The Rhododendron Café

Chuckanut Drive, also known as State Highway 11, perfectly portrays all that the Pacific Northwest has to offer. The twisting two-lane road offers breathtaking views of bay, beaches, mountains, evergreens, and wildlife before emptying into vast swaths of grassland and farming plains.

A little farther down the rural road is the town of Bow, and on the left hand sits a small, inviting cafe with a sign out front saying simply “Rhody.”

Inside, The Rhododendron Café feels modern with a farmhouse flair. An old wooden hutch with glass cupboards sits against crisp red and white walls. Pieces of framed artwork hang throughout and decorative plants reach toward hungry customers. Sporadic rumbles of diesel semi-trucks are hardly noticeable behind the mellow folk music playing overhead. The restaurant has two main dining rooms, and outside is an open-air, gazebo-like area open when the weather permits.

Owners Lisa Cooney and Jim Kowalski knew they wanted their restaurant to have a focus on fresh, local Washington ingredients when they took over “The Rhody” five years ago. That goal is realized through the place’s cozy, home-style feel. Even the pew-like benches that line the walls were built by a local carpenter. Small glass vases hold fresh-picked zinnias that sit next to small paper dessert menus on pressed wood tables, giving the air of a family dining room.

Like the country roads that brought you there, there is no rush at The Rhody. A quiet buzz of activity lives behind the metallic clink of silverware, the chatter of the tables and muted kitchen noise.

Kowalski, also the head chef, specializes in Northwest seasonal cuisine and has mastered the art of reacting to a dynamic part of the culinary world. In order to keep ingredients seasonal, The Rhody changes its menu three times a year to follow what is fresh, in season, and available. The result is something beautifully Pacific Northwest that looks, tastes, and is everything Western Washington.

One of their more popular dishes, a tender bone-in pork chop with apple-brandy crème, ($28) brings spinach from Edison, apples from the garden, pork from Bellingham, and spätzle into a warm conglomeration of home-style cooking. It doesn’t skimp on serving size, either. It’s enough food to fill any weary traveler, especially when paired with a wedge salad ($10, also deliciously fresh). Order the chicken saltimbocca with risotto ($21) for a flavorful and hearty entrée, and save room for the coconut cake with pineapple cream frosting ($8.25), good for sharing.

A quick walk outside will reveal the cafe’s Pacific Northwest and local focus. Edible flowers bloom on small trellises, and a small greenhouse protects peppers, mint, basil and cherry tomatoes from curious critters. Rhododendron plants quietly reside against the restaurant that bears their name. Cooney, who has some help tending to the gardens, also manages a larger garden in nearby Edison that houses more vegetables like cucumbers, which she turns into pickles.

The cafe provides a comfortable setting to explore the special sense of place. The Rhododendron works as a hub, a place where ingredients grown or gathered from different parts of western Washington come together to produce tasty results. The Rhododendron is not just farm-to-table, but life-to-you.

5521 Chuckanut Dr., Bow
360.766.6667 | rhodycafe.com

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"The Rhododendron is not just farm-to-table, but life-to-you."