Third Street Cafe

Turning Skagit into a food mecca

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

It’s been a year since the grand opening of the Skagit Valley Food Co-op’s new venture, C•Square, in downtown Mount Vernon. The addition to an already excellent grocery of a charcuterie department, bakery, coffee bar and full-service restaurant was fabulous, but unfortunately I’ve found the food at the Third Street Café to be pleasant, but not memorable. That promises to change now that the Co-op has brought on Executive Chef Maryna Frederiksen.

Originally from South Africa, Frederiksen has worked and studied all over the world, but cooking is something she fell into after getting a master’s degree and beginning a teaching career in history and political science. She first became interested in food while in college, when she began teaching herself to cook from books. Then, when her history studies took her to Europe, including a year in Spain, she realized the depth of her love for good food.

“The food grasped me, enticed me,” she says. “I wanted to learn to cook like this.” During her time there she found restaurants who would let her step into their kitchens, teaching her to make specialty dishes such as tapas and paella. After a stint as a bartender on a cruise ship, she took an internship in the cruise company’s Swiss hotel, learning to work in a commercial kitchen and cook traditional French cuisine.

“I was so intimidated,” she says, between the language barrier and having to learn kitchen skills, but she worked hard to educate herself. “I read everything I could get my hands on.”

In following years she worked in restaurants in San Francisco, Orlando, and Seattle (including a stint at the Herbfarm), which left her with a permanent crush on the Pacific Northwest. She was executive chef at the Big Easy, a celebrity-owned restaurant in Miami, when she learned of the opening at Third Street.

“When the opportunity popped up I thought, ‘Oh my gosh!’ I decided to throw caution to the wind and spread my sails,” Frederiksen says. She is delighted to be back in the Northwest, where she can indulge not just in cooking but also in sailing, kayaking and cycling, and loves the slower pace here.

She sees her new restaurant as a huge opportunity for creating local, organic cuisine. “I could build our menu entirely from local ingredients,” she says, estimating that right now the cafe’s offerings are about 80 percent locally sourced—not to mention that at C•Square they bake all goods in-house, all meats are butchered in-house, and their charcuterie and smoked meats are produced on site as well.

Since Frederiksen came on two months ago, she has been reviewing and overhauling the menu. The always-popular burger and the fish and chips are still there, but she says that nothing has gone unimproved, and there are plenty of new items. She promises that the menu will change seasonally as well, and is looking ahead to wild game for winter.

My visits to Third Street since the new menu launched have been a revelation. The pork belly lollipops with candied jalapeños ($9) are rich and delicious, and the fried green tomato with chevre and tomato jam ($9) is a wonderful flavor combination. It’s the sort of food that goes perfectly with a beer or a cocktail for happy hour.

Frederiksen also has a knack for creating interesting salads. Her watermelon salad with cotija and cilantro ($9) is getting rave reviews. The rustic Caesar salad ($12), made with local greens, is dusted with grated egg yolk and Parmesan and topped with a marinated anchovy, for a stylish riff on the traditional recipe. I did wish it had a little more dressing, although that was not an issue with the Café salad ($5), a perfect combination of greens, vegetables, cotija and a delightfully acidic vinaigrette made with grilled lemon.

Pea pesto linguine ($15) was a little dull on one visit, but a pizza with house-made Canadian bacon, pepperoni and a sweet-smoky red sauce ($12) was a standout. Frederiksen loves lamb, and has added lamb ribs to the menu as both an appetizer ($13) and, on a bed of corn chow chow, as an entrée ($24).

Frederiksen is particularly excited about the daily seafood specials she’s offering. “Specials are what I think people should come back for,” she says. If the recent lunch special of perfectly battered, crisp-skinned salmon on a brioche bun with avocado, arugula and chipotle aioli ($13) is any indication, she is absolutely right.

“I’m a little obsessed with food…I love making people happy with food,” she says. Her vision is to turn Third Street Café into a destination for amazing local cuisine. “Let’s turn Skagit into a food mecca.”

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