Restaurant Spotlight: Graze

Graze, offering a simple but delicious menu of sandwiches, salads, and soups to Walla Walla for the last five years, strives to serve “fresh, wholesome, seasonal, and honest food.

Graze

A Family Project

The creators of Graze, husband and wife John and Becca Lastoskie, met while they were both working in a restaurant in Sacramento, California. Though neither were trained chefs, it was always their dream to open a restaurant of their own. “The restaurant business is hard, you’ve either got the disposition for it or you don’t. And we love it,” Becca told me.

About ten years ago, they decided to go for it. They quit their jobs, sold their house, and packed their van with their dog and young son, to move “somewhere we could start a business and make it.” They considered Portland and Bend before finally (and luckily for us!) settling on Walla Walla because of its burgeoning wine industry and relatively low cost of living. In 2006, they opened Graze Catering. Serving food at everything from backyard BBQs to weddings to big events at many of the town’s wineries, they made Walla Walla their home.

In 2009, the catering business was struggling, and John and Becca were considering closing it down. Their second child, a daughter, was born premature and they were spending all of their time at the hospital, not quite making ends meet. Instead, after two years of serving sandwiches and other lunch food on the weekends at a stand at the Farmers Market, they decided to open a restaurant. This was the beginning of Graze, ‘a place to eat,’ located on Colville Street a few blocks away from our Inns at Historic Downtown.

“It was a rough time, really rough. But we decided to push through and open the sandwich shop, and everything has just gotten better and better since then.” Now, every January (their daughter’s birth month) John and Becca fundraise for the Ron McDonald House where they once spent so much time by donating 10% of the proceeds of their very successful business.

Delicious Success!

So why serve lunch? “It was less intimidating!” Becca laughed. “And we didn’t want to work nights.” Now Graze is always busy, open for lunch and dinner and serving a wide selection of fresh, healthy, and tasty sandwiches, paninis, salads, and soups. The atmosphere is casual and familial, with great music on the record player and a large shady patio for outdoor diners during hot Walla Walla summers.

Veggie torta

Becca recommends the veggie torta sandwich–yummm.

Sandwiches at Graze

Along with delicious sandwiches, Graze serves fresh salads and delectable soups.

My favorite thing to order at Graze is the turkey pear panini—it is my definite go-to. When I asked Becca the same question, she answered immediately, “The veggie torta!” She also recommended the turkey bacon panini (“our most popular, by far”) and the roasted pear salad with blue cheese dressing. “I would encourage visitors to come order something interesting or unusual, something they wouldn’t get at your average sandwich place,” she added. “Branch out! Everything we serve is good.

The success of Graze has led to even more incarnations of the business. In 2012, John and Becca decided to put their catering kitchen, on 9th St., to further use by opening a drive-thru where they could serve their own version of fast food—Graze’s gourmet sandwiches—through the window. Standing amid all of the traditional fast food places—McDonalds, Taco Bell, etc.—it is quick, convenient, and my favorite place to stop for a full, healthy meal on my way out of town. “It was John’s idea, I thought it was crazy! It was slow at first, but now it’s going great,” Becca said of the drive-thru. And just this year, in 2014, John and Becca opened up a second restaurant in Kennewick, to bring their cuisine to the Tri-Cities.

Graze: A Drive Thru

If you’re looking for a quick alternative to fast food, check out Graze’s drive-thru on 9th!

We are so glad that they chose to make their home in Walla Walla and bring such dependable, delicious food to the local residents as well as all of our visitors. Next time you’re in town, swing by for takeout, a peaceful patio lunch, or a fun family dinner. Graze won’t disappoint.

