Love (of food) in the Time of Covid-19

Good morning, Kittitas County! What a time, huh? With restaurants closed for business as usual many of our favorites continue to offer take-out and delivery options. It’s so important that we all take social distancing seriously and limit our interactions with others to the greatest extent we are able, but we still have to eat and our wonderful restaurants still need our support. Here is a good article about the safety of food delivery. The TL;DR is that it is probably just fine as long as food service guidelines and common sense are practiced.
ATTENTION RESTAURANTS: I plan to compile a list of local restaurants and their status (delivery, take-out, closed) as well as any additional services or precautions they are taking, so feel free to reach out to me with information and include your website and/or phone number where patrons can reach you to ensure that it’s included in my guide.
Image credit The Atlantic

Auf Wiedersehen, Leavenworth

The worst thing about Ellensburg Brewing Co. & Tilted Tree Cider is that I no longer have the excuse drive to Leavenworth for German food. Why weave through Blewett Pass when I can get my fill of schnitzel, spaetzle, and pretzels right here in Ellensburg? Writing that out I now see that it’s not a bad thing at all. 

The second worst part is that I never know if I should call it Ellensburg Brewing & Malting Company, Ellensburg Brewing Co. & Tilted Tree Cider, EllensTree CiderMalt & Tilted Brewing, or any other of the mouthful of names that I associate with this place from signage or social media. Luckily for the EBC&TTC/EC&TB/WTAF that’s about where my criticism ends.

Just your average pretzel the size of Pluto.

On a recent visit my little family of four ordered a pretzel with beer cheese, a kids chicken strips and fries, a Reuben sandwich, and a Jagerschnitzel. Everything tasted great and each dish was roughly the size of my oldest child so the majority of it came home with us in boxes. While everything was quite good, a surprising standout are the french fries. None of us could stop eating those beautifully-seasoned little buggers. The kids chicken strips could easily pass for an adult meal in both size and quality. The Reuben had about an inch and a half of towering pastrami and is a contender for the best version of that classic sandwich in town. The Jagerschnitzel is perhaps better than a Jagerschnitzel has any right to be with a perfect amount of mushroom sauce on a crunchy and tender fried pork loin, all atop braised red cabbage and those little heaven nuggets known as spaetzle. I could nitpick and say that I thought the spaetzle were a little puny and I much prefer them refried in brown butter as I do at home but spaetzle is pretty much wonderful regardless of shape or size. 

Nice, huh?
Child’s hand shown for reference or because he couldn’t keep his grubby paws off the plate for two dang seconds while I snapped a picture.

I sampled all of the house-brewed ciders and while the American Apple is the only one I truly enjoy, I am just happy that more people are making ciders so, A for effort. The fruitier and sweeter offerings are not to my taste but I know that they will appeal to many others and the pumpkin cider is not remotely as bad as one would think it would be. The newly-released Oktoberfest beer is…I don’t know…beer. Beer rarely leaves an impression on me but I’ve been told it’s good by people who appreciate beer far more than I care to. 

As with Jim Rowe’s other joints in town, it’s a highly professional operation staffed by competent people, but he seems to be really flexing his restaurateur muscles with this new venture. The food prices are a little high for the area but any two reasonable adults could split a meal and keep costs way down. A smaller lunch menu would be a nice addition.  

I think Ellensburg Brewing Company is an asset to downtown Ellensburg. It’s big, friendly enough for groups and families, and brings to town a cuisine and atmosphere that we’ve been lacking. Oh, and the food is about as satisfying as food gets.

Smokey’s BBQ is another Upper County gem that is well-worth the trip.

I almost made this just an Instagram post of drool-inducing pictures of succulent meat but then I decided that I have more that I want to say about Smokey’s BBQ than is appropriate for Instagram.

At their very cool location in South Cle Elum, adjacent to the train museum in the old train depot on the Iron Horse trail, Smokey’s offers BBQ that is pretty standard and dang delicious. We had a family meal for 2-3 people plus some garlic fries and it fed four adults and two kids for lunch. It included ribs, chicken, and another meat of your choice–we opted for the brisket–as well as two sides. It was all very, very good and is the kind of dining experience where you’ve barely even tasted your food before you’re trying to figure out when you can return.

