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.
February has been surprisingly busy. I have a few articles coming out in the March issue of Grow Northwest, and I’m working on two restaurant reviews. I just took down one photography show and am about to put up another. Plus my band is deep into rehearsals for Saint Patrick’s Day (come see us!) But we’ve still been shopping and cooking and eating. And, sometimes, going out because we just don’t want to cook any more.
One night we decided to try two new recipes at once from our favorite Indian cookbook, the small but mighty Madhur Jaffrey’s Spice Kitchen (seriously, there is nothing bad in this book). The spiced broccoli was very nice, but the star was the chickpeas with tomatoes, ginger and green chiles. Along with a chicken coconut vindaloo and buttermilk chapati, this was a killer dinner.
Pretty much my favorite thing about coming here is watching the wok station in action. It’s a clever setup, with a hose that’s used to rinse out the woks after each stirfry, and drainage down the back, so the woks never need to be moved from their burners. Food frequently gets airborne, plus there are shooting flames all around. I love it.
What we ordered on our most recent visit:
Fried tofu. I love this stuff, I order it everywhere. I appreciated that this version wasn’t cooked to the point of having very sharp edges – you can hurt yourself on fried tofu, believe me.
Larb gai made with ground chicken. This was very tasty and an incredible vehicle for chile heat. I needed to alternate bites of it with the fried tofu.
Our favorite noodle dish, Phad ba mee. I love how smoky and savory this is. Our usual takeout order is one of these and one super-spicy eggplant with beef. And plenty of rice.
And, as always, it’s fun to watch your food getting cooked.
I live in Mount Vernon. It’s a small town in a rural county in northwestern Washington State, built at the site of an old log jam on the Skagit River back in the 1800s. People in Seattle have heard of it, either because they’ve come up here for the annual Tulip Festival or because they’ve driven by on I-5, but most of them never stop in town. Which means that it’s still rather a well-kept secret that our small downtown is one of the best places to drink beer of, well, pretty much anywhere.
We have two breweries, Skagit River and North Sound. Then there are the pubs: the Empire Alehouse, the Trumpeter Public House, and the Porterhouse. All have multiple rotating taps, as many as twenty-one at a time, almost entirely West Coast microbrews. From our house we can walk to four of these pubs and drink some of the best beers available. It’s pretty sweet.
Last year, wanting to raise awareness of the local beer possibilities, encourage responsible drinking and promote downtown businesses, our friends Lyra and Ryan Morrison attempted something they dubbed the 30 Day Beer Challenge. The idea was to drink a different beer every day in March, staying within the downtown area of Mount Vernon. Given the options, it was extremely easy. So this year they’re doing it again, with a twist – they can’t repeat any of the beers tasted last year. And they’re bringing in some help, including us.
Every day this month, at a predetermined pub, representatives of the Beer Challenge will show up and drink their chosen beer. A brief review will be submitted to the team leader for online publication and discussions will be held on the beer’s merits (or just beer in general), with public participation encouraged. You can follow along on Facebook, Twitter or by text. Or you can just come out and have a beer with us. Jon and I will be at the Empire tomorrow night, March 3rd, and at Skagit Brewery on the 24th (not to mention our band playing at the Empire on St. Patrick’s Day – and there’s a special local beer release that night, too). What beers will we be tasting? You’ll have to wait and see.
It recently occurred to me that we’ve lived in Mount Vernon for twelve years now and have never done a comparative study of all the taco wagons here in town. With the able assistance of my husband and two taco-loving friends, I set out to do so last Saturday.
(Mount Vernon, by the way, is a particularly good place for taco tastings, as our population is about 25 percent Hispanic. This crawl just covered taco wagons, but if you included groceries, taquerias, family restaurants, carnicerias and ladies-who-make-awesome-tamales, you’d be kept busy for quite some time. Anyway – on to the tacos.)
Our first stop: Taqueria La Bamba. This truck has been set up on College Way for at least ten years, but since we moved out of the neighborhood we hadn’t visited. Its location is prime, near both the community college and the largely Hispanic Kulshan neighborhood. It boasts a large permanent dining area, several outdoor tables and a highly dangerous looking rope swing.
We decided to order four types of tacos, getting two of each so we could all taste. We picked lengua (tongue), asada (beef), adobada (pork) and tripas (tripe). We also picked up a couple of bottles of tamarind soda pop, one of the best things to drink with a taco besides beer.
Another street fair has come and gone. This one had beautiful weather, which made a nice change after the last few years. A lot of vendors had given up on this fair after getting blown away or hailed upon, but there was still a good turnout of both vendors and customers.
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. Continue reading
Downtown Mount Vernon had its Fall Festival this weekend, so we wandered down to check it out. This is the second year for the event, so it’s still a bit casual, but I like it: the farmer’s market moves down from the riverfront and sets up in the middle of the street downtown, plus there’s a beer garden, a car show, craft booths, several bands playing, and a grill set up for hot dogs and bratwurst. It’s all very festive.
Although the weather’s starting to get colder and fall is definitely coming, the market is still at its peak. We got some beets, potatoes, summer squash, mozzarella cheese, and cauliflower, plus a rhubarb pie. I would’ve bought some delicata squash and sugar pumpkins, but we were on foot – we’ll have to bring the car next time, or a wagon, so we can carry it all home. Continue reading