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A Weekend Getaway to Zillah

June 27, 2011

When summer is slow to arrive in Seattle, Bob and I sometimes head to the east side of the Cascades where it’s almost guaranteed to be hot and dry in June. This spring has been especially cool, so we went to Zillah for a one-night getaway.

The first stop of our trip was just 2½ miles from home. We had lunch (actually, for us it was an 11:00 brunch) at Zippy’s Giant Burgers. Zippy’s first opened on May 1, 2008 in West Seattle, but they found a larger space in White Center. They closed for a few months this spring to remodel the new space causing many of their loyal fans to go into a Zippy burger withdrawal. They reopened on May 31 and were so swamped on their first five days back in business that they had to close on June 5 because they ran out of food! Presumably they have learned to order more supplies. We are glad that they are now even closer to us.

At Zippy’s the chuck is freshly ground each day and the beefy flavor of their burgers is what makes them so fantastic. I usually get the Zip Burger w/cheese, which is a classic. I have also tried their house-made Black Bean Burger, and it is the best vegetarian burger I have ever tasted! Saturday I decided to try something different so I ordered the No. 11. The No. 11 features Mama Lil’s Kick Butt Peppers (new to me, locally grown and pickled peppers that are my new obsession), chipotle mayonnaise, lettuce, and Monterrey jack and smoked cheddar cheese. Perfection on a bun! This was easily my favorite meal of the weekend! 

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 Zippy’s fantastic No. 11

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After our burgers we headed to I-90 to make the 2½ hour journey over Snoqualmie Pass to Zillah.

The weather in the Yakima Valley did not disappoint. It was perfect – sunny, temperatures in the upper 70s and no humidity. It’s always a nice dry heat in eastern Washington.

Zillah is about 20 miles southeast of Yakima and is right in the heart of the Yakima Valley’s fruit and wine country. The climate is perfect for growing fruit, and the surrounding land is full of beautiful orchards and vineyards. With several cherry festivals on the calendar, we should have been able to find some at the fruit stands, but the season is a bit slow on the east side, too. The cherries appeared to be almost ripe on the trees, but it will probably be a week or two before they’re ready.

I learned from the Yakima Valley Visitor Guide in our hotel room that Zillah was named for Miss Zillah Oakes. Her father was the president of the Northern Pacific Railway. Zillah “would scream and cry on the way to the new town”. Her father promised to name the town after her if she stopped. I guess she did.

If you want fancier accommodations, you’ll probably be happier in Yakima, which is much a much larger town with a lot more options. We’ve always been happy being out in the middle of nowhere out in the country in Zillah. The Comfort Inn has all that we need; it’s clean, quiet, and has comfortable beds.

After checking in we went out on our tour of the wineries. For the most part, the people at the wineries in this area are very approachable and unpretentious. Tasting the different varieties of wine and learning a bit about how the grapes are grown is a great way to learn more about wines.

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We went first to one of our favorite wineries, Portteus. Portteus is family-owned. It was started by Paul Portteus; his adult children are now helping to run it as well. We were happy to find Paul pouring at the tasting bar on Saturday; it’s really fun to chat with him. He noticed Bob’s NW Explorations shirt so we talked about cruising in the Pacific Northwest as well as about Portteus wines. We really enjoyed the 2009 Bistro Red. The price was so reasonable that we bought a case of it, along with a couple of bottles of 2008 Malbec.

After Portteus, we followed the google map I had printed to find some other wineries in the area. There were a couple of them that we went into that just didn’t click with us for one reason or another, so we left without tasting. Two others that we did enjoy, though, were Tanjuli and Knight Hill.

Tanjuli was new to us and was a great discovery. There wines are a little pricier than our usual, but they were luscious. The one we loved, and apparently it is very popular with their fans, is the 2006 Petit Verdot. Here’s the description on their website:  It’s a “bold, full bodied red that demands bold, full flavored foods”. We couldn’t leave without a couple of bottles. I will have to research to find the perfect meal to pair with it.

Knight Hill Winery is one of the newer wineries in the area, but the owners, Anne and Terry Harrison, are not new to the Yakima valley. After retiring from a career in farming they decided to start the winery. They grow some of the Syrah and Cab Franc grapes that they use, but purchase most of their grapes from other growers. Although it’s a lot of work to operate a winery, they are enjoying it. We thoroughly enjoyed talking with them and bought 3 bottles of their 2008 Dry Riesling.

 Knight Hill Winery

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When we were done with our winery tours, we returned to the hotel to take the wines inside (you don’t want to leave wine in a hot car) and it was then time to think about dinner.

