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Perfectly outfitted: pines, pints, pizza

By Megan Lisagor
Globe Correspondent / August 28, 2011

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BAINBRIDGE ISLAND, Wash. - It would take a special place to get me to board a plane for a 10-hour flight from Paris with a squirmy toddler and in my fifth month of pregnancy. Bainbridge Island, where my parents moved in 2004, has that pull, and family is not the only reason to go.

A 35-minute ferry ride from Seattle, the island makes the perfect side trip for travelers to the rainy city, which shows its sunny side in the summer months. At 28 square miles, Bainbridge just outsizes Manhattan, but counts a million fewer residents. With endless evergreens for skyscrapers, it maintains a local feel, thanks to conservation efforts and a town center served by small businesses (count the independent coffee shops). Visitors can eat and drink well, after a day spent hiking or paddling along the briny Puget Sound. It’s the perfect antidote to jet lag and Elmo-induced mommy brain.

5 p.m.: Seaside stroll

Head for Fort Ward State Park (www.parks.wa.gov), a picturesque bike ride or drive from the ferry’s landing point in Winslow. The 137-acre marine property - and former military stomping grounds - always puts me in a Northwest state of mind: fairy-tale forest, rock-strewn beaches, views of the Olympic Mountains.

I like to continue my stroll through the bordering neighborhoods, which offer a vicarious taste of waterfront living and an occasional glimpse of sunbathing seals. Please e-mail me if the white-brick house with light-blue shutters is for sale.

7 p.m.: Pizza and pool

Eat dinner nearby at Treehouse Café (4569 Lynwood Center Road, NE; 206-842-2814; www.treehousebainbridge.com), a popular pizza place where bicycles and jogging strollers compete for space on the patio. Farm-fresh toppings like bean sprouts and carrots are par for the course on an island where enough residents raise chickens for an annual “Tour de Coop.’’ I prefer the sausage-laden Old Mill, with feta, garlic, and roasted red peppers (10-inch $14; 12-inch $18; 16-inch $22), or the meatball sub ($9). Finish a pitcher of Pike Place Ale ($17) while playing pool or darts by the bar. Depending on the night, live music is on tap.

9 a.m.: Funky fresh

Bainbridge has a happy, hippie vibe - the most visible graffiti declares, “dream,’’ and the neighborhood grocer sells reusable diapers - that is best observed at the Saturday farmers’ market (www.bainbridgefarmersmarket.com). While wandering past the stalls of wildflowers and goat cheese, dig into a made-to-order omelet or a blueberry scone. If the timing doesn’t work, grab breakfast at one of the numerous coffee shops, including the espresso bar at the florist Flowering Around (200 Winslow Way, West; 206-842-0620; www.floweringaround.com). (Quirky pairings are the norm: A tailor works out of the kayak store.)

10 a.m: Water world

The prevalence of Chacos here isn’t just a misguided fashion statement. The outdoorsy sandals, like the countless kayaks, reflect the emphasis on water sports. But you don’t need to be a card-carrying REI member to join the fun. Back of Beyond Outfitters (Waterfront Park; 206-780-7929, rental barge; www.tothebackofbeyond.com) rents singles and doubles ($15, $22; up to an hour) from its dockside location where even novices can explore Eagle Harbor with a little upper-arm strength. Pushing past the marina’s slips, paddlers cruise by birds, sailboats, and the ferry, as Seattle’s skyline shimmers in the far distance. Not bad scenery at any skill level.

Noon: Pint-sized

I’m a big fan of après-paddle at the waterfront Harbour Public House (231 Parfitt Way, SW; 206-842-0969; www.harbourpub.com) in an airy building dating to 1881. The cheerful bartenders mix a mean margarita ($9.25) in a pint glass, in addition to pouring Washington wines, ciders, and beers. The menu offers upscale pub grub like a tasty chickpea melt ($9.95) and grilled salmon sandwich ($14.95). An entire section is devoted to poutine ($8.95-$12.95), although I prefer the fries at Pegasus (131 Parfitt Way, SW; 206-842-6725; www.pegasuscoffeehouse.com) down the hill. That coffee shop-cum-cafe shares the same owners and welcomes children, while the pub remains adults-only. Blame the tequila.

