Monday, March 8, 2010
flexing mussels of the Northwest
The town of Coupeville on Whidbey Island is an hour and a half away from our humble market. You can take a 20 minute ferry ride from Mukilteo, just north of Everett. Or you can head even farther and cross the breathtakingly high bridge over Deception Pass onto this quiet, and scenic Puget Sound island filled with mom and pop stores, road side stands, farms and on this particular weekend: mussel festivals.
Mussels are available year round and the folks at Penn Cove Shellfish deliver their bounty every single day. Since 1975, this operation has been sustainably farming and harvesting shellfish and amazingly delivering the goods within 24 hours to dinner plates worldwide. You can eat in Singapore and see "Penn Cove Mussels" on the menu!
With the temperatures in Seattle hitting near 65 and the sun shining, Saturday at Mussel Festival was more like a Grateful Dead show than a gathering in Coupeville. The boat tours were sold out, the mussel eating competition you couldn't get a seat or a view, and all the chowders in town were empty by early afternoon. Pictures from the event graced the front page of the Times and the shopkeepers and restauranteurs in Coupeville definitely had good nights of sleep on saturday night.
Sunday however, the overcast skies of March returned and Coupeville was back in it's element. Dogs sat outside tied to the trees as folks with spoons, cups and punch cards for the chowder tastings and "mussel hustle" took over Coupeville for a second day.
"I'm so glad we came today and not yesterday, I heard it was mobbed," said one sunday attendee. The defending champion chowder at the restaurant Oystercatcher was all smiles with the sunday crowds. "We added a little more ruttabega and carrots this year to up the veggie taste." said the owner. People who paid a couple dollars were given a punch card that allowed them to taste up to six different mussel chowders throughout the town. At the end, punch cards were turned and compiled to crown a new mussel chowder champion for 2010.
Toby's tavern had a line out the door,dalmation seals layed out on the mussel flats, Flyers brewery had the suds a flowin', and yes, Scott came up short for year number two in the mussel eating competition.
"Although it was nice to see a fellow Pike Place friend, he looked a little nervous and that's not how you win an eating competition," said Place Pigalle owner Seth. Pigalle keeps mussels as a big presence on their menu and really seemed to be enjoying seeing the other side of their food.