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Culinary Cruising: Puget Sound

by Bridget Charters

Culinary CruisingWe boaters live in the Puget Sound area because of the amazing natural beauty, the ease and proximity of getting out on the water from our homes, and, of course, the awesome local food. In fact, one could probably spend a whole summer cruising Puget Sound one meal at a time, from waterfront restaurants and bars to tucked-away farmers markets, shellfish harvesting grounds, and fire pits on the beach. What’s more, many of the marinas now work with local businesses to create fun, and often tasty, events to draw in boaters over the summer weekends. Throughout the Sound, there is a great variation of busy and mellow locations to fit the needs of every boater looking for flavor. As a professional chef and local boater, I share with you some of my favorite places to cruise from the culinary perspective.

South Sound – A Changing Culinary Landscape

Let’s start in South Puget Sound, where Washington’s capitol of Olympia is a great location for a delicious weekend get-away. Marinas line the boardwalk rimming downtown, and the marina run by the city of Olympia adjacent to Anthony’s Homeport restaurant is a great place for weekend moorage. Arrive by boat and stay there for dinner, or walk down to the famous The Oyster House, McMenamins Spar Café, or the Budd Bay Café near Anthony’s – all do a great job with their menus. On my way to the well-stocked Olympia Farmers Market, I often stop at Olympia Coffee Roasters for a delicious coffee and some beans to bring back to the boat. As far as groceries are concerned, the Bayview Thriftway grocery store is conveniently located right next to the Olympia Yacht Club.

Olympia is a perfect spot for parking the boat for future adventures. It would be easy to leave the boat at one of the city marinas during the week and travel home for the work week, then head back down, load up the boat, and head out to one of the nearby inlets for another weekend away. Linking trips together this way is a great, practical strategy to explore the incredible Salish Sea.

Here’s an example of how I like to spend a weekend in the South Sound. On my way back into Olympia after the work week, I stop off at the Bayview Thriftway for supplies and check out their great wine selection, then go to the Olympia Seafood Company for some local oysters and fish for dinner before heading north toward Harstine Island up Pickering Passage where Hope Island Marine State Park sits off Squaxin Island. There are docks, floats, and buoy moorage to tuck away the boat for the evening. That first night, I grill on the boat or use one of the campsites on shore to enjoy some nice rosé and freshly shucked oysters while grilling fish for dinner. I spend the night at Hope Island and enjoy some of the trails in the morning, then continue up Pickering Passage to the north end of Harstine Island to Jarrell Cove.

Jarrell’s Cove Marina has a gas dock and a small seasonal market open between Memorial Day and Labor Day. There are also docks and buoys for the boat, and the bay is big enough to drop anchor. The state park is located across the bay from the marina and has spots for camping, with allowances for clamming and crabbing (but not within the cove itself). There are fire and BBQ pits at the marina and in the park to whip up a meal. It is a lovely, quiet place to hang out. I advise that you call ahead to reserve a campsite or campfire area, then buy extra-large oysters for grilling and have those for dinner with a nice salad, some grilled potatoes, and pair with a delicious Rotie Winery Southern White. Warm s’mores tops off the evening.

From Jarrell Cove, I travel north up to Belfair or travel over to Carr Inlet from Case Inlet and Lakebay Marina to tie up, or Penrose State Park to drop anchor. Lakebay has a restaurant and bar with live music on the weekends. You can even jig for squid through the floorboards of the Lakebay Marina dock house, and you can even see the marks of previous catches written in squid ink on the barn wood walls! If you’re lucky enough to arrive at the full moon, gather and grill some squid on an open fire. When the squid comes off the grill, I top the squid with a chopped mixture of tomatoes, basil, and olive oil and serve over warm spaghetti. For a quieter evening, Penrose has locations to build a campfire and have dinner.

Ready for more South Sound fun? I like to head south out of Case Inlet, then north toward the Tacoma Narrows to stop in Steilacoom for the day to play a round of golf at the nationally recognized Chambers Bay Golf Course. Moorage is available at the Steilacoom Marina or the Chambers Bay Marina. Steilacoom has some great restaurants right near the marinas. I recommend the Bair Bistro is in the historic Bair Drug and Hardware building, and De La Terre is another elegant option nearby. Both have great food. The Steilacoom Farmers Market happens on Wednesday afternoons, so if you find yourself in the South Sound midweek, it is a great place to stop.

While moving north towards the Tacoma Narrows, make sure to check the tide tables. The passage can be slow, or impossible depending on your boat, if you forget.

Gig Harbor, just northwest of the Narrows, is a great place to stop with multiple restaurants, farmers markets, and stores within walking distance of the marinas. In the summer, there are outdoor concerts every Tuesday night at Skansie Park and outdoor movies on Fridays starting in July. The nearby Tides Tavern is a great place to drop into for a burger and a beer. If you want more of an uptown dining experience, there are more than a dozen delicious restaurants within blocks of marinas. Il Lucano is a favorite, but Brix 25 and Netshed No. 9 are also great. Staying on the boat? Finholm’s Market and Grocery or the Waterfront Natural Market are close by.

Tacoma DomeIf the food and activities of Gig Harbor aren’t enough, then Tacoma is another great stop for both food and play. There are multiple marinas in Tacoma, but the downtown Thea Foss Waterway is the place to be if mooring. The Dock Street, Delin Docks, and Foss Harbor marinas are beautiful with extensive services. The amount of great bars, pubs, and restaurants in Tacoma has increased exponentially in the last decade or so. The Pacific Grill is a longtime favorite, while newcomers Matador and El Gaucho of Seattle also do a great job. For fresh fish near the marinas, stop in at Johnny’s Fish Market or the Fish Peddler Market. Broadway Farmers Market on Thursdays is close to the marinas and downtown, or on Saturdays, head to the Proctor Farmers Market in the quaint Proctor shopping district. Tacoma has a light rail, a great bus system, plus Sound Transit to move you back to your home should you decide to leave the boat in Tacoma for the workweek.

