Monday, May 30, 2011

FoodTrek: Killer Feast on Orcas Island

Vacations are a rare treat, so when I have a chance to just get away for a few days, I grasp that brass ring and high-tail it outta Dodge. Mr. Wasabi and I packed way too much stuff, including Miss Indy, into the car and headed north to Orcas Island for a long weekend. We fit a surprisingly wonderful amount of things into a short time, so consider this just one part of a long feast on this small island in the San Juans. So let's get this trip on the road... er... water.

You know you're in Orcas - it says so right on the building when you get there! - Photo by Wasabi Prime

Pack your dramamine, as you'll have to take a ferry to get to Orcas, at least if you want your car with you. Don't worry, if you've never riden a Washington State ferry, they're like little cities on the water -- big boats that provide a fairly smooth ride and it's one of the prettiest ways to view the surroundings. They're also dog-friendly, as long as your pooch stays in the vehicle. The noise of the ferry engine is a little loud, so I don't think most pets will be eager to escape the safety of your car, at least that's how Indy felt taking her first boat trip. There are small planes you can charter, which will of course get you there faster, but most people like to have the freedom of a car to get around the island. The ferry is the most popular way to go, especially if you're bringing extra gear like sea kayaks. We saw a lot of people with small fishing boats and kayaks strapped to their cars when we were waiting at Anacortes to catch our boat early Friday morning. They always say, it's never too early to catch the ferry, and this was the case as we were there more than an hour before the ferry was even docked and the rows of awaiting cars were filling up. Despite the wait times, both coming to and leaving Orcas, it's a good reminder to live on the vacation clock, which is to say -- relax, don't rush, take a moment to sit and enjoy your surroundings. And oh yeah, bring a book or two.

Riding on a boat and blowing my car GPS's mind - Photos by Wasabi Prime

One of the first things we did upon arriving to Orcas was head to Moran State Park, one of several parks on the island. We had several hours to kill before checking into the place we were staying, and the day was still young, so we drove from the ferry dock to a quick drive-through preview of one of the main cities, Eastsound, before going to the park. I was given the great recommendation of doing the Cascade Loop Trail hike by local to-do guru, Ms. Seattle Events, who also happened to be on Orcas the same time we were. Her suggestion of this hike was perfect -- it's just under three miles and it takes you around a small lake, so it's tough to get lost. The sun played hide and seek during the whole walk, but I was able to get a few moments of blue sky. And Indy loved the walk -- so many new smells and an added bonus of seeing a few curious deer.

The best way to justify a big lunch and dessert, hiking around Moran State Park - Photos by Wasabi Prime

You work up a bit of an appetite, even for a small hike, so we headed back to Eastsound, the quaint little town that's located along the inside curve of the island. One of the places that caught my eye on the initial drive-through included Passionate for Pies, a sweet and savory pie shop that uses fresh, organic ingredients baked in an all-butter crust. We stopped in later in the day, so a lot of their treats were bought, but they still had slices of their sweet pies available. If we could have sat for a while, I'd have had a slice a la mode, but that day happened to be Mr. Wasabi's birthday, and a slice of pie saved for after dinner would be a lovely birthday treat. Melted scoop of ice cream? Not so birthday treat-like. I picked up a slice of their mixed berry pie and a spiced rhubarb pie. The slices were huge and filled with fruit filling. I like that the crust is rolled extra large and folded over as a flap, sort of partially covering the pie along the edges, giving them a rustic look. The pies are fruit-sweet, not overly sugary, which gave the fillings their chance to shine with flavor. The crust was more doughy than flaky, probably because they stick to butter and no shortening or lard. The rhubarb was nicely tart with the cardamom and other spices to round out its sharpness, but the berry pie was probably my favorite just because your flavor expectation for pie is sweet, homey goodness, and theirs delivered in spades. If we had more time, I'd have gone back to sample more of their pies, including their apple and coconut cream tart -- they were nice to let me take a photo of it when I was there, with it's pretty little purple flower decorating the top. And when you're at the shop, look down -- their flooring is recycled paper bags with sweet little sayings and fruit drawings stamped all over.

