Restaurant Spotlight: Saffron Mediterranean Kitchen

The first time I walked into Saffron Mediterranean Kitchen, it was a complete accident. As I walked down Alder Street, I saw one small restaurant that was bustling with activity, a sharp contrast with the quiet street around me. “If that many people are in there on a weekday, it must be pretty good,” I thought. As it turned out, that was a dramatic understatement. (Although it’s tough to get a seat at Saffron without a reservation, I lucked out and got a seat at the bar.) Saffron is one of the most flavorful, unique, and high quality restaurants in the Walla Walla Valley. My love of their constantly changing menu is only matched by my passion for their lamb tartar.

I sat down with chef and owner Chris Ainsworth to talk about this Walla Walla treasure.


“I’ve always loved to cook [Mediterranean] food… the style and the flavor,” Ainsworth asserted. To keep the flavors authentic, Ainsworth says, “I read a lot, eat out a lot, and travel as much as I can.” Ainsworth and his wife, Island, take an annual research-intensive vacation centered around culinary discoveries. They use these trips to inspire their menu. For example, their popular Turkish flatbread, the lahmacun, was inspired by one of their annual trips. “We ate a few of ’em when we were in Turkey and we loved them,” Ainsworth said. “What we do in Turkey is eat and eat and eat, and we get inspiration from that.” The gozleme, another popular menu item, was also influenced by their annual trip.

Other dishes start as Walla Walla-based experiments before Ainsworth is able to go out and taste the real thing. He says the first time he tastes a dish in the native country, it’s a relief to be able to say, “‘Oh, wow, cool, I was totally doing that right!'” People also come from the regions; “they’ll see a specialized dish and they love it” Ainsworth laughs.

The menu changes “as often as daily or as little as monthly”. A few things, though, stay the same consistently. The house salad and the hanger steak are permanent fixtures, for example. “Some people come in and that’s all they order,” the chef observed.

Saffron takes pains to ensure their food is as fresh as possible. “We order mostly locally… as much as I can!” Ainsworth says. “We use Washington and Oregon beef and Blue Valley Meats”. In the winter, Ainsworth collects butternut squash from a local farmer, who grows the gourds in his cellar. “We’re always seasonal,” he adds. Saffron’s fresh, homemade bread also comes from nearby: their kitchen contains two sourdough starters, including one that Ainsworth made himself and an eighty-four-year-old starter that he adopted. “The one I birthed myself is just a baby, only six years old,” he said.

This attention to freshness, authenticity, and flavor profiles has gained national recognition. Ainsworth has been nominated as the James Beard Award Best Chef in the Northwest, every year for the last five years, constituting five out of the six years that Saffron has been open.

The small, cozy environment makes Saffron feel comfortable and inviting and the stellar service complements the spectacular food perfectly. “We’re geared towards whatever your mood is,” Ainsworth says, “whether that is a flatbread and a beer or a multicourse meal.”

Saffron Mediterranean Kitchen is located at 125 West Alder Street and is open Tuesday through Sunday from 2-9pm.

Restaurant Spotlight: The Colville Street Patisserie

Walking into the Colville Street Patisserie is a dizzying experience. The display case boasts of a rainbow of fresh gelatos, ranging from mint to a tart, refreshing rhubarb. Their list of handmade sodas, luxurious hot chocolates, and perfect espressos adorn the drink menu. The pastry shelf has vanilla bean eclairs, buttery croissants, and chocolate mousse cakes.


Pastry chef Matthew Zack opened the Patisserie in 2005. Owners Tiffany Cain and David Christensen purchased the French bakery in 2008. Before that, Cain had owned the Weinhard Cafe in Dayton for ten years. Christensen had been the sous chef and pastry chef at the Whitehouse-Crawford. When Zack first trained Christensen, the two owners had no idea what would come next. “We never imagined we would buy it, but we were really passionate about French pastry,” Cain recalls. “We have added to it, made our own gelatos and homemade sodas. We’ve been having fun and learning as we go.”

Since they took the helm, Cain and Christensen have added even more diversity and uniqueness to their dessert menu. “We experimented around and added new flavors… the latest was the banana caramel.” Cain estimates that the Patisserie will offer a brand new recipe at least every other week. Right now, the tarragon chocolate cake is the newcomer in the display case.

