In the mood for a tiny vacation from the mundane? Need to shake up your happy hour routine? Why not venture from the big city of Bellingham to bask in the slower, mellower vibe of Lummi Island? It’s easy enough to do even on a weeknight, if you can sneak away a little early and plop yourself on the porch at Beach Store Café, for a fall al fresco happy hour.
All it takes is a 10-minute ferry ride from the mainland to Lummi Island,via the Whatcom Chief. Insider tip: Beach Store Café is very short walk from the ferry, so leave your car in the parking lot, walk onto the ferry as a pedestrian, and save a few bucks ($7.00 vs. $13.00). Plus, there is almost always room for walk-ons, even when the ferry is full. We made the 5:00 ferry over, and were back on the 7:30 crossing to the mainland. Easy!
Now, you may have noticed Lummi Island’s other restaurant has been in the news (just a little) lately. Sure, the Willows Inn has a James Beard Award-winning chef who creates what’s been called “the best meal of my life” (by my husband, among others). And yes, I had the chance to eat there once. It was back when Chef Blaine Wetzel had just arrived, and we diners who wandered in from an art opening at the inn had no idea what was about to happen to us, gastronomically speaking. All I can say is Chef Wetzel’s food is all they say it is.
Even so, the Beach Store Café—which is way easier to get into—has long been one of my favorite places to relax, have a beer or glass of wine, enjoy the amazing views of Mount Baker rising over the bay, and eat some delicious, comfy food. The only problem: a few changes of proprietorship over the years resulted in less-than-stellar experiences.
I’m happy to report that the Beach Store is once again worth the ferry ride! The atmosphere and service are just as friendly as ever, and the food and drinks are top-notch—and nicely priced. We were focused on arriving in time for happy hour, which is from 4:00 to 6:00, Thursday through Monday. Note that the cafe is closed on Tuesday and Wednesday. (And scroll to the bottom for other important info).
The Happy Hour Menu features steamed clams, Vietnamese chicken wings, grilled calamari salad, Thai shrimp cakes, and a few sandwiches, along with herb fries with toasted fennel seed aioli—which we ordered as soon as possible. All drinks are $1.00 off, including house cocktails (sangria, mimosa, ginger gimlet and more), a number of beers on tap and wines by the glass.
Beach Store’s wine list was a thoroughly pleasant surprise (I suppose I was expecting one with all the usual suspects: a merlot, a chardonnay, perhaps a pinot gris or noir, and maybe a cab blend). Instead I found some delightful, mostly Old World varietals and blends, and had a hard time choosing between a Cotes du Rhone, a Loire Valley, and a Super Tuscan. Our server was kind enough to bring me tastes so I could make an informed decision. I went with the 2013 Sanguineti Super Tuscan, a blend of Sangiovese, Merlot and Syrah. At $8.00 per glass during happy hour, I couldn’t have been more pleased.
The Beach Store Café also offers a selection of whites, bubbles and roses by the glass, ranging from $5.00 – $8.00 with the happy hour discount. Bottles are priced at $30.00 or less, which is totally reasonable in my book.
I talked with BSC’s wine list curator, Ryan Gaumer, who shared his philosophy about wine and food:
The wine list for the Beach Store was born out of a response to what I often see in the Northwest as a rather myopic viewpoint in terms of wine lists and food, with more emphasis on serving local wines and less on pouring and pairing wines that are compatible with food. My goal was to pick wines from small, independent winemakers from around the world who produce wines specifically geared toward food.
Another factor was the relationship between price point and quality. Realistically, one can’t ignore the fact that in order to get a good bottle of domestic wine, one often seems to pay a lot more than for an imported wine. That isn’t to say that we don’t pour any domestic wines at the Beach Store Café—we have in the past and will continue to do so in the future. We absolutely believe in supporting quality local products, which is one of the reasons our beer list is almost entirely sourced from independent, Cascadian breweries.
Our owner, Tess, and I were also committed to the idea that the wines be affordable, so I created a wine list that doesn’t have a single bottle over $30 (we don’t do a traditional restaurant mark-up on our wines) and none of the wines we pour by the glass are over $10 unless it’s for a special wine dinner. I think that keeps the wine list both sincere and affordable to locals and tourists alike.
I have to say that this level of care made me love the Beach Store Café several schooches more! Kind of like the Grinch, my heart grew three sizes hearing Ryan’s thoughts on their wine list. (It’s a wine nerd thing.)
My dining companion went for one of those Cascadian brews this time (as he often does), choosing the Ninkasi Total Domination IPA, a bargain at $4.00 per pint (again, happy hour price). Other choices included Big Sky Brewing’s Moose Drool Brown, Chuckanut Brewery’s Pilsner, Kulshan Brewing’s Red Cap Irish Red, Wander Brewing’s Wanderale and Maui Brewing’s Coconut Porter (okay, not so Cascadian). Bottles and cans ranged from Omission Gluten-free and Old German Pilsner to Bitburger non-alcoholic, Budweiser and a few others. Everyone’s beverage needs can be addressed at Beach Store Café!
Once we gobbled up the fries, we settled on pizza and salmon for our main meals. Both dishes were OMG. My salmon was perfectly cooked, and served in a beautiful dashi with spinach, shiitakes and scallions. We both loved the pizza, which combined grilled chicken, roasted garlic, artichoke puree, lots of mozzarella and parm, and big ol’ basil leaves. They offer seven or so other pies, including a grilled beet and blue cheese pizza that looked really delicious. See the entire dinner menu here.
The Beach Store Café keeps things simple: good food and drink in a friendly atmosphere with unbeatable views. At least on a clear day, that is. But don’t worry—when the weather cools down and the rains come back, the restaurant is a warm and cozy place to hang out, even if you don’t get to see this:
There’s a casual beer garden out back, and you’ll find live music most Friday nights, starting at 7:30. Plans for our return visit are already in place. It’s that good. Hope to see you there!
Beach Store Cafe, 2200 N. Nugent Rd., Lummi Island, WA 98262
Monday, Thursday, Friday: noon – 9:00 p.m. Saturday and Sunday: 9:00 a.m. – 9:00 p.m.
Beach Store Cafe on Facebook
Insider Info: Before You Head to Beach Store Cafe . . .
The Lummi Island Ferry will be in Dry Dock and no vehicle ferry will be available from September 10 to approximately October 1. But you can still get to the Beach Store Cafe on the foot passenger ferry, which will be running all day, every day. More info on that here.
Please plan accordingly, but by all means do plan on a little happy hour on Lummi Island to enjoy our beautiful fall!