2 p.m: No reserves

If Gatsby needed a retreat on the West Coast, the 150-acre estate once occupied by the Bloedel family would make a stunner of a party pad. The reserve named for them (7571 NE Dolphin Drive; 206-842-7631; www.bloedelreserve.org; $13 adults; $5 ages 13-18; free under 13) combines wild woodlands with manicured gardens, including an ode to moss and a reflection pool. Follow the main trail through the forest, where ducks swim in lush ponds. On weekends the reserve hosts concerts (prices vary) in the Bloedels’ former backyard, perched high above the sound. Volunteers pass petit fours as the crowd gathers to hear classical or jazz music. Alas, no finger bowls of champagne.

4 p.m: Cooped up

Need some candles, cookbooks, and a wheelbarrow? Bay Hay and Feed (10355 NE Valley Road; 206-842-2813; www.bayhayandfeed.com), a combination nursery and farm store, is the place to go. Not in the market for livestock supplies myself, I return more for the charm factor - Dr. Earth Alfafa Meal and pajamas under the same roof - than to shop. Although it’s hard to leave without a namesake sweatshirt, the easiest way to fake looking like a local (along with buying a roll of chicken coop). Islanders caffeinate next door at the closet-sized Rolling Bay Café (10355 NE Valley Road; 206-842-2364), which brews coffee roasted on Bainbridge.

5 p.m: Wine not

Much to my surprise, Bainbridge has suddenly become a hotbed of viticulture. It wasn’t long ago that a visit to the lone vineyard elicited more giggles than sighs from my father and me. We left with a used book but no vino. Now eight wineries operate on the island, several with tasting rooms. Eleven (287 Winslow Way, East; 206-780-0905; www.elevenwinery.com) on Winslow’s main strip has a very drinkable 2010 Roussanne ($24) and 2008 Malbec ($33), according to my dad (pregnancy put a damper on my firsthand reporting). With grapes coming from eastern Washington, perhaps the movement has legs.

7 p.m: Ever reliable

Trendier restaurants have opened on Bainbridge, but the Four Swallows (481 Madison Ave.; 206-842-3397; www.fourswallows.com) remains my favorite. Diners have their pick among cozy rooms, an enclosed porch, or a deck at the old farmhouse. The menu changes daily but broadly features northwest Italian cuisine, beginning with addictive focaccia. On a recent visit, I started with a cheese plate ($13), accompanied by pepper, olive, and walnut pesto. From there, I enjoyed a lemony arugula salad ($9) followed by a juicy lamb burger ($18) with tzatziki. It’s always simple perfection, with service to match the charming surroundings.

9 p.m: Sweet spot

If I had to pick between dinner and ice cream at Mora (139 Madrone Lane; 206-855-1112; www.moraicecream.com), dessert would win every time. The from-scratch sweet ($3.59, one scoop in a dish, sugar cone, or cake cup) comes in fun flavors like lavender and goat cheese with fig, drawing a crowd regardless of the weather. I’m partial to blackberry (the fruit grows on Bainbridge), while my parents favor dulce de leche. Mora’s owners hail from Buenos Aires, which explains the superiority of their version over other impostors. Word is that they plan to expand nationally; invest early.

10 a.m: Fork it over

Newcomer Fork & Spoon is more of a good thing from the couple behind Blackbird Bakery, just around the corner. Unfortunately, the two spots don’t share a kitchen, which explains the trays of oatmeal bread being shuttled back and forth. Order a latte ($2.15, 8 oz.; $2.40, 12 oz.) at Blackbird and bring it to breakfast at Fork & Spoon (120 Madrone Lane; 206-842-3675) - perhaps a croissant sammie ($4.50) with ham, herbed goat cheese, and chutney, or polenta with roasted veggies ($4.95). Don’t leave without a piece of the chocolate cake ($4.75, slice) - so beautiful it belongs in a Wayne Thiebaud painting.

Megan Lisagor can be reached at mlisagor@yahoo.com.

If You Go

Where to stay
The Eagle Harbor Inn
291 Madison Ave., South
206-842-1446
www.theeagleharborinn.com
This boutique hotel, just steps from the marina, contains five modern suites with marble bathrooms. $149-$199.
Kellerman Creek B&B
10220 Northeast Roberts Road
206-855-8081
www.kellermancreek.com
Caterer Jean Kellerman runs this bed-and-breakfast - a cozy studio apartment on her property - featuring a homemade breakfast that might include French toast with berry sauce or vegetable frittata. $145.
Information
Bainbridge Island Chamber of Commerce
395 Winslow Way, East
206-842-3700
www.brainbridgechamber.com