The Walla Walla agricultural opportunities have ensured that the Patisserie desserts are as fresh as possible. Cain smiles, observing, “We try to get [our ingredients] as local as we can”. Indeed, the Patisserie has employed some unique methods of getting local ingredients. Last year, they did a “call out” for local farmers to send them rhubarb.

In addition, they are stocked by Welcome Table Farm, an organic farm. Welcome Table is horse-only, meaning draft horses, not tractors, do all the work. Pure Eire Dairy, a local dairy with all-grass-fed cows, provides the milk for the gelato. In addition, Cain and Christensen frequent the Walla Walla Farmer’s Market. “That really determines what we are making,” Cain adds.

The Patisserie also features local artists on the walls. “If I like it, I display it,” Cain states. “I feel like this is my living room.” If only all of our living rooms came stocked with gelato.

The Colville Street Patisserie is located at 40 South Colville Street and is open Monday-Thursday from 9am-8pm, Friday-Saturday 9am-10pm, and Sunday 9am-5pm.

Restaurant Spotlight: Walla Walla Bread Company

Just across Main St. from the Walla Faces tasting room, the mouth-watering smell of fresh-baked bread wafts onto the sidewalk. The culprit is the Walla Walla Bread Company, the valley’s primary source for high-quality artisanal bread.

I recently met up with head chef and owner Michael Kline for a chat about the Bread Company’s history, its rising success and, of course, the bread.

“A great loaf of French or rye or even wheat has just as many nuances as a glass of wine, really, if you know what you’re tasting for. And then you’re looking for crust, which really comes down to the natural aging of the dough. It takes time, but that’s how you develop flavor.”

Walla Walla Bread CompanyMichael and his wife Rachel moved to Walla Walla from Las Vegas in the fall of 2005, drawn in by the burgeoning wine industry and a desire to raise their young children in a small-town setting.

“We were constantly reading about the wine business and the great wines that were coming out of Walla Walla. It kind of piqued my curiosity and I knew that the food scene would be coming up behind it.”

Michael is an experienced chef of 20 years and worked at 26 Brix and Creektown Café before switching gears and opening the Bread Company in July of 2009.

“Good quality artisanal bread was something that we had struggled with at Creektown and the Brix. I knew a lot of the restaurants were looking for something a little bit better, something that matched the style of food that was coming up, so that’s where this got started. I hadn’t baked a loaf of bread since culinary school and really didn’t have any desire to be a baker until I saw that need.”

The switch has definitely paid off—the Walla Walla Bread Company sells its product wholesale to a growing list of 25 local restaurants.
Walla Walla Bread Company
“I like to say we do pretty much everyone in town who’s not making their own bread.”

And it’s true. Their loyal client base includes breakfast hubs Bacon & Eggs and Maple Counter Café, lunch spots Graze and Onion World, fine dining options Brasserie Four and Whitehouse-Crawford, and nightlife hot spots Public House 124 and the Green Lantern. The Bread Company even sells to Whitman College’s dining service, Bon Appétit.

But selling exclusively to other restaurants has its drawbacks, especially for a restaurant chef used to instant gratification after putting a meal in front of a hungry customer.

“One of the hard things that I discovered early on was that everything I was doing was kind of being taken away and enjoyed somewhere else, so I wasn’t getting that instant feedback that I was used to.”

Walla Walla Bread CompanyLucky for Michael, he now gets that feedback in the Bread Company’s burgeoning deli-style dinging room and retail space. The perfect fix for those of us looking to get our very own loaf of artisanal bread or a quick breakfast or lunch, it offers a selection of sandwiches, bagels, soups, salads, quiche and pastries alongside the classic loaves.

Everything is made in-house and from scratch using in-season and locally produced ingredients—and you can definitely taste the difference.

“There’s an old adage in baking: ‘The proof of a good baker is in the French bread.'”

Stop on in and put them to the test. I assure you, the Walla Walla Bread Company will do more than measure up.

The Walla Walla Bread Company is located at 225 E. Main St. and is open Monday through Friday, 7 a.m. – 5 p.m., Saturday 8 a.m. – 3 p.m. and Sunday 9 a.m. – 2 p.m.

Restaurant Spotlight: Brasserie Four

“Do I owe you a recipe?” Hannah MacDonald, the owner of Brasserie Four, asks, smiling widely.

