There are pros and cons to traveling on the Washington State Ferries.
Pros: Stunning scenery. Camaraderie among riders. Native American art emblazoned on the tables. Comfortable bench seats that double as beds. Muster stations.
Cons: No running. No open containers. Cisco Morris.
Which brings us to another important point about ferries. We critique everything else about the Washington food scene: Farm stands, food trucks, espresso stands, pop-ups, popovers, Outstanding in the Field, Tom Douglas’ latest ventures, even fast food joints.
How has the ferry canteen so far slipped by unnoticed?
“We critique because we think that there’s a possibility of change,” says Dave, a chicken aficionado and one of my travel companions for the weekend. Which brings us to the first-known (at least at our ferry table) critique of a classic Washington State Ferry dish: Chicken strips and Jo-Jos.
“A ferry without a good chicken strip platter is like a small town without a baseball team," quips Brett, my constant ferry companion. "There’s nothing around which to rally.”
When Dave returns to the table, proudly bearing a basket of chicken strips glistening with neon yellow grease, we are hopeful. But after a few tentative nibbles, it becomes clear that a critique of this sort is long overdue.
“It kind of tastes like what would happen if you put an imitation leather jacket in a microwave,” says Brett.
“The tanginess of the heat lamp combined with the brininess of the stale air and a hint of shame produces an explosion of flavor that can only be described as ‘Meh,’” says Dave.
The Jo-Jos receive a slightly more favorable review.
“Oh my god. Yeah,” says Ellen, our fourth compatriot, apparently non-plussed.
As we look wistfully out on our shared waters, we can’t help but think that it’s a far cry from the B.C. Ferries’ seafood buffets.
Is this really the kind of amuse bouche that Washington state wants to present to the world? (It should be noted that the food aboard the ferries is property of partner Olympic Cascade Services, not the ferry system itself.)
But we critique because we think there is a possibility for change. And we submit this review not as a condemnation, but as an invitation to usher in a better tomorrow/ferry ride.
We envision a world where the food aboard Washington’s ferries matches the hospitality of the men and women who serve on-board and the majestic beauty of the Pacific Northwest.