Retirement, for many, is the opportunity to get out and explore and the nearby Skagit Valley offers a fresh look at the local food movement right next door.
From fresh Samish Bay oysters to pick your own organic produce, locally made wine, hand-made goat cheese and distinctive artisan breads, the valley is truly a salad bowl as Rexville Grocery owner Stuart Welch describes it.
The following is a list of food purveyors where you can sample the true Skagit flavor:
19271 Best Road
Marin County natives Joyce and Stuart Welch opened Rexville Grocery in a small, historic building on Best Road giving it a gourmet and international flair.
Rexville specializes in gourmet cheeses, wine, catering, and ethnic foods, live seafood, local jams and produce and on-site organic coffee roasting.
The deli is open daily and offers sandwiches, salads, soups, not the least of which is the “writer’s tuna” affectionately named after La Conner writer and cult icon Tom Robbins and features albacore tuna, kim chee, the spicy, Korean fermented cabbage concoction, along with evenly spread mayonnaise on local Breadfarm bread. The café features breakfast on weekends from 7 a.m. to noon.
Try the smoked salmon frittata with fresh dill or the Hangtown fry with local fried Samish Bay oysters, served on scrambled eggs with veggies, topped with Hollandaise sauce and served with potatoes and toast ($8.95).
Also, be sure to check out their on-going summer wine tasting events and annual White Trash Food Festival at 1 p.m. Saturday, August 1.
For a complete list of events, check out their website at www.rexvillegrocery.com
Farm To Market Bakery
14003 Gilmoore Avenue
Farm To Market Bakery owner Jim Kowalski has more than 20 years of experience working with great food as a professional chef, but for him, Skagit Valley is where it’s at.
“If you think about it, you have world class shellfish, agriculture and bread making all within a 10 mile radius,” he said. “It’s a chef’s dream for me, because, really, it’s all about the food.”
When this reporter caught up to Kowalski, a large bearded man carrying a cardboard box filled with freshly cut basil walked through the door. “I grew this,” he said. “Do you want it?” Kowalski gladly accepted.
He got his start in the Pacific Northwest in 2001 when he helped start Bellingham’s popular Nimbus restaurant. After graduating from the Culinary Institute of America in New York and working for Sandbar Inn in South Hero, Vermont, he was invited by a friend, Rick Hillyard, to help open the restaurant on the top of Bellingham Towers. The two had a cutting edge business model: to offer local, fresh and gourmet food with an emphasis on vegetarian foods. At the time, Kowalski said eating sustainable and local was just starting to catch on in places like Bellingham.
“There was a movement in Vermont, where there has always been an abundance of local farms, produce and cheeses,” he said. “But when we came in to Bellingham, the Calumet was probably considered the best restaurant in town. The idea was on the forefront then and it was a lot of hard work, but we saw our vision through and the restaurant was very successful.”
In 2006, Kowalski moved on to work a year-long stint at Edison’s artisan bakery, The Breadfarm, in an effort to round out his culinary training. In April, 2008, he and his wife, Lisa, bought Farm To Market Bakery from two Skagit Valley entrepreneurs Dorris and Chelan Robbins.
Kowalski adopted many of the recipes established by the bakery’s original owners but with minor revisions. That includes local produce – much of which is grown on-site from the couple’s three generously-sized garden plots – and other healthy ingredients. Nitrate-free meats come from Hempler’s meats in Bellingham while cream and eggs are bought from local dairies.
A quiche of the day might include wild porcini mushrooms, local cream, local eggs and Samish Bay cheese. A sandwich might utilize asparagus and beets from the garden on crusty Breadfarm bread with a chevre from Gothberg Farms, he said.
Other winners are the polenta cake, a gritty, cornmeal cake soaked in a simple lime syrup created by former owners Dorris and Chelan Robbins, the strawberry scones made with local berries, and the rhubarb pie with fresh ginger and orange zest.
5766 Cains Court
Scott and Renee Mangold opened Breadfarm in 2003. The bakery features deliciously crusty breads using local ingredients.
The Samish River potato loaf, for example, is packed with whole pieces of local organic potatoes from Frog Song Farm on Fir Island, and the Blanchard black olive baguette, a French-style baguette with oil-cured Moroccan black olives, are baked in the bakery’s hearth oven.
Eggs are purchased from Skagit River Ranch in Sedro-Woolley, and honey for their Challah bread is purchased from Bill’s Bees in Edison. Rye and whole-wheat flours are purchased from Fairhaven Mill in Bellingham.
