Wild Mermaid cafe creates quaint, cozy ambiance on water’s edge
By Elizabeth Lande, Copy Editor
As soon as my feet cross the threshold of the north end’s waterfront gem, The Wild Mermaid, I’m swept away into a world of laid-back ambiance, local company, and exquisite food. I fall in love instantly, and if you never see me again, it’s because I’m still there.
I’m greeted just inside the door of the restaurant, occupying the former La Playa building, by Wild Mermaid and Snapdragon owner Megan Hastings, who has graciously allowed me to sample the future menu. She first leads me on a small tour of the cafe, showing off the beautiful space.
The ceiling is open, with exposed wood beams that match the floor’s dark, wide boards. Rustic glass cases display the day’s fresh-baked goods, and the wall behind them is adorned in a variety of framed artwork. It has an almost antique thrift-shop feel and perfectly reflects the homespun community atmosphere.
Across from the pastry counter is a small gas stove, burning merrily against another display of tiles. Armchairs upholstered in patterned and textured cloth face off over a low coffee table, inviting customers to sit down.
Hastings leads me to the back of the restaurant, where a wall of windows puts the Puget Sound on full display. Chairs and tables allow you to sit and watch the ferry boats sail back and forth, or perhaps to make friends with a group of seagulls. I’m able to see how much of a community hub the cafe has already become.
I’m treated with a sneak peek of the under-construction bar. I still have four years until I can sample its future bounty, but I can attest to the space’s charm.
Just like in the main restaurant area, large glass windows surround the bar, showing a stunning view of the Salish Sea. A small balcony lets you get even closer to the water. Hastings tells me that the bar counter itself will be crafted from local madrone wood, and shows me a hand-painted mural that will cover one of the room’s walls.
I also get to look into the kitchen, which currently serves up pastries and small vegetarian daily specials. The restaurant is gearing up for what will be a Mediterranean-themed vegetarian menu, focusing on flavors from Italy and Greece.
The tour over, I return to the armchairs, sinking further into the cozy setting. Moments later, I’m treated to perhaps one of the best dishes I’ve ever eaten: a stunning potato croquette with toasted cumin seeds. I’m not exaggerating, either; it’s justifiably amazing.
If, like me, you’re not a technical foodie, here’s the lowdown on just what a croquette typically is: a food roll filled with some kind of ground meat that’s mixed together with mashed potatoes and cheese. The roll is then covered in bread crumbs and deep fried until crispy. The Wild Mermaid’s croquette, however, goes above and beyond.
The outer texture is perfectly crisp, and the inner portion is soft, flavored with garlic and cheese. Though I like meat, and tend to eat it at most meals, I scarcely notice it’s missing from the dish. I would even venture to say that the other flavors shine brighter because of its absence.
The sauce is a whole separate matter.
You’re missing out if you’ve never tried harissa sauce, a red pepper paste from North Africa, but you’re really hurting if you haven’t tasted the Mermaid’s version. It’s light and almost tangy, elevated by the presence of freshly chopped cilantro. Prior to serving, the sauce was poured over the top of the croquette, running down the sides and pooling in a delicious moat at the base. Shaved fennel and radish act as a garnish and provide a fresh crunch. I can safely say I’d risk my life to eat one again.
Luckily, though, I don’t have to. I can simply drive a few miles north and swing into something Vashon was always missing: a quaint, cozy cafe on the water that perfectly illustrates the meaning of good food and good company.