Last winter, I had been so enamored with Brasserie Four’s duck cassoulet that I begged for the recipe when the menu changed. A chef came out and chatted with me, giving the numerous, complicated steps. The three day process, involving duck confit, homemade sausage, and exquisite beans, proved far too time consuming and difficult for my meager cooking skills. Alas, I will have to wait for it to come back on the menu.

Brasserie Four, Walla Walla

Hannah MacDonald, Owner

“Actually, I’ve already got it,” I say, laughing.

In France, a brasserie is an informal, upscale restaurant that traditionally serves the same menu all day. “It’s like a step up from a cafe, but equally casual,” Hannah noted. In keeping with that theme, Brasserie Four is open for both lunch and dinner, serving the same menu at both times. This taste of Paris, located right on Main Street, is Hannah’s way of bringing a little bit of France back to eastern Washington. The simple, classic flavors are both spectacular and perfectly meshed with classic French cuisine.

Hannah MacDonald herself is originally from Walla Walla, but she moved to Paris for her first year of college. She lived with a French family full of extraordinary cooks, who helped her develop her love of food. She then made her way back to the states, where she graduated from Western Culinary Institute in Portland, OR. She moved back to Walla Walla in 2004 and opened Brasserie Four in 2008.

Brasserie Four, Walla Walla

The Brasserie Four kitchen in action

Hannah says that she is inspired by the bounty of local agriculture in the Walla Walla area, allowing her to offer food that is both “responsibly sourced and responsibly priced”. Herbs, greens and edible flowers are provided by a local farm that produces exclusively for the restraunt. They also get produce from Edwards Farms and ‘Vince, the Pickle Guy’. “I try to use everything that is brought to me,” Hannah observes. “[Farmers] bring me something and I try to make something delicious out of it.” Brasserie Four maintains the same ethical standards for its proteins, using Blue Valley Meats, serving only Washington-grown, grain-fed steak, getting seafood from Penn Cove, and cooking shellfish exclusively from the Puget Sound. These practices are evident in the taste of the food, which allows the flavors to shine through in simple, clean, beautiful ways.

Although Brasserie Four is certainly a sophisticated restaurant, the employees make a specific effort to be family-friendly, from their art shows that go to benefit local preschools to their “Kid’s Corner”, a spot perfect for young ones to play around without disturbing other patrons. The Kid’s Corner is so popular, many parents explicitly ask to be seated at Table 3 so they can be placed right next to it. Everything on the menu can be ordered in a kid-sized portion for half the price. “It’s about half the size… usually more than half,” Hannah chuckled. “I want to give people the opportunity to eat well with their families, without [resorting to] normal kid food.”

Brasserie Four Walla Walla

The Dining Room and Bar

Brasserie Four has struck the perfect balance, allowing it to function beautifully both as a family restaurant and as a refined date-night restaurant. It’s one of Walla Walla’s culinary gems. And, if you see the duck cassoulet on the menu, I promise that it is delicious.

Brasserie Four is located at 4 East Main St. They are open Tuesday through Saturday from 12:00-10:00pm.

Restaurant Spotlight: Bacon and Eggs

Bacon and Eggs Walla WallaThe name says it all: Bacon & Eggs is all about breakfast—with a twist.

An eclectic menu with items inspired by years of travel makes its home in a renovated Jackpot gas station on East Main St. The original walk-in refrigerator is stocked with everything from pineapples to bottles of bubbly, its glass panes frosted, allowing customers to catch a glimpse of staff members walking back and forth between it and the kitchen.

This afternoon, I met up with owner Michelle Adams for a chat about the story behind Bacon & Eggs and the restaurant’s strong support of the local community. Bacon & Eggs is a locavore operation, dedicated to using as many local products and ingredients as possible.

“The Walla Walla valley has so many incredible local things that I feel are almost untapped. If you hop on for the ride, it’s kind of amazing.”

Adams and her partner Michelle Giannunzio moved to Walla Walla from Seattle. They first visited the area in 2006 on a weekend wine tasting trip, and, like many of the small town’s transplants (myself included), instantly fell in love.

Bacon and Eggs KitchenAccording to Adams, opening a restaurant in Walla Walla was “intuitive.” Giannunzio has been whipping up delicious dishes in the kitchen for 25 years, and Adams has worked in the restaurant business for 15.

