Food

Brandywine Kitchen

A farm-fresh friendship

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

What do you get when you take a great friendship and turn it into a business partnership?

In many cases, the friendship would be on the rocks, but Bellingham locals Azizi Tookas and Chris Sunde turned theirs into Brandywine Kitchen, a longtime lunch and dinner restaurant on Commercial Street that hums daily with happy diners.

Sunde’s and Tookas’ relationship dates back to their kindergarten days and stretches into their adult years (both are in their late 30s). The two attended Western Washington University together—Sunde studied psychology while Tookas’ degree was in comparative religion—and worked part time in local restaurants as line cooks and managers. Eventually, they began growing heirloom tomatoes and selling them at the Bellingham Farmers Market.

“Being next to the farmers made us think we should blend their ingredients into dishes and sell them,” Sunde says. “Today it’s the norm in Bellingham and everyone expects local restaurants to use local produce, but 12 years ago it was a novel idea.”

Soon they were selling food at the market under the name Brandywine Kitchen, named after one of the varieties of heirloom tomatoes they grow.

When Tivoli Restaurant went out of business in 2011, its owners approached Sunde and Tookas to inquire if they’d be interested in moving into the downtown space. The suggestion was a lightbulb moment for the pair and they jumped at the opportunity, doing small renovations to make the space distinctly theirs.

“I wanted Brandywine Kitchen to be the kind of place where I’d choose to eat out in Bellingham, a restaurant with quality food and a fun, family-friendly environment,” Sunde says. Tuscan hues of red and mustard predominate in the long, rectangular space, where exposed brick walls add a casual atmosphere and tables are configured to deliver a communal feel.

The menu features a daily soup, salads, sandwiches and entrees, and many of the items are gluten-free. We ordered a Mediterranean sandwich ($10.50), a fabulous lunch with layers of pan-fried eggplant, mozzarella, tomato, basil aioli and balsamic. My three kids tussled over who would get the two halves, and it was scarfed down with alacrity.

I tried the Tofu Banh Mi ($11.99), a Vietnamese-style bun composed of tofu and cabbage salad, but much preferred the gluten-free fish and chips ($12.50), a large serving of three crusted fish portions and a hefty quantity of French fries. The salmon cakes ($12.50) are a delicious menu staple you won’t easily find elsewhere. Wild salmon is mixed with quinoa and fried, then served with a fresh green salad. (Other gluten-free items include the mac and cheese and pork and fish tacos.)

At Brandywine, you get the feeling that everything on the menu is healthy and prepared with care. The men’s philosophy is seed-to-plate, a belief that understanding and supporting local food systems leads to a superior product. Local vendors supplying the restaurant include Draper Valley Farms, Hempler’s Meats, Cloud Mountain Farms, Terra Verde Farms, Holmquist Hazelnuts, and Brandywine Gardens, home to the pair’s tomato patch.

Years after they first opened their business, the two are still growing heirloom tomatoes (look for samples of their crop on your plate) and their friendship is as solid as ever.

“I’m thankful to have Azizi as a partner,” Sunde says. “We balance well, we’re able to troubleshoot any problems that come our way, we have the same goals and we know each other well enough to know how to figure things out.”

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