As I said in my entry on Monday, when we ventured out to Washington Island, we had lunch at The Washington Hotel, a hotel, restaurant and culinary school. Cindy found the place on line and was reading about it. It had to be the first place we stopped once we got onto the island.
The Washington Hotel was built in 1904 by Captain Ben Johnson, one of the many ship captains who came to the island during the height of shipping on Lake Michigan. He fashioned the hotel to be not only a place where his fellow sailors could come to get a warm bath and comfortable bed, but as a place where tourists would visit and relax. Over the years, The Washington Hotel became the social center for island resident hosting weddings, parties and events. In 2001, the hotel underwent a makeover that restored the Washington to its original 1904 floor plan.
The Washington Hotel also boasts its own culinary school. This is what piqued Cindy's interest the most. The professional chefs at The Washington Hotel Culinary School provide cooking lessons primarily focusing on making meals from local produce. They have scheduled cooking classes that are open to the public, or they will do private cooking classes, as well.
The head chef and proprietor at The Washington Hotel is Leah Caplan who is a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America. Caplan champions the use of locally raised and sustainable foods in her cooking. She's somewhat famous for her six course meals she serves nightly through the summer, all made with indigenous foods from the Door County and Washington Island areas. This includes fish caught from the lake, beef, chicken and pork raised in Door County, and fresh vegetables and grains grown in the area. The menu changes on a regular basis due to availability of fresh meats, fish and sustainable foods.
We got to the Washington Hotel a little after 1 p.m. There is a nice outdoor seating area that would have been nice to eat in, but all the tables were full and they didn't know how long it would be before one opened up. We ended up going into the dining room of the hotel and taking a table in the corner.
The dining room had a definite early 20th century charm to it. It featured large tables draped in white table cloths, sturdy chairs and a hard wood floor. Large windows that looked out onto the deck where the outside seating was placed allowed for a lot of natural light to come in. We were the only ones in the dining room, which was fine with us.
Our waitress, who said she was a full time college student in Green Bay and who was working there for the summer, came out with menus printed that day. Because the chefs at The Washington Hotel use only local produce, the menu is sort of "catch as catch can" on a daily basis. Most of the lunches are from leftover foods from the evening before.
The Washington Hotel bakes their own bread in a large wood-fired brick oven, one of the very few in the whole state of Wisconsin. They also bake a lot of their main entries in the brick oven - including homemade pizzas - giving the food a very distinct and natural taste.
We got a basket of homemade brick oven-baked wheat bread (wheat is the predominant grain grown on Washington Island) and we both ordered a glass of wine. I got red, Cindy got white. Most of the choices on the menu that day were sandwiches. One of the more interesting ones was the Washington Hotel BLT - unprocessed Door County bacon, with tomatoes and lettuce grown on the island. It was served on a homemade focaccia bread. Cindy got that for her lunch. It looks pretty yummy, doesn't it?
I got the open-faced shaved prime rib sandwich topped with Wisconsin Gorgonzola and placed on a homemade slice of bread. Before the cheese was placed on top, they warmed the sandwich in the brick oven. For sides, they offered us both a homemade German-style potato salad they had left over from the dinners they served the night before. Although the presentation was nothing to look at, the food sure looked good.
And it was good. My shaved prime rib sandwich had great flavor to it. The Gorgonzola cheese offered a nice after taste to the beef. And Cindy really liked her BLT. She's been really high on eating natural and homegrown foods as of late. She was certainly not disappointed with her sandwich.
Our bill with tip came to about $40 bucks. No, it certainly wasn't cheap, but the food was good and the experience was very nice. Cindy was happy and that's all that mattered. Besides, we were on vacation and we wanted to splurge a bit. The Washington Hotel was a great destination on Washington Island. If you ever get to the island, be sure to stop by and have something to eat.