Name: Beach Store Cafe.
Quick bites: One recent Sunday, a group of us Bellingham residents walked onto the Whatcom Chief at Gooseberry Point for the short ferry ride to Lummi Island for an early dinner at the Beach Store Cafe. The sky was blue, the day was warm without being hot, and Hale Passage sparkled with a thousand points of light. On the island, I looked back to see majestic and snow-capped Mount Baker rising over the landscape.
My goal was a delicious meal in a magical island setting that I didn’t have to work too hard to get to, and that evening’s trip with three friends was exactly what I wanted – reminding me that my home is a special place.
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After a short walk from the ferry landing to the cheery yellow house that is home to the cafe, we found a seat on the deck with a view of Hale Passage and Mount Baker. The menu featured a burger, fish and chips, salads, mussels, pasta, pizza, chicken and steak — in short, a lot of the same comfort foods you’d find in other eateries around Whatcom County and the Pacific Northwest.
But Jason Brubaker and Tess Winds-Johnson, the cafe’s owners since October 2014, have a deft touch that elevates their dishes and fits their goal of offering comfort food with a twist.
It was summer and I craved picnic food of sorts, so I went with the Southern-fried Cornish game hen with curried potato salad and greens for $17. A Cornish game hen is small and a hybrid of Cornish and White Rock chickens, so the diner is often served the whole bird.
I bit into the cafe’s version of fried chicken and was surprised by the sweet-savory flavor, although dabs of infused honey on my plate hinted at what had been drizzled on the hen. The dish had a wow factor. The inside was perfectly tender and the skin was lightly breaded and crispy – it was dredged in rice flour and spices – without being greasy. I loved its pairing with the potato salad mixed with egg, mayonnaise, capers and a mild Indian curry that imparted aromatic notes.
I also indulged in a slice of the $14 mushroom pizza made with mozzarella, fresh thyme, truffle oil and artichoke puéee (which solves the problem for those who like artichokes but hate biting into chunks of it). This white pizza had plenty of gooey cheese, and the flowery thyme brought out the earthiness of the mushrooms. The crust also was just right, both airy and chewy.
The $6 mixed greens with roasted beets, candied walnuts, orange, blue cheese and citrus vinaigrette were a colorful treat for the eyes though heavy on the cheese and close to being overdressed.
One friend appreciated the satisfying comfort of Bolognese made with Lummi Island lamb, fettuccine and a hint of fresh pesto for $17, while the one who ordered the spring fettuccine for $16 raved about his meal.
The pasta was served with a generous amount of asparagus, portobello mushrooms, pea shoots and shaved Parmesan, and my friend, a dedicated meat-eater, praised the vegetable dish for its texture and called it light and refreshing.
I’ve read that the cafe has a fine wine selection, but I was in the mood for beer, going with favorites: Shoe Toss Rye IPA from Wander Brewing in Bellingham and Moose Drool brown ale from Big Sky Brewing out of Montana for about $5 a pint.
We left room for dessert, of course.
The chocolate torte with orange creme anglaise, for $7, was dark and divine, with a refreshing note from the orange flavor.
But the show-stopper for me was the tiramisu, for $7. I usually hesitate to order this Italian dessert when I’m out because it can be disappointingly soggy, but not the cafe’s version.
Winds-Johnson lightly dipped ladyfingers into a mixture of brewed coffee and shots of espresso and rum, and then layered them with a mixture of slightly sweet mascarpone cheese, heavy cream, egg yolk and vanilla. Each bite was a combination of bitter coffee-chocolate and rich-sweet creaminess contrasted by the sponginess of the ladyfingers.
You should know: It’s summer tourist season so space on the ferry will be in high demand on the weekends. It’s best to leave your car on the mainland at Gooseberry Point and walk onto the ferry to Lummi Island. The Beach Store Cafe is an easy walk from the ferry landing, or bring your bicycle, if you want to ride around the small island. It’s also cheaper to walk on – $7 round trip vs. $13 for a vehicle and the driver. More is online at www.co.whatcom.wa.us/382/Ferry.
Also, most of the cafe’s food can be made to be gluten-free.