Center Sound – West is Best

On the hunt for a great meal in the Center Sound? Head west of Seattle to Eagle Harbor on Bainbridge Island, Port Orchard, Bremerton, or Poulsbo.

For Bainbridge, Eagle Harbor is a great option for an overnight or weekend stay. Harbour Marina and Winslow Wharf Marina are just east of the ferry landing. Winslow Way, just two blocks from some of the marinas, is the area’s main drag and packed with great restaurants. Marche and Hitchcock are two very delicious choices I highly recommend. Stop into the Alehouse on Winslow, next door to the beautiful Bainbridge Island Museum of Art, for a glass of local craft beer, and then stroll over to the Town and Country market nearby to pick up dinner to grill on the boat. The market has a great selection of groceries with a large seafood selection and fair selection of wines. You can also pop across the street to the Eagle Harbor Winery for a tasting.

In the morning, an array of options for coffee, pastries, and breakfast awaits. Blackbird Café is my favorite, or if it is Saturday, grab a coffee and make your way to the Bainbridge Farmers Market in the morning. Digest over a visit to the Historical Museum or stop in at the fabulous Eagle Harbor Book Co. Keep an eye out for wild blackberry patches in the summer loaded with giant berries fresh for the taking. You can also take a bus up to the Bloedel Reserve for a woodland stroll.

Poulsbo, another delicious destination, is located across from the east side of Bainbridge on Liberty Bay. It is a quaint little Scandinavian-style town with a large Port of Poulsbo Marina and Liberty Waterfront Park for cruisers to enjoy. On sunny days, I stop in at JJ’s Fish House for lunch on the patio, or make my way to the Paella Bar for a light dinner of tapas. The Poulsbo Farmer’s Market is Saturday mornings at 0900 hours, and I recommend going to Sluys Bakery for a pastry and a coffee on the way. You could always go native and hit the Sons of Norway lodge for breakfast on the weekends as well. Be sure to leave time for shopping in Poulsbo, the Scandinavian shops and antique shops are fun way to kill a few hours!

Spaghetti with CalamariJust north of Bainbridge Island on the east side of the Sound is Kingston, a sweet little waterfront town that keeps non-boating people busy while waiting for the ferry to Edmonds. For boaters, there’s a large, full-service marina located off Mike Wallace Park. The Kingston Ale House near the marina and ferry landing has a solid Northwest-style menu, live music, and breakfast on the weekends. The staff is great and the restaurant is family friendly. Fancier fair can be found a few blocks uphill from the ferry landing in a quaint little house at the local Mossback Restaurant. A recipient of rave reviews, it serves up delicious local, Northwest cuisine.

There are also some other fun options near the ferry: J’aime les Crepes, Mi Sueno Tacos Y Mas, and Westside Pizza. The marina park is the home to a Saturday morning farmers market. Otherwise, if you are looking to provision, there is a grocery store just up the hill from the ferry.

Why not spend a weekend in downtown Seattle via boat? Moor at the waterfront Bell Harbor Marina next to Anthony’s Home Port and spend time perusing the Pike Place Market, or take in a Sounders game during the day, then dine at Etta’s, Matt’s in the Market, Place Pigalle, or Sushi Kashiba. The options are endless.

But there’s also Ballard, walking distance from Shilshole Bay Marina. Wander through shops, take in a movie at the Majestic Bay Theatre, and then dine that night at Carta de Oaxaca, Moshi Moshi Sushi, Bastille, or Staple and Fancy. On your way back to the boat, stop by the Tractor Tavern for some live music, then grab a ride service back to the boat. The year-round Ballard Farmers Market kicks off Sunday mornings at 1000 hours. Grab your coffee at Café Fiore on Leary Ave and find the fresh donut stand in the farmers market.

North Sound – Wide Open Spaces

My favorite Whidbey Island town is Langley, on the southwestern side of the island. Langley is a great little spot to hang out, wander, or make a destination dining trip. There is a small harbor in the town, but call ahead because space is limited (360-221-1120). The Inn at Langley (reservations required) has an amazing fine dining restaurant featuring Northwest cuisine and the menu is a carefully curated, delicious adventure. If you would prefer something more casual, there is the Prima Bistro above the Star Market or Village Pizzeria just across First Street.

There are also multiple spots for breakfast, coffee, and pastries. My favorite is Useless Bay Coffee next door to the post office. The coffee is roasted in-house and the food is well thought out. On Fridays, they have live music outside in the evenings. With great places to shop, buy antiques, or browse books, Langley is a quaint spot. The Star Market in the center of town has a wine shop, seafood, groceries, clothing, and gifts. If it’s Saturday, you can call one of the local cabs to take you out to the farmers market off the highway at Bayview. The market has multiple booths with hot food and a wide selection of local produce and groceries.

There is plenty to keep you busy in Langley, but if you’re ready to move, head north up the Saratoga Passage to Penn Cove and the town of Coupeville. Penn Cove is famous for the shellfish production in the bay, so seafood is a great choice. I love the Oystercatcher, the Front Street Grill, or Toby’s Tavern for the local seafood fare, all within easy walking distance of the public docking. There are grocery stores nearby and a farmers market two blocks from the waterfront on Saturdays mornings in summer. Ebey’s Prairie, a beautiful park along the east side of Whidbey Island overlooking Admiralty Inlet, is a must-see for the Coupeville area.

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