We didn’t fit in last night because we weren’t trying to. Everyone around us looked local and, dressed in our synthetic hiker/climber gear, we were decidedly not. This was my second stop at The North Fork Brewery, Pizzeria, Beer Shrine and Wedding Chapel along the Mount Baker Highway in Deming, Washington. Yes, that is its full name. My first visit was a press trip in July, sponsored by Whatcom County Tourism, where we were beered, dined and given VIP treatment, including a personal tour of the beer making facilities by co-owner, Vickie Savage. Top notch treatment. Great facility, and one person on our tour even walked away with the old Beer Shrine sign out front (it was destined for someone’s fireplace).
But this second trip, last night, was my chance for incognito investigation. I know while on a press trip I am afford the best service an establishment can give. It’s only logical. And appreciated, greatly. I like being treated well. All of us do. Free is also good. Free and treated like a king? Heaven. But I always know, in the back of my head, there’s a chance my treatment isn’t the norm. Being the high profile writer that I am, companies are flocking to impress me, daily, hourly, ohhhh! there’s an offer to drive a Ferrari across the USA and visit National Parks!! Ok, I’m dreaming now.
I think you see where I’m going with this. What is the place really like when, unlike Norm in Cheers!, no one knows your name?
Warm. Inviting. Friendly. Laughter. Comfortable. And smells, really, really good.
That is what I encountered at the North Fork last night, starved and on my way back from ice climbing on Mt. Baker’s Coleman Glacier with Laurel and Genevieve. Our hostess was friendly, courteous and always smiling, even when she wasn’t serving us. You know how some waitresses only smile when they come up to the table? Not her, she was having a good time and made sure we had all we needed, taking out special orders in stride.
The crowds around the solid wood tables chatted casually while we waited for our scrumptious food. Did I mention I was starved? The place is small, with two main rooms, and the Beer Shrine, a double glass display case full of collectible (and not so collectible) beer bottles, separating the two. The homage to beer is evident everywhere I looked; coasters frame one window that is flanked by serving trays from Blue Moon and others. A swirling Olympia beer sign hangs beside a shadow box-like ancient Rainier Beer display. “Free Beer Tomorrow!” exclaims another decoration and a pair of Rainier Beer skis hang over the service window to the small kitchen. Hardwood floors abound and while the wall decorations can be a bit eclectic, they never veer far from the overwhelming theme of beer.
Of course there’s a bar, a cozy little place for sitting and drinking. Not the “have your friends hang out around you while you scope the joint for chicks” type seen in many places in downtown Seattle. If you’re at the bar, you’re there to enjoy the drink, preferably in one of the handmade mugs offered for sale, emblazoned with the North Fork logo (Genevieve couldn’t leave without buying one of the pint glasses). And behind that bar? The brewery’s own mix of ales is offered in rotation and on any given evening only a handful of the beers are circled signifying they are available.
Why only a few beers? (7 were on tap last night) Because the brewery has a desire to stay small. The facilities are all on site and each batch is only 3.5 kegs worth of tasty, local beer. Sandy and Vicki Savage opened the brewery in 1997, wanting to keep life simple and do things right. Rather than head the route of other local microbreweries and expand with demand, the couple enjoys the rural life and a chance to produce high quality hand-crafted beer for the locals and visitors alike. My personal favorite is the IPA. Even though I’m not much of a beer drinker any more, smelling hoppy aromas leaping out of the vats on the night of our tour was too much for me to take. With equipment recovered from other breweries in the area, the brewing operation is exactly as you’d expect a homebrew obsession on steroids to look like (photos).
Lastly, the food. An overflowing calzone with thick, real ingredients for $10, a 12″ pizza, feeds 2, for $15 and a salad large enough to overflow the serveing plate for $12 (complete with salmon). Beers were $4.25/pint. Oh, and the Chocolate Decadence cake for desert. Reasonably priced fare that had my belly singing to the heavens. I’m not sure if my review can be impartial, being starved as I was.
I guess I will have to gladly stop by on my next visit to Mt. Baker and find out.