Walla Walla Sandwich Shop

Phone: 509.522.9991

Hours: Daily: 10am-7:30pm & Sunday, 10am-3:30pm”

Address: 5 South Colville Street Walla Walla, WA 99362

Walla Walla Drive Thru:

Phone: 509.540.1261

Hours: Daily: 10am-7:30pm & Sunday, 10am-3:30pm”

Address: 213 S 9th Ave, Walla Walla, WA 99362

Kennewick Sandwich Shop

Phone: 509.221.1020

Hours: Daily: 10am-7:30pm & Sunday, 10am-3:30pm

Address: 8530 West Gage Blvd. Kennewick, WA 99336

Restaurant Spotlight: Olive Marketplace and Café

When it comes to places to eat in Walla Walla, I have a special place in my heart for Olive Marketplace and Café. When I moved to town, it was the first place I ever went out to dinner. Since then, I have been back more times than I can count, and for good reason: the food is consistently great, the atmosphere is warm and easygoing, and the eatery is wonderfully and dependably always open—even on Sundays! Located a few blocks down from our Inn at Historic Downtown on Main Street, Olive has a lot to offer.

Olive Marketplace and Café

The Story

Olive is owned by Jake and Tabitha Crenshaw, a husband and wife who moved here in 2006 from Seattle so Tabitha could attend the viticulture school program at Walla Walla Community College. According to Tabitha, they stayed “because we both are lifelong food and wine lovers.” They even met working the restaurant industry, she as a waitress and he as a chef. Jake worked at The Marcus Whitman, T.Maccarone’s, and finally opened his own restaurant, Olive, in 2010.

Before Olive, the warm, spacious, two-story space was Walla Walla’s Merchant’s Café for over thirty years. The Crenshaws “wanted to keep Olive in the same spirit,” meaning a place that was always accessible and always open, for three meals a day. Tabitha explained that “we have our patio, for you to sit and people-watch… it’s a place for the whole community, and we think it keeps Main Street fun, and lively, and the place to be in Walla Walla.

They do a lot to keep it lively.  Local artists rotate art shows through Olive about four times a year, with a big opening reception each time. Every Thursday night, local musicians play live music from 6-8pm, an event that Tabitha and Jake pair with a guest appearance by a local winery to offer a tasting for the guests. “Most wineries close around 4 or 5 pm, so it’s great for visitors to get the chance to try one more, or for locals to come who are just getting off work.” Recently, they started replacing one of these Thursdays a month with a beer tasting. “There are actually lots of local breweries opening up around here,”  Tabitha said.

The Food

“The premise is an accessible community gathering place, with farm-to-table local ingredients,” Tabitha explained. “We get a really good mix of tourists and locals—we see our fair share of tourists, and of course we have 80% local wines on our menu, and 10 or 11 of them that you can get by the glass, so it’s a great place to come if you’re in town for wine tasting to sample a few more local wines. But our locals are our bread and butter, they’re here year-round and we love them.” They host discount pizza nights and offer cooking classes, hoping to give back to the town.

The beauty of Olive is that it’s there for almost any occasion—for a morning espresso and pastry; for full breakfast (personally I recommend the strata); for a glass of wine outdoors in the afternoon; for picnic-goers looking to pick up some artisan bread, cheese, seafood, or meats; for a big family dinner, or even late-night dessert.

Devouring the grape and prosciutto pizza that Tabitha recommended...

Devouring the grape and prosciutto pizza that Tabitha recommended…

I also asked Tabitha for her favorite menu item—a hard question, I knew, since there are so many things to try and taste at Olive just for one meal out of the day! “I would probably pick one of our pizzas—the chefs have just nailed the crust, and it’s perfect and crispy and thin. The salmon pizza is delicious, and the prosciutto and grape is really popular too. “

“And then there’s dessert— there are those beautiful layered cake creations up in the front case—you’re stronger than I am if you can go up to the counter and not order one!”

Olive is a staple in downtown Walla Walla, a place to experience good food and a taste of the town’s community. Plus, you never have to wonder if they’re open.

21 E. Main St., Walla Walla, WA 99362

Phone: (509) 526-0200

Open 8am-9pm Daily

A New Home for the Tasting Room

If you stroll down Walla Walla’s Main Street and stop at a familiar address, you may be in for a surprise: our downtown tasting room is empty!

