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Farm to Table Dining at The Willows Inn on Lummi Island

Updated: Dec 1, 2022

Green bushes, drift wood and a hand carved maple wood sign depicting the Willows Inn Est. 1912 on Lummi Island, Washington ©AlonzoWright
The Willows Inn has been named the Best Restaurant in North America by OAD for the last three years straight. ©AlonzoWright

Dining at a James Beard Award-winner’s restaurant is a unique experience in itself. But dining at The Willows Inn with its front porch overlooking the unforgiving Salish Sea, the heady smell of the smokehouse out back and a warm crackling fireplace will be something we remember for decades to come. Not just because of the food, which is everything you’d hope it would be, but because celebrated Chef Blaine Wetzel and his impeccable staff understand the art of storytelling. At The Willows Inn, the story is just as much about the ingredients and the people behind them, as it is a love letter to the Pacific Northwest. Through the ingredients, we learn about the local fishermen and farmers, about the climate and ecosystem, and about the values of those behind the highly-revered final products.

An outdoor smokehouse with picnic tables, chopped wood and a burning woodfire grill sit amongst the forest trees at The Willows Inn on Lummi Island, Washington. ©AlonzoWright
The outdoor smokehouse and woodfire grills ensure you smell the restaurant before you see it. ©AlonzoWright

Fishing, Foraging + Farming with The Willows Inn

The story of the Pacific Northwest, as orchestrated by the culinary team, unfolds through each course. A couple of expertly crafted cocktails are enjoyed by the fire upon arrival, shaken up at the 100-year-old Taft’s Bar in the other room. It looks a little like an old apothecary with its craftsman style built-ins that are lined with glass Ball jars, each filled and tagged with dried ingredients like sea cucumber, yarrow, madrone bark, birch sticks and white willow tincture. There are only four barstools, lending itself to ideology that they want to make sure their guests are well-cared for, so it’s intentionally intimate.

If it hadn’t been a crisp autumn evening, the lure of the wood-burning fireplace may not have been so seductive. But we willfully surrendered to the sweet serenades of popping and cracking logs, and sank into the buttery, well-worn leather furniture. Like the restaurant’s produce, the herbs and edible florals used in each cocktail are grown at the restaurant’s own culinary gardens nearby. True to fashion, there is an impressive array of house-infused and smoked liquors and garnishes, usually accompanied by hand-chiseled and sculpted ice. The beverage program is a vibrant reflection of the season and is served in antique barware they’ve picked up through estate sales over the years. If you can’t tell yet, this is a special place.

Taft's Bar + The Willows Inn Cocktails

We sipped our fireside cocktails - a smoked Charcoal Baby and a fizzy Walk in the Park - until it was time for the first course, which was served on the front deck in the cast of a coral sunset on the sea. We were there in mid-October, so the daylight hours slipped away quickly, leaving us time for only a few alfresco courses. The staff brought us thick blankets to stave off a chill, followed shortly after by soul-warming bites from the smokehouse like crispy, toasted kale with black truffle aioli, skewers of velvety octopus with sweet sausage and smoked radicchio, delicate venison paired with meaty morel mushrooms, and quite possibly the best salmon anyone has ever had in their lives. The wild sockeyes are caught in reef nets by local fisherman and delivered the morning they are served. They are then smoked and glazed with a warm, brown sugar butter. The effect is unlike any texture one might expect from a traditionally flaky salmon, it becomes silken. It is served alone, as the standout that it is. This course is a crystalline taste of the cold waters in the region and a fine reflection of the local fishermen who seemed to have plucked only the very best specimens from the nets that day. The crisp breeze and smoked courses made for an unexpected and enjoyable contrast that only enhanced the overall experience.

Foraging hyperlocal ingredients on Lummi Island

We were then led inside to the warm dining room and our dimly lit tables overlooking the kitchen on one end, and the western water-facing windows on the other. Dozens of candles cast long shadows across the bare wooden floor, making the ambience irresistible. The staff practically beam with pride as they go over the courses and local bounty, which we happened to experience first-hand the next day