My review of the Big Rock Cafe and Grocery is in this week’s Cascadia Weekly! Here are a few more photos to go along with the article. I really am sorry I haven’t yet ordered the mac and cheese-stuffed jalapeno poppers, but I’ll be sure to put up a picture when I finally do.
Usually when we drive through Ellensburg on our way back from the Tumbleweed Festival every year, we end up stopping for dinner at the Valley Cafe, one of our very favorite restaurants back when we lived in Eburg. This year we decided to throw caution to the winds and try out the Yellow Church Cafe.
drive-in or take-out
Oof. It’s been hot, and the dog has needed lots and lots of walks, so we’ve been going on lots of forest hikes and we’re pooped. We have been cooking some, but there’s been quite a lot of takeout in our life recently. Also some (cough) fast food. I’m not going to apologize for my secret fondness for Egg McMuffins, but neither am I going to write a blog post about it. Not right now, anyway.
I will, however, tell you that we finally – after 15 years in this area – got around to trying the Fidalgo Drive-In in Anacortes. This is one of those places that looks like it’s been around for decades, essentially unchanged. And they really are a drive-in! We didn’t have to get out of our car at all, which was pretty swell.
For our first visit we tried some basics: a deluxe cheeseburger, a mushroom swiss burger, tater tots, and a milkshake. The burgers were very decent: the meat was a tad overcooked and dry (as you might expect), but there were plenty of toppings and it all held together just long enough to eat it. The mushroom burger had lots of mushrooms that tasted fresh, but the overall experience was a bit bland, unfortunately. Still, given how cheap it all was, it was pretty darned satisfying.
The burgers, however, were overshadowed by the very fine tater tots, which were served searingly hot and came with plenty of ketchup. The milkshake (we ordered mocha) was also very good, almost too thick to drink through a straw (it came with a spoon as well). It was tasty enough that I suspect we’ll be back before too long. There’s always a place in our hearts for good drive-in food.
The only hardship was suffered by the dog, who had to sit patiently in the backseat while we ate our burgers and didn’t share. Poor thing.
another day, another lamb burger
We finally got around to visiting the Copper Hog pub in Bellingham. Not a bad place at all! Large and bustling, nice decor, lots of natural light, and alarmingly polite service. Good food and beer, too. It made an especially strong impression on us after our disappointment with the Fish Tale Brewpub a couple of weeks ago.
For one thing, we got to sit by a window.
The view was made extra amusing by the fact that some sort of commercial was being filmed on the premises, and groups of people wearing sports scarves were running around screeching for the camera. Even without that, though, it was a nice place to sit.
The beer selection here is pretty ace. I tried the “Copper Hog Red” made by Flyers in Oak Harbor, and really liked it. Dry and bitter, but with lots of flavor.
It was a forgone conclusion that one of us would get the lamb burger, and Jon won the draw. I got the fish and chips instead, and was happy enough. I was a little put out by the size of the fish fillet – most places would have cut this into two or three pieces. It was so big, and so blazingly hot, I had to eat it with knife and fork, which seemed kind of silly. The schmear of pureed peas on the side was a peculiar but pleasant touch. And the fries were fantastic – hot, salty, nicely crispy on the outside but buttery-soft inside. And served in a reasonable quantity, so I didn’t hurt myself by eating all of them. Not too much, anyway.
The lamb burger was excellent. It was on a good bun, the meat was juicy and nicely cooked, and it had a big blob of chevre on top and a lot of pickled beets. I love pickled beets. It was by far the best lamb burger we’ve had lately.
not all that exciting a lunch
Ever have a restaurant experience that, while not at all bad, somehow wasn’t all that good either? There was absolutely nothing wrong with the lunch we got at the Fish Tale Brewpub in Everett, but we still don’t think it likely we’ll go back. This makes me sad, since I liked the one in Olympia so much.
