The island where we live doesn’t have any stoplights. Most of the roads curve open, unfettered by slowing traffic or stop signs. You can drive by the water and feel like you are in the only car on the island.
When you’re in ferry traffic, coming down from the north end into town, however, you know you are not alone.
In the middle of town — about 5 streets long and 3 streets wide — sits the only four-way intersection on the island. This is as close to a traffic jam as we come.
On the southwest corner of that intersection, right smack dab in the middle of the island, is this building. It has sat there since 1890. (On the West Coast of the United States, that’s pretty old.) One way or another, the building has displayed that sign: “Today’s special. So’s tomorrow.”
When I lived on this island in the 1990s, teaching high school, the building contained an old hardware store. In fact, when I lived here it was sort of a hardware store museum, with creaky floors, dusty windows, and a giant train set in the middle. I loved going in there, even though there wasn’t much point to the building anymore. It was a slice of time, gone by.
Now, it’s a restaurant.
It’s a homey restaurant, with no pretensions of changing the face of gastronomy or winning rave reviews from national publications. The people who run this restaurant want to serve “great good food.”
When you walk in, you feel warmth, right away. Wooden tables, worn rugs, high ceilings, and little sprigs of flowers on the table — this place feels comfortable.
This is one of the main island hangouts. If you want to meet people for fish tacos after the softball game has finished, you come here. If you’re feeling hungry after the farmers’ market, but you don’t want to go home to cook the produce yet, you stop in here with friends for steamed manila clams. (Sometimes, you see your favorite farmer in the booth next to yours.) If it’s in the middle of the holidays, and you don’t want to cook one more meal for your family, you come in out of the rain for grilled pork tenderloin.
It’s an island place.
And in the back, along the long hallway, are paintings and photographs by island artists. It’s an art gallery and gathering space, both.
When I was there the other day, taking photographs, the sun emerged from behind the clouds for the first time all afternoon. That sun splash is what the restaurant feels like to me. I just want to sit in the booth with friends, sharing a plate of chickpea ragout, holding my hands around a hot cup of coffee.
This restaurant isn’t a diner, though. It’s more than that. It’s something special.
As the writer of this piece in Seattle Metropolitan wrote: “Everything, cracker-bread pizzas to lavish salads to the signature buttermilk fried chicken, is brought off with more vibrancy and exactitude than captive island audiences can typically expect, and the fizzy ambient spirit of the place is simply irresistible.”
Friends from the city who have been to this restaurant almost always say: “That place? Oh, I love that place.”
There’s a pretty decent wine selection.
Everything in the place is made from scratch: the chicken stock, plus all the soups and sauces. That’s balsamic, oil, and herbes de provence for the bread plates. (I don’t have that, of course.)
The burgers look so damned good. (I have it on good authority that they are.)
This poor couple. Their burgers had just arrived, and they were about to dig in, and I asked if I could take a photograph. That light. The height on those burgers. That pile of fries.
If I can’t eat it, I can take a photograph of it. (And then I told them to ignore me and eat.)
I can’t eat these, either. But oh my, if I could eat gluten, I would want a piece of that pie. All the baked goods in the restaurant are handmade by staff, including doughnuts every day.
There aren’t many times I wish I could eat gluten. Standing in front of that rack would be one of them.
However, the clam chowder is gluten-free, which is unusual. I hear this soup’s so good they might be selling it commercially soon. On a cold, high-skied winter day, a bowl of this is just what you want.
Recently, the food at this restaurant has taken a turn for the better. The daily specials are vibrant, in season, something pretty special.
This is the vegetarian special: an island-grown white acorn squash (peeled and roasted), with quinoa, broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, parsnips, and a curry vinaigrette.
It’s gluten-free, dairy-free, sugar-free, and meat-free. The restaurant is serving it through the month of January. Next month, there will be another one.
Why, it’s Danny! Danny’s making this food.
You see, Danny has returned to a life he loves: working in a restaurant kitchen. Fate and good fortune brought him to his place, the best restaurant on the island. He had gone more than a year without being a professional chef, home instead with me and the Bean, working on our cookbook and making elaborate breakfasts for us all.
Eventually, he missed the excitement of dinner service, the urgency and rush of putting food on a plate, the camraderie with other cooks, and the chance to give joy in the belly to people besides me and our daughter.
I couldn’t be happier for him.
And for you, if you have the chance to come to the island and eat his food. He’s working Saturday through Wednesday nights, and he’s making up specials every day. Tonight’s fish special was pan-seared scallops with a mushroom risotto, roasted brussels sprouts, and a bacon-red-wine vinaigrette. The ravioli special (sadly, not gluten-free) was a three-cheese with roasted chicken, red peppers, Greek olives, parsley pesto, and island goat cheese.
Many of you have written to us, wondering if Danny would ever cook at a restaurant again, and especially cook gluten-free food. He is. Danny’s cooking at the Hardware Store.
He’d like you to know that it’s not a gluten-free restaurant. (The fried chicken is “…amazing. The best fried chicken I have ever had,” says Danny.) However, the folks at the restaurant understand what it means to be gluten-free. (I hear tell there might be gluten-free desserts soon. Maybe even pie…) Danny and the rest of the staff can feed you gluten-free, easily. Most of the daily specials will be gluten-free, naturally. Tell your server what you need. Tell them you read this site. They’ll take care of you.
Danny would love to feed you.
The Hardware Store
17601 Vashon Highway SW
Vashon, WA 98070