Climb aboard with Blaine’s newest chef

Published on Thu, Jan 24, 2008 by Tara Nelson

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Climb aboard with Blaine’s newest chef

By Tara Nelson

When it comes to salad, some restaurants, it seems, haven’t made it into the 21st Century.

That’s where Little Red Caboose Cafe fills a under-utilized niche – you won’t find any stale iceberg and shredded carrot salads from a plastic bag here.

Instead, customers can choose from delightful sandwich stuffing such as nitrate-free turkey, Hempler’s honey ham, feta, roasted eggplant or fresh mozzarella and pile them on a bed of baby greens with a simple dressing of extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar with grilled panini bread on the side.

Owner Laura McWilliams, of Bellingham, opened the restaurant earlier this month in Blaine’s historic red caboose after former Portofino owner Angelica Purvis sold the business to have more time to spend with her toddler. The restaurant features breakfast and lunch items such as panini, sandwiches, salad, homemade soups and espresso.

At 23, she is possibly the youngest business owner in Blaine but McWilliams, a Whidbey Island native, doesn’t think that is a stumbling block, especially for those who are blessed with above-average levels of ambition. Likewise, her husband Kevin Robinson is manager of Merch-Bot, an eccentric novelty store in downtown Bellingham that features meat-centric items such as bacon-flavored mints, shower curtains emblazoned with steaks and zombie t-shirts with “I Eat Brains” slogans.

“If there’s a lot of things you want to do with your life, why not start now?” she said.

A 2005 graduate of Bellingham Technical College’s culinary arts school and former chef at the Chrysalis Spa’s Fino wine bar, she brings plenty of experience and flavor to Blaine’s restaurant scene. To our delight, that flavor doesn’t stop with the colorful salad assortment.
Every morning, for example, McWilliams makes a batch of homemade soup ($3.75 cup/ $4.75 bowl) ranging from chicken mushroom with fresh tarragon to broccoli cheddar and her specialty soup cream of jalapeño – a soup that was hugely popular at the former Wild Garlic restaurant in Bellingham (she managed the restaurant for three years during her academic career). She said she plans to offer that soup on Thursday.

“It’s not the most common soup,” she said. “But it’s so loaded with pepper jack cheese that you have to love it.”

After graduating from BTC, she managed an Italian-style deli during a short stint in Key West, Florida but quickly moved back home after experiencing Florida’s tourist culture and insects.

“When it doesn’t get cold during the winter, the bugs never go away,” she said. “I think we’re really blessed to live here where it’s never too hot and never too cold.”

McWilliams’ wafflini is the stuff dreams are made of. This might be why it made sense when she confessed the idea came to her in a fit of midnight restlessness.

Using eggs, cheese and other tasty ingredients McWilliams constructs the breakfast masterpiece by sandwiching them between two Belgian waffles made earlier that day.

The sandwich comes with your choice of either crispy Hempler’s bacon, honey ham or roasted red peppers, tomato and spinach, and is grilled – like a regular panini ($4.25) – although this reporter thought real maple syrup for dipping might be a welcome addition.

Other delicious bets are the All-In-One muffin (from Bellingham’s Grace Café), a sweet and dense corn muffin that is filled with egg, cheddar cheese and bacon ($3); and the bagels with McWilliams’ own cream cheese spreads in sun dried tomato, “crunchy peanut berry” and smoked salmon flavors ($1.95).

Little Red Caboose Cafe is open Monday through Saturday for breakfast from 8:30 to 11 a.m. and for lunch from 11 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. and is located at 795 Peace Portal Way. They can be reached by calling 332-1900.

Catering and delivery are also available by request.