Savoring Skagit

A few of my favorite things

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

The fun thing about writing about food is having an excuse to try every new restaurant, including as many dishes on the menu as possible. But at a certain point you tend to settle on your favorites and it becomes difficult to order anything else. After living in Skagit Valley for 20 years, I find I have a favorite thing to order pretty much everywhere we go.

Example: the macaroni and cheese at Seeds in La Conner. I know, I know, you can get mac and cheese everywhere these days. But this one is made with sharp, delicious Cougar Gold cheese melted into a thick rich sauce so soupy it’s served with a spoon, with a scattering of toasted breadcrumbs on top for contrast and crunch. While my favorite time eating this was out of a takeout cup in a pouring rainstorm, it’s also highly satisfying eaten at the restaurant with a martini or a good chardonnay.

Oysters are, of course, a quintessential food of Skagit, and my favorite way to eat them is straight from the shell with nothing on them. If you buy them at Taylor Shellfish Farm on Chuckanut Drive you can shuck them right there on the beach and slurp them up—plus you can pick up a loaf of garlic bread to heat up on the on-site barbecues for a truly decadent supper.

Skagit’s Own Fish Market is a regular stop whenever we need a good piece of fish for dinner, and I frequently plan my shopping visits to coordinate with lunchtime so I have an excuse to order a Dungeness crab sandwich. I was recently trying to describe Dungeness crab to someone who had never tried it, and wished I could just give them one of these—a soft hoagie roll buttered and toasted and piled high with fresh crab meat, lettuce and tomato. Simple but perfect.

Speaking of crab, we often regret it if one of us doesn’t order the crab pasta when we go to Nell Thorn (although it can be a difficult choice between that, the hanger steak with frites, or whatever amazing seasonal specials happen to be on the menu that day). While it changes slightly from season to season, it’s always a delightful tangle of spaghetti tossed with dark leafy greens, crab, garlic and hot chile flakes, and a lot of olive oil and parmesan. Leftovers are fantastic with a fried egg the next day (but there are not usually leftovers).

When out and about in the valley on a nice day, one’s thoughts naturally turn to the small but food-intensive town of Edison. If it’s breakfast time on a weekend, it’s always worth trying to snag a seat in Tweets for a truly excellent cup of coffee and a plate of shrimp and grits the size of your own head. After that, you are legally required to stop at the Breadfarm for some cookies (my personal favorites are the coconut macaroons, crispy on the outside and softly sweet on the inside). You will also want to visit Slough Food next door to sit out in the garden courtyard with a salumi and cheese plate and a glass of wine, or perhaps a perfectly toasted cheese sandwich with a salad of seasonal greens. If you time it right, they might be having an Oyster Feast or Paella Party (best to get on their mailing list for these). And if it’s dinner time, wind back up to BowEdison on Chuckanut Drive for a fancy cocktail (I like the Marty’s Martini) with a plate of their smoked salmon blini.

For those days when only a burger will do, I like the pub burger at Skagit River Brewery as well as the boar burger on a pretzel bun at A’Town Bistro, but the ultimate burger experience is to be had at Skagit Valley Burger Express, located in a caboose in a parking lot just outside Sedro-Woolley on Hwy 20. These are sloppy burgers, so you may need to get out of your car and eat at one of the picnic tables, or be prepared to hose down the inside of your car. I haven’t been able to decide if I prefer the blue cheese burger or the Atomic Mushroom with bacon. Or maybe the Jalapeño Ranch? Hmm, need to try them all again…

And finally, for less decadent cravings, the Pad Ba Mee from Rachawadee Café, a dish of smoky, wok-charred egg noodles tossed with vegetables, is my go-to takeout dinner. Also the Italian chop salad from Pacioni’s, a meal in a bowl that has gotten us through many difficult work nights. Its mix of greens, salami, artichokes and chickpeas is sustaining and delicious—proof that sticking to favorites doesn’t need to be a bad thing.

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