Mountain Menu

Leavenworth's Dining Scene Finally Transcends Kitsch

Forget the giant pretzel: The Bavarian town's food landscape levels up in unexpected ways.

By Allison Williams April 3, 2023 Published in the Summer 2023 issue of Seattle Met

Image: Solji Lee

A classic twisted soft pretzel, dunked in cheese and served on a wood platter. Then a foot-wide version dotted with salt, one that requires two hands to hold. After that, soft pretzel sticks in a basket. Behold the definitive cuisine of Leavenworth, at least according to the Amazon Prime movie filmed there last year, Somebody I Used to Know. Star Alison Brie eats her way through town on screen, noshing on nothing but pretzel after carb-laden pretzel.

Fair enough. Nothing about Leavenworth’s modern state—The Sound of Music on steroids—suggests much more than German stereotypes. Thing is, the condiment bar at bratwurst stand Munchen Haus (garlic mustard, honey mustard, sweet and sour mustard, and so on) sits only yards from some of the finest Washington dining east of the Cascades. Hold the mustard.

At Larch, Ben Herreid’s celebration of homemade pasta, dishes feature plants and fungi gathered from the mountains around town. He can’t take the mushroom ravioli off the menu without complaints—he sold it at farmers markets before he debuted his own brick-and-mortar—but he can also twist noodles into a dozen different forms. Campanelle made with a bronze die press or macaroni done Cajun style, pastas stained with beets or squid ink. 

For all the delicacy, however, the pastas still arrive in massive mounds, servings guaranteed to deliver leftovers—even if tourists have no fridges for them. The taxidermied head of a mountain goat overlooks the bar, part of a mountaineering theme that salutes the required German vibe without delving too deep. Places like Larch have to straddle two worlds, echoing the restraints of fine dining while sitting in a goofy year-round Oktoberfest.

For all its celebratory whimsy, Leavenworth’s roots have always held firm to the practicalities of industry. When the Great Northern Railway aimed a track down the Wenatchee Valley around the turn of the twentieth century, a settlement was named for Oregon businessman Charles Leavenworth as he snapped up acreage here, just before sharp peaks give way to rolling hills and farmland. But then the mining and timber boom faded, and nearby Wenatchee, with its more manageable terrain and Columbia River access, plucked business and population from Leavenworth. 

The little town fell into disrepair until the 1960s rebrand as a Bavarian village in hopes of drawing tourists. First came the flower boxes and wood-beam architecture, and then, to feed the hordes who came, the pretzels. But shifts in the tourism industry, toward an authenticity that’s the utter opposite of Leavenworth’s manufactured kitsch, could topple the town as surely as when the timber biz took a turn. It’s why something sleek hides just behind the cuckoo clock aesthetic of Front Street: luxury. It’s the Posthotel’s indulgent $650-per-night spa retreat, or Mana Restaurant’s airy dining room decked in neutrals, where diners gather for a single nightly seating.

Dan Fiske certainly knows the world of upscale; he toiled as a private chef in Maui for years before landing in Leavenworth. But by recalling a favorite from visits to Fiji, he found a way to connect something delicate with the demands of big crowds. Yodelin Broth Company, the restaurant he opened with roommates from culinary school, wasn’t named for yodeling, but rather for a now-shuttered ski area near Stevens Pass.

The patio at Yodelin Broth Company is far from the sea, despite its seafood menu.

And his soups aren’t really mountain-minded at all: Consider the fish bone broth made from wild halibut caught off Northwest shores. The signature dish adds a yellow coconut curry and udon noodles, a cozy delivery of a range of flavors. The menu evokes Hawaii with rice bowls and Hood Canal in its oyster selection, all dishes served quickly even as they encourage slow appreciation.

Around town, hints of depth blend into the easy indulgence of a vacation destination. What they call “million-dollar meatloaf” at Watershed Cafe sounds like a diner special, but its cabernet–and–green peppercorn herb gravy delivers subtle flavor to the meat. At Whistlepunk Ice Cream Company—because every tourist trap demands fresh waffle cones—seasonal varieties wrap locally roasted coffee or mountain berries into scoops.

And yes, there will probably be soft pretzels and heart-stopping brat links in Leavenworth for a long time, at least as long as the wooden soldiers line the walls of the Nutcracker Museum and the ribbon-wrapped maypole stands guard in the town square. But more than half a century since the town went all-in on its theme, Leavenworth’s flavor tastes decidedly less salty.  

Filed under
Show Comments