Gateway To Fresh Food and Mt. Rainier

April 4, 2018

We wanted to set foot on the newly finished part of the Foothills Trail in the shadow of Mt. Rainier National Park. Within 90 minutes from our home in the Seattle area, we arrived at the Nomad PNW Café in Wilkeson to fuel up.

Nomad PNW Cafe

Owners Felisha and Jeff Ford greeted us. Jeff was brewing up some very exciting coffee using the Siphon Pot.  This is a throwback process going back to 1840 in Lyons France, patented by Mme. Vassieux. The vacuum process is not only visually entertaining; it seals in the taste.

Homemade empanada

While we waited for the coffee, Felisha introduced us to her homemade empanadas. The savory and tasty spinach cheese pastry was neatly embossed to identify the café. Felisha used her insider recipe secrets from her mom, who is from Argentina where the empanada is a staple. They are flavorsome delights wrapped with dough and baked. Felisha’s family secret chimichurri sauce is an excellent addition. Dipping the empanada into the tasty mix of parsley, onion, garlic, and vinegar was a culinary delight. As the sauce was being delivered to our table, a local customer leaned over and said, “You will be dreaming about that sauce!” And she was right!
Jeff delivered the fresh coffee which paired perfectly with the Horchata Donut. Horchata is a Mexican standard rice-based beverage, which Felisha took to another level by using it to make these delicious and light donuts.

Nomad PNW Cafe

We had a great visit with these new owners, and we told them we might return after our hike for another snack and a cold brew coffee. Felisha suggested that we try the Dulce de Leche Bundt Cake. Leche means milk and this sweet treat was not only delicious but is gluten-free. My wife has been sampling various gluten-free baked goods, and this is by far the best. If we hadn’t been told it was gluten free, we never would have guessed.
Next up was a walk down memory lane as we took the short walk through historical Wilkeson to hike part of the Foothills Trail.

Wilkeson Foothills Trail Mt Rainier
We proceeded across the street from the sign and debated which part of the 25-mile trail to do. Without a bike and with lunch awaiting us, we chose to do a short hike (3 miles) south to Carbonado. The trail we walked on is a former railroad bed that carried coal, coke, and other minerals to Tacoma in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. It is interesting that the name Carbonado means a diamond that consists of many tiny black crystals and has a greater hardness than many diamonds. These are found mainly in Central African Republic and Brazil. However, Carbonado Washington and the surrounding area was known mainly for coal.  In years past Wilkeson Coke and Coal Company used 160 ovens to cook the coal into the end product of coke, which was then shipped by rail to Tacoma and Portland.

Carbonado hiking trail

We continued on this mellow stroll which started on pavement and then changed to dirt about a mile in. The tire tracks in the dirt showed us that bikes would also be a good way to travel. We enjoyed the hike, but the smell of spring in the air was making us hungry again! 

Almost in Carbonado, we needed to head back to Wilkeson to get our car for our afternoon activities. Unfortunately, we did not have time for the short drive to Mt. Rainier National Park and to hike the trails along the Carbon River, nor was there time to check out Melmont, an old ghost town. The trail is found near the Fairfax Bridge (below). Care should be taken at the start of the hike, as the description reads: “You will find a steep but manageable trail down to the trail.”

Fairfax Bridge

We headed for the pastoral town of Enumclaw, also known as The Gateway to Mt. Rainier. That is a perfect name as all of these Park entrances are within an hour: Sunrise/White River, Carbon River, and Mowich Lake.  
However, there are also hikes in town, and one of my favorites is Pinnacle Peak (below). 

Pinnacle Peak

This hike does not fool around! You gain 1,000 feet in one mile. This volcanic cone has many names: Mt. Pete, Mt. Peak, Pinnacle Peak, and Cal Magnusson Trail. Any name you call it is steep.
That steep hike required some immediate refueling, and in less than a five-minute drive we arrived at Kelly’s Restaurant and Lounge in Enumclaw.  I knew what I wanted to order several weeks ago - their famous Reuben Sandwich.

Cod Cakes with Lemon Aioli

However, owner Kelly Bauer joined us and had other plans before the sandwich arrived. First was the Cod Cakes served with lemon caper aioli. The cakes were lightly fried and served with a garlic and olive oil based sauce. It woke up the taste buds! Next was the Coconut Curry Chicken Soup, with a zesty balance of light spices. I said, “beyond yummy.”

Reuben sandwich

The reviews said, “the best Reuben sandwich ever tasted.” This lean corned-beef and pastrami between Swiss cheese and sauerkraut with house-made Russian dressing was one of the best sandwiches I’ve ever had. One of my long-term goals in life is to find the best Reuben sandwich, and now, that is search is over.