It’s partly the decor, frankly. I saw this mentioned on nearly every Yelp review about the brewpub, and it’s true – the place is dark, uncomfortable and strange. The main dining space feels like the breakfast room in the basement of a cheap hotel, while the sunny window in the front hosts nary a table. Did these people never hear that a pub is supposed to be cozy?
Then the food, about which I’m not really sure what to think. I got an oyster po’boy and a Caesar salad. There were lots of oysters – too many, actually, I couldn’t close the bun enough to take a bite – and the bun was a pleasant enough sourdough. But the condiment was a mean smear of mayo (maybe it was aioli, I could hardly taste it) and a small handful of greens. The Caesar seemed fresh but the dressing had almost no flavor at all. I got bored before I got full.
Jon got the lamb burger, on the extremely enthusiastic recommendation of the waitperson. It was…meh. It mostly tasted of feta, and the meat was overcooked and rather dry, despite having a dollop of tzatziki on top. The fries were the soft kind, which I realize is a style but it’s not our favorite. Not the worst lamb burger we’ve tried, but not even in the top ten.
Oh, well. The beer was excellent.
the insufficiently sauced burger
We recently stopped by Lola for lunch, on our way to see Pina at the Seattle Cinerama (which was amazing, by the way). We’d been to Lola for breakfast before, plus a late night run for doughnuts and grappa, but never for lunch, and I had to try the lamb burger. Because I always have to try the lamb burger.
It was disappointing. Not the lamb patty itself, which was cooked just the way I asked, or the bun, which was very nearly perfect, but the adornments, which I feel are the most important thing. They need to be interesting, but also messy and squishable so everything melds together into the sandwich. In this case there was nothing wrong with the lettuce, the grilled onion, the fabulous pickled vegetables, or the “Lola ketchup” which tasted like red pepper puree – but the vegetables were too firm to squish and didn’t fit on the burger, the ketchup was far better used as a dip for the (amazing) polenta fries, and there was no other sauce or cheese whatsoever. This is a pet peeve of mine about burgers in my home town, which never have any sauce on them and need to be ordered with a side of mayo just to get them properly drippy. Burgers should not be easy to eat neatly. I ended up borrowing a spoonful of tzatziki sauce from my husband’s plate of squid kebabs.
I was envious of the squid kebabs. Perfectly cooked, coated with chermoula sauce and accompanied by Greek salad and pita bread, they were some of the best squid I’ve eaten. I know what I’m getting next time we go there.
Geez. I had meant to run this post off several days ago, but first I got busy and then the phone company helpfully cut off my DSL connection at home. Thank goodness for public wifi…
Anyway. Last week we were in Seattle again and needed an early and not too involved dinner, so we decided to try out Tom Douglas’ new place in South Lake Union (well, one of them), the Brave Horse Tavern. We showed up a bit before six and the place was already packed with people who all seemed to have gotten off of work at the same time; many were still wearing their official lanyards. The music was incredibly loud, the crowd was louder, and a rowdy shuffleboard game was in progress in the corner. Long tables filled most of the space. We pushed and shoved our way into an empty spot with some difficulty and attempted to have a conversation over the uproar.
It was Fresh Hop week at the Brave Horse, and I ordered a Killer Green Fresh Hop Ale from Double Mountain. It was extraordinary – somewhat high in alcohol, although not as ferocious as some, but with a huge depth of flavor and a serious hop hit. Jon settled for his favorite Total Domination from Ninkasi. We really wanted to try some of the pub snacks (they have fried cheese curds, people!) but didn’t have time, so I settled for a basic pub burger and fries, and Jon got a steak salad.
I was impressed. The burger was very different from the Palace Kitchen version. It channelled a summer grill party, with iceberg lettuce, plenty of mayo and a barbecue-like sauce, and a soft and sweet bun that never quite disintegrated but got very close. I chose cheddar and grilled onions as my toppings, which were excellent with the sauce. Next time I might go for avocado. Or maybe the fried egg.
