Breakfast at Blue Moose Café (Port Townsend, WA)

“If a messy kitchen is a happy one, this one is delirious.”

How can you not like a café that has the chutzpah to post that above their kitchen?

How about, “The reason we’re not all here is because we’re not all there”? There is even a banner on a wall emblazoned with a single word: BACON! Add to that a pretty carefree approach to interior design, mainly the abundant use of primary colors (especially blue) and enough visual clutter to make you wonder where Waldo is, you pretty much have an idea what it’s like in the Blue Moose Café. Open only for breakfast and lunch, it’s secluded in the back part of Haines Street in the middle of Port Townsend’s Boat Haven shipyard. If I hadn’t found out about it on TripAdvisor, I might never have discovered it on my own.

The interior isn’t large. Some tables are squished almost right up against one another. Each table has its own bottles of catsup, Tabasco sauce and Huy Fong rooster sauce, not to mention a jar of killer housemade apricot jam. You can also sit at the counter on one of four stools. The entire floor is sealed concrete. Coffee is supplied by Port Townsend’s popular Sunrise Coffee, which itself has a building just down the street.

But funky decor is not what makes Blue Moose. It’s the food. Beyond the tongue-in-cheek names for some menu items (like This Ain’t No Atkins’ Special or Last Night I was Dreaming About Elvis), the basics are here: eggs, bacon, ham, pancakes, corned beef hash (“No can openin’ here!”), omelettes, biscuits ‘n gravy, oatmeal, etc. But, there are also interesting twists on classics, such as Smokin’ Joe (a Joe’s special with smoked salmon instead of ground beef) or a french toast made with housemade brioche and dipped in vanilla custard, served with honey-pecan butter. Many items appear to be originals, the most popular of which are the scooters, lightly grilled flour tortillas filled with various stuffings, reminiscent of burritos.

Deciding what we wanted was a chore, a happy one, to be sure. It was at least ten minutes after we were handed the menus that we finally decided.

Moose bagel features a toasted Bob’s bagel (also of Port Townsend), your choice of three kinds. My wife picked the everything, a savory bagel studded with poppy and sesame seeds. She also opted for a vegetarian sausage (instead of ham, bacon or sausage) that was made mostly of pecans, which was quite flavorful. Scrambled eggs and cheddar completed the fillings, a very good breakfast sandwich (☆☆☆).

Moose bagel with vegetarian sausage

Moose bagel with vegetarian sausage

My scooter was filled with scrambled eggs, chorizo and cheddar and jack cheeses, and topped with salsa, sour cream and a darn good cilantro-chile sauce. Instead of the standard black beans, I substituted potatoes. The black beans might’ve worked better because the potatoes were mealy, exacerbated by steaming in the tortilla wrap. Overall, a good menu (☆☆½) item.

Scooter with chorizo and cilantro sauce

Scooter with chorizo and cilantro sauce

The waitresses were all extremely friendly and accommodating—substituting the potatoes for the beans, giving me extra cilantro sauce when requested, ever filling up our coffee cups without our asking. A pretty happy bunch, they obviously like working here. Blue Moose’s seclusion well outside the historic district doesn’t keep customers from coming, however. Even if today were a Saturday morning, I get the feeling it’s busy all the time. This is one place we’ll be sure to have breakfast every time we visit Port Townsend.

Blue Moose Café
311 Haines Pl, #B
Port Townsend, WA

Hot Dog Heaven: Dogs-A-Foot (Port Townsend, WA)

I discovered Dogs-A-Foot several years ago when my wife and I were strolling down Water Street and came upon it. Occupying a small corner lot on Water and Madison Streets at the northeastern edge of the Waterfront District, it has been serving hot dogs to legions of fans for over 25 years. Today, I discovered that John Sheehan, the original owner, sold the business about five years ago to Paul and Lisa Flor. There doesn’t appear to have been a beat missed during the transition, for the dogs are as good as ever.

Though there are tables outside, some with umbrellas, and though Port Townsend benefits from the “rain shadow” effect of the Olympic mountains, absorbing more than half as much precipitation as falls on Seattle, it can rain on your parade, not to mention get blustery from the winds that come in from Admiralty Bay. When the weather turns bad, the only shelter is a tiny enclosed space outside the trailer in which the kitchen is housed, or you’ll have to eat in your car. Today, however, was a perfect day to eat outside. During the winter months (November-late March), the whole operation shuts down. Many a local eagerly await its re-opening every year.

