Brewing up quality

Say 'I do' to North Fork's beer, food, chapel

Stacee Sledge

Nov 20, 2003 — Mount Baker skiers have known it for years: the North Fork Brewery in Deming serves excellent eats and even better brew.

This past Saturday afternoon found my husband and myself at the door of The North Fork. Although the majority of multi-colored fall foliage had already fallen, the drive from Bellingham along scenic Mount Baker Highway still entertained us with gorgeous vistas of the mountain range.

From the road, your eye might skim over the brewery's building, seeing simply a run-of-the-mill tavern, but The North Fork offers so much more.

Simply look at the large sign that sprouts out of the gravel drive, and you'll see that it's comprised of a brewery, pizzeria, beer shrine and wedding chapel.

First and foremost is the brew.

One of the smallest breweries on the West Coast, North Fork's brew house impresses with its output, serving a variety of fermented flavors. The detailed beer menu describes each of the potent pick-me-ups in great detail, including its taste, aroma, hue, heft, alcohol by weight and more.

My husband ordered the dry stout, a beer that offers malt and caramel flavors mixed with a distinct finish of dry-roasted bitterness. I went with the younger crowd's favorite, a delicious root beer.

The North Fork Brewery

Location: 6186 Mount Baker Highway, Deming

Phone: (360) 599-BEER (2337)

Hours: 3 p.m. to 10 p.m., Monday through Friday 
Noon to 11 p.m., Saturday and Sunday

Menu items sampled: Artichoke jalapeno dip $6 
Spicy meatball grinder $7.75 
House lasagne $8.50 
Root beer $1.50 
Dry stout $3.25

The only beer you can buy at the North Fork Brewery is brewed on the premises. Choose from a rotating assortment of beers, including Son of Frog English-style ale, Special Bitter, Strong Scotch Ale and its most popular, India Pale Ale.

Historically, North Fork has operated solely as a brew pub, but it recently began selling kegs to downtown Bellingham's Nimbus Restaurant.

Next is the beer shrine.

Separating the non-smoking dining room from the main bar and dining area, the shrine is made of glassed-in shelves that display row upon row of every beer bottle you could ever imagine. The brewery's Web site, www.northforkbrewery.com, boasts of more than 90 years of beer collectibles enshrined here — one glance and you don't doubt it.

Other beer memorabilia fills the rustic decor, including dozens of mounted beer pulls on one wall.

And, of course, there's the food.

North Fork's pizza is built upon a crust made daily with specialty flour, olive oil and — of course — beer. The result is a thin, hand-tossed, toothy delight.

Build your own pie by first choosing either a zesty marinara or olive oil and garlic base. Sauce is a serious subject at the North Fork, a careful mix of tomatoes and fresh spices simmered to bring out a balanced blend of mellow flavors.

A variety of toppings comes next, including house toppers like pepperoni, garlic, salami, spinach and salami to specialty items like anchovies, artichoke hearts, sun-dried tomatoes, roasted garlic and feta cheese.

Each pie is hand-tossed, baked and set atop a silver stand on your blue-and-white checked tablecloth by, judging from our experience, the friendliest server this side of the Cascades.

You can order a simple slice of cheese or pepperoni pizza, as well.

Touted mainly as a pizzeria, The North Fork also offers a plethora of non-pizza pleasures, including its popular spicy ale steamer clams.

My husband and I started our meal last Saturday afternoon with an appetizer of artichoke jalapeno dip. We expected a warm dip, but were pleasantly surprised to be served a cold concoction, hummus-like in its texture and utterly delectable.

A heaping bowl of tangy artichoke mingled with spicy jalapeno, garnished with verdant slices of scallion and a dusting of paprika. Surrounding the bowl was a massive moat of blue corn tortilla chips.

Soon after we finished our appetizer, our entrees arrived. Our smiling server placed them in front of us, glanced at my husband's waning pint glass to check on his "fuel level," and then left us to it.

My spicy meatball grinder was gargantuan, sharing the plate with a handful of crunchy potato chips I never got to and a garnish of pepperoncini.

Each half of the freshly baked panette was drizzled in balsamic: the bottom portion smothered in spicy meatballs, savory marinara sauce, fresh melted mozzarella and curls of onion and green bell pepper; the top half covered in hatch marks of freshly grated parmesan cheese, baked to a pleasing crisp.

The sandwich was far too big to actually pick up and eat, so I dug in with knife and fork. It was the best spicy meatball sandwich I've ever had, hands down, and far too much food for one sitting.

My husband's house lasagne was equally impressive. The bright garnet sauce was stunning, a sneak preview of the delightful dish's taste. Robust and fresh, the sensational sauce made a savory setting for layers of delicious lasagne built of noodles, portabella mushrooms, almond-basil pesto and Italian sausage. The rim of the platter held triangles of soft bread, ideal for sopping up every last drop of sauce.

Our meal ended with two crisp fortune cookies and a tab that was fantastically low for all that we had just consumed.

And don't forget, you can also get hitched at The North Fork.

My husband teased for weeks that we would renew our wedding vows on our trip to the charming restaurant. After all, it has an ordained minister on the premises, legally appointed to perform nuptials, holy unions or commitment ceremonies.

But the closest we got to matrimony was a large bachelorette party — one with a flowing veil pinned to her head, in direct opposition to the simple sweater and jeans she was wearing — who came in after we had ordered our meal and made the small dining room feel much smaller.

Our gracious server surprised us by comping our drinks and thanked us for being such good sports, but the group of girls was well-behaved. The girls' unexpected presence in the small space put a different spin on our hopes for a low-key Saturday afternoon meal, but they also provided some good laughs.

It might be easy to envision The North Fork's chapel service as a joke, but the proprietors take it quite seriously. Ceremonies are personalized and couples encouraged to have input. A variety of faiths can be acknowledged for every service. The chapel itself is tastefully decorated, and in the summer months you can get married in the restaurant's charming, cozy backyard.

As if food, beer and marriage weren't enough, The North Fork Brewery also offers catering. Whether you're throwing a casual get together or a high-end affair, the folks at North Fork can take care of all the details from the dιcor to the menu. Or, if your budget is too tight for the all-out job, order platters of food for pick up or delivery.

The next time you make the trek to the top of Mount Baker, plan a stopover at the North Fork Brewery. Famished, parched or both, it has plenty to please — from pizza to pilsner to nuptials.

The Fine Print: I dine on my own dime. The opinions herein are mine alone, not The Bellingham Herald's. Agree? Disagree? Please drop me a line at StaceeSledge@hotmail.com.

 

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