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

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/.

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.

“Pairing on Main” Raises Money for Cancer Fund

September 21st was a busy day in the Walla Faces Tasting Room. (It was one of those days where your pace has to be consistently stay between a fastwalk and a sprint.) Not only did we have an endless stream of customers during our regular tasting hours, between 1 and 6, at 6pm the entering crowds became a veritable flood. It was time for “Pairing on Main”, a food and wine event organized by Providence Saint Mary Medical Center, a local full-service hospital.

2013 was the 9th annual Providence Saint Mary Gran Fondo. Gran Fondo, which means, “the Great Ride” started out as a bike riding event to help raise money for the Cancer Special Needs fund. This fund is essential for providing support to local cancer patients. Help ranges from medication to wigs and supportive undergarments for breast cancer patients. Since its advent, it has expanded, allowing participants to choose an event, including a walk, a motorcycle ride, a 5k fun run, a horse trail ride, and a cycling event. For the past five years, Providence Saint Mary has also organized a “Pairing On Main”, which couples local wineries and restaurants to create a series of culinary experiences as guests. This is Walla Faces’ second year participating in “Pairing on Main”.

100% of the money that is raised from Gran Fondo goes directly to Walla Walla patients and their care.

I sat down with Mardi Hagerman, the Providence Saint Mary Resource Nurse, who was the brains behind Gran Fondo. “I was the original act in town for it!” she proclaims. “We needed to make some money for the special needs fund… the idea came up in the hallway with a nurse who was a cyclist, working with the Whitman cycling team.” The addition of “Pairing on Main” was the brainchild of Walla Walla Chef and Caterer Ceil Blain. “It just took off!” Mardi notes.

Participants receive a wineglass and a map. They migrate from tasting room to tasting room, each of which provides a sample of wine and a perfectly paired bite-sized hors d’œuvre, catered by one of Walla Walla’s finest restaurants. The first “Pairing on Main” sold 75 tickets. Now, the capacity has been bumped up to 150. “We’re not going to go above that because we are cognizant of the generosity of our vendors on main street, who are donating their food and wine… the restaurants are still serving guests plus doing our event!” Mardi confirms. “Our downtown proprietors are so generous.”

Mardi continues, “[This year] was very successful.” The 2013 Gran Fondo raised a record-breaking $29,000 for the Providence Saint Mary Cancer Fund. “The first year, we made $900,” Mardi notes. “Every year, people are a little more familiar with us and a little more sensitive to our cause. After all, there’s no one that isn’t affected by this diagnosis, whether it is a personal diagnosis or a family diagnosis.”

Our Pairing on Main Volunteer, Mardi Hagerman, and Walla Faces Owner Debbie Johnson Pose for a Photo

Our “Pairing on Main” Volunteer, Mardi Hagerman, and Walla Faces Owner Debbie Johnson Pose for a Photo

Mardi is not only in charge of organizing the event, she is the brawn behind the operation as well! “I’m the waitress,” she says. “I help out where I’m needed. I got my food handler’s permit so that I could do the grunt work.”

This year, Walla Faces was paired with Whitehouse Crawford. We served both our 2008 Syrah, a library wine with a perfect balance of white pepper and blackberry notes, and our 2010 Riesling, an off-dry wine that’s as complex as it is crisp. After tasting our wine, Whitehouse Crawford Head Chef Jamie Guerin prepared a Capocollo, jalapeño, goat cheese, and arugula salad-stuffed gougères. These cheesy French pastries are a wine-pairing classic; in France, they are traditionally consumed in wine cellars as a part of a wine tasting. In addition to donating our wine, 25% of Walla Faces bottle sales during the “Pairing on Main” were donated to the Providence Saint Mary Cancer Fund.

“Every year, I am overwhelmed by the generosity of this community,” Mardi says. “I have met so many wonderful people thanks to ‘Pairing on Main’, who have a strong heart for what we do.”

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.

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: 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.