The beef in that Bolognese is local and grass-fed; the vegetables, 100 percent organic. More than half of the dishes on the menu designate dietary specs; “veg” for vegetarian, “v” for vegan, or “gf” for gluten-free; most, notes the menu, can be made “dairy/egg free” or—here’s a first—“anti-inflammatory.” (Must be what they serve the restaurant critics.) “Cooking that way is huge for us on Vashon, so it’s become second nature,” says Sontgerath.
It’s home cooking the way we would have eaten in the ’50s had fresh vegetables been invented yet. Salads feature great ratios and bright, substantial dressings; pizzas, robust toppings like fresh mozzarella and pesto oil on thin Armenian-cracker bread crusts; burgers, thick balls of boutique beef embellished with grilled shiitakes, jack cheese, and onion marmalade.
At its finest all this good nutrition tastes good and wicked, though it does occasionally dead-end into virtue. You want your buttermilk fried chicken to require some penance, after all; 50 North’s version—insanely popular on Vashon—is flash-fried, then baked, and therefore greaseless. The flour breading was wan; the mashed potatoes and gravy not decadent enough to lift the experience. When the most craveable portion of a fried chicken plate is the side of purple, orange, and yellow carrots over juicy greens—you know you’ve left the old paradigm.
In this way, 50 North is actually pioneering radical territory: presenting the rarefied foodie model of sustainable sourcing and vegcentric cooking in a package aimed at everyman. Its smartest strategy to that end is an unflagging attention to flavors and textures. Sustainably caught seared salmon was crusted with pistachios and served on organic leek and fennel sauce, then drizzled with a tart cherry gastrique. Seared sea scallops arrived on a bed of warm chard and kale, over a brisk, chili-seasoned ratatouille of carrots, squash, apples, purple potatoes, and onions. Good for you, check. But also…plain good.
Lastly, on the subject of enjoyment: 50 North’s desserts. On three visits we dove headlong into big square slices of fluffy banana cream pie with chocolate cookie crusts; gooey helpings of molten, not-too-sweet chocolate cake; coconut cream pies thickly topped with cream. “This apple pie was made this morning, with nine apples!” one of several great waiters announced proudly, setting a generous wedge before me.
The slice rested supine on the plate, a towering thing, with a thick and supple crust and—as billed—a lot of apples. I swear I could taste all nine.