PHOTO COURTESTY OF VALERIE ESTELLE ROGERS

VISITING ENUMCLAW, WASHINGTON

The almost hidden gem you're passing by on they the way to skiing
BY VALERIE ESTELLE ROGERS

  The Claw, as it’s affectionately called by locals, is a town of 11,000 residents hidden in plain sight just 20 miles east of Tacoma, Washington. Located 22 miles northwest of Mount Rainier, the city is surrounded by 40,000 neighbors making up that area of King County. Enumclaw — pronounced just as it is written with a long e — is often passed through by motorists on the way to the mountain or chosen as a quick stop to replenish gasoline or snacks. From the I-5 corridor and the rush to don your skis, it can feel like the beauty of the five-mile plateau that is Enumclaw is just a pass-through, gone like a blip. But there is so much to see and do in and around Enumclaw! 
  As the gateway to Mount Rainier National Park, it’s important to note that within 15 minutes of downtown Enumclaw, three more beautiful state parks await your visit: Nolte, Flaming Geyser, Kanaskat-Palmer. Or you could enjoy a hike up Mt. Peak, a walk around Deep Lake, hot air balloon rides and — appropriate to this season — a reindeer farm!
  Rainier Reindeer Ranch is located eight miles from downtown Enumclaw, the perfect holiday adventure. Meet a pair of reindeer who spend November and December bringing joy to hundreds by participating in annual holiday events. When not at area festivals, anyone over the age of 12 can visit in groups of up to 10 people with a reservation — and spend quality time with the reindeer. Enjoy the opportunity to learn about reindeer and what makes them unique, a chance to be up close and personal with them, walking, brushing and feeding these rare caribou. When on the working farm, guests may also have an opportunity to perform other fun chores like collecting chicken eggs.
  But now, let’s take a closer look at Enumclaw itself! After a quick return downtown and parking the car at the-most-convenient downtown lodging, The Guesthouse, it’s all walking from here! The Guesthouse is located directly across the street from Logging Legacy Park, which showcases the deep roots of the area’s long logging history. A large bronze statue of two straining oxen joined by a yoke with their drover guiding them, stands squarely in the center of the park, a massive reminder of the town’s celebrated past.
  Strolling the downtown shopping streets takes you past antique stores, the This-n-That filled with endless treasures, boutique apparel shopping, a bakery and a welcoming coffee shop. You can’t miss the iconic pub, The Mint, which dates back to 1906 and reopened in 2013. The Enumclaw Music store, which opened in 1985, features two very retro upright pianos just outside the entry, waiting on the sidewalk for daring passersby to tickle the old ivories. Eight rows of string lights hang high across the street from one side to the other, split only by the street lamp, four rows on each side of the main intersection. At dusk, just  as the sun is setting, these lovely lights cast a warm glow which nearly transports you to a magical place. Walking under the welcoming luminescence with your soft

winter gloves and scarf gently draped around your neck, this very well may be a movie set. 
  Four beverage stops of note are located in Enumclaw: one distillery, two breweries, and a winery. This may be reason enough to anchor your Mount Rainier trip in this perfect mid-size town!
  With brothers-in-law Sam Agnew and Tyler Teeple at the helm and a team of four co-founders — Thomas, Werner, Greene and Gonzolas — Pursuit Distillery occupies a prominent place in Enumclaw’s hospitality culture. Pursuit will whet your taste for vodka, whiskey and soon, even gin. At the tender age of four years, the distillery has hooked up with the powerhouse Columbia Distributing, and is appearing all over the Northwest, everywhere the huge beverage distributor reaches. The parent company to many sub-labels for area restaurants, Pursuit Distillery prides itself on using as many local ingredients as possible to support the area economy. For the enthusiast, a barrel club is available — a group of four friends can sign up and make all the decisions from taste to bottling on a small barrel batch of bourbon which produces approximately 27 bottles. “If you have a dream, pursue it,” founder Ty once said, giving birth to Enumclaw’s must-visit Pursuit Distillery.
  Just around the corner in the industrial neighborhood the distillery calls home, you’ll find Cole Street Brewery, opened in 2014. Owner Sean McDonald grew up in Enumclaw, a passionate homebrewer-turned-business-owner. With no television distractions, Cole Street Brewery is intentionally designed to encourage conversation, welcoming people to talk to one another. An active events calendar is maintained, featuring events ranging from culinary cook-offs between professionals and home chefs to exciting escape room parties. McDonald loves to “support the people who support us” and says he enjoys living in his hometown, a great community where everyone supports each other.
  A short walk from Cole Street Station brings you to Enumclaw’s other brewery, Headworks Brewing. Housed in the 1927 historic Enumclaw Laundry building on the corner of Railroad and Marshall streets, Headworks is owned and run by John and Wendy Santamaria with their son, Gino, serving as head brewer. After a four-year renovation bringing the old building up to code and ready for guests, the beer has been flowing freely since 2014. Specializing in handcrafted small batches, the brewery boasts 16 taps and 18 beers brewing at all times. Proudly kid- and dog-friendly, Headworks hosts numerous events and on Fridays, you can enjoy excellent pizza from a local food truck. If you’re lucky, you might catch local legend Chef Ky Loop with a pop-up food cart of his own ranging from fancy dogs to sweet capicola and even steak.
  If it’s a glass of wine you’re after, Leony’s Cellar has just what you’re looking for. Currently the only active winery in town, Leony’s has cornered the market.