Empty tasting room

Now that we’ve moved, the downtown tasting room sure looks empty!

After five years in the same place, we finally decided it was time to move to another location: our winery among the Walla Walla Incubators.

Five Years of History

Walla Faces has been at the downtown tasting room for quite some time. In November 2009, we poured some of our very first bottles of Walla Faces wine behind its doors–a 2006 Fusion, 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon, and 2006 Syrah. We loved meeting all the different people who came to visit, from our hotel guests to Walla Walla locals, and everyone in between!

Crowd of people at Walla Faces

For more than two years, the downtown tasting room was a popular place for live music.

For a number of years, the downtown tasting room featured live music on a weekly basis. Many local musicians came out to play at the tasting room, drawing crowds and adding another hot spot to Walla Walla’s nightlife. Although the live music events were eventually discontinued, we were always happy to give back to the community in that way.

We see this move as an extension of that sense of community. Although we’re sad to leave the downtown tasting room, we’re excited to announce that its place on Main Street, as well as two other storefronts in the Hungate Building, will soon be filled by a variety of independent restaurants. We love Walla Walla’s rich variety of dining options, and are eager to see how these new businesses add to it!

(To assuage some concerns, if you’ve enjoyed staying at our downtown inn in the past, never fear: the Walla Faces Inns at Historic Downtown haven’t gone anywhere.)

Our New Location

But we’re hardly done pouring tastes of our Walla Faces wine! Even though the downtown tasting room is closed, you can still sample and buy Walla Faces wine at our new location: the winery out near the Walla Walla Airport.

Walla Faces winery

Our new home: The Walla Faces winery!

Our tasting room at the airport is just a few minutes’ drive from both of our hotel locations–in fact, from the winery’s front door, you can see the green leaves of the Walla Faces Estate Vineyard. What’s more, since this building also houses our production facilities, while you enjoy a tasting at our new location, not only can you learn about our wine and the Walla Faces story, but you can also watch co-winemaker Victor de la Luz hard at work, carefully crafting Walla Faces’ future wines! A tasting out at the winery puts you at the heart of the Walla Faces experience, from vine to barrel to bottle.

Visiting Us

Our new tasting room is open every day from 11am-5pm, which makes it perfect for a number of different itineraries. If you’re staying at our downtown hotel, try starting your tastings off with a visit to the winery. Not only do our early hours make us perfect for starting a day of tasting, but our location at the airport, surrounded by other fantastic wineries, means you can follow up your Walla Faces visit with an assortment of other tastings before you head back into town! If you’re staying at the vineyard, it’s easy to make one last stop at Walla Faces on your way back to the inn–after all, we’re only two minutes off the highway!

And of course, as you’ll notice when you visit, there’s no shortage of beautiful views.

Golden wheat and blue skies

From the front door of the new tasting room, you can see fields and fields of golden wheat.

This is a big change for Walla Faces, but we’re excited for the new opportunities it presents. Join us at our new tasting room–we can’t wait to see you!

Visit us at the new Walla Faces Winery and Tasting Room!
598 Piper Ave., Walla Walla, WA 99362
Open daily 11am-5pm
(877) 301-1181

Restaurant Spotlight: T. Maccarone’s

Visitors to Walla Walla wine country: Are you looking for fine dining with a local flair? Wondering what might be a good restaurant for a date, family gathering, or special occasion during your stay at Walla Faces? A few blocks away from our downtown inns is T. Maccarone’s, a self-described “modern Washington wine country bistro influenced by classic Italian sensibilities,” perfect for all these occasions and more.

I had the chance recently to sit down with owner and general manager Tom Maccarone in his beautiful blue and grey dining room. Born and raised here in Walla Walla, Tom opened the restaurant in 2005. He moved away to Seattle for years, working for Nordstrom’s and Eddie Bauer, before returning to his hometown and pursuing his true passion in the restaurant business.

