Birthday Brunch in Port Gamble

I am not a huge fan of my birthday. It’s not that I am distressed by getting older – I swear, that doesn’t really bother me - but it’s always a weird day for me and I struggle with being depressed every year. Luckily, when I wake up the next morning I am a new gal, refreshed and back to my usual happy go-lucky self, maybe even the more optimistic for knowing that I do not have to celebrate my birthday for a whole year! It’s actually a thing, people who get depressed on their birthday – according to Google – so I just try to relax, knowing that I am not the only kook in the henhouse who doesn’t think my birthday is the best day of the year.

My poor family struggles with cheering me up on my "special" day and they are certainly not to blame for my birthday blues. They always do all the right things: tea in bed, flowers, lovely prezzies (well, not always lovely, but they do try!), delicious birthday cake, and they will happily participate in anything I deem birthday-worthy as far as activities go. What turns out to be fantastic birthday fun is a day trip to Port Gamble complete with champagne. Lots of champagne.

Slightly over half an hour’s drive from Bainbridge Island, Port Gamble is a little slice of New England right here in Washington State. Named in honor of Lt. Robert Gamble (wounded in the War of 1812 which I find terribly romantic), the town was founded in 1853 by some gents called Pope, Talbot, and Walker, and was built to look like their hometown of East Machias, Maine. A mill town, Port Gamble was the site of the oldest continuously operated sawmill in North America. It is also considered to be one of the most haunted places in North America and claims Washington's most haunted house. More on that later, I promise!

It also happens to be home to some fabulously delicious food. Enter: Port Gamble General Store and Cafe. This slow-food, farm-to-table destination has put Kitsap County on the map of must-visit places for the food inclined.

With a focus on locally sourced, organic and non-GMO ingredients, the Cafe prides itself on delivering the highest quality experience to their diners, both in taste and presentation. Their website makes it very clear that you should expect to wait, both for a table and also your food, since everything is made to order. They don’t take reservations for brunch (unless you are a group of 8 or more) so be prepared to wait. Have a seat at the bar and a friendly bartender will hook you up with a glass of perfection sure to cheer up any Debbie Downer! We sent the kiddies off to explore the store next door and my husband and I bellied up to the bar to enjoy our mini date. 

With an absolute slew of local micro-brews on tap, plus a full coterie of tempting cocktails, I happily settled on the uber-celebratory Kir Royale (bubbling pink happiness in a glass!) while my much more masculine husband opted for the crazy-spicy Bloody Mary, sure to grow hair on anyone’s chest.  You’ve been warned.

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If you're not in a drinking mood you won't be disappointed by whiling away your wait in the attached General Store. They have an assortment of well curated seaside gifts and home decor that you might hope to find in any decent waterfront town, perfect for decorating your beach cottage, as well as some slightly more Washington-specific finds having to do with marijuana (hey, it's legal) which my teen son found especially hilarious. They also sell ice cream (once you've finished your meal, natch), Northwest wines, candles, candies and all other sorts of bits and bobs.  It's a general store, afterall.

Before we knew it, we were happily seated at a lovely table by the window. I am a sucker for a water view, even on a gray, slightly gloomy day and boy does Port Gamble have water views.  Perched on a point above the Puget Sound, the café really takes advantage of its front-row seat. It’s quite casual, with blackboards scattered about the room boasting the brews on tap, dessert of the day, and other special offerings all written by hand which I find charming. The menu is bursting with edible delights and you are welcome to peruse either the lunch or breakfast menu during brunch. We did, as promised, have a bit of a wait before our food arrived but I really enjoyed catching up with these folks in the interim:

We are a breakfast family so, even at almost 2pm, we all happily settled on the breakfast side of the menu. Prepare to be dazzled:

Fry Bread & Gravy: Native American fry bread, house-made savory sausage gravy, 2 organic eggs served any way you like.  I prefer the oozy kind. 

