The Bluff at Friday Harbor House
As your ferry arrives at San Juan Island, you’ll see Friday Harbor House close to the dock. The inn’s restaurant, The Bluff, served one of my favorite bites of the weekend: Flash-Fried Kelp & Calamari ($12, with a one-quarter portion pictured). You can do fine dining at The Bluff (I recommend turning control to chef Kyle Nicholson and going with the seven course prix fixe menu), but the pickled bull kelp and calamari are also a perfect snack to go with a beer while sitting outside and watching ferries arrive, seaplanes land, and other harbor activity. The kelp and calamari have hazelnut and citrus dust and can be dipped in a delicious smoky tomato sauce. (You’ll also find bull kelp in the tartar sauce that accompanies a Dungeness crab cake with foraged sea beans—which restored my faith in crab cakes after eating too many bready ones on so many of Seattle’s menus.)
Early arrival to Friday Harbor meant a quest for coffee and pastry, and I found my favorites at Cafe Demeter. In a croissant vs. craquelin quandary, candied orange tilted me toward the Craquelin au Chocolat (which Demeter spells Craqueline aux Chocolate). The pastry is made with brioche dough filled with candied oranges and just enough chocolate, then topped with almonds for a treat with tempting textures.
Cafe Demeter: 80 Nichols Street, Friday Harbor, WA 98250 (map); 360-370-5443
Bakery San Juan
I was lucky enough to be in Friday Harbor on a Saturday, so I visited the San Juan Island Farmers Market. The longest lines were at the Bakery San Juan, which had pizza ovens on site. There were many options, but I chose the Fungi e Cipolla Pizza ($6.50 for a large slice, seen here cut in half). I normally prefer pizza with tomato sauce, but this slice was bursting with flavor from the sautéed crimini mushrooms, onions and Asiago cheese. Red chile contributed a little heat, and green garlic from Blue Moon Farm added bite. If you can’t make it to the Farmers Market, you can check out Bakery San Juan at the store location below.
Bakery San Juan: 775 Mullis Street, Friday Harbor, WA 98250 ( bakerysanjuan.com
An excellent weekday option for lunch is Market Chef. Sandwiches are the specialty here, and upon hearing that they roast their own beef and turkey breast, I had to try one of each sandwich. The I’ll Have the Turkey is the more visually striking of the two, with cranberry sauce, Russian dressing, marinated red onions, and organic mixed greens contributing their colors. But I preferred the Roast Beef & Rocket ($8.95). In contrast to the turkey sandwich’s wheat cranberry-walnut roll, the house-made caraway salt roll is lighter, allowing the flavor of the Oregon country beef to burst through. Along with local arugula, this sandwich also has marinated red onions, but what really make it shine are the spiciness of hot horseradish sauce and the brininess of chunky olive salad.
Red Checkered Picnic
San Juan Island is so small that it’s easy to navigate and see most of the sights in a day. Lime Kiln Point State Park is the place to enjoy the water views with hope of watching whales from just feet away. In the past, people who’ve spent the day waiting for the whales had to haul back to Friday Harbor (or Roche Harbor) for food. That problem was recently solved. Red Checkered Picnic is a new outpost serving snacks and a small selection of hand-prepared items, like the Zelenitza Torte ($5.95). The torte has layers of spinach, cheese, herbs, and tortillas, making it a sort of Mexican-Greek fusion dish. The flavors are okay; the convenience is priceless.
Red Checkered Picnic: 6100 Lighthouse Road, Friday Harbor, WA 98250 (map
Pelindaba Lavender Farm
A short drive from “Whale Watch Park” (Lime Kiln Point) is the Pelindaba Lavender Farm. You can stroll the lavender fields, drawing inspiration to purchase products from the on-site store. Some of those items are culinary, like the lavender cookies (try the sables), chutneys, and herbs. For immediate satisfaction, I went with Lavender Vanilla Ice Cream ($3.75 for a Dixie cup). There’s also lavender chocolate ice cream, but the vanilla allows a fuller feel of the lavender fragrance and flavor. It’s floral without being overwhelming. There are also chocolate cookie sandwiches filled with lavender ice cream.
Duck Soup Inn
As you start to complete the loop back to Friday Harbor, Duck Soup Inn is a popular place for dinner. Sophisticated yet casual, Duck Soup serves upscale Pacific Northwest cuisine in a country setting. Steak Diane is the signature dish, and there are many other meaty and vegetarian options, but looking for something light, I enjoyed Thai Pork Salad ($12.00). Asian-inspired, these do-it-yourself lettuce wraps (leaves sourced from Blue Moon Farm) are filled with Jones Farm ground pork, cucumber slices, and peanuts, with the flavor spiked by the addition of lemongrass, chile peppers, green onion, cilantro, other herbs, and a squeeze of lime. Fresh and refreshing!