Greetings! And welcome to a first look at my new travelogue project, I Ate the State! – Washington Edition. It will be part of a more far-reaching series, I Ate America!, but more on that later. And for those who have inquired about the progress of The Secret Galaxy of Stars, rest assured it is indeed on its way. (And thanks for asking!)
In the meantime…
For as long as I can remember, my family has cataloged, described and waxed philosophically about their travels and adventures using the language of food. In addition to such lengthy discourse, we’ve also extensively photographed, painted, drawn, written songs and probably, after a few drinks, even danced interpretively about the topic. (I will categorically deny any involvement in the interpretive dance portions – And promptly destroy any photographic evidence should it ever emerge. Promptly.)
The depth of this food dogma never really struck me until reading back over the articles and blogs I’d written during my years performing and touring as a musician. Regardless that I was writing about music and often of my adventures on the road, my foodie musings always seemed to find their way into the story. Whether highlighting the fare of a tour venue (which was hopefully free to the starving artist) or discussing the fine art of foraging for dinner at a Chevron mini-mart, it just felt relevant to weave my food adventures into the rest of the tale.
Granted, food is an essential part of everyone’s existence – a necessary factor in the human equation. Yet even with this reality, many seem to miss the more creative role food plays in their daily lives and adventures. For them, it is simply a perfunctory task and source of fuel for the day. (Not to knock a regular consumption of the foods one loves, but I have to question a never-waving lunch of turkey on white with a side of carrot sticks. Sure, I love a good turkey sandwich, but come on. You know who you are…) Not only does food fulfill our fundamental need for nourishment, it helps tell the story of our histories, cultures, families, adventures and even dreams. It is an actual character in our stories.
Without a doubt, food has become a beloved character in my own adventures and generally taken on a life of its own. It still doesn’t laugh at my jokes, but it has certainly provided me with countless hours of enjoyment, adventure, sympathy and companionship. Lounging on a boat while enjoying a homemade margarita and fresh guacamole with chips, grilling caught-that-day salmon on a deck overlooking the Puget Sound, crying in my Snoqualmie Falls Lavender ice cream over love gone wrong – Oh, the good times… We make quite a pair, Food and I. Please join me as I share further some of our finer adventures.
And with that, I bring you the first installment of I Ate the State! – Washington Edition.
You might be asking yourself why I’ve decided to start with Washington State. (Not to be confused with Washington DC) Is it because it’s located in the northwest corner of America and is a fine jumping off point from which to start a US exploration? Or possibly that it offers a fine example of almost every ecosystem imaginable? Perhaps because it boasts an extensive agricultural landscape producing delicious ingredients and wares on a global scale? Is it because it supports a wine, beer and craft distillery scene to rival that of any the famed viticulture, beer and spirit-producing regions?
Blanket answer: YES!
Interesting tidbit: Washington State and more specifically, the Yakima Valley produces 75% of the US hop supply. This contributes greatly to the US being the second largest producer of hops in the world. Beer is delicious!
And while although it is certainly ALL of these things – and more – it is indeed the place of my birth and host to many of my most cherished food adventures and experiences. Even though I love traveling throughout the world and am always planning my next big adventure, I am a proud Washingtonian at heart and can think of no better place from which to begin my food chronicles.
When thinking of my approach to accurately representing a state and all the culinary gems it has to offer, I hit upon the idea of visiting each and every county. I don’t want to offer up one of the travel digests focusing only on the largest or most visited parts of any state. Just because a region doesn’t enjoy the highest number of tourist stats doesn’t mean it isn’t beautiful, interesting or worthy of adventure. Whenever I visit somewhere out of my state, I love to try and blend in and experience the area as a local. I do appreciate many of the big ‘tourist attractions’, but I’ve always found I learn more about the area by blending into the background, traveling outside of the tourist hubs and being respectful and open to the areas unfolding around me. This is what I’d like to achieve in my plight to experience the stories and food offerings of each state.
