By Jennifer Crain
I’ve been known to inquire about the origin of ingredients when I’m dining out. Maybe you’ve cornered the wait staff, too, to ask about the waters where the oysters were harvested, the diet of the cow that’s now your Porter House steak, or the name of the creamery that created the cheese on your appetizer plate.
We’re not alone, reader. Many diners are less satisfied with vague descriptors such as “fresh” and “natural.” And chefs are paying attention to the impact of their menu items on the local economy: more and more restaurants are teaming up with local farmers and ranchers to provide their customers with dishes that incorporate local ingredients. Joel Hart, chef at Page St. Café in Olympia, says if you circled any vegetable, fruit, or meat on his menu, he’d be able to tell you where it comes from—and a good bit about the producer, too.
While many restaurants in the greater Olympia area are careful with their ingredients and strive to support local businesses and regional distributors, a few stand out for their close relationships with South Sound farms, ranches, and food artisans: if you’d like to dine out in the Olympia area while supporting local, work your way through the list below.
I asked each of these restaurants (and there are likely more—this is hardly an exhaustive list) to tell me the local producers they work with closely, to comment on whether they shift their menus according to the availability of seasonal produce, and to name one item on the menu that highlights local ingredients. Here’s what I learned:
Local ingredients: The downtown restaurant (sister to Water Street Café and Bar, below) has a close partnership with Kirsop Farm and also buys produce from Helsing Junction Farm. They often feature beef from Colvin Ranch.
Menu flexibility: Chef Will Taylor says they change their menu seasonally and shift their specials according to availability of seasonal produce.
Order local: Taylor suggests the Summer Vegetable Risotto, featuring the week’s local produce, such as summer squash, green beans, and Sungold tomatoes.
Local ingredients: Owner André Le Reste says they buy produce for their salads, sandwiches, and other menu items from Calliope Farm, Rising River Farm, and Kirsop Farm. Every bread item made in the bakeshop and café, from a boule to a chocolate cork, is made from flour milled from Washington-grown wheat, sourced from The Shepherd’s Grain. They also buy grass-fed meats from Oregon.
Menu flexibility: Le Reste says they modify the menu offerings based on seasonal produce.
Order local: Watch for Le Reste’s pick, the Delicata Squash Salad.
Menu flexibility: They offer a fixed menu with specials that shift with the seasons.
Order local: Try their featured dish, the Oysters Creole, with local, hand-dipped oysters, grilled red peppers, and poached eggs on an English muffin.
Local ingredients: Chef Laurie Nguyen says they purchase produce from Helsing Junction Farm, mushrooms from a local picker who delivers directly to their door, and shellfish from Henderson Inlet Community Shellfish Farm, run by the Puget Sound Restoration Fund, and from Nguyen’s own Dockside Shellfish Co., grown on her own property. Beef and wild game come from Oregon. Their wine list includes quite a few local wineries, including Walter Dacon Wines in Shelton, Salida Wine in Rainier, Sovereign Cellars on Steamboat Island, Madsen Family Cellars in Olympia, and Medicine Creek Winery in Olympia.
Menu flexibility: Nguyen says she tries to change the printed menu seasonally and creates specials that feature the day’s freshest local ingredients.
Order local: Try the Junction Salad, named for Helsing Junction Farm, a side salad that features the week’s seasonal produce from the Rochester farm. Ask about the specials, which can include the freshest offerings from Pacific Seafood, such as Columbia River salmon, Washington Albacore tuna, or chanterelle mushrooms (they’re early this year!).
Local ingredients: Chef Christian Skillings says they use local ingredients whenever possible and are committed to using Stiebrs Farms cage-free eggs, produced in Yelm. The bar is stocked with spirits from family-run, Northwest distilleries, notably Wishkah River Distillery in Aberdeen. They also source honey from Robbins Honey Farm in Lakewood, beef and pork from Snake River Farms, and grass-fed beef from Oregon.
Menu flexibility: They offer a full, fixed menu year round.
