As you may or may not know, April is a time of great confusion and rejoicing in the Skagit Valley, being the time of the Skagit Tulip Festival. What this means is that there are a few weeks of blissful quiet while the daffodil fields bloom (why does everyone ignore the daffodils?), then a weekend or two of complete mayhem when the tulips finally deign to show their colors and the tourists flock in, getting lost in downtown Mount Vernon in need of bathrooms and maps.
This particular weekend features the Tulip Festival Street Fair. They were setting up for it as I walked home today, and for the next three days we will continue to be very very glad that we live walking distance from downtown – because god help anyone who’s trying to park down there. We can also be grateful that the weather forecast is looking promising – a few years ago there was a howling windstorm that swept away the craft tents, and last year it hailed. A lot. We’re all hoping this year will be better.
If any of you are planning to come up and join in the festivities, you might wonder where there is to eat. We do have a few good places here in town, and it’s an interesting fact that most of them are pubs. Within just a few short blocks we have The Porterhouse, Trumpeter Public House, Empire Ale House, Draft Pics Sports Bar and Skagit River Brewery. Apparently you can never have too many places to drink beer.
It is nice having a selection. If we want pizza or barbecue, we go to Skagit Brewery. If we want a glass of Scotch or a plate of fried artichokes, the Trumpeter. The Porterhouse is a regular stop for fried calamari, while we wait for takeout from the excellent Thai place next door. We don’t go to Draft Pics – they spend way too much time cleaning their sidewalks in the morning. But our current all-around favorite is the Empire.
Bruce, the owner, was the original owner of the Porterhouse, then sold it and started this new, smaller, more intimate place just up the street. It doesn’t have the daylight or the spaciousness (or the fireplace) of the other pub, but it has a cozy comfort to it, and a lot more bar to sit at and shmooz with the staff (who are well worth shmoozing with). They have 17 beers on tap at any given time, always changing, plus a selection of wines. Samples are freely given; always a good thing, since I can never remember which beers I’ve tried before.
The food is pretty straightforward pub grub – French fries, calamari, burgers, salads, pasta, panini. The steamed clams are excellent, and the crab cakes are some of the best in town. Of late I have become completely enamored of a sandwich composed of mixed steamed vegetables and a hell of a lot of cheese. There’s something about seeing green beans and broccoli sticking out of your sandwich…I just love it. The salads are very well done, too, especially with the wasabi vinaigrette alongside.
Mostly, though, it’s just what every town – every neighborhood, really – needs: a local watering hole with reliable, comforting food, good stuff to drink, and people who know your name when you walk in the door. A place like that makes me happy. I hope if you stop by and try it out, you’ll be happy too.