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EATING OUT: Nell Thorn’s menu full of local farm products

Mar 5th, 2011 | Category: Books, Features, Food

by Jessamyn Tuttle

The last time I had dinner at Nell Thorn, I ate goat. Not just any goat, but a La Mancha from Gothberg Farms in Bow. I follow Rhonda Gothberg on Facebook, and she had commented just that morning that she had entrusted some of her goats to the kitchen at Nell Thorn, knowing that they would respect the meat and treat it well. When I saw it on the menu, braised with chickpeas and cauliflower and served with a bright harissa, I knew I had to order it. It was wonderful.

A Farm to Table chalkboard near the front door lists all the local suppliers, so you always know where your food is coming from. PHOTO BY JESSAMYN TUTTLE

This sort of meal is what Casey and Susan Schanen, Skagit Valley natives and chef-owners of Nell Thorn, are all about: not just local, not just responsibly sourced, but delicious. They source as much food as possible from local farms, particularly from what they call “the Magic Skagit”.  They might serve vegetables from Dunbar Gardens in Mount Vernon, pork from Hedlin Farms in La Conner, chicken from Osprey Hill in Acme, and oysters from Blau on Samish Island. Their amazing fries are tossed with lemon zest and “herbes de Skagit”, a play on the traditional herbes de Provence. Specials might include braised goat, smoked beef tongue from Skagit River Ranch, house-cured pastrami, or stuffed and roasted lamb from Ninety Farms. A chalkboard near the front door lists all the current suppliers, so you always know where your food is coming from.

As alluring as the specials tend to be, I always find it hard to order anything here besides the steak frites, the oyster po’boy, or the spaghetti del mare. With help from friends and family over the years, however, I’ve been able to try (among other things) the steak salad, the kielbasa, a plate of pasta drenched in wild mushrooms and butter, a mind blowing dish of thick pork chops with carrot-lemon marmalade, and my favorite appetizers, the calamari greco and the fried oyster mushrooms. There have been very few things I haven’t loved.

The same menu is served both upstairs and down. Upstairs features a more elegant setting and the the downstairs pub is all about cozy ambiance. PHOTO BY JESSAMYN TUTTLE

The restaurant produces as little waste as possible, and does as much in-house processing as they can. Whole animals are broken down and used in their entirety. Meats are cured. Bread, a hearty country loaf with an addictive flavor, is made fresh daily. Used cooking oil goes to Biodiesel.

Prices are always very reasonable, but happy hour is a great deal assuming you can find a seat (the pub at Nell Thorn is a very popular local hangout). A large order of truffle fries will only set you back $4 and will put a serious dent in your appetite, while the chicken wings with gorgonzola sauce are pricier at $8 but will easily feed four people. There are always a few good beers on tap, an extensive wine list, and a full bar if you prefer something stronger. It’s always a good idea to ask about the wine selection, as they often run out of particular bottles.

My main wish is that the bar itself were bigger, so it would be easier for more people to squeeze in for a drink or wait for a table. Despite the fact that the same menu is served both upstairs and down, many people prefer the cozy ambiance of the downstairs pub and it fills up quickly. However, thereís nothing wrong with the upstairs dining room, which is quieter, takes reservations and also allows for larger parties, so you can bring your whole family in for dinner when they come to visit.

Nell Thorn restaurant in La Conner. PHOTO BY JESSAMYN TUTTLE

Whether youíre looking for a restaurant that truly celebrates the bounty of Skagit Valley, a comfortable regular hangout, or just a nice place to have lunch after taking in La Conner and the tulip fields, Nell Thorn is the place to come.

Nell Thorn is located at 205 Washington Street in LaConner. Lunch is served Tuesday through Saturday, 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Dinner hours are Tuesday through Sunday, 5 to 9 p.m. Pub hours are Tuesday through Sunday, 4 to 9 p.m. Reservations are a good idea. Call (360) 466-4261. For more information, visit www.nellthorn.com.

Jessamyn Tuttle lives in Mount Vernon, and thinks about food far too much. You can find more of her writing and photography at www.foodonthebrain.net.

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One Comment to “EATING OUT: Nell Thorn’s menu full of local farm products”

  1. Marleen Hoverson says:

    LOVE. THIS. PLACE. They deserve to be commended for their delicious dishes, use of local farm produce, cheese and meats, and how they treat animals that make it on the menu, using them in their entirety. Good to know.

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