Billed on its website as “new American comfort food with an international flair,” Saltine is the latest eatery to open in the Arts District of Bellingham, Washington. Walking into the restaurant I was curious as to how this type of cuisine would hit the plate, but now I know, now I understand it. As I stared out the open veranda on a perfect sunny day, sipped on an Aperol Spritz and nibbled on salmon carpaccio, it all made perfect sense.
What Saltine does so well is make you feel like you’re in two places at once, in a coherent and harmonious manner. For me, I was transported back to Venice, Italy — this exact time a year ago I walked the Venetian streets indulging in more Aperol than should be legally allowed. You could say today’s instance was slightly different, I restricted myself to one glass, which was delicious, but the most important part? I didn’t feel weird ordering it.
You see, if you don’t live in Bellingham, or haven’t traveled here, I’ll let you in on a little secret: it’s a beer town. Bellingham has a burgeoning beer scene that continues to grow by the second, with cider climbing just behind it. So, to have a place where I can sit down, order a spritz, feel like it is par for the course and have all this happen only 10 minutes from my house? Well, that is truly fantastic.
The space itself is very welcoming. It isn’t too big, nor too small, and the sun reflects nicely off the white-walled interior. The say the hearth is the heart of the home; it seems as though Saltine is the new heart of Bellingham’s Arts District, one of the first restaurants to pop up in an area of the city experiencing revitalization.
The week-old restaurant run by Chef Craig Serbousek and his wife, Valerie Markus, hits all the right notes, from the Venetian-inspired snacks to the already-popular fried green olives served with yogurt and salsa verde, the menu is interesting and affordable. And to think they almost didn’t have a fryer: Markus says it was a point of contention when the couple first purchased the space. When setting up the kitchen, Serbousek didn’t know if they had enough room, but she said she had to have one, and I’d have to imagine the hordes of new customers are glad she did.
Saltine’s menu options really are accommodating to whatever you desire. Not feeling Italian tonight? No problem. Grab the traditionally French fish stew dish, bouillabaisse, which combines halibut, shrimp, mussels, clams and fennel pollen, then pair it with a glass of Sauvignon Blanc from the Loire Valley. If you aren’t hungry and opt to solely drink, the selection of cocktails has something for everyone — the Mexican-inspired Mayan Mule is a great place to start, reposado tequila, lime juice, ginger beer and bitters, served on the rocks.
It didn’t take long, but now I understand the culinary concept: “new American comfort food with an international flair.” There couldn’t be a better descriptor for what the Seattle transplants have given Bellingham.