Then there were the fries, which were, let’s face it, perfect. Steaming hot, crisp on the outside, fluffy on the inside, and heavily studded with salt. I hate fries that aren’t salty enough – these were incredible.
The steak salad was a success, too – a large piece of perfectly cooked steak, very tender, with a pile of mixed greens, stinky blue cheese, really ripe tomatoes, paper-thin radish slices, a chunk of grilled bread, and a dressing made with A-1 sauce. Brilliant.
We are totally coming back here. I need to try those fried cheese curds. And another burger.
We had our usual end-of-summer party last weekend (god the weather was fabulous), and to my not-very-great-surprise we had tons of leftovers. The next few days, therefore, became a challenge to see how much of them the two of us could eat without getting completely sick of them. We had shrimp in tomato-chipotle sauce, grilled corn, pinto beans, grilled flank steak, raw seasoned flank steak, cornbread, raspberries, one brownie, two kinds of salsa, corn chips, enough tortillas for two more parties at least, cotija cheese, and crema mexicana. Obviously, we ate a lot of tacos for a few days.
By Monday night, though, I was feeling pretty burned out on the tacos, and we still had that whole uncooked flank steak on hand. We decided to pull out our meat grinder and run it through, then make hamburgers out of it. We did add an egg, since the flank steak made for a pretty lean burger, but it worked very well – the chile-cumin rub that had been on the steak got incorporated into the meat and tasted great. To go alongside I stripped the kernels off the remaining ears of grilled corn, then heated them gently with a few fresh tomatoes that were also left over and a bit of cilantro. With a good drizzle of crema on top and some salty cotija, this made a really nice dinner that, thrillingly, was not tacos.
the temple of porcine love
Only twelve hours ago, we didn’t know this place existed.
We had decided to run down to Seattle for the afternoon and pick up some necessary framing materials. I had recently received an email from Seattle Metropolitan featuring good lunch spots, so I pulled that up to look over while we were getting our stuff together. The Inner Sanctum of the Temple of Porcine Love immediately made itself known as the place we needed to have lunch. Today.
As it turns out, this place is a recent adjunct to the quite fabulous little butcher/charcuterie shop The Swinery. It’s rather like the old Pok Pok in Portland, back when it was just a takeout stand in someone’s driveway. You order your sandwich, eat it on a bench in the narrow courtyard, and pay for it in the shop (where, if you’re like us, you will instantly succumb to the lure of gorgeous charcuterie as well). They’re doing it as a bit of a trial run, to see how it goes.
How was the food, you ask? Hmmm. Jon got the Swinery Burger with caramelized onions and Swiss cheese, cooked medium rare. I got the Carolina pulled pork sandwich, which was so rich and smoky it didn’t need sauce (except for mayo, which I can’t live without). Both were fabulous. I was especially impressed with the bun, which was soft enough to squish down over the meat but didn’t dissolve into mush, and had been nicely toasted. My only regret is that I wasn’t able to try the BLT or the tallow fries.
West Seattle isn’t on our usual route, so I’d just like to put a call out to anyone in the area – check this place out! Give them enough business to consider making it permanent. The world needs more really great burgers and pulled pork sandwiches. Not to mention duck chorizo.
a rough week
This is ridiculous. Just as I was beginning to feel somewhat recovered (apart from what I consider normal – if irritating – seasonal allergies), Jon’s back went out in a spectacular manner. He’s beginning to feel functional again, but I’ve been keeping busy trying to cook interesting and comforting things that can be eaten while propped up with pillows.
I made braised lemon-olive chicken with couscous, which made a wonderful soup the next day, and baked cookies (my grandmother’s sugar pecan cookies with white chocolate added in), and made an enormous quantity of minestrone, and baked hamburger buns from scratch, which made for some truly fabulous burgers. I also ordered a pizza one night, but I rather felt like I’d earned it.