A sampling of online articles I wrote while running Café Manson/Cannella Kitchen.
Seattle and Puget Sound
Fantastic. We’re in Ritzville, Washington. You know Ritzville, it’s that place where you get gas (exit 220) on I-90 when you’re going to Spokane.
It’s where you stay when you attend the Lind Combine Demolition Derby every mid-June. You know, Ritzville.
Many people find the place when they’ve gotten an especially late start leaving Seattle to get to Boise. It’s a better stopping point than Spokane, because you don’t have a ton of lodging and food choices – you’re forced to be happy with what you get.
Ritzville, population 1,685 (give or take a drifter), has no less than four gas stations. There’s an upper Ritzville where you can find a place to stay, the ubiquitous gas station-fast food joint combo, a burger joint and a homey little place called Cow Creek Cafe that on occasion serves kraut runza – Ritzville’s unofficial dish.
It’s a local fact that if you can’t eat or make kraut runza, you’re not marriage material.
Then there’s Historic Ritzville, where you’ll find 3-dive bars all of which are the epitome of dive bars, a movie theatre next to the low slung funeral home (where if you ask nicely, they’ll give you a tour and show you a disturbingly large collection of false teeth) and a couple of eateries that offer respite from over-processed road trip fare.
The Blue Bike Café – 408 W 1st Ave, Ritzville, WA 99169 – is where the locals go out for lunch. The Blue Bike’s gift cards are treated like currency around town. Housemade potato chips, milkshakes, ice tea (unsweetened), sandwiches and burgers that actually make you believe in the sanctity of sandwiches and burgers. The taco salad has many a time been my meal for the day.
For lunch and dinner, head to Main Avenue (across the train tracks and past the train museum) to the Wooden Nickel. Exposed brick, excellent American food and a selection of beers that extends far past the aisle in the grocery store. It’s where, in the heat of the summer, when even the breeze has quit the day, you’ll want to sit and let oscillating fan make its way to your table and drink a beer. It’s where a little bit of you will remain while the rest of you journeys on.
Hanks Harvest Foods, Twisp, WA
So, it’s Wednesday in the late spring, you’re starving and somehow find yourself in the Methow Valley. It’s entirely possible that you won’t be able to find an open restaurant. You may feel like giving up. You have two choices: A. Eat your arm. B. Go to Hank’s Harvest Foods. Inside Hank’s, you’ll find an array of olives on par with Pike Place Market’s DeLaurenti. To the left of the olives are cheeses, from artisanal sheep blue cheese to the (not artisanal) Delice Bourgogne triple cream. Got an extra $125 in your cheese budget? Pick up a wheel of truffle jack cheese (we think it was truffle jack, we didn’t actually ask but Erik had an educated poked at it). Meander down to the meat section. Grab up a pack of ground elk, scallops, halibut cheeks (halibut cheeks!) or house made bacon. Teeter on down to the wine aisle, there’s a bunch there as long as you’re not in the mood for something French, Italian, Austrian or German. Sometimes, you can even find 50 lbs of onions for $9.99. Have a bag of dead Triple A batteries? You can recycle them at Hank’s. Like taxidermy? Look up and feel a new sensation guilt-fear. 412 Hwy 20 / Methow Valley Hwy Twisp, WA 98856 509 997-7711
Do you ever feel like you are careening? The roadside is a blur of wild grass and guardrails. The destination in front of you is miles and miles ahead. Behind you is a to do list or a vacation abandoned in favor of real life.
Slow it down.
Specifically, ease on into Anjou Bakery on 1-90. You’ll know it by the windmill. Take a moment to step into a place that is at once welcoming and industrial. Anjou Bakery displays the epitome of pragmatic bakery design. Smooth, easy to clean surfaces, low-slung lamps for reading the paper with a cup of coffee and a pastry, a cooler full of baguette sandwiches.
The rush of the road melts away with one bite of a tuna fish baguette zested with preserved lemon.
I’ve really no idea why I have a thing for tuna fish sandwiches on the road. I actually despise tuna fish sandwiches.
Like any good bakery, Anjou Bakery makes you wish you lived in near by. Morning or evening, it has that “Wake up, Sleepy Head” warmth that we all deserve in our daily routine.
If you have a moment, sit. If you don’t grab and go. Just don’t rush past.
3898 Old Monitor Road Cashmere, WA 98815
Open Thursday to Monday 9 – 5PM
Saffron Mediterranean Grill
There are places in the world that, upon arrival, you know that you want to return again and again. The Musée Carnavalet in Paris – a place where curios, sculpture, paintings and general-objects-of-envy sit with with blasé elegance in two equally elegant mansions. The collections may not change, yet in the middle of the night, thousands of miles away, the ivy lined garden calls to you.
Or, Swan Oyster Depot in San Francisco. Less than 16-untrustworthy stools wait for you to take a seat of faith in front of a worn Carerra marble counter top. Men, big men, daintily pour muscadet and shell Olympia Oysters. You can get a half a crab anywhere in San Francisco but it’s the memory of the way the white aprons shine in the light, the distinct narrowness of the room and the family dynamics of Swan that cheers you on the dourest of days.
These places are perfect and not perfect. Perfect, because they glow with integrity and not perfect because they have heart. Things with heart are always imperfect.
Which is not to say Saffron Mediterranean Kitchen is flawed. It’s not one bit. It has a fierce and passionate heart and from that heart steps a technically advanced menu and a wine list that elicits a jig. It’s a chef’s restaurant in the fact that the food is as elegant as it is simple. As simple as walking a tight rope.
Octopus served perfectly when the room is packed? Dang amazing. But add lamb, long beans, flat breads and Quail – in the hands of many, the breadth finicky items on the menu would go terribly awry. Timing is everything in a restaurant and like the floor staff, the timing in the kitchen was precise and charismatic.
I would suggest, however, that should you go to Saffron, you put yourself in the mood to enjoy the whole experience. The walls will shimmer, the wine will flow, the food will lead you down the evening’s path. Place the experience of dining before all else.
After all the Musée Carnavalet is just an old house with dust collectors and Swan is a hole in the wall with seafood and (no credit card machine) and Saffron Mediterranean Kitchen is just a jewel box. But if you’re willing to pause and listen to the heartbeat that leaps off of the menu, you’ll be loathe to leave and dream of your return.
125 West Alder Street Walla Walla, WA 99362 509 525-2112