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It was decided recently that a brief retreat from the howling political pundits and tanking markets would very likely bolster the defense of psyche and release the tension of muscle. The prescription: an extended weekend escape to the islands of San Juan, specifically La Isla Orca. As luck would have it, this flight from civilization somehow managed to correspond with the most breathtaking Autumn weather I have ever experienced in the Puget Sound. The ferry ride from Anacortes up through the islands was magical and relaxing (notwithstanding the Galley clerk who, upon my request for a glass of Merlot, responded “Is that red or white?”).
Upon arriving at our destination in Eastsound, the primary hamlet on Orcas Island, our party decided the best way to kick off a therapeutic regimen would clearly be via the consumption of pizza. And surprisingly, some previous mining of the Chowhound message boards had revealed that the ratio of restaurant to citizen in Eastsound is approximately one to one. There is a shocking amount of decent food in this little town.
And so one steep flight of stairs later, we were at Portofino Pizzeria, a quaint and casual neighborhood hangout. The walls were covered with a floor-to-ceiling mural depicting the bright, colorful houses of the northwest Italian Riviera, and the windows were thick with condensation. Despite my lingering reservations about island cuisine, and my general feelings about pizza in the region, I was pleasantly surprised by how GOOD this particular pizza actually turned out. The vegetables and mozzarella were fresh and the pan baked crust was crispy and flavorful. We ordered a half-and-half of the San Marino (with shrimp, basil and red onions) and the Portofino Special (the works – pepperoni, sausage, mushroom, olives, peppers, onions). We devoured every slice. The best part: a delicious patina of olive oil in lieu of marinara. The worst part: chianti dispensed from a rehoboam with a tap stuck in the neck. The service was slow, but for once I could actually see myself embracing island time. There was nowhere to rush off to, nowhere to be. It was a rare moment, just slowing down and eating a slice of pizza with friends and family.
The next morning, we sought out some early morning sustenance before setting off to tour the rest of the island. Destination: The Sunflower Café. My partner and I vaguely remembered having a fantastic dinner at the Sunflower Café on a previous visit to Orcas years and years ago, but were profoundly confused upon entering the rustic farmhouse for breakfast – this was certainly not the place we recalled, and they were only open for breakfast and lunch anyway. An island mystery! Or perhaps just faulty memory? Stay tuned!
The tiny café was ridiculously warm, bordering on uncomfortable (a trend we noticed in nearly every establishment on the island). But the food smelled great, so we got in line. The farmhouse was tricked out for Halloween and overrun with hippies and artists and artist-hippies. It was an order-at-the-counter, bus-your-own-table joint, just as slow and relaxed as Portofino had been. I ordered a croissant sandwich with bacon and eggs – the croissant was flaky and buttery, and the local organic eggs were fluffy and warm. Aces. The bagels were made in-house, and were a little dry and dense for my taste, but the side of Sunflower Potatoes was inspired – diced white potatoes and yams, roasted and seasoned with thyme, curry(!), onions and garlic. It was a nice repast, and I once again marveled at my great luck. We headed out into the brilliant sunshine and crisp morning air, all smiles.