“We wrote a list down while we were clear-headed of the things that we had to have. And she and I both took, from all of the restaurants we’ve worked in, our top 10 favorite things and our top 10 least favorite things.”

After the move, the two did their fair share of market research before opening the restaurant in December of 2011.

“We spent two years learning the clientele. I worked at T. Macarones and [Giannunzio] was at Brasserie 4. It was actually, for us, in hindsight, the best thing we could have ever done. We spent two years getting to know the people we were about to serve.”

Every aspect of the Bacon & Eggs, from the friendly waitstaff, to the large open window into the kitchen, to the steaming mugs of Stumptown Coffee, fosters the same sense of community on which the restaurant thrives.

“We want you to really see where your food is coming from. It’s a relationship that we really like.”

Bacon and Eggs Walla WallaThe couple’s commitment to hospitality and many of Bacon & Eggs’ gourmet menu items have roots in Mexico, through which Adams and Giannunzio have extensively traveled. Signature dishes include the migas (a scramble of chiles, tortilla and pico de gallo), huevos con chorizo, and an authentic huevos rancheros.

“We love a little spice in things, or a little something unexpected.”

And for an extra kick, add a dash of hot sauce to your meal (there’s a wide selection available on the rack next to the kitchen) or complement it with a breakfast cocktail.

“Try a Bloody Mary or some nice spicy tequila with a chorizo scramble. It really is a good pairing.”

Bacon & Eggs is located at 503 E. Main St. and is open Thursday through Tuesday, 8 a.m. – 2 p.m.

Restaurant Spotlight: Maple Counter Cafe

There’s one question our guests seem to be asking lately: Where’s a good place to go for breakfast? Lucky for visitors and locals alike, Walla Walla offers a host of delicious dining options.

One of my favorite local breakfast spots is Maple Counter Café, a homey restaurant housed in a renovated transmission shop in downtown Walla Walla. You’ll be able to spot it easily—just look for the crowd of hungry customers that tends to gather outside its heavy wooden doors on Alder St.

Everything about Maple Counter is warm and inviting—from the French country-style décor, to the friendly waitstaff, to the endless coffee served with heavy cream.

I sat down this morning for a chat with owner Kory Nagler who let me in on the secret behind Maple Counter’s success: a long family tradition of outstanding service complemented by classic recipes.

Maple Counter Cafe Walla Walla

Kory and Rachel

Originally from Sequim, Washington, Kory and his wife Rachel opened the restaurant in November of 2011 after moving to Walla Walla in February of the same year.

“We fell in love, got married and decided we wanted to open a restaurant—actually I had always known that I was likely going to open a restaurant.”

Kory comes from a long line of restaurateurs—his grandparents ran a breakfast restaurant in Chicago, Illinois and his parents own the Oak Table Café in Sequim, which they opened right before Kory was born.

Maple Counter Café is part of this evolving tradition.

“That’s where the name comes from. We wanted to be different but we also wanted to be sure to pay homage in our own cute way because what we’re doing here really draws so much from the family tradition.”

Menu staples like the buttermilk pancakes, 49er flapjacks and crêpes get their fluffiness thanks to a sourdough starter

from the original family restaurant in Chicago. The style of the food and the techniques used to prepare it—thick-cut bacon, basted eggs, French-baked omelets—have been passed down as well.

But the Nagler family tradition is present in more than Maple Counter’s mouth-watering recipes and down-home cooking style.

“The secrets to hospitality, good food and all that stuff were just bred into me as a kid—it was all around me. The food is a complement to the service and to the warm feeling you want to get when you’re going out.”

And if you’ve already eaten at Maple Counter, chances are Kory’s literally had a hand in your food, working the line alongside the other chefs.

“I’m here every day.”

Maple Counter Walla Walla

Kory at work in the kitchen

He and Rachel help to foster the infectious, welcoming energy that fills the air in time with the telltale train whistle—a gift from Kory’s parents that announces the arrival of another sumptuous apple pancake and embarrasses customers on their birthdays.

At the end of our chat, Kory and I discussed some of our favorite dishes. I almost always get the quiche: rich, fluffy and whose ingredients change with what’s in season—right now it features Walla Walla sweet onions.

And what was Kory craving this morning?

“There’s sweet and there’s savory for breakfast. Today, I would say 49er flapjacks and bacon—it’s a little bit of both.”

