By Margo Greenman
Seattle’s Pike Place Market is known for its famous flying fish, but if you ask a tourist where that fish came from, do you think he or she would know the answer?
West of Seattle is a region rich in native fish species, heirloom vegetables, and traditional, local foods found only in the Pacific Northwest. With miles of shoreline and acres upon acres of farm and forestland, Washington’s Olympic Peninsula and the Grays Harbor region are a gastronomic haven brimming with restaurants, wineries, markets and farms all stocked with fresh and local foods.
From heirloom Ozette potatoes to the coast’s prized razor clams, the region’s bountiful offerings are twice as toothsome when prepared by the hands of experienced food producers and chefs. Steve Shively, Membership and Marketing Director for the Olympic Culinary Loop — a unique group that represents the four counties united by the Olympic Peninsula and celebrates Olympic coast cuisine and the traditions that surround it — says the outstanding foods that are found in Grays Harbor are made even better thanks to the local experts and rockstar chefs who take these foods one step further. Shively says Taylor Shellfish and Brady’s Oysters are two good examples of this, as their outstanding selections of shellfish have developed a reputation that is respected not only by Pacific Northwest palates, but by the appetites of shellfish lovers across the globe.
While great food starts with great farmers, Grays Harbor chefs elevate these foods further by putting their culinary expertise and creativity to work. Shively says this is evident at restaurants like Andy Bickar’s acclaimed Rediviva in Aberdeen, which is renowned for its focus on fresh, sustainable cuisine, like its award winning soups and chowders loaded with locally sourced seafood. And, because Rediviva features a rotating menu of whatever is fresh and in season, there’s always something new and delicious for restaurant-goers to sink their teeth into.
Like Rediviva, the restaurant at the newly rebuilt Ocean Crest Resort offers an impressive menu of local fare paired exquisitely with the restaurant’s extensive wine list. Add a view of the ocean crashing against the shore just outside the window, and each sumptuous bite becomes enhanced by the sounds and sights of the region.
Another can’t-miss culinary experience, Shively recommends Grays Harbor visitors visit the Salmon House at the Rain Forest Resort. Shively says the incredible culinary creations featured on the restaurants fresh sheet add to the charming ambiance of the lodge. With outstanding accommodations, divine dining and a national forest all on-site, Shively says Quinault is a must see — and taste — destination.
But, you don’t have to seek out fine dining to feast like a king. For fresh, local, everyday eats, the Grays Harbor Farmers Market is a favorite. Shively says there’s nothing like sitting down in the open air on a nice day with a slice of homemade pie — loaded with fresh, locally grown berries — from the market. Of course, in the summer and fall months, you can pick your own berries (or pumpkins) straight from the earth at the region’s many u-pick farms, like Black River Blues Blueberry Farm and Shaffner Farms. For farm fresh produce year-round, Jay’s Farmstand offers a wide selection of locally sourced fruits and veggies, as does Voss Acres Produce, which features an on-site organic garden. For your protein fix, head to local fish markets like Lytle Seafoods and Seafood Connection, which offer the catch of the day, or load up on handmade meats at Aberdeen’s Bay City Sausage.
In addition to these Grays Harbor staples, Shively says that there are several new restaurants in the region, like Elma’s Flippin Fifties Diner, that offer good food and a fun experience worthy of the trek. Even Westport Winery, which is no newcomer to the epicurism of the area, keeps things fresh and interesting with a variety of new wines, culinary creations and — most recently — a line of award winning ciders.
For serious eaters looking to devour the region, Shively recommends planning a tasting tour, which you can route through the Olympic Culinary Loop. “We want people to come here with a relaxed pace and inquisitive heart,” explains Shively. To inspire foodies on their tasting tours, the Olympic Culinary Loop has created a collection of appetizing itineraries. “These [itineraries] give people some creative ideas to pair together for a full day’s worth of activities as they taste their way around the Olympic Peninsula,” explains Shively.
Of course, with so many food-focused festivals and events taking place in Grays Harbor throughout the year, visitors and locals alike can plan a day or weekend trip around the event du jour. From the annual Ocean Shores Razor Clam Festival and Elma’s popular Winter Wine Festival to Savor Seabrook and more, there’s almost always an appetizing event to look forward to in Grays Harbor.
Besides being a mecca for good, sustainable food, the cuisine of Grays Harbor and the Olympic Peninsula is a nod to early Pacific Northwest traditions and the foods that characterize the region. Simply put, Shively says food is a good way to experience the Olympic Peninsula, and, with shellfish, wild game, bountiful produce, handcrafted beers, wine and more, there truly is something for everyone.
Hungry? The Olympic Culinary Loop’s website is a great starting point for anyone looking to plan a tasting tour of Grays Harbor or neighboring Mason, Clallam or Jefferson counties. You can also discover a world of Grays Harbor restaurants, farms, wineries, breweries and more by scrolling through GraysHarborTalk’s “food” page.