It’s a late summer evening and I’m sitting in the garden out back at Lummi Island’s Beach Store Café with my family, waiting for the band of three to start playing on the wooden stage. The atmosphere is light and jovial: other families relax around us, watching their kids play on the grass and breathing in air fragrant with the smell of ripe blackberries. There’s nothing fancy about the back garden, where wood picnic tables are decked with plastic cloths and the only décor is nature itself, – an apple tree heavy with fruit. But we don’t need fancy. We loved the eight-minute ferry ride over on the dinky ferry, the Whatcom Chief ($32 for cars, $7 round trip for adult foot passengers, free for kids) and with our car parked on the mainland we feel like we’re indulging in a quick getaway, even if it’s just for a meal.
The Beach Store Café is bustling on a Friday night, its busiest night of the week thanks to the draw of live music. The two-story building has had many an incarnation over the years. As its name suggests, it started out as a store, morphed into a bar and then became a restaurant, under the direction of the Willows Inn until November 2014, when Tess Winds-Johnson purchased it with her partner, Jason Brubaker and their friend Craig Miller. The three had worked together at the Willows Inn and have an enduring love of Lummi Island and its residents. They revamped the menu, replaced the floors, added new refrigeration and opened in the dark winter months. “Winter was so much better than what we expected and we received so much support,” Winds-Johnson said.
The menu is a culinary treat. There are typical staples like fish and chips, burgers and Caesar salad, but the trio has added interesting extras, too. I loved the mixed greens salad ($8), with apples, yellow beets, seasoned seeds and blue cheese, and gobbled up one of the house specials, cured sockeye gravlax with juniper berries and dill ($12). Other interesting dishes include cioppino ($14), an Italian fish stew with orange-caper gremolata, Cornish game hen, braised pork shoulder and steamed clams.
The kids settled on fish and chips and a pizza, and both were excellent. Our pizza was particularly innovative, with artichoke puree replacing the usual thick layer of cheese and mushroom, mozzarella, fresh thyme and truffle oil adding a fabulous panache. Other pizza combinations include the roasted eggplant with prosciutto, the roasted beets and garlic and the grilled chicken with basil and artichoke puree. The 11” pizzas range from $10 to $15 and gluten-free crust is available.
Soup is a weak spot for me, and the moment I saw the curried red lentil with coconut milk on the specials menu, I knew I had to try it. One cup proved insufficient after my daughters determined they loved it too, and by the time we left we’d devoured three bowls of the hot, tasty treat.
Around us, the restaurant was buzzing. The band played folk music easy on the ears, kids sipped on Bundaberg root beer in brown bottles, all the way from Queensland, Australia and we were surrounded by island visitors and locals who’d been on the island 35 years and were only too happy to share their insights. “Seems like everyone who came off the last ferry came straight here,” said our server with a smile, as she apologized for what would be a 25-minute delay in the food delivery. We were glad for our reservation as the tables around us filled quickly, and inside the other 45 seats were packed with diners.
Winds-Johnson said her business partner, Craig Miller, follows a gluten-free diet, which is why many items on the menu are gluten-free. She sources beef and lamb from the island but said she had to go off-island for many items to keep the menu cost-effective. It’s certainly not overly expensive. Entrees range from $14 to $19 and soups and salads are available in small or larger versions ($5-$10). At $29 the most expensive item on the menu was the special entrée, seared sea scallops with carrot risotto and arugula.
We were sadly too sated for dessert, though the red currant ice cream and lavender variety, both made on-island, were heavily tempting. Other options included the chocolate peppermint crème brulee, the blueberry almond clafouti and a raspberry shortcake.
As we wafted back to the mainland the night-time views were stunning and the soulful melodies of the band accompanied us all the way to our vehicle. The Beach Store Café delivered a superb meal, fabulous ambiance, that incredible summertime-getaway feeling and an all-around five star Pacific Northwest experience.
If You Go:
• Foot passengers can easily walk from the ferry terminal on Lummi Island to the Beach Store Café on N. Nugent road, a three-minute walk. See Lummi Island Ferry schedule.
• The Beach Store Café is open for lunch and dinner through October and November, for three meals a day on weekends and for dinner only Thursday through Monday in the winter months.
• For reservations call 360-758-2233 and for more information visit beachstorecafe.com.