The Willows Inn on Lummi Island
The Willows Inn on Lummi Island
2579 W Shore Drive, Lummi Island, WA 98262
Phone: (360) 758-2620 Toll Free: (888) 294-2620
Eat AND Drink: A locavore treasure, only available to those that like to travel for their food.
Meals at the Willows Inn on Lummi Island are an eye-opening adventure in discovering what the word LOCAVORE can mean (whether you are there for breakfast, dinner or small bites in-between). This relatively small, remote island houses one of the most revered restaurants in the US. The island also supplies most of the food used to prepare the meals at the Inn. The freshness of the ingredients and the painstaking methods employed to prepare meals make the challenge of hunting down the Inn worth every moment.
The Inn is located on Lummi Island, just west of Bellingham, WA., local to relatively few people. Most guests will fly into one of three international airports within 2 hours of the Inn;
Seattle International Airport (SEA)
Vancouver International Airport (YVR)
Bellingham International Airport (BLI)
The island is most readily accessed by a car ferry, departing from the west-most point of the Lummi Indian Reservation (watch your speed while driving!) and about 20 minutes from the Bellingham International Airport. The ferry trip across the Hale Passage takes approximately 5 minutes. Once on the island, you'll drive northwest, along the main road/water's edge, to find the Inn. Parking is along the road, facing a rustic beach.
Most diners stay at the Inn but it is possible to catch a ferry back to the mainland after you've finished your meal. If you are hoping to eat there but not stay there, they ask that you call for reservations 2 weeks prior to the date. If you aren't staying on the island, I would suggest skipping the wine pairing for safety's sake! Otherwise, always go with the pairing.
It is worth staying the night. The breakfast the next morning is fantastic (though the dinner gets all the accolades)...and they have pet friendly rooms! They are so pet friendly that our cottage came with dog bowls, dog towels and sheets to cover any of the furniture that the dogs may want to sleep on. I have small dogs that have never been taught that the world isn't always their oyster, having extra sheets to cover the chairs they were inevitably going to sleep on...that was amazing. (Note to self - I appreciated the sheets, but don't travel with my own dog sheets...maybe I haven't learned the world isn't always my oyster either...)
We stayed in The Cottage, close to the main lodge (great for walking to and from dinner). The space was well equipped for humans too, with a French Press, fresh ground coffee, locally foraged teas and a mini fridge stocked with several options of local wines...just in case you forgot your own. My favorite amenity was the skylight over the bed. Coming from LA, it isn't often I get the opportunity to lie in bed staring at a sky full of stars. After dinner they sent us home with a loaf of their freshly baked bread...I enjoyed hunks of the bread out on the deck, with coffee in the morning before heading into breakfast. The bread was so good, I didn't mind potentially spoiling my appetite one bit.
Each day's menu changes with the availability of the season's ingredients. Below is the menu I savored on a gorgeous, sunny, mid-week day. I've also included pictures of several courses. We were at the Inn during the peak of summer, when fish is abundant. Being from the Pacific Northwest, this suited me well. If your tastes lean more towards meat dishes, a spring or fall meal may be a better choice.
The kitchen is small and well kept with a gorgeous pantry area you're invited to explore at the end of your meal. I believe the pantry tour is a must do. Spend a few moments speaking with the chef, Blaine Wetzel, who was chef de partie at NOMA (Copenhagen, Denmark) for three years before coming home to Washington state. One thing I learned while wandering in his pantry - there is a use for the tops of strawberries, the little green tops...who knew? We didn't have any strawberry tops in our meal...but I'm sure Blaine had them dried in his pantry for a good reason. I didn't go into the pantry until after breakfast and Blaine wasn't around to ask about them...my curiosity gives me another reason to rush back. Any excuse for another vacation.
The dinner begins on the patio, where the staff knows your name as you approach and wisks you to your table immediately. Maybe our experience was different because one of our dogs spent a few minutes trying to explore the kitchen (she got loose and headed straight for the door...who could blame her?) but I'm pretty sure I heard them address most parties by name. They do have the advantage of seating only 26(ish) people per night.
Have I mentioned that it's a radically local centric restaurant? Most everything you'll eat was foraged, grown or caught on the island or within 100 miles. Right down to the wheat they use which is associated with an experimental research group from Mount Vernon, WA. If a menu component was from the sea, it was sustainably caught, using reefnet fishing practices or individual divers. We watched a reefnet boat launch as we drove around the island, I wonder if that was the boat responsible for my sockeye salmon just hours later. For more information on reefnet fishing, check out this page. I didn't know reefnet fishing was a thing until arriving on the island...which made me a little embarrassed, being from the area.
We snuck in a wander through one of their gardens before the meal...the curator was harvesting a few items while we were peering through the fence and my friend sweet-talked us through the gate. I'm pretty sure the edibles being harvested ended up on my plate later that evening. As we browsed through the varied garden beds, I had a sense of what might be on my plate later that evening - beautiful tomatoes, crisp lettuce and small squash, just beginning to ripen for the season. I hadn't thought of all the gorgeous flowers and how they would be making their way onto my plate too.
Not only are you served wonderfully fresh food, but they also have a smokehouse that was going while we were there. Many of our selections came from within that smokehouse, including a bit of sockeye salmon that was smoked to candied perfection.
The night was perfect; my food perfectly paired with the company and the sunset.
When asked what they thought of the trip, my dogs responded -
But you don't have to take my (or Wednesday's) word for it...these people think Willows Inn is pretty great too -
Opinionated about dining had this to say about Willows Inn (Hint, they're listed as restaurant #2 in the world).
They are listed in The World's 50 Best here
And CNN lists them as a great island vacation you've never considered