Visit a bakery and a bookstore in downtown Mount Vernon. Cathy McDonald visits the Calico Cupboard bakery and Easton's Books.
If you’re a typical human being, you like bakeries. If you’re a typical Puget Sounder, you like bookstores. This is the third installment in a series taking readers on day trips to Western Washington towns where a bakery and a bookstore can be found within a short walk. This visit: Mount Vernon.
Outside of Tulip Festival weekends each April, Mount Vernon is a sleepy agricultural center on the Skagit River just off Interstate 5, on the way to many summer destinations. Its old downtown has several nice gift and antique stores, a large and rather fancy food co-op, and the historic Lincoln Theater. A riverfront farmers market runs on Saturdays from late May to mid-October from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.
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The goodies: This well-loved local bakery/cafe is popular for breakfast and lunch. As a variation on “everything is good,” several locals told me solemnly that “there isn’t anything that isn’t good.” The place is famous for its cinnamon rolls, but there was also high praise for the lemon sour-cream pie and Key lime pie. Items rare on menus these days also got raves — such as apple dumplings and bread pudding.
The ambience: The cafe is in a former feed store, complete with wooden floors, high ceilings and massive ceiling beams. It has a homey Grandma’s kitchen-meets-fern bar ambience; the cavernous downstairs enjoys a happy din of conversation, while the upstairs balcony that overlooks the first floor is a quieter scene.
What makes it special: Linda Freed opened the original cafe in La Conner 30 years ago, followed by branches in Anacortes and then here (most of the baked goods are made in the Anacortes kitchen and delivered every morning). The food is made from scratch with fresh-milled, organically grown whole-grain and unbleached flours. They also offer some gluten-free items, such as bread, muffins, and cookies, about which they’ve gotten “tons and tons of positive feedback,” according to manager Norvel Rogers.
The recipes you’ll wish you had: My friend Laure, from Anacortes, met me here for a taste test, bringing her old grad-school buddy Mike, visiting from Florida. He demurred on helping us select goodies as he “wasn’t much for desserts.” We ordered an apple dumpling, a slice of Key lime pie, and a cream-cheese-frosted cinnamon roll. All were pricey but massive.
Although we all decided the cinnamon roll was “really, really good,” the other two items blew by it like Secretariat in the homestretch. “This is an amazing dessert right there,” said the Man Who Didn’t Like Desserts, pointing with his spoon at the warm dumpling with flaky to-die-for crust as it coyly oozed juice. As for the Key lime pie, I privately resolved to come back and devour a slice all by myself as soon as possible.
The books: This large store holds 70,000 books (plus another 10,000 in the back, set aside for their online book business). Known for its mountaineering, nautical and philosophy collections, the store also had ample natural history, travel, and Northwest and Americana sections. Laure was in search of an elusive novel set in the Hoh rain forest (“If they have it, this store’s good,” she muttered as we entered). She found the title, along with an irresistible 1927 book of translated French nursery rhymes with beautiful color illustrations and accompanying music for under $10.
All the store’s titles are used (they buy books for either cash or store credit), and most books seem to be at least half off the original price ($9.95 was common).
The ambience: The store occupies a 100-year-old building, with tall wooden bookcases that soar overhead. This may be the tidiest used bookstore I’ve ever been in, and, as Laure whispered, “It doesn’t even smell like a used bookstore.” There were just a few wooden chairs and step stools — no comfy upholstered chairs — but you can always plunk down on the carpeted floor to inspect your selection.
What makes it special: Dave Cornelius, who with his wife, Dianna, has owned the place for 35 years, knows his huge inventory — when asked about particular titles, he either found it, checked his online selection or knew he didn’t have it.
Titles you won’t find just anywhere: I rifled through a huge collection of vintage pamphlets that included a 1943 booklet published by the Extension Service of the State College of Washington and the Washington State Defense Council with detailed instructions on how to plant your own Victory Garden. Cornelius said that several collectors thought of buying the entire pamphlet collection, but then concluded that they “wouldn’t have anything left to look for.”
Another downtown used bookstore: The Tattered Page (514 S. First St., 360-419-7278).
Cathy McDonald, a Renton-based freelance writer, regularly writes the Walkabout column for NWWeekend.