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Let’s Eat: Book Fare Cafe

Mar 30th, 2012 | By | Category: Columns, Food

by Cameron Deuel

The Book Fare Cafe, located in Village Books in Fairhaven, serves as a cozy nook for bookworms to embark on their literary splendor while enjoying light, local fare. Owner and chef Charles Claassen focuses on incorporating local ingredients into the menu, which changes each season.

Owner Charles Claassen. PHOTO BY CAMERON DEUEL

Claassen, who has a lifelong passion for culinary arts, took ownership of the cafe in December 2010. “I think it’s an amazing space with great potential,” he said.

Formerly a chef at the North Cascades Environmental Learning Center near Diablo Lake in eastern Skagit County, his family found the remoteness challenging and returned to Bellingham. Claassen spent the first year and half as an independent caterer until he was able to take over the cafe.

“For lack of a better term, my training was an old-world apprenticeship,” Claassen said. “I learned from a French chef who acted as my mentor for seven years. I really benefitted from his knowledge and he was looking for someone to cultivate his techniques.” The pair worked together from 1993 until 2000 and Claassen says he’s been working in the kitchen ever since.

The Book Fare Cafe’s offerings include panini sandwiches, salads, and soups, as well as fresh baked items. Gluten free and vegan items are available too. The spring menu includes sandwiches like the Spring BLT with peppered bacon, sundried tomato aioli, arugula and brioche toast; the vegetarian with goat cheese,  sprouts, roasted pepper jam,  and grilled focaccia; and the tuna wrap with albacore, hulled edamame, radish, spring greens, lemon-ginger citronette, spicy peanuts and sweet chili. Other fare includes daily soups, a seasonal northwest salad (with mixed greens, snow peas, beetroot, ginger rhubarb agrodolce, housemade ricotta, and dungeness crab), and breakfast items like granola and baked cheesy grits and greens.

“The beginning of spring is an extremely difficult time to source ingredients,” Claassen said.

Since he alters the menu at the beginning of every season Claassen explained that some of the most central ingredients take time to flourish. “For example, I try to incorporate tomatoes into my summer menu but they aren’t usually ready until a few weeks after I make the menu and even then there may be some issues,” he said.

Claassen added that he utilizes ingredients from local growers year-round. The Wednesday Farmers Market, located behind Village Books on the Fairhaven Green from June through September, “makes it really easy to get local ingredients as well,” he said. “I feel like I’m also putting local products on display by using foods from places like Avenue Bread or Flying Bird Botanical Teas.”

The Cafe also features local artwork, currently showing the images of Concrete author, pilot and photographer John Scurlock.
In addition to the challenge of ensuring certain ingredients, Claassen is “planning for a prep area for more raw protein handling and preparation. That way I can integrate the whole product. When I use chicken and fish I like to break it down so I can use every piece.”

Claassen is also interested in finding more specialized food services in the community. “I’d really like to find a peeled garlic distributor,” he said with a laugh. “But the farming community is really growing so it’s probably just a matter of time before that’s a reality.”

Claassen also hopes to establish a reputation with his customers so that, when the menu changes, they will trust that the dishes will be similarly satisfying. The future of The Book Fare Cafe will be focused on incorporating local ingredients while expanding on the variety of the menu.

Book Fare Cafe is located at 1200 11th Street in Fairhaven (Bellingham) and open Monday to Saturday 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. and Sunday 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Call (360) 734-3434  or visit bookfarecafe.com.

Published in the April 2012 edition of Grow Northwest magazine.

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