Tom French, of Freeland, looks at his cell phone while enjoying a Diamond Knot IPA during his commute home via the ferry Tokitae on Oct. 13, 2017. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

Tom French, of Freeland, looks at his cell phone while enjoying a Diamond Knot IPA during his commute home via the ferry Tokitae on Oct. 13, 2017. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

Eat, drink and be merry with gourmet grub on the ferry

Washington State Ferries are a floating food court of favorites from all over the state.

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.

Suzie Zhu serves herself Ivar’s clam chowder on the Edmonds-Kingston ferry run. The floating food courts offer a variety of Washington products, including sandwiches, beer, wine and ice cream. Ivar’s soups are $4.50 to $5.75. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Suzie Zhu serves herself Ivar’s clam chowder on the Edmonds-Kingston ferry run. The floating food courts offer a variety of Washington products, including sandwiches, beer, wine and ice cream. Ivar’s soups are $4.50 to $5.75. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

“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.

Decisions, decisions.

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

And…

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.

Contact Andrea Brown: abrown@heraldnet.com; 425-339-3443. Twitter @reporterbrown.

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?

Talk to us

More in Local News

Superior Court Judge Eric Lucas is retiring at end of year, after -- years on the bench. The former Mariner High School student was its first ASB president, went to Harvard Law School, and as an undergrad majored in creative writing. Photographed at Snohomish County Courthouse on Tuesday, Dec. 8, 2020 in Everett, Washington.  (Andy Bronson / The Herald)
Judge Eric Lucas, who broke barriers on bench, dies at 67

Lucas was the first Black judge elected to Snohomish County Superior Court.

Work related to improvements at the intersection of Highways 9 and 204 will close a road and reduce lanes in Lake Stevens through Oct. 1. (Washington State Department of Transportation)
Road disruptions starting around Highway 9 in Lake Stevens

Lane reductions and closures are part of the work to improve the intersection at Highways 9 and 204.

Police: Mill Creek man, 63, accidentally shot by son

Detectives believe the dad was mistaken as an intruder. The injuries are not life threatening.

In 2023, the Department of Transportation will widen a two-mile stretch of Highway 531 from 43rd Avenue NE to 67th Avenue NE. (WSDOT)
Smokey Point road improvements won’t be done before industrial center

Amazon, NorthPoint are coming but the state will not begin widening Highway 531 until 2023.

Mary Johnson (Davis) (FBI)
FBI offers $10,000 reward for info on missing Tulalip woman

Mary Johnson, then 39, was supposed to get a ride from Fire Trail Road to a house near Oso on Nov. 25.

Bufeng Gao, owner of Qin Xi'an Noodles, receives a check from the Edmonds Chamber Foundation's Wish Fund outside of her restaurant that was burned in a fire on Thursday, Sept. 16, 2021 in Edmonds, Wa. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
After arson burns Edmonds plaza, 14 businesses need help

Plum Tree Plaza — a cultural hub for Asian Americans — burned in a three-alarm fire early Sept. 11.

Rebecca Haskins (Everett Police Department) 20210913
Missing Everett teenager located

Rebecca Haskins had last been seen the morning of Sept. 4. Police reported her found Wednesday.

Sultan police looking for tips after rash of car prowls

On Sunday, the department responded to 20 reports at Sportsman Park and trailheads near Gold Bar.

Construction continues at the site of the former Kmart for 400 apartments. and is slated for completion in 2023. Photo on September 14, 2021. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)
Coming soon to Everett, 430 apartments at former Kmart site

DevCo, Inc. is building six-story apartments “for the workforce” on Evergreen Way, near Boeing Freeway.

Most Read