The secret to its superb hot dogs are a high-quality sausage, which is grilled, and a New York-style grilled bun, an excellent complement with its gluten-y chewiness. For me, grilling is essential to accentuate a sausage’s flavor. Boiling them is heresy—all the flavor gets leached out. If there is any difference between Sheehan and Flor’s hot dogs at all, Flor’s buns are somewhat over-toasted for my taste, though it doesn’t affect the dog’s enjoyment. Other sausages include spicy smoked, smoked chicken, smoked Italian and andouille. Years ago, Sheehan (the original owner) told me that they are sourced from a local company. Flor obviously does the same. You can order any one of them with or without the usual condiments (mustard, catsup, sweet relish and onions), or you can get any of the ten specialties, including a Chicago dog, which apparently is new owner Flor’s favorite (having hailed from the Windy City) and the only dog with a steamed sausage. I recall Sheehan’s special combinations having been slightly different. New is a gluten-free bun that can be substituted for $1.25 extra. Extra condiments include bacon, cream cheese, cheddar, homemade slaw, jalapeños or sport peppers, spicy onion sauté, sauerkraut, tomato, and pickle.

Polish hot dog with the works

Polish hot dog with the works

Gonzo lonzo

Gonzo lonzo (a Polish with the works and pickled jalapeño and Thai peppers)

Hot dogs made by John Sheehan in 2007

Hot dogs made by John Sheehan in 2007

Aside from the off-season, Dogs-A-Foot is closed on Tuesdays. This is important enough that I will likely schedule by next visit to Port Townsend on other days of the week. Seriously? You betcha.

Water & Madison Streets
Port Townsend, WA 98368

Dinner at Alchemy Bistro & Wine Bar (Port Townsend, WA)

Restaurants not along Water Street in Port Townsend tend not to get noticed as much, even if Washington Street is only a block north. But, you’ll likely see Alchemy Bistro & Wine Bar because of two landmarks in the city: the classic Rose Theatre and the Haller Fountain and the stairs behind it that climb to Jefferson Street. Back in 2008, the location was occupied by Galatea Café that specialized in tapas. Alchemy has since taken over the spot and, though bistro suggests French cuisine, the menu reaches to boundaries beyond France.

As with many finer restaurants, the menu changes seasonally. Alchemy also sources its ingredients from local growers, which at least relieves the mind when it wonders where in the world the food is coming from. Happy hour (or what it calls Bar & Bites) is available in the bar daily from 4pm. And as befitting a wine bar, there is an impressive collection of bottles toward the back of the dining room near the kitchen. With the evening’s specials, there is even a suggested pairing by the glass or bottle, which we found to be spot on.

What looked appealing from the beginning was moule-frites, Penn Cove mussels steamed in white wine with linguiça sausage, fennel, and garlic, and paired with shoestring potatoes, but we weren’t in the mood for appetizers. And as we don’t cook lamb at home, I would normally have picked the lamb shanks, one of the kitchen’s specialties, except that the dish sounded more substantial than I wanted at that moment.

So, my wife and I both just selected something from the specials menu.

This is the season for wild Copper River salmon. Their fish was lightly grilled, perfectly cooked, the salmon’s extra oiliness ensuring succulent bites throughout (☆☆☆½). It was augmented by a terrific sautéed spinach. Complementing the dish was a recommended glass of verdicchio.

Copper river salmon, roasted shallot cream, roasted potatoes and sautéed spinach

Copper river salmon, roasted shallot cream, roasted potatoes and sautéed spinach

I ordered the pan-seared scallops. Listed on the menu as Colossal Scallops (☆☆☆) (which they were), they were sauced with a nice lemon-garlic vinaigrette. A glass of gros manseng was an excellent pairing.

Colossal scallops, lemon-garlic vinaigrette, saffron rice, vegetable and jicama slaw

Colossal scallops, lemon-garlic vinaigrette, saffron rice, vegetable and jicama slaw

Port Townsend has many good restaurants. Alchemy Bistro & Wine Bar is among them.

Alchemy Bistro & Wine Bar
842 Washington Street
Port Townsend, WA 98368

Sammamish River Trail Garden

There is a small water conservation demonstration garden along the Sammamish River Trail, right below the NE 85th overpass in downtown Redmond, that showcases plants that draw insects attractive to salmon and birds. The garden design simulates a riparian environment by its system of mounded beds, large rocks and gravel pathways. It also provides photographic opportunities throughout much of the year.

mugwort and geranium

Western mugwort (artemisia ludoviciana) and geranium ‘Ann Folkard’

geranium 'ann folkard'

Geranium ‘Ann Folkard’


Red horse chestnut

Red horsechestnut (aesculus x carnea)

Catmint (nepeta faasseni)

Lily 'Stella d'Oro' (hemerocallis fulva 'stella d'oro')

Lily ‘Stella d’Oro’ (hemerocallis fulva ‘stella d’oro’)

Dwarf mock orange (philadelphus 'snow dwarf')

Dwarf mock orange (philadelphus ‘snow dwarf’)

Fluffy Ground Cover

At this time of year in the Seattle area, cottonwood trees release their seeds deposited in downy, cottony puffs that become airborne on the slightest breeze. They swirl around like snowflakes, a little puzzling when you see them for the first time well past winter’s end. In some places, they can accumulate in such quantity that they appear as a light dusting of snow, like these that were caught on blades of grass along the Sammamish River Trail in Redmond.

