There's a general rule to finding an out-of-place eatery while traveling—a Greek bakery, say, in the rural town of Goldendale, east of the Cascades and just north of the Columbia Gorge. Either it's going to be really good...or really not. St. John's Bakery, happily, proves the former in spades.
Picture flaky, crispy baklava that manages to bridge the difference between strong flavor and delicate structure, topped with a whole clove. Or snow-white kourambiedes, crumbly almond cookies coated in sugar, and robust blades of biscotti. (The best buy is a sampler of all three—and don't plan on sharing.) The menu extends far beyond a cookie collection, however, ranging from horiatiki spanakopita filled with spinach and feta to pita bread pizzas.
St. John the Forerunner Greek Orthodox Monastery dates back to 1995, when a local man donated 48 acres to a West Coast diocese to create a women's monastic community. Three nuns moved from Greece to the sunny, forested slopes of southern Washington and eventually created a bakery and gift shop in a building that faced Highway 97, the route that connects the Columbia Gorge to the Yakima Valley. That means the sisters who serve at St. John's—most of whom are now American—do so in head-to-toe black habits.
The bakery joins several other quirky area attractions, like the Stonehenge replica in nearby Maryhill, near a stunning art museum once dedicated by the Queen of Romania. Or the only Washington state park with an astronomical telescope at the newly refurbished Goldendale Observatory. The town itself, whose first white settler had the delightful name of Mortimer Thorp, maintains a small downtown with a smattering of shops—like the throwback, all-purpose General Store—and a brewery.
Shopping for Greek treats (and incense, lotions, rosary beads, and other monastic-themed gifts) among the sweeping black skirts of the sisters makes for a memorable road trip stop, but the order asks that visitors not photograph the nuns. Brief tours of the grounds are available on a limited basis with advance notice, though Covid precautions may further restrict outsider access for the near future. And fortunately for those of us not celestially blessed with the time for a road trip, St. John's delivers.
2378 Highway 97, Goldendale
Travel time from Seattle: 3 hours, 15 minutes