The Food

From at big Italian family, Tom says that the restaurant initially served a lot of his own grandmother’s recipes and more traditional Italian food, but that the menu has changed and grown as he’s brought on new chefs and grown the business. These days, Tom says head chef Gerry Mezza is whipping up new delicacies all the time. “Yes, we have bolognese, tagliatelle, and we use gnocchi, but we have a lot of things that we play with curry, and have a lot of Asian-inspired food. So, you know, you have to stay relevant in the business, you have to stay on top of things, stay a step above what everyone is doing.”

Since we were already on the topic of the menu, I asked Tom about his favorite thing to order.

At first he just laughed. “Ohh, that’s tough. Probably my go to is the bolognese. It’s been on the menu for five, seven years… there are certain things that we just cannot change or take off the menu. For something lighter, not so filling, the halibut is just drop dead. For a mix, there’s the Land and Sea—it’s two beautiful lamb chops and two seared scallops. But there is nothing on the menu that I wouldn’t order!” I would have to agree—everything I’ve tried so far at T. Maccarone’s has exceeded my expectations, from the fresh, tangy pear and arugula salad to the rich and creamy lamb gnocchi.

It’s A Local Thing

T. Maccarone’s strives to serve “everything local we can get,” including everything from meat to eggs to herbs to, of course, wine. But the business is a love letter to Walla Walla in more ways than just its menu.

“I have a huge local following, ‘cause I was born and raised here,” Tom explained, rattling off a long list of friends, relatives, schoolmates, teachers, and other relations who regularly visit the restaurant. “It’s endless!”

“I’m really the only person that has this caliber of a restaurant in Walla Walla who was born and raised here… It’s an old community, it’s an old town, so the heritage here is strong and long.

Tom reflects that the familial feel of T. Maccarone’s is one of the things he tries hardest to create in his day-to-day work as the face of the restaurant. Even if customers are from out-of-town, he hopes to include them in the community when they visit T. Mac’s.

“My whole philosophy with this business is that I want people to feel at home here, I want them to feel comfortable, I want them to feel like they’re at my house having dinner. So the experience is me coming over to them, saying hello, asking them where they’re from, talking to them, making them feel welcome.”

T. Maccarone's dining room

T. Maccarone’s dining room

Owner and general manager Tom Maccarone

Owner and general manager Tom Maccarone

The chefs, waiters, and staff all come together at T. Maccarone’s to make Tom’s vision come to life.  The fresh, local food that is simultaneously classic and new, along with the modern and comfortable space and friendly faces, make this one of my favorite places in town to “go out.”

“Good food, good wine, good friends, and good atmosphere equals success to me,” Tom told me, looking around the room with a smile. We think so too!

T. Maccarone’s is located at 4 N. Colville Street, Walla Walla WA 99362, and is open daily 11:30-9pm for lunch and dinner. Call them at (509) 522-4776, or visit them online at http://tmaccarones.com/.

A Local Tradition: The Walla Walla Downtown Farmers Market

If you find yourself in Walla Walla for the weekend and take a morning walk down Main Street, chances are you will be drawn in off the sidewalk by the Downtown Farmers Market.

Walla Walla Farmers Market pavilion

The pavilion at the Downtown Farmers Market is hard to miss.

The market is a festive melee of local families, children, visitors and students, all enjoying live music and eating homemade snacks. Cheerful conversation floats around the earthy-smelling summer air. Bags bulge with mouthwatering produce—not just our famous sweet onions, but leafy greens, bright radishes, carrots, and tomatoes—whatever is freshest and most in season!

From May through October, more than seventy vendors gather at 4th and Main every Saturday, offering local produce, delicious homemade food, and arts and crafts. The market is a fixture of Walla Walla summers. It has gone up every weekend in this very spot since 1996. However, it is ever-evolving—this year, the Downtown Walla Walla Foundation will also run a “Twilight Farmers Market” on Thursday evenings at a separate location on First Avenue. This new market starts in June, to ensure long, warm evenings for shopping, socializing, and perhaps watching the spectacular Walla Walla sunsets.

