Farms, Fermentation and Food-Related Fun on Vashon Island
One of the best things about living in Seattle is the ability to get away quickly. Vashon Island is one example of a great getaway opportunity. When Lodges on Vashon recently offered me an overnight stay, I hopped on a ferry and started the 24-hour clock of country living. (My only previous visit to Vashon was in 2010 when I interviewed the butcher at Sea Breeze Farm and wrote a piece about carnivorous life and pornography for my sex and food column in Edible Seattle.)
Unlike traveling to Bainbridge, you’ll have a little drive to the main commercial area (including the Lodges) once the ferry reaches port. Someone on the ferry asked me for a ride, so I suppose you can do the same, though you’ll want a car to explore the island. (Bringing or renting a bike would be another option.) It’s easy to come for an overnight and simply stay close to the main intersection in town, but with art studios, farms (where you can buy eggs via the honor system) and other sites to see, you’ll want wheels.
I made two “formal” artisan visits for culinary purposes, with a bonus being a real taste of island life. These visits combined with other interactions showed me that many of the people on Vashon value a laid-back lifestyle, though one rich with artistic, cultural, and culinary pursuits. For example, I was surprised how many people are fermenting, curing, and pickling food products as a side avocation. (I was also surprised how many people were the owners of exactly three dogs.)
Case in point: a visit with Robin Pollard of Pollard Coffee. Before checking out her roastery, I stopped in on Andrew Will Winery, also on the property, and noticed some fine-looking space with curing meats. (I’m sure there’s some good charcuterie and wine to enjoy after morning coffee there.) Pollard’s place isn’t open to the public, but you can find her coffee in selected shops in the area. Even easier (and perhaps better), you can order her coffee beans online—and she’ll work with you to customize a blend based on your coffee preferences. I’ve been enjoying some of Pollard’s Kenyan beans, offset slightly with her beans from Colombia.
While Pollard Coffee is not open to the public, you can and should pay a visit to Nashi Orchards. First of all, any fan of Japanese architecture and aesthetic will absolutely love the home and its pastoral setting. The orchard is gorgeous, and I got to see some two day-old lambs while doing a walk-around. You’ll be there to visit the tasting room, where you can enjoy some award-winning perry and cider. Jim Gerlach fell into perrymaking upon purchasing the property, now utilizing Asian and European pears for the perry and heirloom apples for the cider. Try both the Chojuro and Island Harvest perry as standalone beverages or paired with food.
As for the meals, there was time enough for just one each of coffee, breakfast, between-meal snack, lunch and dinner (not in that order). Post-ferry, my first stop meant bypassing town to head to The Vashon Island Coffee Roasterie. There’s history here, with connection to Seattle’s Best Coffee. It’s a real throw-back spot, with an old-time feel and daily “old-timers” discussing liberal politics (Vashon Island is considered one of the most liberal places in America) in their usual chairs. A decent cup of drip coffee costs $1.50, with a choice of brews (nice!) available on the front porch. Be sure to visit the Vashon Center for the Arts across the street.
For breakfast, it’s hard to resist the sheer fun of Snapdragon Bakery and Cafe. The pastries, cinnamon rolls, cakes, cookies and more are simply monstrous. I enjoyed a blueberry, pear and ginger Danish that would take up a sizable amount of real estate in Denmark.
Food lovers will quickly learn that Bill’s Bread is a must when going to Vashon Island. He delivers four days per week to the Vashon Thriftway grocery store (a destination worthy of a visit on its own), and I can tell you for sure that he delivers three times on Saturday. This is important information, as the fresh-baked bread (still warm in the package) often sells out quickly. I grabbed a St. Honore’s multi-grain loaf, and it was indeed delicious. While at the store, you can get some of Vashon’s own Dinah’s Cheese (from Kurtwood Farms) to go with it. Or, if you’re on Vashon on a Saturday like I was, walk across the street to the Vashon Farmers Market, where you can pick up some Cultured Cashew Créme (I especially enjoyed the olive one) to spread on your bread.
For lunch, I had to pay a visit to The Hardware Store, a popular restaurant right at the main intersection of the downtown area. The lunch menu offers the typical array of soups, salads, and sandwiches—plus other small (and larger) bites. With thoughts of Thai food to follow, I opted for the spicy chicken sandwich with Mae Ploy marinade and Sriracha aioli. A little basil is the perfect finish for the sandwich, making it quite satisfying for lunch.
There were multiple choices for dinner, with Gravy and Bramble House getting my attention. But for the one coveted supper spot this trip, nostalgia had me pining for a visit to May Kitchen + Bar. I wrote about May Chaleoy’s cooking for one of my first-ever food articles—for Sound magazine about ten years ago. Virtually everyone on the island raves about her place, grateful to have good Asian food without having to jump on a ferry to Seattle. Dinner here didn’t disappoint. Highlights included May’s terrific pad Thai, finished tableside, and yum pla (whole) trout with mango salad.
Special thanks to Lodges on Vashon for hosting the overnight stay. These contemporary digs offer comfort and convenience, in easy walking distance of the “downtown” district. The lodges are “clean” in the fullest sense of the word, with mini-kitchens and “spa-like” bathroom retreats. Each lodge has an assortment of games, with more at the Public House, where there’s more space to relax. Perhaps the best feature, for times of better weather than I experienced, is the open-air Pavilion with comfortable outdoor seating and a big gas fireplace. Thoughts of it make me want to return some summer day…