In Washington State, there are thirty-nine counties – And I mean to explore them all! Since I know my state well, I will make an educated guess that a few of the less-populated counties of Eastern and Southeastern Washington won’t have many notable food options, but mark my foodie words – Even if I have to pull over to the side of the road and bust out a camp stove, I swear to have a food adventure in every county of the state. (And believe me, I wouldn’t be the first one in this state to pull over and fire up a grill…)
I was born in Yakima (viva la hops!) and spent my formative years in both Yakima and the Tri-Cities. I have many a tale to tell regarding where to go in these areas, but for current logistical purposes, I’ve decided to begin by exploring the western side of the state. (Home to the well known burgs of Seattle, Bellevue and Tacoma) And in keeping with my pledge to highlight the less featured, but no less enjoyable areas of the state, I now present to you the lovely town of… Bothell. (Located respectively in King County)
To reach Bothell, head 20 minutes north of Seattle on the well-traveled lanes of Lake City Way and you’ll find yourself in the heart of downtown Bothell. (Also very reachable from I-405) Far from the well-documented and populated streets of Seattle, Bothell is a slice of classic, Hometown USA. From the charming ‘Old Town’ area featuring several lovely blocks of restaurants and local shops to the meandering, tree-lined bike and walking trail following along the Sammamish River, Bothell is a welcome respite from the bustle of nearby Seattle. And should one crave a quick shot of said Seattle bustle, it’s only a quick trip up Lake City Way and you’re back in the thick of it. No traveling across one of the oft-crowded and much maligned floating bridges necessary!
For my first foray into eating the state of Washington, I’m gonna go old school and visit the Bothell burger institution, Ranch Drive-in.
Ranch Drive-In first opened in 1959 to the roar of fin-sporting Eldorados and Thunderbirds cruising past its walk-up window. Fast forward to 2013 and the engines don’t roar quite as loudly, (Hybrids are eerily quiet!) but that same humble walk-up window still welcomes the daily throngs of devoted Bothell patrons. Added later on, but still humble and unchanged is a small, inside dining area sporting Formica and faux-wood covered booths and wood paneled walls. Enhancing the ambiance are a few photos featuring Ranch Drive-In history, a choice bit of wagon wheel décor and a fairly elaborate, carved wood mural – not to mention a carved wood, western-style menu. Every time I walk into this place, I’m time-warped back to all the carefree days of my childhood – and to a time when I could still quickly metabolize a visit to Ranch Drive-in. Ahhh, the good ol’ days…
Ranch Drive-In is not part of a chain. It doesn’t adhere to corporate recipes or franchise shenanigans. It’s a classic, Mom and Pop burger joint owned by the same family for three generations and it follows its own rules and recipes. They hand-batter their fish and onion rings and grill each burger to its individual perfection. And as long as these recipes and rules lead to a continuing stream of crinkle fries, hand-battered onion rings and malts, I will be a patron for life. (Much to the chagrin of my doctor. I know I can’t really play off crinkle fries and malts as ‘heart healthy.’)
I am still eating my way through the entire Ranch Drive-In menu, but I’ve already become devoted to several of its items. Following are a few of my favorites:
The Ranch Burger – ¼ lb grilled beef patty, lettuce, tomato, pickle, delicious dressing and ketchup on a toasted sesame bun. (Onions and cheese on request) It’s that great, classic burger joint taste – Fresh, hot and filled with goodness.
The Bacon Ranch Burger – ¼ lb grilled beef patty, BACON, lettuce, tomato, pickle, mayo and ketchup on a toasted sesame bun. (Onions and cheese on request) It’s an old-school burger masterpiece with BACON. Need I say more?
The Fish Sandwhich – Delicious fish filet served with tartar sauce and lettuce. I add tomato, onions and cheese to take it over the top. (Note: All of their sandwiches are described as some type of ‘whiches’ on the online menu. I don’t know if this is intentional or if they are spelling challenged. Whatever the case, it doesn’t really matter. Their ‘whiches’ are delicious.)
Fish and Fries (Not listed as Fish-n-Chips – we’re not in the UK, after all) – Hand-battered and delicious with their homemade tartar sauce.
Corn Dog – Simple, classic, fried and never disappointing. Don’t forget the mustard!
(CRINKLE) Fries – I would marry an order of their crinkle fries if I could. MARRY THEM, I say! Ketchup is indeed an acceptable accompaniment, but might I suggest the homemade tartar sauce instead? Actually, I really must insist – Try them with the tartar sauce!
Onion Rings – Hand battered and Panko-encrusted, their onion rings are sublime.
Shakes and Malts – They have PEANUT BUTTER shakes and malts!!! It’s a dream come true… (Sure, sure – they have other flavors, too. Whatever.)
And there you have it – A little old-school burger love to get you started. The menu is simple and certainly not rocket science, but it’s tasty and it’s full of good ingredients and happy memories. Ranch Drive-In has been rocking their carved wood menu for over 50 years – I hope they make it for 50 more! Please stop and visit the folks at Ranch Drive-In the next time you’re in downtown Bothell – I hope you’ll enjoy your experience as much as I’ve enjoyed mine! Slide into one of those ergonomically molded Formica booths, order up some delicious crinkle fries and bask in the glory of burger days gone by – Enjoy!
For a full list of menu items and a map to their exclusive Bothell location, please check out: www.ranchdrivein.com
Next stop on my state-eating adventure:
Bothell Country Village
Depoe Bay, WA