If, like me, you are always looking for an authentic local experience when you visit a new town, the Farmer’s Market is the perfect destination. On these sunny summer mornings, local buyers and sellers gladly welcome newbies, tourists, and out-of-towners. When I moved to Walla Walla four years ago, visiting the market on those first few lonely weekends made me instantly feel like a real part of the town’s community. It also gave me a chance to taste local food, contribute to local small business, and pick up a few cool gifts for my family back in Portland, handmade by Walla Walla residents. On my first visit to the Farmer’s Market I bought a box of fresh raspberries and a terrific duct tape wallet for my fourteen-year-old brother from a local kid who looked about the same age. Afterwards, I spent another hour walking slowly up and down the rows of tents and tables, listening to the bluegrass music, soaking it all in.

Whatever treats and treasures you might find, half the beauty of the Farmers Market is the chance to experience Walla Walla in a brand new way, and participate in a local tradition!

The Saturday Downtown Farmers Market began May 3rd and is located in Crawford Park at 4th Ave and Main and runs from 9am-1pm every Saturday. Thursday Twilight Farmers Market will begin June 5th on First Avenue. Visit http://downtownwallawalla.com/category/news/downtown-farmers-market/ or call (509) 529-8755 for more information.

Read more about the history of the farmer’s market here: http://wallawallalifestyles.com/to-market-two-markets/

Go Take a Hike!

Do you like to hike? If you do, then you’re in luck! Walla Walla’s surrounding area is full of gorgeous hiking routes and leisurely scenic walks—perfect for pairing with a weekend of wine tasting. After nearly four years living here, I’ve developed a few favorite hikes in Walla Walla and the surrounding area.

Harris Park

Just 14 miles south of Milton-Freewater, Walla Walla’s southern neighbor, is Harris Park. Although today, it’s owned and managed by Umatilla County, it actually began its life in the 1920s, as a Boy Scout camp owned by the Rotary Club of Walla Walla. About thirty years later, in 1950, most of the land was given to the County, and it was developed into a recreational area.

Today, the park features many different trails, which allow you to hike right along the Walla Walla River. On your hike, you’ll see various types of plants, breathtaking formations of ancient basalt, wonderful views of the river, and even spots to hop in and take a dip!

Harris Park is open from March to October 15th, weather permitting. You can learn more about the trails here or by visiting the Harris Park website.

Bennington Lake and Rooks Park

Want a mild hike? Take a ten-minute drive from our downtown hotel and check out Bennington Lake and its neighboring park, Rooks Park.

Bennington Lake is a recent addition to the Walla Walla landscape, all things considered. Back in the early 1900s, there was a great deal of concern about the possibilities of Mill Creek flash-flooding incidents—and in fact, in 1931, Mill Creek overflowed, spilling into the streets of downtown Walla Walla! The Army Corps of Engineers responded by constructing Bennington Lake, a man-made reservoir designed to protect both Mill Creek and the city of Walla Walla from dangerous flooding.

This man-made lake offers a wide variety of fun activities. Of course, there’s hiking—20 miles of multipurpose trails surround Bennington Lake provide the most scenic hikes in Walla Walla. But if you’re not in the mood for hiking, Rooks Park and Bennington Lake together offer picnic tables, a playground, BBQ grills, and even a sand volleyball court. And if you’re fond of fishing, you’re in luck—the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife stocks the lake with rainbow trout every spring!

The sun setting over a trail a Bennington Lake

The Bennington Lake trails offer gorgeous views at sunset.

Rooks Park is open year-round, from 7:00am until sunset. The Bennington Lake area is open year-round, from 5:00am until 10:00pm.

Palouse Falls

Palouse Falls is a bit further than the two parks above, but it’s well worth the extra effort. Located about 90 minutes northeast of Walla Walla, the Palouse Falls State Park is named for the 200-foot waterfall it contains, which was designated Washington’s state waterfall in February 2014.

