Day Tripper

A day off in Seattle's own Hoboken: Bremerton.

TAKE OUT A map of South Puget Sound and point to the city least likely to host a chic Italian-inspired, Northwest-centric bistro with a wine list as long as your arm and twice as affordable. Your finger is on Bremerton, right? If, more specifically, you're pointing at the Manette neighborhood in East Bremerton, you probably already know about Fischiare La Fermata. I can't say I'm entirely sure why I ended up in Manette last week, but it has something to do with the itchy, anxious feeling I always get at this time of the year, the fact that my dad never did put his boat in the water this summer, and my friend Alvin's convertible. Having a few days worth of vacation time on my hands and the very strong desire to be on the water at least once before Labor Day, we put the top down and found ourselves on the ferry. The first thing you notice about Bremerton is that it's full of Filipino restaurants and awesome old signage. I don't know about you but when I see a fading mural on the cinderblock wall of a pizzeria that's been there since Ed Sullivan was on the air, I'm inside ordering a pizza. Well, unless the car I'm in has a mind of its own and is headed east over the Manette Bridge, that is. Eleventh Street can just barely be called a main drag, and the hole-in-the-wall that is Kate's Jersey Subs can just barely be called its anchor. Simple and efficient, the deli is a quintessential East Coast neighborhood joint; the friendly, no-nonsense service and mammoth subs seem imported from New Jersey. In fact, Bremerton almost seems like our little Hoboken. We split half of a delicious, messy eggplant Parmesan hero before heading back out into the sunshine. Because you really could miss Manette if you blinked, our post-lunch stroll can hardly be filed under "wandering around," but when we spied a tablecloth restaurant with black brick walls, a huge gold-gilded mirror, and an impressive-looking wine bar, it really felt like an serendipitous stumble. Although there was no menu, or even business hours, posted on the windows at Fischiare La Fermata (the name translates to the Whistle Stop), the place exuded warmth and good taste so we knew instantly that we'd be back that evening for dinner. WASTING A DAY in Kitsap County is unbelievably easy, particularly when the top is down and you know where the junk and thrift stores are. On North Callow, another just-barely main drag on the other side of town, an old pink-and-blue sign advertises McGavin's Bakery and Coffee Shop, "home of the pink champagne cake." We bought a small square one for 10 bucks and quickly discovered that when a little bubbly is added to pink fondant icing, it becomes almost effervescent and airy. Still ridiculously sweet and sugary, McGavin's pink champagne cake is a little lighter than your average sheet cake and might just be this quadrant's answer to the South's red velvet—although I'm sure it's not actually native. A few hours and junk purchases later, we were back at La Fermata and happy to see the door propped open. As it turns out, this five-year-old restaurant is the current residence of former Tango chef Bryce Lamb. With a menu not overly ambitious, at least by Seattle standards, Lamb instead offers attractive, carefully prepared plates with an emphasis on local crops, organic and free-range ingredients, and seasonal harvests. Dishes of duck and shrimp are offered alongside pastas worthy of Belltown. Our beet and Gorgonzola salad was perfect and the crab cakes, with rich tamarind aïoli and nutty apricot rice pilaf, were some of the best I've had this summer. Still in the bubbly mood, we shared a bottle of prosecco and chatted with our extremely well-mannered server. Inquiring as to where all the native Bremerton diners were (only two other tables were occupied while we were there), he told us that La Fermata is far more popular in the fall and winter, when the truly gorgeous Soho-style side room fills up with private parties. Because La Fermata has no outdoor seating or air conditioning, the summer months are slow and long—which is great news for Seattle eaters looking to squeeze the last few bits and pieces out of the summer; you can get all the outdoor seating you need on the ferry ride over.

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