Almond French Toast: thick-sliced organic Country bread soaked in almond custard, and crusted with sliced and sugared almonds. Served with orange butter and organic maple syrup or house-made berry sauce. As you can see, these guys like their stuff organic and it makes a difference.  This is the french toast of dreams!

For my Indiana-bred husband, the Corned Beef Hash: Idaho gold potatoes, caramelized onion, slow braised corned beef, and 2 organic eggs over-easy.  This one doesn't photograph nearly as well as it tastes.  Please just trust me that this is the most amazing corned beef hash I've eaten in my life.  

The table favorite was, hands down, the Lemon-Ricotta Pancakes, served with seasonal fruit compote and whipped Creme Fraiche.  Sadly, I neglected to take a picture of those beauties so you'll just have to go try it for yourself. You can thank me later. There are also omelets available (the Northwest has organic apple, bacon, caramelized onion, and sharp white cheddar. Yes please) as well as several vegetarian options but we didn’t want to appear piggish so we'll save that for next time. Of course, these folks are known for their dinner menu but clearly that will require me to return and do the requisite research for a second post. They do take reservations for dinner so if you’re not thrilled by having to wait for a table, that might be a better option for you.

Thoroughly stuffed to the gills, and with a very much cheered up birthday girl in tow, we tumbled out of the store to check out the town.  Port Gamble is quite small, easily managed on foot, but for such a small place, you can spend a whole afternoon here. There’s a museum, a theater, a place to rent kayaks, and a bevy of shops selling interesting goodies with a definite Northwest flair.  Oh, and there are ghosts…

 The Walker-Ames House

Apparently a haven for paranormal activity, almost every building in Port Gamble has ghost stories to tell and the town does indeed boast the most haunted building in all of Washington State: the Walker-Ames House. Built in 1889 in the Victorian style with sweeping views east of the Puget Sound, the house is Port Gamble's largest hiistoric home. It has been vacant since 1995. Stories have been collected for years from former tenants and these stories seem to have an eerie consistency. Still not sure about all this? Sign up for a guided Ghost Walk or three hour investigation of the Walker-Ames house and find out for yourself. Port Gamble also hosts a 3-day Ghost Conference for those of you who are really into this kind of thing.  

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Still with me? Be sure to pop into Mrs. Muir’s House (get it?), which stocks all things British from tea and biscuits to Union Jack umbrellas and Harry Potter-themed paraphenalia. They also sell paranormal and metaphysical gifts and supplies (honestly not sure what those are but something to do with smudging...). If you’re game, the shopkeeper will happily tell you some pretty spine-tingling ghost stories about the “residents” of the house. It’s actually very fascinating.  For more of that creepy feeling, head down to The Painted Lady, an antique store chock full of treasures and spooky tales. When you've had your fill of the creeps, take a stroll about and admire the architecture and other shops. They're all really sweet.

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This is the Leo & Goldie Hammersmith House built in 1918-1919. Leo brought his 18-year-old bride home to this house on their wedding day. What a lovely gift! Originally part of the Port Gamble Mill, this newly renovated National Historic Landmark now houses Divine Café, a destination dining experience: classically trained chefs creating simple French-country dishes with flair.

As you head out of town, you can't miss St. Paul’s. According to the sign out front "the church’s steeple and original Congregational affiliation echoes the New England origins of its founders" who modeled their new church after the Congregational Church of East Machias, Maine. Built in 1878, the steeple bell was a gift from the San Francisco Pope & Talbot officer’s wives, and it arrived by sailing vessel in 1879. And before you ping me and ask, yes, you can get married here! Visit Port Gamble Wedding & Events to find out how.  And just for some inspiration, my friend had her Christmastime wedding here complete with bagpipers. So romantic. Just like a day in Port Gamble.

Have any ghost stories to share from your visit to Port Gamble?  Leave me a comment and  let me know what you found!

Port Gamble General Store and Cafe
32400 Rainier Ave NE
Port Gamble, WA 98370
360.297.7636

Breakfast/brunch reservations can be made for parties of 8+
Dinner reservations can be made for any party