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Food

Big Rock Cafe

Another roadside attraction

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Once upon a time, when my husband and I lived in an old farmhouse on College Way in Mount Vernon, we frequently drove by the Big Rock Café and Grocery at the intersection of College Way and Highway 9, but it was not an attractive business and it simply never occurred to us to stop there.

Some years (and owners) later, it has transformed into a remarkably appealing destination diner and music venue, with the added bonus of a convenience store and gas station attached. We finally got around to trying it this month.

The café now sits right on the Highway 9 roundabout, and it’s not immediately obvious how to get into the parking areas from the road. The trick is to go through the roundabout onto 9 and take one of the entrances from either the north or south, at which point you can access the free-for-all parking around the building and gas station.

Given that the temperature on our first visit was well below freezing, we opted to sit inside (although there were a few smokers using the outdoor area). Like any good roadside café, the décor includes plenty of mounted animal heads, including the requisite jackalope. At the moment, they also have a regular Christmas tree plus an upside-down, ceiling-mounted one, and several signs of the “eat here, get gas” and “you look like I need a beer” variety.

The bar offers a good local beer list with a few revolving taps, cheap wine and a surprisingly good selection of spirits and house cocktails. There’s a nice appetizer list, including fresh or fried oysters, nachos, local clams, and a hummus plate, but I most regret that I have not yet tried their Mac Daddy Poppers ($9.99): bacon-wrapped jalapeños stuffed with mac and cheese. I’ll get to them eventually, but so far we’ve stuck to the pub menu, and haven’t had a dud yet.

Fish and chips ($11.99) came in a generous portion, with both tartar sauce and cocktail sauce. The fish is battered, not breaded, and while the coating was fairly thick and not particularly crisp, it was very tasty. Chips were available as either “home fries” or “crispy fries.” We had the latter, which were lightly battered and highly addictive.

One of us tried the falafel burger ($10.99) and liked it a lot, although the sandwich refused to hold together and had to be eaten with knife and fork. I went for the Bleu Burger ($11.99), which was topped with fine crispy bacon and had melted blue cheese dripping down all over everything, which is exactly the way it should be. The burger buns were nicely toasted and toppings were plentiful.

In addition to fries, we tried the Carolina-style (no mayo) coleslaw. It seemed a little bland—maybe not quite enough vinegar in the dressing? The potato salad, however, was far from dry. In fact, it was like a bowl of mustardy mayonnaise dressing with potato pieces suspended in it. I liked it.

Breakfast, which we tried out a week later, was not quite as successful in some ways: the coffee was disappointingly thin, and biscuits and gravy ($7.99), while plentiful, were served on the lukewarm side and needed extra salt. But the Big Rock is a great place to hang out on a Sunday morning with a Seahawks game on the TV, and the chance to sit and eat corned beef hash ($10.99) with buttery Breadfarm toast and a North Sound Brewery ESB is nothing to sneeze at.

The winning plate at our table was the Lil’ Rock breakfast ($6.99), a perfectly cooked egg with thin bacon and very crispy hash browns, perfectly portioned for a less massive appetite. My friend was also quite happy with her “Manmosa,” a generous pour of orange juice and bubbly in the ubiquitous mason jar mug, which she considered was a great deal for $5.50.

On future visits I plan to try the burrito (although not the one with sausage gravy that promises to change your life [expectancy]) and the breakfast sandwich. I think I will also skip the “Morning Wood” (“only one thing better in the morning”) served on a glazed doughnut ($8.99 each).

Despite all the signs and notices telling customers to keep complaints to themselves, service has been really stellar on all of my visits—prompt, friendly and correct. What more do you need for a perfect roadside hangout?

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