Kelly’s two chefs are local and utilize the farming community of Enumclaw for some of their ingredients. Enumclaw sits on rich volcanic soil and is home to many small farms. The county was very smart with the “farmland preservation properties” which sets aside and preserves land for farming.  

My wife had ordered the French Dip Sandwich. The quality cut of meat and the au jus made a terrific sandwich – almost, but not quite as good as the Rueben. Kelly tried to talk us into some cheesecake, but we reluctantly had to throw in the towel. We will return for one of their classic monthly dinners featuring either a local Winemaker or the Brewmaster.

Once again it was time to work off some calories. The best thing about the hikes we did today is that you can do them year round, as they are usually snow free. The first was at Mud Mountain Dam just 10 minutes east.  This is an easy flat hike (4 miles if you want) to get views of the White River and some of the foothills.

Mud Mountain Dam

We had one final hike on our agenda today and took the 15-minute drive to Federation Forest State Park.  Like Mud Mountain this is another family hiking area, with seven miles of flat trails. After the hike, there are sheltered picnic areas with barbecue braziers. Note that this is generally open from April to the end of November.

Cole Street Brewery

After the hiking, it was time to double back to Enumclaw for some refreshments at Cole Street Brewery.  One of the highest of the highlights, a very relaxing atmosphere where the pride themselves in providing a gathering place to sip beer and socialize. On sunny days like today, you can kick back and enjoy views of Mt. Rainer. Sorry, no TV here, just wonderful beers, conversations, and views.

Our flights offered us a taste of all they have to offer. The Blonde Beer was smooth with a light taste. I then went on to the slightly stronger Brown, which was well balanced with light nutty taste. My final beer tasted today was the Amber with ESB malt, which tasted stronger than the other two, but very approachable. My wife enjoyed the hardy flagship beer Overlander IPA however, her favorite was Cascadian Rye. This dark ale was perfect and hardy with an IBU (International Bitterness Units) of 80. However, the 26 IBU of the Blonde is what I prefer. (yes – opposites can attract!)

Along with the obvious love of hand-crafted beer, the owners also love to create community. They offer periodic tasting contests with local home brewers and host many fun events and game nights. On our way out, we noticed the giant chalkboard, where you can “pre-buy” a beer for either a specific person or someone in a certain category (vets, teachers, police, nurses, etc.) What a fun thing! We really wanted to meet Denise – there were eight beers lined up for her on the board!  We will definitely return for some of their fun events, and bring our friends with us.

Pursuit Distilling COmpany

Our last visit was just one block away, Pursuit Distilling Company.  We were greeted by Tyler who is one of the six owners. These owners blend many areas of expertise to take distilling to a new level: finance, marketing, running a small local business, airline pilot, fabrication expect and a professional golfer. Tyler is not the professional golfer but a former commercial pilot with experience in running the family business.

Tyler gave us a tour of the state-of-the-art distillery which has one of the biggest capacities in Washington. They have a column still operation (also called continuous still) with four columns, which can run 24 hours a day. This is opposed to the older pot stills that operate on a single batch basis.  Also, the column can produce sprits over 95% ABV (alcohol by volume) which is much higher than pot stills can get to.
Tasting time and happy hour have arrived. Starting with the Eternal Fire Vodkas, the first taste was their Potato Vodka. This was exceptionally smooth with a slight hint of spice. I usually don’t drink vodka straight, but that might change. Next was the Flagship Vodka with lovely light vanilla notes. We then went on to the flavored whiskeys and what a surprise! The folks at Pursuit created the “Suspect” line of flavored whiskeys by infusing them with natural (not chemical) flavorings such as spiced apple, cold brew coffee, pineapple jalapeno, and strawberry mint. We tasted them all, but in the end, had to choose just two favorites. The Spiced Apple is infused with Oregon apple cider, cinnamon sticks, and brown sugar. Perfect for sipping on a brisk fall afternoon, or winter evening in front of the fire. The Cold Brew combines the boldness of a strong coffee with hints of chocolate and caramel. The artistic distillers will be introducing more flavors as time goes on, so there will be more trips to Enumclaw in our future. At some point, we will also try using this delicious whiskey in some hand-crafted cocktails.

Pursuit Distilling Company Cocktail

This was a fun day of hiking some of the many year-round trails in and about Enumclaw, and we will return this June when the road to Sunrise opens. We look forward to enjoying all of the hiking, dining, and drinking that his area has to offer.

Disclosure: Please note that food and lodging were complimentary.