I Ate the State – The Yakima Valley

Howdy!

In a continuing tribute to my family and the roots of my foodie propensities, please join me on a visit to Yakima, Washington and the nearby, mountainous community of Cliffdell.

I was born in the sunny expanse of the Yakima Valley and spent the beginning years of my life in the area.  Home to hops, orchards, wine, a lot of sunshine and the gateway to the Cascade Mountains, it was an idyllic place to spend part of my childhood.  And since my family only moved a little further to the southeast for the remainder of my formative years, we returned often to visit family and friends.  To this day, I frequently visit the area to get a dose of sunshine and enjoy the surroundings.  (And the wine)  (And the beer)  It does of course help that it’s conveniently located along the route to visit my Eastern Washington relatives.  (And the wine and beer)

Recently, my brother and I made a couple of summertime foodie pilgrimages to Yakima and its surrounding communities.  Allow me to share a brief breakdown of our culinary adventures…

First stop:  Whistlin’ Jack Lodge – Located on Hwy 410 (Chinook Pass Hwy) in the community of Cliffdell.  (Pop.  Approx. 100)

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Whistlin’ Jack Lodge in the mountain community of Cliffdell, WA. 

Whistlin’ Jack Lodge was built in 1931 and has been an official operation of the Williams’ family since 1957.  It’s a rustic oasis for weary travelers, bikers, sportspersons and campers who just can’t handle another meal over their makeshift fire pit/outdoor grill. (Losing 4 hot dogs to the fire was enough; let alone the T-bone steak…) Whistlin’ Jack Lodge is host to a cozy assortment of bungalows and riverside cottages along with rooms available in the main lodge.  In addition to the main lodge restaurant, they have the Fireside Lounge which sports a full-service bar, a café style menu and live music on the weekends.  They also have a nice little deli and grocery store if you’re stocking up for a hike or have run out of marshmallows. (Not good.) Throw in a gift shop with ‘lots of quirky souvenir items, interesting antique displays and a somewhat frightening taxidermy tribute to local wildlife and you’ve got a mountain wonderland.  And if you’re running low on fuel, be sure to stop in at their gas pumps before traveling further.  (Seriously – the next gas station if you’re heading west isn’t until Greenwater – 53 miles away.)

If you’re stopping in for something more substantial than marshmallows, there are many items I can recommend in the riverside lodge restaurant.  During my last visit, my brother and I, along with my three nieces all enjoyed some tasty meals.  We happened to be there during brunch, which is quite an elaborate spread, but since we weren’t hungry enough to require such a large affair, we chose to order from the menu.  They were serving both breakfast and lunch at the time and we were a bit torn, but we all opted to enjoy a spot of breakfast…

Ham & Eggs – Nicely smoked, thick-cut and pan fried, the ham was very tasty.  Served with lodge-made hash browns, fresh eggs and toast, this was much more food than I’d planned on eating, but I didn’t argue!  (I also stole some of my brother’s gravy for my hash browns.  Don’t judge me.)

Country-fried Steak & Eggs – My brother’s selection.  While although the steak was served on top of the gravy, rather than the gravy being on top, it was nicely battered and tender.  As I come from a family of gravy lovers, my brother ordered an additional side.  That was a good plan. (And nicely supported my own gravy theft plan.)

French Toast, Hotcakes, Belgian Waffles – All of the sugary menu options for my sugar-loving nieces.  Who am I to argue?  Syrup is delicious!  They all loved their orders and as I sampled each dish myself, I’d have to agree.  (They may or may not have been looking when I sampled everything.  Again, don’t judge me.)  The hotcakes were fluffy, the French toast was nice and thick with ‘lots of butter and the Belgian waffles were deliciously malty.  For the lover of sweets, I’d also recommend their homemade blueberry cinnamon roll and the blueberry hotcakes.  (Great remedy for a night of drafty tent camping.)

If you’re in the mood for some very tasty, local fish, I recommend the pan-fried Rainbow trout.  It is delicious and is boned tableside by your server.  Cool!

If you happen to be around for dinner, try their dinner preparation of the Rainbow trout – or any of their delicious steaks.  (Including elk steak!)  In the lounge, they serve a great burger and have a good selection of beer, wine and other assorted adult beverages.  As a note, the main lodge restaurant can get crowded on the weekends and sometimes the service can be slow.  I’d recommend reservations for the dinner hour and if you’re in a hurry, I’d opt for the Fireside lounge or their deli.

Whistlin’ Jack Lodge occupies a very special place in my heart and is home to many happy memories.  I grew up spending countless summer weekends camping in the area with my family.  With bated breath, I’d sit in the back of our loaded down Ford Super Cab, anxiously waiting to see Whistlin’ Jacks appearing magically out of the forest.  If I were lucky, we’d make a quick pit-stop before heading onto the campground.  If not, I knew I could probably sucker one of my family members to give me a ride over on one of their dirt bikes.  Or, as I got older and was able to ride a dirt bike myself, I’d grab the hotrod Honda Trail 90 and make my marshmallow run. (It’s important to not run out of marshmallows.)  After all this time, I can honestly say that I still get an anxious, excited feeling whenever I’m heading up Hwy 410 towards the mountains.  I know it’s getting close; just past that next bend in the road… A good meal, a goofy shot glass, a bathroom that doesn’t involve an outhouse and a replenished marshmallow supply!  Thank you, Whistlin’ Jack Lodge!

Other spots to visit in the area:

Boulder Cave – Family-friendly hike featuring one of the largest caves of its kind in the state.  It’s a beautiful and very interesting hike.  Bring flashlights! 

Naches River – Great places for fishing, camping, rafting and general adventuring all along its shores.

Chinook Pass – One of the highest drivable mountain passes in Washington State at 5430 ft.  Stop at the top of the pass and hike around Tipsoo Lake or investigate part of the Pacific Crest Trail.  Absolutely beautiful area and an absolutely beautiful drive.

Mt. Rainier National Park – I can’t say enough about Mt. Rainier National Park.  I spent many summers working at the lodges and ‘The Mountain’ is one of my favorite places on earth.  So much to do – so much to see.  If you haven’t been, make it a priority.

Crystal Mountain Ski Resort – Ski resort just over Chinook Pass.  Great hiking, biking and summer adventure options. Not accessible via Chinook Pass during the winter months.  (Although I highly recommend hitting it from the other side as the skiing is fantastic!)

 

And as this entry is getting long, I’ll continue the Yakima Valley journey with my next entry.  (Miner’s Drive-in, and the Yakima Craft Brewing Co.)

Cheers!

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