BY LARA DUNNING
Whidbey Life Magazine Contributor
May 11, 2016
Above the door of The Oystercatcher the sign says “Simply Good Food,” but under Tyler Hansen’s culinary vision, the sign could be a book. The flavors are a little European, Mediterranean, Spanish, and Pacific Northwestern, all highlighting the fresh local produce of Whidbey Island.
“We can’t imagine doing this anywhere else,” said Hansen, who, along with his wife, Sara, is the third owner of The Oystercatcher. “We came into a place with a great reputation and put our own spin on it.”
One glance at the menu clarifies how Whidbey Island’s bounty sparked Hansen’s creativity; for instance, a salad with kale, sorrel, oats, romesco, buckwheat walnut gazpacho, topped with a selection of edible flowers that change with the seasonal blooms — like borage, mustard flower, and watermelon radish — is named after Rosehip Farm, located on Ebey’s Reserve. The result―a colorful, light and flavorful salad.
The menu also includes Penn Cove mussels with sautéed roasted onions, garlic, parsley and crème fraiche; Neah Bay halibut with duck egg gnocchi; crispy potato skin with an herb salad that includes olive and fennel nage; and one of my favorites, local bean cassoulet with braised pork, ham hock, andouille sausage, carrots and collard greens.
“Our goal is to keep it fresh, buy as much as we can from local farms,” said Hansen, “I want guests to taste the quality and freshness of what we have in this area.”
Who are the local farms? Willowood Farm, Rosehip Farm, Penn Cove Shellfish, 3 Sisters Farm, Eckholm Farm, Ebb Tide Farm, Jeremy Brown, Zylstra Farm, Prairie Bottom Farm, Red Dog Farm and Kettle’s Edge Farm.
Hansen’s passion for using local produce and ingredients began on a childhood trip to Nicaragua and Ecuador. After two weeks of eating beans and rice, a local beekeeper gave him a piece of honeycomb. “I could taste the flavor of the town in that honey,” said Hansen. That experience inspired him to apprentice at Boulder Dushanbe Teahouse in high school. By the following summer, he worked there full time, and from that point on he “never looked back.”
Hansen and his wife met at a restaurant in Bellingham. Her resume includes assistant manager at La Tour, which is touted as the best restaurant in Vail, Colorado. Together, they moved around the west honing their restaurant skills and then decided to put down roots on Whidbey Island. I met them during a writer residency when they worked at the Captain Whidbey Inn. I was impressed with the meal preparation and Sara’s care and attention to detail. After two days, she knew our names and food allergies. When I returned for the following residency, I was thrilled to discover they’d become the new owners of The Oystercatcher.
“We give guests the whole package,” said Sara. “From the moment they come in we want them to feel welcomed and cared for with an amuse-bouche, a well-crafted drink or glass of wine, great food made with care and presented by wonderful servers. All of that makes for a great night.”
It makes for a great weekend lunch too. Their menu tempts with items such as a 3 Sisters Beef burger, a Reuben with their house-smoked pastrami, and an oyster po-boy. Oh, and I can’t forget to mention desserts like beignets with honey cream cheese and buckleberry jam; olive oil pound cake with strawberry rhubarb jam and sorrel mint; and chocolate pot de crème with hazelnut butter and pepperberry tuile.
Dinner hours are Wednesday through Sunday from 5 p.m. to close; lunch hours are Friday through Sunday, from noon until 3 p.m. Their location, at 901 Grace St. in Coupeville, Washington, has cozy inside seating with pictures and paintings of their signature bird the oystercatcher. Outside seating offers views of Penn Cove.
Last year, the Hansen’s decided to take on a new endeavor: sell their rosemary olive, molasses oatmeal, and sourdough bread. A call out for yearly subscriptions, which is a $7 loaf a week for a year totaling $364, allowed them to purchase a bread oven. Now, they bake bread five days a week, and subscribers can pick-up their orders at The Oystercatcher, 3 Sisters Market and Kalakala Co. Mercantile in Langley. Loaves, for $10 each, may also be purchased at 3 Sisters Market and the Coupeville Farmers Market. If you have a hankering for their bread or are having a dinner party, they will bake an order with 24-hour notice (360-678-0683).
In June, they plan to add a street taco stand (pork, fish, vegetarian) and beer garden next to the lower level of the restaurant. While this will be a different dining experience than The Oystercatcher, guests can expect the same kind of attention to locally grown ingredients. Hansen is even working with a local farmer to grow produce like tomatillos and hot paprika peppers.
I’ll admit, I’m a little biased when it comes to The Oystercatcher. I’ve relished every meal I’ve had there, even their seasonal fried green tomatoes, which I don’t normally care for. From the warm greeting to the delicious food, I know what to expect, and that’s a meal that begs your taste buds to linger in a locally-inspired culinary experience.
Lara Dunning is a freelance writer and owner of SmallTownWashington.com. She has been published in The Crossing Guide, Experience Anacortes, RealFoodTraveler.com, and WaggonerGuide.com. Her interests include young adult novels, history, hiking and locavore-inspired food.
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