Family Feast for 2-3. Brisket, chicken, ribs, cornbread, mac and cheese, red beans and rice. 

What I want to say about Smokey’s is something that relates to my recent critical review of another establishment. In that review (I’m being intentionally vague but it’s easy to find), I urged all restaurants to make an effort to not include bad food on their menu, even if it’s something that they really want to serve. Smokey’s clearly understands this and I’ll explain why.

After seeing their menu online I was so excited that fried chicken is listed as their Sunday special. Fried chicken isn’t something I eat often but I like it enough that it’s one of several things that I learned to make for myself after not being able to find a good option in Kittitas County. I was disappointed when the cashier told me that they didn’t have fried chicken today but I was so glad that she explained why. It turns out they just released the new menu, including the fried chicken, but then decided that the batter recipe isn’t as good as they want it to be. So, get this: they decided not to serve it until it was up to their high standards. I appreciate that dedication to quality and I can’t wait to get my hands on the fried chicken that lives up to the rest of Smokey’s menu and their strong reputation.

I look forward to getting back to Smokey’s and enjoying that big patio on another gorgeous sunny day. It’s a really special place and I’m so glad to have finally tried it. One last note. If like me you ate at the ill-fated and short-lived Ellensburg location and weren’t particularly impressed, I implore you to head up to South Cle Elum and give them another chance.  

Smokey’s Bar-B-Que, 801 Milwaukee Ave, South Cle Elum, WA 98943.

I’m going to get a little saucy about Saucey.


I don’t want to write this but here I am.  I eat a lot of bad or unremarkable food around Kittitas County that never makes it onto my blog or social media because talking about good food is more fun and much more productive than shitting on hard working peoples’ failures.

I am not unbiased. I go into some dining experiences with great skepticism and even dread: for others I am buoyed by high hopes that I’ll get to write about the incredible new restaurant in town and maybe because of my writing more people will go enjoy that food and support a fledgling local business or an old one that is overlooked. Understandably, these early opinions I form are sometimes wrong and I have no problem admitting that. I’m rambling because I don’t want to get to the point but here goes.

I ate at Saucey, the new food truck parked at Whipsaw this weekend and it was stunningly bad. I sincerely do not want to slam them, especially while their venture is so young, but I just can’t keep quiet because I believe there is a something to be learned here.  I wanted so badly to like this food but instead of fun bar food with a saucy gimmick I found almost everything to be bizarre, sloppy, confusing, and in one case, inedible. After a long time with the rather perplexing menu we decided to share a large order of Grilled Falafel(ish) Cakes, three sliders–Korean BBQ, The Classic with beef, and the Firebird–and the Little Cheesy off the kid’s menu for the kid.

Slider with slaw and falafel cakes.

The falafel cakes were one of the worst things I can remember eating. They reminded me of the failed experiment of a parent desperate to get their picky kids to eat vegetables. The result was gluey, mushy, and bland even with the accompanying tzatziki sauce (which should be anything but bland). Though I’ll grant them a bit of credit for calling them “Falafel(ish)” and “not your ordinary falafel,” they are an insult to falafel and it’s hard to understand why anyone who had ever eaten or even Googled falafel would call them that.

Moving on to the sliders. They were mostly fine. The flavors were alright but muddled to the point that it was difficult to decipher exactly what we were eating. The real killer on this plate was the pile of flavorless slaw that overwhelmed everything. I love a big ol’ heap of slaw but this was just a pile of chunky cabbage supposedly tossed with the lemon/dill tzatziki but if there was any seasoning it was undetectable. It was all very clunky but generally inoffensive.

The Little Cheesy from the kids menu was just one of the yummy rolls grilled with a fat slice of cheddar and it was by far the best thing we ate.

I’m writing this because I believe there is something to be learned here. My first suggestion is for all eateries, and not just directed at Saucey and it’s so deceptively simple: don’t put bad food on your menu. Specifically, no matter how much you want to have falafel/Eggs Benedict/whatever on your menu you need to honestly evaluate if it’s something you AND your staff can do well and consistently. Stick to what you know and what your kitchen equipment and crew can handle. There’s no shame in omitting something from a menu until you can find a way to make it work.