Local ingredients: Local sourcing is central to executive chef and owner Lisa Scott Owen’s philosophy. She buys beef from Colvin Ranch in Tenino. Poultry and pork come from Stokesberry Sustainable Farm in Olympia. They source as much produce as possible from Rising River Farm and Helsing Junction Farm. Their greens have come from Bremer Mountain Farm for many years. Eggs are from Stiebrs Farms. She also sources bread from The Essential Baking Company in Seattle. To read more about their relationships with local producers, check out Owen’s chef’s blog on their website.
Menu flexibility: They have a fixed menu but seasonal vegetables and berries shift with availability.
Order local: Owen suggests the Porter House steak from Colvin Ranch, cooked over a wood-burning fire. Served with tomatoes marinated in sweet balsamic vinegar and oregano.
Menu flexibility: They offer a fixed menu year round, but daily specials can shift based on availability of seasonal produce.
Order local: Martin suggests the Northwest Omelet, made with local salmon folded in with chevre and spinach.
Local ingredients: Owner and chef Lisa David says their traditional Mediterranean food is made with as much produce as possible from Calliope Farm, Ladyberry Produce, and Kirsop Farm.
Menu flexibility: Whenever produce is seasonal, David says she buys it locally. She sometimes shifts the menu offerings based on available local produce.
Order local: David suggests the felafel sandwich. She sources the chickpeas from a farm in Pullman and cooks them with local cilantro, parsley, and onion. Patties of the batter are fried and tucked into a pita along with local cucumbers and pickled local beets and turnips.
Local ingredients: Chef Joel Hart says all their meats, including flank steak, bratwurst, sausage, and Canadian bacon, are sourced from Home Meat Service, a family-owned producer and butcher in Shelton. Hart has visited Wobbly Cart Farming Collective, where he sources all his produce when it’s in season.
Menu flexibility: Hart says they are constantly shifting the menu based on what ingredients are available locally.
Local ingredients: The popular Eastside bakery transforms into a restaurant for dinner from 5:30 – 9:00, Thursday through Sunday evenings. Chef Carmen Otto sources fish and shellfish from The Olympia Seafood Company, greens from Bremer Mountain Greens, and a portion of their produce from Rising River Farm and Wobbly Cart Farming Collective. They also source some of their flour from The Shepherd’s Grain.
Menu flexibility: The menu changes weekly, according to the local harvest.
Order local: Manager Jeremy Schwartz suggests the Golden Beet Salad, made with Bremer Mountain greens, fennel and beets from Wobbly Cart, Sungold tomatoes from Rising River Farm, goat cheese from Twin Oaks Creamery, and a house-made vinaigrette.
Local ingredients: Owner Nicole Butigan says Swing participates in a chef CSA (Community-Supported Agriculture) with Helsing Junction Farm, creating specials from the box of fresh produce they receive from the farm. They also have a great relationship with Johnson Berry Farm and use their berries in salads, desserts and cocktails. They serve Olympic Mountain Ice Cream, who recently created a special Negroni Ice Cream for them. They also purchase from The Olympia Seafood Company for occasional specials, Olympia Coffee Roasting Company, and regional wineries.
Menu flexibility: They offer a fixed seasonal menu with Thursday to Saturday specials that shift according to available seasonal produce.
Order local: Local produce and fish are often featured in the specials. Butigan recommends their “Burning Down the House” cocktail, a margarita featuring Johnson Berry Farm’s spicy jam. They’re currently pouring a wine flight, “Local Treasures,” featuring three boutique local wineries, Stottle Winery in Lacey, Madsen Family Cellars in Olympia, and Salida Wine in Rainier.
Local ingredients: Like Acqua Via (see above), this downtown restaurant features produce from Kirsop Farm and Helsing Junction Farm. They also partner with Colvin Ranch for their beef dishes.
Menu flexibility: Both the printed menu and the specials change according to season and the week’s harvest.
Order local: Taylor suggests the Colvin Ranch Rib Eye Steak served with local roasted new potatoes, kale, and chanterelles.