Halfway between the snowy slopes of Mount Rainier and the lowlands of Puget Sound, the quiet town of Eatonville tucks into the Cascade foothills—but with something new churning in the middle. A water wheel some 20 feet high, built of reclaimed wood the local owner found around his own property, rotates on the grounds of the Mill Haus Cider Company. The incongruous installation instantly gives rustic charm to a new business.
Steve Schmidt has brewed cider for years, only recently joining his son and several Eatonville partners to open the taproom and several pavilions in the center of Eatonville. With firepits (and propane heaters) dotting the landscaped grounds, it serves as outdoor gathering space even in winter, when Seattleites flock to nearby Mount Rainier National Park for sledding and snow play. In summer, the stream of visitors through town only grows.
The inspiration, strangely enough for a landlocked little town, is from the water, says Mel Baublits, wife of one of the partners. "Steve has a sailboat, and he likes to go out on the water and hang out and eat good food," she says. "That's kind of his vision for the space." And already the crowd includes locals, every outdoor seat filling even on the crisp days of early winter.
It helps that Mill Haus opens with a significant menu, including a slate of ciders. Apples come from Central and Eastern Washington, and the signature dry Haus Cider has already seen success in local competitions. A huckleberry version features a classic Northwest berry, while a ginger lemongrass stands out as the most creative. Several Washington beers are on tap as well.
But it's the food that makes the complex such a welcome addition to Eatonville; besides creative flatbreads and street tacos, dinner options include a selection of sliders made from Hawaiian sweet rolls. A burnt-ends version, the pork ends soaked in spicy-sweet gochujang sauce and a thick slaw, is divine finger food.
Mill Haus, named for the lumber mill that one formed the center of town, hosts live music almost every night in an indoor stage; the tap room itself is a cozy cabin-style space, with wood beams at dramatic angles above and a stone firepit in the corner. The owners currently make the cider a few buildings away but plan to add their production facility to the complex. But most dramatically—and helpfully, in the age of Covid—are the two covered patios and covered outdoor stage.
Schmidt and company quickly turned Eatonville into a road-trip destination with the small cidery, thanks to the picturesque grounds and a menu broad enough to mean either dinner or snacks. It may have the indulgent feeling of floating on a sailboat, just a heck of a lot more social.
303 Center St, Eatonville
Travel time from Seattle: 1 hour, 15 minutes