Porky Pleasure: Pernil Divino at La Isla (Redmond, WA)

Puerto Ricans, like other Caribbean islanders, know how to roast pork. Their lechon asado is legendary. Puertorriqueños need no introduction to this slow-roasted (or barbecued) pork that are famously made at lechoneras on the island. I had every intention of seeking one out when my wife and I were in Puerto Rico in 2006, but an ill-considered short stay on the island in favor of a longer one in Miami regrettably didn’t leave enough time to do that.

Last year, I came across a Puerto Rican restaurant called La Isla in Seattle’s Ballard neighborhood. Looking over the menu, I decided on the pernil bowl that was on the lunch menu. What a revelation that was—another slow-roasted pork dish for which Puerto Ricans are known. A dieter and health-freak’s nightmare, it owes much of its substantial flavor and unctuousness to generous amounts of fat, including a fat cap that bastes the meat at it roasts in a slow oven over several hours. A bite of one of these pulled meats can leave greasy tracks on your lips and tongue, maybe even yield a generous strip of silken fat that my wife refuses to put in her mouth (but I, by inference, don’t).

We were in downtown Redmond today when we came across a second branch of La Isla, which opened only last year.  Aside from its popular pollo guisado, I let my wife pick what we would share (including a house salad with island rum dressing). Hands down, it was the pernil, after she asked me about it.

It was every bit as good as I remember it, maybe even better, as the fork-tender pieces melted in the mouth, needing none of the small dishes of sauce served on the side (a Thousand Island and a vinegary and mild chile sauce, reminiscent of a tame sambal oelek). I wondered what happened to the garlicky mojito sauce, a citrusy aioli that was spectacular in its own right, that was served in Ballard. Underneath the pernil was a delicious arroz con gandules, rice with pigeon peas that was infused with pork drippings and accentuated by achiote’s earthy flavor and sweet tomatoes. Even if a standard pernil recipe calls for a substantial amount of garlic in a marinade made with olive oil and oregano, La Isla’s wasn’t pungently garlicky by any means, an unforgettable entrée (☆☆☆☆) that we will likely order time and again.

If we can pull ourselves away from the pernil, the pollo guisado would be a good choice to try. I also noted a dish that was a specialty (and a personal favorite) at Barragan’s in Los Angeles—ropa vieja (“old clothes”)—that is popular in the Caribbean. La Isla’s happy hour menu and drinks also caught our attention.

La Isla
16505 Redmond Way
Bldg B, Suite A
Redmond, WA 98052

Signs of Spring at the Farmers’ Market

It won’t be soon enough for summer produce, which will begin to appear in earnest next month. Still, the Issaquah Farmers’ Market is drawing customers with spring flowers and vegetables.

Banana Slug: Our S(ub)lime Northwest Mascot

The Pacific Northwest has, it seems, zillions of slugs. Their mighty jaws chew through flower gardens like Godzilla rampaging through Tokyo. They are dark brown or black—and they were introduced from the outside, interlopers (like the gray squirrels that have overtaken the Douglas squirrels’ domain here), the European red and black slugs. Our native species is the banana slug, which reportedly prefers to eat the seedlings of non-native trees. How can a Northwesterner not love them? They’re not so common anymore, but occasionally you can see them out in the wild. I saw this one today on a trail in O. O. Denny Park in Kirkland.

Washed Up in Akaroa (New Zealand)

Along the rocky beach of Akaroa’s French Bay, the low tide exposes all sorts of interesting things. Among them are seashells, including turrets that curiously seem to accumulate in one small area.

Turrets along French Bay, Akaroa, New Zealand

Turrets along French Bay, Akaroa, New Zealand

The tide pools reveal not only various forms of sea life, including small crabs, mollusks and sea cucumbers, but marine algae, including this most unusual-looking brown seaweed, hormosira banksii, commonly known as Neptune’s Necklace. They are found only in New Zealand and Australia. Besides jewelry, even children’s pop beads, they look to me like strung-together green olives.

Neptune's Necklage (Hormosira banksii)

Neptune’s Necklage (Hormosira banksii)