Maple Counter Café located at 209 E. Alder St. and is open Tuesday through Sunday, 7 a.m. – 3 p.m.

Walla Faces Spotlight: Lori Fischer and Winery Tours Walla Walla

Walla Walla Winery Incubators

Lori taking a group to the Walla Faces winery at the Incubators

This week’s Walla Faces spotlight will feature Lori Fischer, owner of Winery Tours Walla Walla! Lori has been in the wine tour business four years, after retiring from her previous job as a middle school teacher in the greater Seattle area. With the Cabernet Cab, Lori takes wine lovers on fun, friendly, behind-the-scene custom tours of Walla Walla wineries.

There are a number of things that make Lori’s wine tours stand out in Walla Walla… Winery Tours Walla Walla is one of the few Washington State licensed wine tour companies in the area, and Lori is a trained and licensed chauffer. Every wine tour is five hours long and includes a complimentary lunch, bottled water, and chocolates. The wine tours may include wineries that clients wish to visit, and those Lori might recommend. She works hard to create working relationships with many wineries, wine makers and owners. A tour with Lori can assure you and your guests wonderful tasting room experiences. She can even help to schedule behind-the-scenes tours of wineries’ vineyards, production areas, and more! (All appointments for behind-the-scenes tours must be made in advance.) As the owner of a wine tour company, Lori loves to teach people about the Walla Walla wine industry and wine etiquette, and can tailor tours based on a client’s preferences for wine varietals or price points. While weekends usually book first with wine tour appointments, Lori can schedule and plan great wine tours for any day of the week. In fact, she recommends booking wine tours on a weekday to beat the Walla Walla weekend wine tasting rush.

Fischer Tours

Winery Tours Walla Walla Van

With a straightforward but friendly attitude about her wine tours and proper wine etiquette, Lori wants to make sure that her clients are able to have fun and leave the tour with a greater appreciation for wonderful Walla Walla wine. We have a great relationship with Lori, and from time to time she even takes people on her wine tours up for a tour of the Walla Faces vineyards! If you’re coming to Walla Walla and would like a chauffeured wine tour, be sure to look up Lori and her Cabernet Cab. We hope to see you soon in our tasting room!

You can reach Lori Fischer via email or phone at 509.540.9518.  Check out her website!

Walla Faces Spotlight: Black Tie Wine Tours

Black Tie Tours Walla WallaIn our new blog series, we will be featuring community members, businesses, and Walla Faces friends! Our first interview with Brian Gaines was a huge success, and thank you again to all who have supported Brian over the years. Our featured friend for this week is Black Tie Wine Tours, a wine tour and transportation company in the area who has been providing convenient and luxury wine tours to the Walla Walla area for around nine years. I talked with Amy, the Black Tie Wine Tours manager, about the business and wine tours in the Walla Walla area.
Black Tie Wine Tours caters not only to Walla Walla tourists, but also to community members who want to safely enjoy all that the Walla Walla Valley has to offer. After all, Black Tie aims to provide the best wine-tasting experience possible to its patrons! Their fleet consists of limos, vans, town cars, and stretch SUVs that are all licensed, insured, and have passed stringent industry inspections and follow regulations. All drivers have been chauffer-trained, and the business prides itself on its longstanding reputation as one of the most professional wine tour services in the area.
Black Tie is happy to help clients create a wine tasting route, or to follow a previously planned route. They encourage clients to send in an itinerary ahead of time if they have wineries in mind to plan an efficient and logical route, and to notify wineries ahead of time of large tasting groups. However, they recommend that for the best, most authentic wine tasting experience while using their services, clients should explore the wineries outside of the downtown area that is only really accessible by car. (Black Tie strongly encourages wine tasting in the downtown area as well, but by foot! Driving, parking, and traffic can create inconveniences and cut into wine tasting time…)
Amy says that the best part about working for Black Tie is the people she meets while working, and providing a fun and safe way for wine tasters to explore the Walla Walla Valley wineries. In the future, Amy hopes to see Black Tie and other wine tour companies in the area develop greater solidarity in order to provide more available transportation services to Walla Walla. Additionally, she hopes to strengthen bonds between Black Tie and other wineries in the area to provide the best wine tasting experience possible for tourists and community members alike.
Thanks Black Tie, for all that you do!

You can call Black Tie at 509-525-8585,  email a reservation to, or visit their website here.