One reason we had always enjoyed staying in Zillah was the fact that it was home to our favorite Mexican restaurant and tortilla factory, El Ranchito. The food was authentic and excellent, and we always felt as if we had been transported to Mexico. Sadly, the restaurant and factory closed 3 or 4 years ago after having been in operation for about 50 years.

Without El Ranchito, the dining options in Zillah are limited. El Porton is right next door to the Comfort Inn. Apparently it is one of 4 restaurants. The other 3 El Porton restaurants are in Yakima. The online reviews for it were quite good and there was a large crowd on Saturday night. It may have fantastic food, but the décor and the menu seemed too much like any upscale Mexican chain in Seattle. We decided to venture out to find something else.

Three miles away is the town of Toppenish; with a population of about 9,000, it is larger than Zillah. It’s located entirely in the Yakama Indian Nation. (The “Yakama” spelling was reintroduced in 1994 to return to the original spelling.) The town is proud of its Native American and Western heritage and is known for the 73 murals throughout the town that depict scenes from its history.

We decided to try Villasenor’s Mexican restaurant in Toppenish. I had a “small” plate with one tamale and a chicken enchilada. It included refried beans and rice, so it was plenty of food. Bob had the Chile Verde with refried beans, rice, and corn tortillas. You can watch the excellent corn tortillas being made at the front of the restaurant. Our dinners were very good, but we still miss El Ranchito.

After dinner we went into a Mexican bakery down the street called El Porvenir to buy some bolillos (Mexican crusty rolls) for the picnic we were planning for Sunday. The bakery was just like one you would find in Mexico. There were all kinds of sweet treats, but we just bought 2 bolillos. After a quick trip to the grocery store in Zillah for salami, cheese, mustard, and bottled water, we were all set for a picnic lunch for our drive home.

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The first thing on the agenda the next day was to find breakfast. Now, if El Ranchito were still in business, that is where we would have gone just as we had done in the past. We had to find a new place. We packed our cooler with our picnic lunch, checked out of the hotel and headed out.

I had seen a full-page ad in the Yakima Valley Visitor Guide for The Branding Iron Restaurant in Toppenish. They’re open 24 hours and they have a large breakfast menu. It sounded like a good local place to try.

The Branding Iron definitely felt like a piece of Americana. Inside, it looked like a typical ‘50s or ‘60s diner; I think it has been the way that it is today for decades. A friendly waitress took our orders. Bob ordered the pork steak and eggs. The pork steak was about the size of his head! I tried it and it was cooked perfectly. I had basic eggs, hash browns and an English muffin.

For our return trip we took Highway 97 through the farmland until it joined back in with Interstate 82 just south of Yakima. We took Highway 12 through Naches and then continued on 410 towards Chinook Pass.

Highway 410 goes along the American River. We pulled over and found a spot for our picnic lunch. Before eating, Bob had to try fly fishing. The rivers were all running pretty high from the record snowfall over the winter. Bob didn’t expect to have any luck, and he didn’t. But he did get a line wet!

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 The American River

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Fisherman Bob ready to go

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Getting a line wet

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While Bob was fishing, I took pictures of flowers

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When Bob was finished fishing, we sat on some of the numerous shopping bags that I keep in my car (Note to self: bring a tarp next time!) and started to make sandwiches with the bolillos when the black ants arrived. They are fairly large and they are biters! We quickly gathered up our lunch and ate in the car. We still had a view of the river and the nice breeze blowing through the car.

After lunch we headed for the pass. We were amazed at how much snow is still left. It was definitely 12 feet deep at one point. When we reached the summit we parked and got out to look around. There were so many people who had come to see and play in the snow. We met one man from Seattle who had just finished hiking to the top and skiing down. He said he found some fantastic snow! The area really looked like a winter scene, although the temperature was probably in the 60s.

Snow at Chinook Pass, June 26!

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A man from Seattle who had just hiked up and skied down

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This is June?

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Back in the car, we headed down into western Washington where it was getting cloudy. Today in Seattle, the day after getting home, it’s 67 and raining. I really do like living in Seattle, but it is nice to escape to the great summer weather in eastern Washington.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. June 30, 2011 8:57 pm

    Wine, burgers, nature…what a wonderful summer escape! I wish I could have gone along with you :-) Thank you for sharing, sweet friend. I’m sorry I’ve been a bit absent. Your blog is a great way for me to end my dad. I hope you have a beautiful weekend!

    • July 1, 2011 6:16 pm

      It did feel like a great escape, Monet, even though it was only for 1 night. You have a wonderful weekend, and thanks for stopping by! :)

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