So where did all the culinary goodness I wrote about take place? At a very special place. The Willows Inn. A property that has been servicing Pacific Northwesterners for a century. These days the focus is on the food that chef Blaine Wetzel creates on a nightly basis, food that has brought worldwide (much deserved) acclaim, but as the San Juan Islands hold a very special place in my heart the location is just as incredible.
Note: This story was written about my meal in 2012. It has brought to my attention that things were not as idyllic as it seems in the kitchens of The Willow Inn and I am sad to learn about the terrible abuse of both the inn and the chef. I do not condone any behavior that involves abuse.
As I mentioned before, every year for the last several years we have been visiting these islands north of Seattle and south of Vancouver because they feel like “home.” We have been to Lopez Island, Orcas Island, the main San Juan Island, and were delighted to explore a new island for us, Lummi Island.
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We arrived with gorgeous weather. It is always unpredictable in the Northwest and we had lots of luck. There was drizzle in the mornings, sun and warm weather in the afternoon, and gorgeous sunsets. Perfect for enjoying the island and the property.
Besides the main restaurant, there is a bar called Taft's (a nod to the original family owners) that serves happy hour and fresh oysters in the bar and on the front deck as well as the Taproot Cafe from 10-6 that serves coffees, local beers on tap as well as sandwiches and daily soups and stews. It is also the spot where you will find chef Wetzel and his sous-chefs Ben and Aaron take breakfast and planning the evening meal.
We loved our home-away-from-home and had a wonderful stay. We met Jennifer the head “farmer” at Nettles Farm (the farm the supplies the inn and the restaurant) and we had some really great conversations with her along with another farmhand, Theo. There are tours of the farm every day at 10:00, you just have to sign up at the front desk at the inn. (We had planned to do this on Sunday, but an allergy attack prevented us from going.)
We had chickens as our neighbors and we were delighted! We learned they are layers and aren't used for meat. Turns out they are only about 4 lbs each, their big fluffy feathers were deceiving! There are all kinds of vegetables growing to service the restaurant. Onions and celery were planted in our front yard as well. The farmers worked tirelessly, but with a smile, the entire time we were there!
Our farmhouse suite was really like having a cottage and we had a decent-sized kitchen (including a pizza oven!), a queen bed in its own bedroom, a bathroom, and “salon.” Plenty for two and a family could have stayed here easily.
While I didn't stay in the inn, I would highly recommend that you select a room or spot with a kitchen as there aren't any eating options on the island besides the inn. We spotted one other cafe that was under renovation near the ferry dock, but that was it. Breakfast is served in the main inn and there is the Taproot cafe open from 10-6ish and the daily dinner with chef Wetzel. But that is it for food options and that can get expensive.
We stopped at the Whole Foods in Bellevue just north of the SeaTac airport (there are also other locations on the way in Seattle) to load up on supplies for preparing a few of our own meals. It was a good thing too, as the one grocery store on the island reminded me of ones that I had seen in French Polynesia with the shelves being more empty than full. Master food planners that we are, we had plenty to satisfy our non-chef-Wetzel meals needs.
I will be writing one more post on Lummi Island itself. You can check out additional photos of the inn and our place on Nettles Farm in my Flickr album.
Practical Information – How to get to Willow’s Inn
Willow’s Inn is a hotel on Lummi Island in the San Juan Islands, an archipelago between Washington state in the US and Vancouver Island in Canada. To get there from Seattle we drove to Bellingham (2 hours) and took a ferry in our car. There is a small regional airport in Bellingham, we could have flown in there and taken the ferry to the island that way. You definitely need a car on the island to get around.
How about you? Have you stayed on a farm before? Have you stayed at a hotel/inn where the focus was the restaurant?
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