Not only is the waterfall an impressive sight, it’s also been the site of a hair-raising stunt. On April 21st, 2009, kayaker and adrenaline junkie Tyler Bradt descended Palouse Falls in a kayak, setting an unofficial world record for the highest waterfall descent! If you aren’t feeling like that much of a daredevil, though, you can take a hike around the Palouse River Canyon and bask in the beauty of the grand waterfall and its surroundings.

Palouse Falls

Palouse Falls drops nearly 200 feet. It’s taller than Niagara Falls!

Palouse Falls is open from 6:30am until dusk in the summer, and 8:00am until dusk in the winter. You can learn more about it on the Washington State Parks website and on the Washington Trails Association site.

The Walla Walla Wheat Fields

Finally, if all else fails, you can always go for a leisurely stroll along the golden wheat fields just outside of Walla Walla!

In Walla Walla, February is for Foodies

It may be cold and sunny in Walla Walla during February, but things are cooking here! Literally! Here in Walla Walla, it’s all about food and culture for this entire month. At least, that’s what the “February is for Foodies” promotion suggests, which is about to kick off its third annual iteration.

Started in 2012 as a way to promote local restaurants and wineries in the middle of the otherwise slow season, Tourism Walla Walla’s month-long promotion offers visitors a special glimpse of Walla Walla’s gourmet culture.

Many of the local restaurants are joining in the celebration by offering special menu items throughout the month of February. One of our favorites, T. Maccarone’s, is hosting a “Sommelier’s Valentine Wine Dinner” on Sunday the 16th. And for a breakfast or lunch option, Maple Counter Café is presenting White Chocolate Raspberry Pancakes, drizzled with their homemade Lemon Curd Anglaise. Oh my!

For home chefs who want to whip up delectable meals in their own kitchens, the Wine Country Culinary Institute, located at the Walla Walla Community College, will be offering cooking classes each Saturday during the month. For your $30 entry, you will enjoy instruction, a light lunch and wine tastings. This entertaining lunch will run from 11:30am – 1:30pm. For tickets, call Tourism Walla Walla at 509-525-8799.

Barb Commare, marketing and communications manager at Tourism Walla Walla, says she’s excited for the promotion to begin. “It’s so much fun putting it together and seeing the creativity of local businesses shine through.”

After three years of “February is for Foodies,” Barb has nothing but high hopes for the promotion’s future. “We want it to continue,” she says, “making it bigger and better every year.”

Of course, no celebration of Walla Walla’s food culture would be complete without wine! Many of the wineries will participate in the promotion by offering guests chocolates made locally, by chocolatiers such as Bright’s Candies, Alexander’s and Petits Noirs.

The complete list of this year’s “February is for Foodies” promotions can be found on the Tourism Walla Walla website, right here.

So, how is the weather, you ask? The weather has been quite nice this winter, with very little snow on the Snoqualmie Pass, traveling from Seattle, WA, and along I-84 from Portland, OR. Although this time of year is not known to be warm, we do have many sunny days here in Walla Walla and very little rain.

If you’re looking for something fun to do, something to entertain you, and possibly educate you, this might be just the adventure. Come and enjoy a day or two of food, wine, and fun–you might just discover your inner chef!

Restaurant Spotlight: Green Spoon

Take a short walk from the Walla Faces downtown tasting room down Main Street, and you’ll soon find a unique little restaurant decked out with stylish modern furniture, funky artwork and splashes of bright green. This is Green Spoon, a local restaurant that has, over the course of six years, worked its way into the heart of Walla Walla. Along with their stylish interior decoration, Green Spoon’s notable for its tasty New American cuisine!  We thought we’d show our love and support by letting you in on one of our favorite places to eat on Main Street.

Green Spoon wasn’t always the contemporary restaurant it is today. Owner and manager Katie Gonzalez originally opened Someone’s in the Kitchen to teach cooking classes, but as the venture expanded, the focus shifted to being a full time restaurant, with a menu that presents soups, salads and burgers in an upscale take on classic American diner cuisine. Although Katie’s background is in marketing, she launched into the planning of the menu with zeal and originality. She recently let me in on her process, saying, “I always know what I want the finished product to be, but we work a lot on trial and error by trying recipes until we arrive at that taste that’s just right.”