Owners Sandi and Salvador Moreno were searching sale ads for a wine barrel when they found an entire winery to buy instead. The previous owner agreed to teach the Morenos how to make wine and the rest, as they say, is history. Five years later with two gold medals and a thriving wine club, locals and visitors alike love Leony’s Cellar!
  After a long day hiking, skiing or even pub-crawling Enumclaw, food is bound to be high on your list. Griffin and Wells — appropriately situated on the corner of Griffin Avenue and Wells Street — is just the nod to a French Café you didn’t know you needed. But believe it: you need it. Chef and owner Amy Price creates outstanding dishes such as crepes with chanterelles, chicken and roasted squash, and quiche with chicken, bacon, chard and buratta. Specials are handwritten in chalk while the red dinner plates and corner window offer all the good vibes needed in this elevated atmosphere. Chef Amy can name the multiple farms providing the ingredients for your dinner, as farm-to-table products are integral to her restaurant. With ten tables, the misconception that Griffin and Wells is fancy and exclusive is better described as approachable — the café is open to everyone, so bring your kids!
  Craving beer-braised rabbit sausage, or pan-seared Chilean rock crab mac and cheese? Or maybe just the average wild game special of the day? Then Jackson’s — located in the very heart of downtown — is where you want to visit. Imagine a pub atmosphere featuring a shelf of 120 whiskeys in stock, anything from Jim Beam to 23-year-old Pappy’s. The popular house Bloody Mary is made with local Pursuit Distillery vodka.
  If you’re in the mood for some serious red sauce and the exuberant and comforting sounds of family, conversation and laughter, make your way to Il Siciliano for an Italian experience to treat all your senses. Expect a short waiting list at the front door but bring your appetite because the portions are anything but small!
  Before strolling the two blocks to the Chalet Theater for a new release film or the front row of a Sir Mix-A-Lot concert, be sure to grab a sweet bite at Ann’s Fudge and Bakery or Sweet Necessities. Both offer different forms of tempting homemade chocolate, ready to melt in your mouth. At Sweet Necessities, you can also stock up on one of 100 varieties of loose leaf tea for later sipping. 
  Enumclaw and its neighboring town of Buckley have an active and friendly rivalry among their sports teams dating back to 1953. As the story goes, at one time a single high school was split into two and located in each of the two towns. Just one problem: the two schools kept the same mascot, the Hornets! At just three miles apart, separated only by a bridge, the two Hornet football teams face off each year in the intense and very important Battle of the Bridge. The losing team is tauntingly dubbed the Bumblebees by the victors. Prep football with a view of Mt. Rainier in the background — it doesn’t get much more American than that!
  When asked what makes Enumclaw special, local folks agree: in addition to this special community being very family-friendly, it is filled with amazing organizations and local support for businesses is enthusiastic and constant, making this a great place to grow your dream! 

© 2019 CHEERS NORTHWEST