MUKILTEO — No need to settle on soda and chips from a vending machine on this $5 boat ride.
Not when you can have a beer and bratwurst.
What’s up with that?
It’s a $140 million floating food court.
Centerplate, the same food service that handles the eats at Safeco Field, also feeds passengers on the 22 vessels operated by Washington State Ferries.
Offerings include fresh fruit, Ivar’s clam chowder, Caffe Vita coffee, Beecher’s mac & cheese, Uli’s Famous Sausage, CB’s nuts, Sound kombucha, Seahawks cookies by Schwartz Brothers Bakery, Walla Walla wines and Whidbey Island Ice Cream.
“We not only have a local vibe but also a tourist vibe,” said Josh Pell, Centerplate general manager for the ferries. “We brought in Uli’s because he’s a fixture at Pike Place, a Seattle favorite, and it’s an awesome food item for mobility.”
Hop on a boat to impress your visitors with the tastes of the state without dealing with Seattle traffic. You don’t even have to deal with ferry lines if you walk on.
The ferry system, which has 10 routes from Tacoma to Sidney, British Columbia, is the largest in the U.S., with about 25 million passengers in 2017.
That makes for a lot of captive diners.
“Centerplate has $20 million in sales a year,” on the ferries, Pell said. “The number one item is Caffe Vita coffee. Beer and wine are definitely near the top of the list, and chowder.”
Ferry food also feeds the economy. Pell said Centerplate employs about 140 galley workers on the vessels, with additional staff at the Bremerton commissary where items such as salads and wraps are packaged.
Though the emphasis is on Washington products, the company running the kitchen is based in Connecticut. Centerplate, which was awarded the food service contract in 2016 in a competitive bid among eight firms, puts food on plates in North America and beyond.
“We do racetracks, stadiums, zoos, aquariums, concert venues. The Indianapolis Colts, the Denver Broncos,” said Paul Pettas, Centerplate corporate spokesman. “We do the ferries in Martha’s Vineyard.”
Pettas said the focus is on hyper-local brands and products. It’s not the state fair food approach to get items to dazzle. The ferry ride itself offers enough of that.
“It’s not our style to do the gimmicky things,” Pettas said. “We try to keep it more what people like to eat and enjoy.”
It’s also geared for the venue.
Don’t expect to find toasted chili-lime grasshoppers on the ferry menu. The traditional Mexican delicacy gained national attention when introduced last year at Mariners games and remain popular this year.
The crispy torsos and dozens of spindly legs of ’hoppers are fine for the ballpark, but may be less appetizing on a boat.
Passenger cost to ride a ferry varies with the route. For Mukilteo-Clinton, it’s $5.05 round trip for adults; half price for seniors and ages 6-18. Edmonds-Kingston is $8.35, as is Seattle-Bainbridge Island. The Anacortes-San Juan route is $13.50.
Just like at the movies, it’s easy to spend more on concessions than the admission. Ferry popcorn is only $3-$4, but it doesn’t come with the option to drench it in hot butter. Boxed candy is $2.65. Whidbey Ice Cream is $4.50. A Uli’s Men’s Room Sausage is $6.50, which also buys Beecher’s cheese curds with bacon.
Commuter Tim French, of Whidbey Island, likes to get a brew on the boat after work on the mainland. “It’s a nice decompression,” he said. “I like the variety of things they have.”
A 16-ounce draft beer or 7 ounces of house wine is $6.50, and must be downed in the galley. So don’t dawdle — or talk to pesky reporters — on shorter runs such as the Mukilteo-Clinton. You only have 20 minutes to drink it.
“And you’re taking up 10 of it,” French told me.
Ferry fare even gained a mention in some of the verses in a haiku contest by Washington State Ferries in March, such as these two:
Stunning views afloat
On Washington state ferries
Also, they have beer
The rocking waves kiss
The hull as the city fades.
There is clam chowder.
Entries were judged by Washington’s poet laureate on creativity, originality, content and writing, but not food.
The winning haiku:
On deep blue waters
Gliding through the Salish Sea
Summer light shimmers
It’s even better with a Diamond Knot brew.
What’s coming up?
Video stores, the brick and mortar kind. There are still a few standing where you can rent flicks to watch with the kids or after they go to bed. Do you still rent movies the old-fashioned way and why?