Although Green Spoon has seen a number of changes in its six-year life, including a name change, a relocation and changes in management, today, dining at the restaurant is nothing but smooth sailing. What’s more, Katie is still cooking up new additions to the menu. Lately, she and her team have been working on a Green Spoon take on a Juicy Lucy–a hamburger stuffed with cheese. The Green Spoon Juicy Lucy is dressed up with guacamole, Tapatío hot sauce, Pepper Jack cheese and jalapeños. Yum! Once the Juicy Lucy is refined, Katie and her team are planning to present a different iteration each week until they settle on a permanent rendition for the menu.

There’s more in the works for Green Spoon, too. The restaurant already pours Walla Faces wine for guests to enjoy with their meals, but with the new year, Katie is planning to add a full-service bar to the restaurant! The restaurant will begin by serving draft beers from area brewers and hopes to broaden into spirits shortly.

One of Katie’s favorite things about owning Green Spoon is “all the friends I’ve made through the restaurant. We’ve been here just long enough to see some people start dating, get married, become pregnant, and then the baby is eating with her parents at the restaurant.” Green Spoon’s warm atmosphere is the perfect place for a first date, a proposal, to take the kids, or all your friends; the eclectic and delicious menu is sure to please even the most picky eater.

Located at 13 E Main St., Green Spoon is open for lunch Monday-Saturday 11-3 and for dinner Thursday-Saturday 5-9. They also deliver until 8pm.  Give them a call at 509-876-2583.

A special note for our guests: Green Spoon will deliver to the Walla Faces Inns, at either the Downtown location or the Vineyard–perfect for a dinner around the pool!

Restaurant Spotlight: Whoopemup Hollow Cafe

Opened in 2005, Whoopemup Hollow Cafe has quickly gained a reputation for being one of the tastiest culinary experiences in the Walla Walla Valley. Their Cajun-inspired Southern menu draws Walla Walla residents and tourists alike to the sleepy town of Waitburg, a tiny municipality that is northeast of the Walla Walla city limits.

The four owners, Ross Stevenson, Valerie Mudry, Bryant Bader, and Leroy Cunningham,  each bring a different skill set to the table. Stevenson, Mudry, and Bader got their start in the fine dining industry in Seattle. “Between the three of us, there’s probably 100 years of restaurant experience!”, Stevenson notes. Cunningham’s specialty is woodwork and interior design. With Bader as the chef, Mudry as the pastry chef, and Stevenson and Cunningham working out of the kitchen, the Whoopemup Hollow Cafe works like a well-oiled machine, with four hard-working owners. “We’re all from the school of hard knocks,” Stevenson observes.

Stevenson and Cunningham originally came to Waitburg to open a B&B. When Mudry and Bader came to visit, the Whoopemup dream was born! The Cajun inspiration came from the passions of the chefs. Although none of the four owners are from the South themselves, Stevenson assures me, “We like to eat it and we like to cook it!” The delicious and unique menu certainly draws a crowd. “When you’re out in the middle of nowhere, it’s important to be something out of the ordinary to make people want to visit you,” says Stevenson. (The restaurant is a little bit off the beaten path; it’s about a half an hour drive from the Walla Faces Inn at Historic Downtown.)

 

Luckily, the fantastic food more than makes up for the trip. My personal favorites include the Boudin-Stuffed Beignets and the Sausage and Chicken Gumbo. If you can save room for dessert (a hard task), your socks will surely be knocked the rest of the way off! Each dessert is not only sumptuous and delicious, it’s a bonafide work of art.

