“We chose to follow the food, that’s what makes us stand out,” Chef Brendan McGill of Bainbridge Island’s Hitchcock Restaurant explained to us. Inspired by the abundance of fresh ingredients on the island, Brendan chose to open his restaurant there, in hopes that diners across the water will hop on the ferry to experience the high quality, farm fresh menu for themselves.
To really put the importance of sourcing into perspective, we met Brendan at Eagle Rock Shellfish on the Hood Canal. From this small strip of land, Brendan receives about a hundred pounds of clams per week and ten dozen oysters.
The owner of the farm, who goes simply by G, harvests up to 250 pounds of clams per week. To reach the oyster beds on the water below his home, you have to climb down a narrow wooden staircase, then suit up in “thigh boots” to trudge through any remaining water at low tide.
G has installed metal railways along the base of the staircase, so he can set his haul of shellfish on it at the base and use a pulley system to bring them to the top. “I trained on these stairs to climb Everest,” G told us as we followed him. We’re still not sure if he was being serious.
“My parents always cooked meals from real and whole foods at home, so that would have been my first introduction to cooking. We lived in Alaska and had subsistence permits to fish the Copper River, and my mom had a great garden,” Brendan explained of his background, “A typical dinner was to ‘pull a salmon’ from the freezer, steam some rice and sauté vegetables.”
Fittingly, while standing out on the Canal, G and Brendan scraped up a few oysters from the sand. Using his pocket knife, Brendan popped them open and we ate them right on the spot—no garnishes necessary. It doesn’t get any fresher than that.
“At first I put out sort of a cattle call—I just went to the farmer’s market, introduced myself and tried to build relationships,” Brendan said of getting his start on Bainbridge to source ingredients. “Mainly through buying and honoring people’s food, we were able to build our network,” he explained. That network is now highlighted throughout Brendan’s menu, where each source is listed for menu items.
“All of our shellfish and vegetables are harvested to order for us, and I think the freshness really translates to the guests’ experience,” he told us. The produce and shellfish aren’t the only noteworthy ingredients available at Hitchcock. This past fall, Brendan also opened Hitchcock Deli, offering high quality grab and go items. “The charcuterie program from our Deli is comprehensive – not a lot of other restaurants use only their own bacon, pancetta and dry-cured sausages and meats across their menu,” he explained of their approach.
If you’re in Seattle, taking the ferry out to Hitchcock is worth it for both the food and the personal experience. If you’re in the mood for sampling a variety of menu items, name your price and they’ll design your menu for the night accordingly. This chef’s tasting option will include a visit to your table by Brendan himself, to explain exactly what you’re eating.
Brendan is wearing the Thatcher in Striped Sassafras.
Photos by Collin Hughes