Feature

6 Delicious Reasons to Drive to Whidbey Island

By Paola Thomas  |  August 27, 2015
Credit: Paola Thomas

If you’re looking for a taste of island life within easy striking distance of Seattle, then Whidbey Island is for you. Take the short ferry ride via Mukilteo and you'll be on the charming isle in just 90 minutes. Enjoy the spectacular views of sparkling seas and misty mountains and relax into the chill and welcoming vibe. Plus, there's a vibrant community of farmers and foragers, roasters and brewers, artists and artisans ready to provide you with some of the best farm-to-table cooking in the Pacific Northwest. Here are six must-try spots for you to enjoy Whidbey Island's cooking at its finest.

All photos by Paola Thomas

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  • Knead & Feed

    Why It’s Cool: Knead & Feed has been a Coupeville institution ever since Mel Kroon opened it in 1974, with a bakery above and a homey restaurant overlooking the waters of Penn Cove below. Now run by the the third generation of the Kroon family, the spot offers top-notch homestyle cooking and is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. 

    Must-Order: The mussels, simply steamed with white wine and garlic, come straight out of the waters you peer into through the window and are as fresh, sweet and creamy as any you've ever had. They come with soft, freshly baked bread from the upstairs bakeshop, which is also used to make the lunchtime sandwiches. The breakfast pancakes are gigantic, fluffy delights and the gargantuan, billowy cinnamon rolls are pure decadence. 

    Insider Tip: There are only six tables in the dining room, so be prepared to wait if you’re here on a weekend. The portions are ample, but make sure you leave enough room for a slice of the wonderful housemade pie offered for dessert.

    4 Front St. NW, Coupeville; 360-678-5431

  • Kalakala Mercantile

    Why It’s Cool: This recent addition to the Langley scene is part cafe, part coffee shop, part beer garden and part purveyor of artisanal goods, with the whole having a spare, elegant aesthetic straight out of the pages of Kinfolk magazine. The carefully curated selections of "libations, sustenance and goods" are created by passionate farmers, growers, roasters, brewers and craftspeople. And the owner also happens to have a day job as an animator, which explains the beautiful chalkboard typography and custom art.

    Must-Order: The quiche is perfection — rich, eggy and wobbly with a crisp, flaky crust, and served with a simply dressed side salad speckled with poppy seeds. The pork banh mi is well constructed and flavorful and comes with a range of intriguing bottled sauces to try (and buy). Pair with coffee from Olympia Coffee, a short list of craft beers, kombucha on tap or bottled Pok Pok Som drinking vinegars. The kimchi deviled eggs and kimchi grilled cheese are also menu highlights.

    Insider Tip: Follow their Facebook page for advance notice of special events such as their Friday Board & Beer (beer specials and sandwiches), record-spinning nights, live music on the secluded patio, the recent donut pop-up shop and smoked chocolate s’mores round the fire pit.

    138 Second St., Langley; 360-221-0161

  • Captain Whidbey Inn

    Why It’s Cool: The Inn is a historic log building — full of fascinating antiques — and has been a romantic hot spot for over a hundred years thanks to its rustic setting on the banks of Penn Cove. Chef Ryan Houser came on board in 2014 and focuses his menu around locally raised, grown and foraged ingredients. He uses Native Lummi, French and Japanese techniques in his fresh take on Pacific Northwest classic cuisine.

    Must-Order: The seafood is — not surprisingly, given that you can see the mussel beds from the terrace — stunningly fresh and good. Order a bowl of the freshest steamers or go for the Fruits de Mer, gnocchi topped with the bivalves along with clams, local smoked salmon, Dungeness crab and roasted tomatoes in a crème fraîche and basil sauce. The halibut served with a savory and succulent tombo tuna poke, sweet roasted tomatoes and a zingy cilantro ginger salad was an inspired combination, while non-seafood lovers will enjoy the honey- and nut-crusted local lamb shank paired with a sweet corn spoonbread.

    Insider Tip: Reserve a table next to the window for the unbeatable views of Penn Cove or, when the weather is warm, ask to sit outside on the terrace overlooking the Inn’s private dock.

    2072 W. Captain Whidbey Inn Rd., Coupeville; 800-366-4097

  • The Inn at Langley

    Why It’s Cool: The 11-course set tasting menu at the Inn is somewhere between haute cuisine and perfectly choreographed performance art. Dinner here is a compelling three-hour show served on stunning tableware against a backdrop of chef Matt Costello’s display kitchen and the luxurious lodge-style decor of the intimate dining room.

    Must-Order: With their tongues firmly in their cheeks, the team serves black cod covered with "camouflage" (in reality, shards of kale and squid ink) and a "raw egg" made with coconut and mango, and they flourish smoke-filled glass domes over the duck breast to add subtle notes of cinnamon and cloves. The little decorative terrariums hanging above our heads turned out to house one of the desserts, and all the elements of "Grandma’s Handbag," from the lipstick through the coins to the wadded-up tissues, turned out to be delightfully edible. 

    But it’s not just showmanship. Costello’s flavor combinations are superb, especially the masterly way he combines sweet and savory, and the cooking exemplary — the succulent black cod and melt-in-the-mouth Kagoshima beef will long remain in our memories. And the favorite course might just have been the perfectly tender buttermilk biscuit, served with softly whipped bacon fat and a delicate plum preserve — salty, sweet and oh so good. 

    Insider Tip: The wine pairings, featuring unusual local and international wines, are generous and truly add an extra dimension to the meal, though a glass of bubbly is included in the meal price.

    400 First St., Langley; 360-221-3033

  • The Oystercatcher

    Why It’s Cool: The vibe at The Oystercatcher in Coupeville is laid-back, but the food is anything but, with a stream of perfectly executed high-end plates coming out of the small open kitchen. Chef Tyler Hansen (with his wife Sara managing front of house) strives to offer simply good food, to showcase the outstanding local produce he uses. This is true farm-to-table cooking, with the names of local suppliers all listed on the menu, which changes frequently according to what’s in season. 

    Must-Order: The fried green tomatoes, served in an heirloom tomato salad, were outstanding — firm, crisp and breaded to perfection. The mussels, in a intensely flavorful broth, were the best we had on the island (which is really saying something) and the housemade bread (rosemary olive, molasses oatmeal or sourdough) is a revelation. It is a pleasure to see unusual delicacies such as rabbit and sweetbreads on the menu, both cooked with exemplary skill, and the lamb cassoulet was rich, sticky and satisfying.

    Insider Tip: This is where the chefs eat. We glimpsed chef Matt Costello from the Inn at Langley dining here on his evening off. 

    901 Grace St., Coupeville; 360-678-0683

  • Prima Bistro

    Why It’s Cool: Located right on the waterfront in Langley, this bistro, with its lovely second-floor patio and amazing views over Saratoga Passage, could so easily be a tourist trap. Instead this friendly, relaxed, family-friendly restaurant, serving French-inspired seasonal Northwest food made with care from local ingredients, is a true gem.

    Must-Order: The succulent Muscovy duck confit, served with warm Puy lentils and a sharp red wine and bacon vinaigrette to cut the richness is a menu highlight, while the lamb burger was thick and juicy and served with a heap of exceptionally crispy fries. There is an extensive list of exceptional small plates — try the house-smoked salmon, the roasted marrow bones and the Matiz sardines. All the charcuterie is made in-house and is a real highlight, as are the housemade pickles.

    Insider Tip: The daily happy hour from 3 to 6 PM is a must due to the full cocktail bar and extensive wine list, with many wines served by the glass, and a happy-hour menu of the small plates that Prima does so well.

    201 1/2 First St., Langley; 360-221-4060