the site's standard scheduling, which means you can't jump on Amazon Fresh when you're craving a burger from Skillet and expect to see it before dawn the next day. Seattle Spotlight is a delivery service for very careful planners.
Unlike many small-scale restaurant delivery operations, though, AmazonFresh doesn't penalize its customers for ordering from multiple restaurants. There's no added charge for getting a turkey sandwich from Molly's and tomato soup from Pasta & Co. In that spirit, I recently assembled an Italian-ish meal featuring artichoke dip from DeLaurenti; Greek olive crostinis from Macrina; a Caesar salad from Skillet; a vegetarian calzone from Cafe Lago and lasagna from La Spiga. I figured we wouldn't need dessert.
My order was delivered within its promised 2p.m.-6 p.m. time slot (or so I assume: I didn't get to the house until around 6:30 p.m.) But the AmazonFresh bags were short a lasagna. When I checked the e-mail account I reserve for online orders, I discovered AmazonFresh had alerted me to its inability to fulfill the request around 1:30 p.m., too late for me to add any items to the order. Fortunately, the very rich artichoke dip made up for the missing entree.
"Seattle Spotlight" is supposed to celebrate local culinary diversity, a value apparent from the food's idiosyncratic packaging. Each restaurant is responsible for its own labeling, so Skillet's salad comes complete with more directions than most folks who've ever held a fork would probably need. But Cafe Lago's calzone was a mystery. Could I reheat it? In the microwave? In the oven? The dish didn't have any instructions.
Since I don't drive a car, I'm a big fan of AmazonFresh's convenience, and applaud the company's support of local businesses. But, judging from my experience with the service, Seattle Spotlight is most appropriate for home cooks looking to supplement their larders and party hosts who want to outsource hors d'oeurve duty. I can vouch for the artichoke dip.