The Nicest of the Nice

With the holidays almost over and on the last day of a troubling year, I am compelled to unload what is probably the most unabashedly positive review I have in the vault (my head, that is). I certainly hope that anyone who has lived in Ellensburg for any amount of time is familiar with Daily Bread and Mercantile and all the wonders that lie within that unassuming strip mall storefront.

I know very little about German Baptists but I do know that the ones who own and run Daily Bread are, without exaggeration, the nicest people in town.  I don’t typically take my sandwiches with a side of religion, but I’ll buy anything Daily Bread and Mercantile has to offer. Because of this I usually order whatever sandwich they feature that day, as it is always a creative combination and has allowed me to try some things I would not have ordered on my own, such as the sweet Bologna. I have yet to be disappointed with featured sandwich (though the horseradish on my roast beef gave me a real punch in the sinuses the other day), but you can choose from a rotating menu of fresh and flavorful meats, cheese, vegetables, sauces, etc. and order a sandwich to your liking.

How did I almost forget about the breads!?!?? Their house-made breads are what sandwich breads should all aspire to: pillowy-soft, full of flavor, and just sturdy enough to deliver delicious meats and cheese to your mouth hole.  I never knew that I could crave a deli sandwich until Daily Bread and Mercantile showed me the way.

If you’re a regular reader (thanks, by the way!) then you know I don’t eat a lot of sweets, but I rarely leave Daily Bread without a pastry of some sort. The scones are spectacular: dense but flaky and so soft but not crumbly. If you’re unfamiliar with a kolaches, I suggest you acquaint yourself immediately. It’s like a fluffy version of the best fruit danish you’ll ever have. See below.

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Sorry, I couldn’t help take a few bites before snapping a picture.

I’ve tried several of the salads because you can add them to your sandwich for a few bucks and they’re all amazing. They all hit that elusive balance of freshness, crunch, sweet, and savory that salads should be. I’ve only sampled a few of the ever-changing soup offerings, but, surprise, they’ve all been very good.

Daily Bread and Mercantile gets very busy at lunchtime but I never mind a short wait because it affords me the chance to wander through the mercantile side of the store. It’s my favorite place in town to buy dried herbs and spices, and looking at their curated collection of baking supplies, candies, and other food goods just makes me smile.

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Behold.

So, yeah, I really like Daily Bread and Mercantile. The only negatives I could point to are not actually criticisms but just me being greedy. For example, I would love to taste what they would do with a breakfast sandwich (because I’m slightly obsessed with breakfast sandwiches) and I wish they were open weekends. But, alas, I’ll count my blessings and enjoy Daily Bread and Mercantile as it is because it’s truly a gem.

As a footnote, I would like to say thank you to all of you who have read, shared, and commented on my posts in this past year. I’ve learned a lot and I hope you have enjoyed my musings. I’m looking forward to “seeing” you all in 2017. Thanks and Happy New Year!

–your friendly neighborhood food critic

Day 15- Nice

Curbside on 5th should be a less than shocking addition to my Nice list but they get bonus points for (maybe) heeding some advice I offered in my first review by uncomplicating their menu. Let me believe that, ok? Since I first wrote about Curbside on 5th (per a reader’s suggestion) it has become my go-to for take-out in Ellensburg. Need I say more? I especially appreciate their eagerness to accommodate all diets and tastes so there’s never any excuse to not just pick up some Curbside on 5th. Keep up the nice work, Curbside!

Photo via Facebook

Day 14- Naughty

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I’m trying to write this before my DayQuil kicks in and I get weird. Today’s entry to the Naughty list is a rerun, but since writing my first review they’ve slipped from an “eh?” to a “nah.” To be honest, I don’t know if this is fair. When I really think about it Sugar Thai is fine if you want Thai food but my recommendation ends there. I know my vegetarian and vegan friends are big fans.

What do you think of Sugar Thai? Should I give it another shot?

Day 13-Nice!

 

I’m back from a loooong weekend in the mountains and ready to hit the ground running! Let’s start this week off Nice with a review I’ve been meaning to write for a very long time. I teased this awhile ago, but Cornerstone Pie is easily my favorite pizza in town and, if my lists were in any particular order, would rank very high on my Nice list.

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Photo via Facebook

Picking my favorite pizza from Cornerstone is not easy but the four that I always go back to are the Potato and Arugula, Tre Fungi, Pepperoni with Caramelized Onions, and the Sausage and Fennel. I’ve tried others and enjoyed them all. I could pick apart what makes each of these pizzas special and why you should try them if you haven’t but let’s keep it simple. Cornerstone crusts are crispy, never doughy, and function perfectly as topping delivery system rather than a spongy, greasy, carbohydrate bomb. The toppings are of great quality and perfect quantity and the combinations are smart and creative.  