The rich farming community of the Walla Walla Valley ensures that the Whoopemup Hollow Cafe’s food always tastes its best. “We get as much local produce as we can,” says Stevenson. Fruits and vegetables come from a local farmer in Dayton. Their andouille sausage comes from the award-winning local butcher, Blue Valley Meats. Cheese is purchased from Monteillet Fromagerie, a farmstead artisanal cheese facility in the Walla Walla Valley who produce goat and sheep cheeses. Steaks hail from Painted Hills, a grassfed beef pasture in Fossil, Oregon.

Whoopemup is definitely a place to relax with some delicious food. As the menu reads, “Sit back and relax; you’re in WAITSburg!” Stevenson adds, “Come to have a good time. We’ve all been in fine dining for so long… I just want to have a good time and serve some delicious food!” It’s awfully difficult to argue with an invitation like that.

Restaurant Spotlight: Andrae’s Kitchen

The TripAdvisor reviews for Andrae’s Kitchen might catch you by surprise. The rave reviews assert, “Lunch in a mini mart never tasted so good!”, exclaiming that “this is the best food you’ll ever get in a gas station!” It’s hard not to imagine that they are damning with faint praise. In actuality, they are dramatic understatements. The two Andrae’s Kitchen locations (a brick-and-mortar location called “the co-op” operated inside of a gas station, and their food truck) serve up some of the most fun culinary treats in the Walla Walla Valley!

My first experience with Andrae’s Kitchen was at a food truck event. A group of friends popped over to various booths, grabbing tacos, burgers, and salads from a myriad of food trucks. But nothing beat the goat ragu poutine I had grabbed from the Andrae’s Kitchen food truck. They admired my dinner enviously.

It shouldn’t be a surprise that Andrae’s Kitchen so soundly delivers; Chef Andrae Bopp was classically trained in New York at the French Culinary Institute. He says, “[Cooking] is something I’ve been involved with my whole life. I finally came to the realization that it’s what I needed to be doing.”

After culinary school, Bopp worked in fine dining, cooking in prestigious restaurants that included Bouley, Danube, Balthazar and Le Bernardin. Bopp’s desire to open his own restaurant led him to Boise, Idaho, where he opened Andae’s, a contemporary French bistro, which was named “Best Fine Dining Restaurant”. His numerous accolades included the Washington State Wine Commission award for the “Best Washington Wine List Outside of Washington State”, awarded for his extensive Walla Walla Valley Wine list. Andrae’s was open for five years, between 2003 and 2008.

Eventually, Bopp decided to re-locate to Walla Walla, where he started a plan for a more casual, quirky menu, with the goal of combining his love of wine and food. Bopp says, “[I came to Walla Walla] because of the wine and food culture here… a lot of good buddies I made from having the restaurant in Boise convinced me that this  was where I needed to be!” In 2010, Andrae’s Kitchen, Walla Walla’s first gourmet food truck, opened its doors for service. It was followed by the “co-op”, a physical location located inside of a gas station, about a year and a half ago.

The menu ranges from blackened catfish to halal-style chicken. The food verges on being addictive; when they released their most recent menu item, a gyro, I had one for lunch three days in a row. Bopp explains, “I pretty much make food that I want to eat. I look at my menu and there’s nothing on there that I wouldn’t love to eat. Fortunately, the things that I like to eat have translated well to what other people want to eat.” Clearly, one of the things Bopp loves to eat is breakfast, as both breakfast and lunch are served all day.

Although the menu is charmingly funky and the atmosphere of a gas station is hardly reminiscent of fine dining, the food clearly takes the skill of a chef. “[I use my classical training] by utilizing both technique and flavor profiling. I make sure everything tastes the way it’s supposed to taste… I build flavors.” Their fun and engaging menu earned them the title of Sip Northwest Wine Country Caterer of the Year.

The food truck goes out of town on the weekends, visiting wineries, catering events, and showing up to local team “Walla Walla Sweets” baseball games.

The AK Co-Op is located at 706 West Rose, Walla Walla, WA, 99362. They are open seven days a week from 6 am to 6 pm. They have both a drive-through and indoor seating. The food truck can be found by following Andrae’s Kitchen on twitter.