Look down on Washington’s Yakima Valley in springtime and you’ll see one of the great agricultural landscapes of America—miles of lush, green fields of hops, acres of blossoming fruit trees and rows of vineyards.
In winter the trees and vines are bare, the air is crisp and so clear that it is possible to see the snow-covered slopes of Mount Rainier in the distance. It’s the perfect time to seek a warm, cozy place to eat. And the Yakima Valley offers a bounty—from the heartiest breakfast to tasting rooms pouring the locally produced wine to wood-fired pizza to die for and ending with a s’more for dessert that’s s’more than you could imagine. But what makes the Yakima Valley especially appealing is the feeling that you’re among friends and family—because many times, you are.
When we arrive for breakfast at Caffe 11th Avenue in downtown Yakima, we are greeted by Bing Holm, the owner and founder, who runs the spot with his daughter, Debbie. She asks us what we want to drink, and soon a frothy cappuccino is on its way.
That turns out to be the easiest decision, as the restaurant’s breakfast, lunch and brunch menu is extensive and features the freshest ingredients. I’m tempted by “The Ultimate Chicken Fried Steak,” but I restrain myself, choosing instead the European Breakfast Charcuterie that includes “Belgian Waffles, Croissants, Fresh Fruit, Hard Boiled Eggs, Smoked Ham, Apple Wood Smoked Bacon, Cheddar and Swiss Cheeses, Maple Syrup and Blackberry Preserves.” As you can tell, the portions are generous.
My friend orders the peach Belgian waffles topped with peaches and whipped cream, “Stacked to Perfection and Finished with Even More Fruit and Whipped Cream.” Our day of discovering what the Yakima Valley has to offer is off to a grand start.
The Yakima Valley is one of Washington state’s fastest-growing wine regions with more than 90 wineries scattered throughout the valley’s five growing regions, many of them operated by families. That is exactly the experience we encounter when we visit one of the valley’s newest wine producers, LaPierre Farms and Winery in Zillah (off U.S. Highway 82). The LaPierre family—Mark, his wife, Lauren, and their daughter, Marnie—are in the process of preparing the grand opening of the tasting room, with its elegant appointments and panoramic view of Mount Rainier.
While the LaPierre family has been farming and marketing fruits and berries for years, the winery is such a recent creation that the first vintages are just now being uncorked three years after their bottling. We sit in an intimate tasting cellar, and Marnie opens and pours tastes: a Provencal-style rose, a pair of Rhone-style blends, a richly shaded merlot and a cabernet sauvignon that shows real promise. In spring and summer visitors will also be encouraged to self-harvest cherries, peaches and blueberries.
Pizza, anyone? “Lip smackin’ goodness” is the promise we get from best friends Carrie Wright and Lori Roy, the founders and co-owners of Hoptown Wood Fired Pizza in Wapato.
It’s too busy to sit and chat, so Carrie and Lori tell us to look over the menu as they leave to oversee tables and take orders. It’s a menu unlike any pizzeria I’ve ever encountered, complete with clever names supplied by Carrie.
There’s the Hop Daddy Pizza: red sauce with roasted garlic, cheese blend, Italian sausage crumbles, pepperoni rounds, bacon crumbles, Roma tomatoes, red onions, Cascade hops, shaved Parmesan cheese and fresh mozzarella cheese with fresh basil. Or the Porky Pine: garlic pesto sauce, basil leaves, pecorino chunks, pine nuts, prosciutto, Parmesan, tomato and red onions topped with seasonings in a balsamic reduction.
Dazzled by the unique combinations—each wood-fired on a thin crust—I decide to go with American Pie: white sauce, salami rounds, caramelized onions, goat cheese, blueberries, seasonings, garnished with honey on the outside edges.
All I can say after meeting Carrie and Lori at Hoptown is that one visit is definitely not enough.
It makes sense that famous chefs choose big cities for creating new cuisines. Choosing Yakima seems a lot more risky, which makes the success story behind Crafted, co-owned and operated by husband and wife Dan and Mollie Koommoo, even more impressive. The secret, Mollie says, is that they started small, catering special events to establish their reputation and potential funding. Their goal was to create a restaurant that could be hip, sophisticated and welcoming at the same time, which Crafted is. It’s the kind of place where people who have never met before strike up conversations, share menu and cocktail suggestions, even exchange bites.
Dishes are meant to be shared. And if you sit at the Chef’s Counter, you can watch Chef Dan lead the wizardry at work. The flavor profiles are all over the map, from butternut squash and feta dip (with toasted pecans, peppers, local honey and sourdough) to Korean BBQ cauliflower followed by braised Snake River Farms beef.
And while Crafted offers a variety of desserts, skip directly to the mini campfire s’more made from tiny homemade marshmallows and piled sticks of chocolate smoked with burning wood chips and served in a bell jar. No visit to Yakima is complete without sharing the Crafted experience. FYI, reservations are a must.
When You Go
Visit Yakima: www.visityakima.com
Caffe 11th Avenue: www.caffe11thavenue.com
LaPierre Farms and Winery: www.lapierrefarms.com
Hoptown Wood Fired Pizza: www.hoptownpizza.com/restaurant