I believe I have had all of the salads besides the Caprese. I need to come clean about something: I hate fresh tomatoes. I know, I know, it’s my tragic flaw as human, a cook, and a restaurant critic, but I’ve tried my whole life and just can’t eat raw tomatoes. Anyways, that’s just to explain why I will never order the Caprese salad despite it probably being as delicious as the others. Most notable of the salads is the Caesar. I am a Caesar snob of the highest order and Cornerstone makes the best I’ve had in town besides my own. No goopy, creamy dressing in sight. Caesar salad should be light, lemony, anchovy-y (yeah, I made up a word), and dressed sparingly. Cornerstone nails it.

I can’t really complain about the appetizer menu because it’s all good, it just doesn’t excite me for some reason. While the adobo wings and Spanish camarones are really quite delicious I’ll always just be looking forward to the pizza. The Fries with Benefits (think nachos on fat french fries) are tasty but unwieldy and I’m never quite sure how to eat them. I would much rather start my meal at Cornerstone with one of their cocktails.

Oh, the cocktails! The Grey House is definitely my go-to. It’s vodka, grapefruit juice, and muddled mint. It’s spectacularly refreshing and now I want one. Actually, this whole review is making me hungry so let’s wrap it up.

Cornerstone Pie makes amazing pizza, serves excellent drinks (I forgot to mention the wine list and the beers on tap, including growler fills, but they don’t disappoint), and is just fantastic place to eat. Very nice, Cornerstone.

Day 8

Well, damnit. I guess they closed down. 😦

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There are restaurants in Ellensburg that I hate to love, those I love to hate, and a small handful that I love to love. Valley Cafe is one of the latter. It warrants a more thorough review than this but I’m going to give them some love because I think that they are somewhat overlooked and they deserve attention for what they are doing.

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Photo via Facebook
Valley Cafe checks a lot of boxes on my list: owned and operated by a lovely family, historic building with character out the ears, focus on local and seasonal foods, and kick-ass drinks (I was definitely not expecting a rum bar when I walked in for the first time). But, most importantly, the food is really, really good. I ordered one of my all-time favorites, a Reuben sandwich, the first time I ate there and was very pleased. I wish I could remember more about it but it was a close to a year ago and I was a few rummy cocktails in by the time we left. It was delicious though, trust me.

Luckily, I have a better memory of the Cuban that I ate the next time I visited Valley Cafe. The bread was beautifully crunchy, the pork succulent but not greasy, and the cheese didn’t overwhelm the crunch and tang of the pickles and mustard. If you’ve never had a Cuban before and that sounds a little strange to you, just try it. You’re welcome.

Of the other dishes I have tried, the one that really shines is the Puerto Rican pulled pork with rice and beans. While Valley Cafe does many things right, I think it’s at its best when they lean into the owner’s Puerto Rican roots. Food like that just makes me feel warm, happy, and grateful that places like Valley Cafe exist. Stay nice.

Day 7

I have a hectic week and am short on sleep so I’m going to make today easy on myself so that I don’t say anything I’ll regret. That said, today’s addition to my naughty list is a surprise to absolutely no one who reads my blog.

Naughty

I think I was actually too diplomatic in my past review of The Porch Steakhouse.  Essentially, the food is just not properly executed and the service is a bit uncomfortable, so un11231139_806440392803688_7594632453828928818_nless you’re going to stick to drinks while you’re there, I say skip it. After publishing my review I learned that the cocktail menu (aka the one solid attribute of The Porch) was created by one of my favorite food dudes in town, Mario of The Red Pickle, so I can’t even give them much credit there.

So, go read my full review of The Porch and I’ll see you tomorrow.

Day 6

 

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Ok, I’m going to get this out of the way. Vinman’s Bakery makes extraordinary pastry. That’s pretty much all there is to say, but since I’ve been criticized for not talking about the food in great enough detail and perhaps giving mediocre restaurants better reviews than they might deserve based on other factors than the quality of thevinmanir food, here goes.

The Kouign-Amann (pronounced “queen ah-mahn) is one of the best pastries that I’ve ever had. The slight sweetness and spectacular depth of flavor and crunch of that the caramelized sugar adds to the tender pastry is truly special. I have had several varieties and all are wonderful.

As much as I love the Kouign-Amann, I tend to prefer savory foods to sweet and my favorite savory pastry in town is the prosciutto and cheese croissant at Vinmans. It’s a really great croissant with just the right amount of salty prosciutto and a nutty aged cheese. I’ve been known to stop in for one three days in a row. They tend to run out on Saturday mornings so I guess I’m not the only one who craves one after a maybe-too-long Friday night.

Everything else I’ve tried, including danishes, sticky buns, breads, rolls, and muffins have ranged from really good to fantastic so you can’t really go wrong at Vinman’s. Since I always have criticisms I’ll say that the drip coffee isn’t always fresh in the afternoon (though they would probably make a fresh batch if asked) and my dog really hates their dog biscuits.