Finally, I want to offer Saucey some constructive feedback because I believe they can turn this around and make their vision work. I like the sauce gimmick but asking customers to choose from so many sauces while they order will only lead to confusion, decision fatigue, and buyer’s remorse. My suggestion is to simplify, simplify, simplify. Don’t douse each slider with two different sauces but instead present a pared-down version of the dishes and allow your customers to dress them as they please from the selection of sauces available on a table outside of the truck. Make having a bunch of sauces fun for the eater, not a burden.

I acknowledge that Saucey faces a difficult task in filling a void left by The Red Pickle, which will be hard to live up to. I also recognize that they have been open for a very short amount of time and could certainly improve. However, the food options available to us in Kittitas County are expanding and a bad first impression could really kill a business around here. There are a lot of real pros opening new restaurants and expanding right now and it’s going to take a lot more than what I’ve seen for Saucey to compete. I will give them a second chance but I can’t say the same for everyone.

As always, the beer at Whipsaw is the best in Ellensburg and their rotating cider selection was wonderful so it’s still very much worth a visit to their taphouse.  


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The Red Pickle gets Boozy!

I didn’t even realize that I had a martini-glass-shaped void in my life until I had a few– ok, more than a few– cocktails at the new Red Pickle on Thursday night. I now realize that it had been a very long time since I have had expertly and thoughtfully crafted cocktails at a restaurant in Ellensburg and I am absolutely thrilled that Mario has emerged from his food truck to bring the people of Ellensburg the Red Pickle House and all of its boozy and delicious glory.

The food is familiar to those who have eaten at the Red Pickle food truck and lends itself well to the bright and modern gastropub feel of the new place. My Buttermilk Fried Chicken Sandwich was crunchy, balanced, and overflowing with flavor: exactly what I needed to soak up some serious drinks.

Fried Chicken Sandwich and Guajillo Pork Tacos (my friend ate all of those before I could steal a bite even though those are some of my fries on her plate. You know who you are.)

Speaking of drinks…Mario makes wonderful food but that man was put on this earth to create drinks and own a bar. The cocktails at Red Pickle are truly original and very exciting. My first order was the Smoked Maple Manhattan, which features smoked bourbon and house brandied drunk cherries. Almost all of the cocktails include house-made elements such as infused or smoked liquors. Up next was the Earl Grey Infused Gin, mixed with grapefruit, honey, and orange. I keep trying to put my finger on what it is that this drink reminds me of, but I’ve come to the conclusion that it just tastes so right that I feel like I have, or at least should have tasted it before.

From top clockwise: Rudolf’s Redemption Cider from Ellensburg Brewing Company/Tilted Tree Cider, Strawberry Balsamic Vodka, and Smoked Maple Manhattan.

I had the privilege of sampling almost everything on the signature cocktails menu and nothing disappointed. The Strawberry Balsamic Vodka was among my favorites and if you’re not familiar with this flavor combination then I strongly recommend you get yourself acquainted with this drink. But, if you’re more of a classic cocktail, beer, or wine person then you’ll still find lots to love. Only the bar area is off-limits to minors so bring the whole family.

Earl Grey Infused Gin. 

The location at 301 N Pine is that odd little building that used to house D&M coffee and then Roxie Allen Arts. I spent a lot of time there when it was the coffee shop and I’m so impressed by what Mario and his team have done with the building. It’s now cheery, open, and sophisticated without a hint of pretense, much like Mario himself, who moves around that bar with the certainty of someone who is doing exactly what they were meant to do.

The Red Pickle, 301 N Pine St, Ellensburg, WA

My Favorite Lunch (should be your favorite too)

There’s a place in Roslyn that I’ve loved since the first time I ate there. I don’t go as often as I would like because I live in Ellensburg but whenever I do, it just feels like home. That place is The Red Bird Cafe.

