Wrapping up the school year is always hectic. The last few stressful weeks are predictably loaded with parent meetings, final grading, and non-compliant students, not to mention the allure of those early sunny days of summer that finally emerge after months of cloudy skies. Pile on top of that the pressures of having been elected to speak at graduation, planning for the three-week marathon of summer school, and sitting through a week of Advanced Placement training immediately after the close of the school year.
Needless to say, by the end of June I was ready for a break.
So I was ecstatic when my wife e-mailed me mid day during one of the AP Institute slogs to inform me that she had booked a small cottage in Walla Walla as a mid-week escape to celebrate our four-year anniversary.
We had talked about venturing out into Washington wine country for years, but as is so often the case with those “we should do that” sort of plan, it had been left hanging – unplanned and undefined – since it’s genesis.
But it was finally coming to fruition… and yet, neither of us had time to actually plan anything.
We had a place to stay: the aforementioned cute little (dog-friendly) house a few blocks from the main street. But we had no other plans. Well, besides “go drink wine”. Which we did. And then some. But I’m getting there.
So late on a Tuesday afternoon, we loaded up the dog, packed a bag, and headed east across the Cascades.
The drive took about four hours – including a pit stop for the pup – and saw us winding our way through the arid rolling hills of south-central Washington state. The terrain is a fascinating departure from the lush greenery of the Seattle area, with immense blue skies, picturesque hillocks and beautiful waves of amber grass and desert land, which is punctuated by acres of perfectly manicured fields and orchards.
The drive into Walla Walla is as unassuming as the drive into any other such town, and though the lonely road in makes it feel isolated and sparse, the main street (aptly named, of all things, “Main Street”) is anything but.
After ditching the dog in the wonderfully air-conditioned rental, we ambled downtown in 90-degree heat in search of a bite to eat.
The first place we came across was Brasserie Four, a French-style bistro near the corner of 2nd and Main. Though the little place was surprisingly crowded for a Tuesday evening (and despite the creepy art on the walls) we happily bellied-up to the bar and ordered two glasses of wine and the charcuterie plate.
As you can see, the portion was very generous, and the locally crafted selection of meats was more than enough to satiate our pangs of travel-induced hunger.
A few glasses of red (and plates of bread) later, we hauled our satisfied selves away from the bar – and out of view of the monochromatic depressed clowns hanging on the walls – for a walk down the main drag.
Side note: Look, I’m all for art, especially when it’s supporting local artists, but the large format prints hanging in B4 were depressing, actually to the point of nearly turning us from the restaurant in the first place. Sorry.
After a jaunt up and down Main, we found ourselves at one of the few establishments still open at 9:00 on a Tuesday: Olive Marketplace and Cafe.
We indulged in a second dinner, of sorts, by splitting a salad and a delectable asparagus pizza.
Though our dessert – two scoops of ice cream from the bar at the Marc – was nothing to speak of, our time in the bar led to our initial discovery of what I can honestly judge to be the most poorly conceived logo of recent memory.
While it’s clear the artist intended to embrace the slogan of WA wine country – “perfectly balanced” – by depicting the bipolar balance of red and white, perhaps a better slogan would be something along the lines of “perfectly fertile”? I’ll run it by the board.
The next morning – after a pleasant sojourn around a local lake in a effort to tire-out the pup – we headed south of town to explore some of the beautiful local vineyards.
We began at the majestically poised Amavi, where the helpful and friendly employee not only poured some wonderful wines, but also provided some wonderful recommendations.
We proceeded to several other cellars before breaking for lunch.
Our morning tour of the southern wineries caused us to work up an appetite, which we satisfied with sandwiches from Graze, a sandwich shop run by a local catering company. While the website boasts “the best sandwiches in town” and “the most affordable high quality sandwich shop food you will ever have,” I can attest that they’re not far off the mark. My pulled pork torta really is easily the best sandwich I’ve had in a long time. With layers of house-made… well, everything, this beauty is enough to make me drive back to Walla Walla for a late lunch.
The rest our day was pleasantly spent wandering about town on foot, poking our noses into whichever winery had open doors (a few were closed on Wednesdays).
We called it quits fairly early – around 7:00 or so – around which time we got some takeout from T. Maccarone’s, an Italian eatery that had been recommended by some of the new friends we had met through the day.
The next morning, we refueled with a big ol’ breakfast at The Maple Counter Cafe, where – despite the kitschy crap on the walls and the fact that the waitstaff were dressed like hipster Quakers – I was served an AMAZING scramble of four fresh eggs, smoked salmon, chives and cream cheese, with a side of buttermilk pancakes. Needless to say, I wasn’t hungry again until we stopped in Yakima – after a few winery stops on the highway west – at 3:00 pm.
Our stop in Yakima was instigated by a colleague, who implored me to experience a burger from Miner’s – an iconic Yakima institution – on our way through. My wife verified my colleague’s claim, that I would probably enjoy this experience, so we made a point of stopping on the way home.
I got the Miner Burger. It was huge, and it tasted like a Whopper. Don’t get me wrong, that’s not a problem for me. I love Whoppers, and this burger was really good. But after two days of amazing food and wine, this highly-recommended meat patty just seemed.. eh.
Perhaps my tastes are maturing. Probably not, though.
We finished our wonderful little getaway with a short stop at the Iron Horse brewery in Ellensburg, WA for a quick flight of beer and a growler-fill in preparation for 4th of July festivities.
All in all, we had a relaxing and immensely enjoyable anniversary vacation, during which we agreed that we would certainly be returning to Walla Walla in the future!