It’s fairly early in the morning when Nick Coffey wakes up in his new Lopez Island dwelling. He heads out the door to Ursa Minor, the restaurant he opened in April. On his way in he may stop somewhere for a few restaurant essentials: plucking some cherry blossoms that later will become dessert or grabbing some beef tallow at a farm stand or perhaps even foraging for nettles—apparently there’s a nice nettle spot near the ferries. Such is the daily commute for a chef on Lopez, though he says every day is different. Maybe he picks up a wine delivery. Maybe local fisherman-farmer-keeper-of-shellfish Nick Jones drops by with some spot prawns.
Before landing on Lopez, Coffey had worked in many a Seattle restaurant kitchen over the years: Bastille, Sitka and Spruce, and Cafe Barjot. Then, just last summer, Coffey helped open Ciudad in Georgetown with Marcus Lalario and former boss Matt Dillion. Yet, the Seattle chef wanted to open a place of his own and kept thinking of Lopez Island as its future locale. After his Kickstarter campaign surpassed its goal, Coffey did just that.
Now at 210 Lopez Road, the former Haven Kitchen and Bar address has morphed into Ursa Minor. The bright, sun-washed space boasts lofty ceilings and views of the Salish Sea. Tables are set with colored glassware made by Greg Clark and dinner plates handmade by ceramic artist Natasha Alphonse. Coffey does things with care, not fuss, and makes a point to procure dining ware the same as he would produce.
Though the menu has around a dozen dishes, it evolves and changes a little bit each day. “We bought five bunches of radishes last week. It was on the menu one night and the next night it was off,” says Coffey. Sourcing from farmers within the parameters of an island can do that to a menu, which is exactly how the chef stays creative.
As of late that creativity means experimenting with acids beyond the usual citrus.“We've been juicing a lot of rhubarb and using that,” Coffey explains, “There's a really great goat farmer up here and we get a bunch of whey from them every week; we reduce that down so it's even more acidic.” Flowering stems of arugula shoots are grilled and dressed with tallow and said rhubarb juice, then finished with dried scallop shavings.
Coffey knows that with few restaurants on the island, many people often cook at home and use local ingredients too. So he wants to do right by those ingredients in a different way, like serving raw prawns with green juice, caraway, and fermented Brussels sprouts. There's halibut and pork loin and lamb, too. Coffey doesn't get overly cerebral about it. He says he just wants to make Lopez proud.
“The people of Lopez really love their island. It's a small community where most people know each other,” he says, adding,“Many people that I've interacted with feel as if this is their restaurant as well—and that's what I wanted to do.”
Ursa Minor is open Thursday through Sunday, from 5 until 9.