“What we’re trying to get back to with this business is the local economy, where people come to the bread store and get their bread and people go to Skagit River Ranch and get their meat, where people vote with their dollar and keep it in the community. If you buy Safeway bread, almost all that money goes somewhere else. But if you spend it here, we spend it on potatoes and honey.”
The Breadfarm is located at 5766 Cain’s Court in Bow and can be reached at 360/766-4065. Their web site is www.breadfarm.com
2182 Chuckanut Drive
Taylor Shellfish offers the freshest, most direct shellfish for less than you would pay at a grocery store. Here you can pick up fresh, locally raised and harvested clams, oysters, geoducks, mussels and crab by the dozen. Frozen halibut, sockeye, coho and king salmon are also available. The retail store is open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily. Also, be sure to check out Taylor Shellfish’s 7th annual Bivalve Bash and Low Tide Mud Run on July 25. www.bivalvebash.com
5521 Chuckanut Drive
Located on the bottom of Chuckanut Drive in Edison, the Rhododendron Café could very well be one of the best-kept secrets in Skagit Valley. Don and Carol Shank opened the restaurant in 1984 with a goal to provide a comfortable low-key atmosphere with great food and quality ingredients at a reasonable price. Both we had both been in the restaurant business for several years, and used their love of travel to create “ethnic odyssey” menus ranging from Greek and Lebanese to South Pacific, Indian and Asian.
Each month features a different menu. June’s menu featured foods of the Middle East with dishes such as falafel, hummus, baba ganoush, pita bread and moussaka, a layered baked dish with fresh, ground lamb and roasted eggplant.
Shank said she couldn’t give specifics on July’s “Skagit Harvest” menu but that it may include Gothberg cheve and local greens, Penn Cove mussels, local mushrooms and fresh garden vegetables grown on-site. Individuals can register for monthly updates by emailing email@example.com.
5766 Suite B Cain’s Court
R. John DeGloria combined his experience in the restaurant industry and wholesale wine when he opened Slough Foods five years ago. The store sells gourmet meats, local product such as Samish Bay cheese, local wine, chocolate and groceries. Directly adjacent to the Breadfarm in Edison, it makes a convenient stop for those looking for complements to a fresh loaf of bread. The store also has a small, landscaped seating area out back with picnic tables and a direct view of the slough.
Rosabella’s Garden Bakery
8933 Farm to Market Road
Rose and Alan Merritt opened Rosabella’s in 2006 to complement Alan’s wholesale apple growing business. The couple still sells 25 varieties of apples but now includes retail goods such as hard cider and wine, and delicious apple-cider donuts, five-pound apple pies, apple empanadas, apple cider soft-serve ice cream, all utilizing the fruit from their 40-acre apple orchard. Rosabella’s is open from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday except holidays.
Rockin’ R Bison
5320 Chuckanut Drive
Skagit County residents Rick and Rhonda Clark opened Rockin’ R Bison ranch in Edison in 2007. Their retail store sells pasture-raised, grass-fed, hormone-free steaks, burger patties, roasts, salami, pepperoni and jerky from buffalo raised on their 36 acres of waterfront pasture. Rockin’ R Bison is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Snow Goose Produce
15170 Fir Island Road
Check out this open-air market just south of the North Fork bridge on Fir Island Road. Organic produce, fresh and smoked seafood, baked breads, beer, wine, local cheeses and ice cream cones. They are open 7:30 a.m. to closing daily.
Skagit River Ranch
28778 Utopia Road
Tell George Vojkovich that you don’t eat beef and he’s likely to say you just haven’t had the right kind. That’s because the grass-fed beef George and his family is eating these days has less cholesterol and a higher nutritional content than a conventionally raised chicken breast, at least according to a handful of recent studies.
“We found out that if we raised the beef on grass, the fat had a one-to-one ratio of omega 3 to omega 6, the saturated fat that clogs the arteries,” he said.
George, his wife Eiko, and their daughter Nicole, 14, run Skagit River Ranch, an organic beef raising operation on approximately 370 acres of riverfront property just east of Sedro-Woolley. To the Vojkovichs, the organic food movement represents a growing consumer distrust of government regulation and industry practices.
“A lot of consumers are kind of rebelling against agri-industrial businesses and, by doing so, they’re saying ‘I’m going back to local, sustainable, individual family farms where I know and trust the people who run it,’” he said.
Consumers, however, may simply recognize the cleaner flavor and richer texture of Skagit River Ranch beef, which has attracted customers as far away as New York and Florida, as well as internationally known chefs such as Will MacNamara, executive chef of the Washington Athletic Club in Seattle, and Maria Hines, executive chef of Seattle’s Earth and Ocean restaurant, who was named one of the “Top 10 Best New Chefs” by Food and Wine magazine in 2005.