On most Wednesday nights you’ll find me at A’Town Bistro. Why? Let the menu lead the way; Made-to-Order Clam Chowder, Hand-Cut French Fries, Local Peel and Eat Prawns, Dungeness Crab Cakes, Alaskan Arctic Char, CAB Ribeye Steak. But, there is more to it than that. Since it opened in 2011, A’Town, as the locals call it, has become a welcomed addition to the ever-growing restaurant scene in Anacortes. Outside, a touch of Pacific Northwest humor greets you in the flower bed with a small sign that says “Free Range Escargot.” Inside, orange flames flicker in a two-sided fireplace and a room with natural wood tones and white walls transports you to a place of contentment. You want to sit down, set aside your cell phone, cast aside your worries, and enjoy your meal with friends and family.
I first meet L.M. Libby, the owner of A’Town Bistro, when I moved here seven years ago. As we chatted in the back patio of the Brown Lantern I was immediately struck by her inquisitive eyes, partially hidden by a baseball cap, and her East Coast accent still noticeable after many years of living and working as a chef and restaurateur in the Pacific Northwest. Our conversation naturally drifted to Alaska, a place we both spent time in. She told me about her trips to Sitka, where she volunteered as a chef to a group of women who traveled to Alaska each year to fish. I told her about my years on an island in the Aluetian Chain, working for Trident Seafoods. Naturally, our conversation shifted from our experiences on those islands to the one we live on now. In Anacortes, Libby found the quality of life she desired for her children and was thankful to call the Skagit Valley with its bountiful farm fields, fresh fish and beauty, home. As we talked, I noticed she had a way of being both humorous and sincere that personified her view of the world. The more we talked, the more I admired her. Today, it doesn’t surprise me, that A’Town Bistro is an extension of what I noticed that day.
To run any restaurant one needs a good manager and Libby found one in Timothy Moffitt. Over the years Libby admired his drive, focus and welcoming demeanor; essential qualities to run the front of the house. Together, Libby and Moffit, create the perfect foodie team and encourage folks “to come as they are” and relax in “understated elegance” at earth toned hand-made wooden tables or the bar made of recycled wood. One look inside the windows and it’s easy to be drawn in. The design for A’Town Bistro was inspired by Libby’s Maine upbringing where trips to the waterfront and nature were part of her everyday life, plus the elements of birth, “fire, stone and wood.” Libby explains that these elements keep people grounded and she wanted to create a restaurant that would be important to future generations and the community. Libby and her crew took this concept one step further by choosing recycled wood, buying used equipment from re-stores and selecting organic material over new products. The final result is a cozy and warm atmosphere that begs to be lingered in.
One of the key components to A’Town Bistro’s success is its devotion to being a locavore. Nationwide, the concept of eating and buying local has been steadily growing over the past few years. More and more people want to know where their food is coming from and how it is being cultivated. Libby, as the past president of the Anacortes Farmers Market, has taken this concept to heart and strives to serve food that is grown, raised or caught locally. The relationships she’s established with vendors are honored on a large chalkboard near the entrance. About twenty businesses are on this list; Dan the Mushroom guy, Hedlin Farms, Bret Andrich the Shrimp Guy, Snowgoose Produce, Kirk the Fisherman, Taylor Shellfish, and many more. Promoting local farmers is continued throughout the restaurant with pictures of Skagit farmlands, a “Buy Local” sunflower print and my personal favorite, the black and white photo of Billy from Moondance Farms holding Swiss chard in his hands.
Libby’s “rustic, scratch” menu combines her childhood days of going down to the docks with her parents to buy fresh seafood with the “Old World” food her Irish/French family served and her own style. Almost everything is made from scratch, like the hand-cut French fries, sauces, smoked meats, Mozzarella cheese, and fish stock which is made from crab shells from Anacortes, and many other items. In their custom smoker they smoke ribeye, pork tenderloin, chicken and the cured meats on the Charcuterie Board. Local items change seasonally and the menu changes with it. One of my personal favorites is the Butternut Squash Ravioli and the Beet Salad. To date, I’ve had this three different ways, each dances on my taste buds. Balance is important to Libby and she has taken the time to create a menu with a little bit of something for everyone. Vegetarians might choose the Tuscan Angel Hair Pasta, Grilled Eggplant Stack and the Quinoa Salad, while meat eaters might go for the Pork New York, Pan Seared Frenched Chicken Breast or CAB Ribeye Steak, and fish eaters the Fresh Alaskan Artic Char or Greek Sautéed Squid. There are also Gleuten-free items and the chefs will gladly prepare a meal to dietary needs. The dessert menu continues to indulge with Tres Leches Cake with Local Strawberries and Hand Whipped Cream, Gateau au Chocolate, Crème Brûlée and a Guinness Stout Float. The daily Happy Hour has several tempting items including Spicy Nuts, Herbed Flat Bread, Truffle Fries, the Wild Boar Burger and offers several beers on tap, wine and cocktails.
Moffit is the genius behind the cocktail menu which is inspired by his affection for libations during the 1800’s to 1900’s. His signature classic creations reflect the innovation and experimentation of cocktails during the influx of immigrants to America who brought European spirits, bitters, tonics and elixirs from the Old County. The scratch menu continues behind the bar with hand-made juices, simple syrups and infusions. Even the cherries are hand pitted. The spirits menu includes several tasty drinks, such as, Caprinha, Brazil’s national drink made with Leblon Cachaça rum, muddled lime, sugar cube and agave nectar, created in 1918, and the Classic Daiquiri, a mixture of Cruzan aged rum, lime juice and simple syrup, created sometime during the Spanish-American War. Moffitt believes that creating a balanced cocktail is much like art and that “once one learns the basics and classics, it opens a whole new door for exploring and creating.”
Finding that perfect balance is what Moffitt and Libby strive for with their creations behind the bar and in the kitchen. This passion is passed on to the staff and everyone is encouraged to understand the ingredients on both menus. The wait staff “does homework” to learn about the beverages and food. Each time a new dish or drink is prepared it’s shared with the team and everyone gets to taste the flavors, deconstruct it and learn why it made it on the menu. A big part of this is Libby’s ability to empower people to be at their best. She is a natural-born leader. A quality I noticed when I first met her. You want to hear what she has to say, you want to learn from her and you want to “work with integrity.” Libby’s developed what she calls a “teaching kitchen” where she hones the skills of her staff by pulling them out of their weaknesses, gives them room to express their talents and develops their strengths, which creates an atmosphere of success for everyone.
I have to admit, the moment I took my first bite A’Town Bistro became one of my favorite restaurants in Anacortes. At the time I didn’t realize why. Now I do. It’s the perfect balance. By striving to maintain a hundred mile or less locavore philosophy Libby has tapped into the cornucopia of home-grown produce and product in the Pacific Northwest, a value which also sustains local growers and our larger community. With so much thought going into how food is obtained, prepared and served it doesn’t surprise me that the same attention to detail went into creating A’Town’s Bistro’s friendly and cozy atmosphere. Because of this, I believe Libby when she says A’Town Bistro was built “with the community in mind.”