Red Bird’s first appeal is that it is without a doubt the most kid-friendly place to eat in the county. The back two rooms contain a number of toys and activities for children so I don’t have to worry about keeping a squirmy kid in his seat while we wait for food and I have the option to linger at a table and actually enjoy my meal or coffee while he plays. I can’t think of any other occasion that I have lingered at a restaurant since becoming a parent over three years ago. As an aside for the my childless readers, no one dislikes rude or obnoxious kids in restaurants more than their parents. Plus, they have reasonably-priced kid’s meals with actual nutritional value.

For all of the above reasons, I would probably patronize the Red Bird Cafe even if the food was just OK but I would annoy my dining companions and grumble about how much better it could be. Luckily, the food is excellent. I can’t tell you my favorite menu item because it would be like picking a favorite child (except that’s a bad example because a three-year old is no one’s favorite child). They have the best sandwich menu around and the salads are very, very good. It’s the kind of place where you can have a filling but healthy salad and a cup of vegan soup or you can get a no-fats-barred cheesesteak. It’s the best kind of place.

Most of The Red Bird Cafe’s offerings are standards with a twist that sets them apart. The BLT, for example, is served on a house-made croissant and is so much better for it. There’s a reason almost no one makes their own croissants: it’s because they’re freaking hard to do right. Red Bird seems to do everything right. The Glondo is a pretty basic sandwich but the assortment of cured Italian meats from Glondo’s in Cle Elum make it exceptional. I could go on but I think you get the idea.

Pictured clockwise from left to right: kid’s grilled cheese, The BLT, The Glondo. All delicious despite the terrible picture. The bill for this meal was $21.

It would be a shame to pass up this opportunity to declare my love for Glondo’s Sausage Company and Italian Market in Cle Elum because I feel like not enough people know about them. Their cured meats are insane and the hotdogs made me realize that I like hotdogs. Try the take and bake pizzas too. Actually, try everything.

Back to the Red Bird Cafe. I know some people around here roll their eyes at restaurants catering to special diets but I think it’s always a smart move as long as it’s done in way that doesn’t compromise the food. My favorite example of this is the corned BEET reuben that Red Bird offers in addition to the usual pastrami version. Y’all know I love a reuben and I’m certainly not a vegetarian but I order the beet reuben as often as pastrami because it’s its own beautiful creation that just happens to be vegetarian. Many of their other menu items are naturally or can be made vegan, vegetarian, or dairy free, including the scratch-made pastries. Or you can get a big, cheesy, beefy cheesesteak. There’s something for everyone.

I have only tried their breakfast once and it was when the menu was brand new so it was at least a year ago. I remember it being good but a little rough around the edges. I imagine it’s been refined since then but I can’t confirm. I’ll let you know when I do.

In summary, I like the Red Bird Cafe; it’s my favorite place for a well-priced lunch…probably in all of Kittitas County. It seems to be flourishing since changing ownership last year and I couldn’t be more pleased.


The Red Bird Cafe

102 E Pennsylvania Avenue

Roslyn, WA

Dakota Cafe is a Downtown Classic

This one is overdue and won’t be the most detailed review I’ve ever written, but I still want to talk about Dakota Cafe.

Dakota Cafe is low-key, local, and a solid choice for lunch in downtown Ellensburg. I know that they offer breakfast and dinner as well, but this place just screams “lunch.”

I have tried a handful of sandwiches, quiches, soups, and pastries from Dakota Cafe and they have all met my expectations. Their food is always fresh and well-crafted and I have never been displeased. However, almost everything seems just slightly underseasoned or lacking a bit of flare that would take the dish from good to craveable.

For example, my brie, ham, and apple chutney panini would have been amazing with a more flavorful chutney. Better yet, replace the chutney with pickled or marinated thinly-sliced apples and add a sweet spicy pepper jelly. There’s nothing wrong with how it is, but it’s just not as good as it could be.

Perhaps it’s a choice and my tastes are not what they are playing to. I still love Dakota Cafe, and the people and environment are truly lovely. When I want a casual but classy sit-down meal in Ellensburg that’s fresh and healthy-ish, then Dakota Cafe is very near the top of my list.