Me oh my, that's tasty pie - Photos by Wasabi Prime

But we can't grab dessert without a real lunch -- we stopped off at Mia's, a little breakfast and lunch spot in Eastsound, on Beach Road. We specifically looked for places that had outdoor seating, since we had Indy with us, and they have a few chairs and tables sitting outside their shop. We were probably the last ones to order lunch, and they were nice about taking care of us stragglers. We ordered that day's special, which was a muffaletta sandwich, popular in New Orleans. Theirs was on a nicely chewy bun with a mix of meats, cheeses, a smear of olive tapenade and some tart pickled beets mixed in. It's probably not the official way of having this sandwich, but it was such a good lunch to have and tasted extra-good sitting out in the sun. I would definitely visit again to check out their breakfasts, as the spot was cozy and the food was fresh and tasty.

Walking around Eastsound, it's got an East Coast/Nantucket charm -- vintage clapboard buildings and seafaring decor everywhere. But it's set against the dramatic view of the Pacific Northwest waterfront, dotted with hilly evergreen islands to break up the water's horizon. In our wanderings, we found a spot for our coffee fix, Enzo's Italian Caffe. We went here a couple of times for lattes and they had a little seating area outdoors, plus they didn't mind the large hairy Indy hanging out with us. We had taken an ice cream break earlier, at Lily, Lisa Nakamura's new ice cream and snack shop right below her well-known restaurant, Allium, otherwise I'd have had some of Enzo's gelatto that looked really delicious. In one afternoon we had a truly Pacific Northwest experience - pie and coffee. Call Agent Cooper, Orcas Island is giving Twin Peaks a run for its money!

Sites and bites from the island - Photos by Wasabi Prime

I had a chance to chat with Lisa Nakamura before the dinner rush at Allium and she recommended us picking up a fresh baguette from Rose's Bakery. She had good things to say about their bread and she always knows what's good, so I headed over to Rose's before they closed for the day. The people behind the counter were apologizing for their empty shelves of bread, but I have to say, that's a good sign when you see bare shelves -- it means it's really good stuff, so go early to get the choice items. Like, seriously, hop in your car, jump on the ferry and go right now. We already had our pie slices to-go from Passionate for Pies, so I zeroed-in on the last baguettes sitting in the basket. They had a couple of plain ones and the last seed-covered one, which they recommended as their favorite. Despite the confetti of seeds as you slice the bread, consider it the party the bread throws for itself as you enjoy it. It was chewy and flavorful, and it lasted us three days, as we ate a few slices either for dinner or breakfast. It stayed chewy the whole time and would have made for a wonderful sandwich.

We had to check into the place we were staying at, Once in a Blue Moon Farm (will do a post about that, stay tuned), which had a full kitchen in the converted carriage house loft. Again, it's dog-friendly travel that we have become accustomed to -- find a place that not only takes large dogs, but find places with a kitchen, as we'll always spend one night eating a simply prepared meal. Ours that evening was composed of the goodies we gathered from the day, plus the things we brought -- spinach salad with crushed pecans and topped with fresh eggs from the farm we were staying at, plus an appetizer of slices from the seed-encrusted baguette, served with olives and cured meat we brought. We also brought a bottle of D2 from DeLille and a little flask filled with McCallan for cocktail hour. Viva vacation!

Savoring the baguette from Rose's Bakery - Photos by Wasabi Prime

This was just a sampling of the things we got to enjoy on Orcas -- I have a couple of other posts planned, highlighting favorites, like our afternoon and evening at Lily and Allium, and a day on the farm, staying at Once in a Blue Moon Farm, so stay tuned, there's more to share (and eat!)

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  1. These pictures are very nice and there it is a great view from what i`ve seen. I have never been there, but i will go for sure.

  2. What a great write-up! Of course, working for the Chamber of Commerce means I love it when folks visit the island and have a great trip. Hope you make it back soon.

  3. Im so excited! We are going to Orcas in a couple weeks and staying at the Secret Garden Room at Once in a Blue Moon Farm. I cant wait to see your post on the place!
    What ferry did you take on the way over? We're debating on the early early 730(ish) one or the 1030(ish) one.

  4. I should have added to my prior comment - if anyone has questions about Orcas Island, please feel free to contact my office for guidance. 360-376-2273 or We are happy to help you with all the nitty gritty!


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