Head toward Bonney Lake and keep going.
Wilkeson is a blink-or-you’ll-miss-it town on the edge of Pierce County on the way to Mount Rainier via state Route 165. Lately, it’s been the source of a few fun food field trips. The Carlson Block opened about a year ago with outstanding artisan wood-fired pizza and recently expanded into the space next door in a historic building in downtown Wilkeson.
In December, along came Nomad PNW, a coffee house with house-made pastries from Felisha and Jeff Ford. Like Carlson Block, they’re crafting fine food in a completely unexpected location.
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The coffee house serves coffee as low-tech or geeky as a coffee lover wants it. They offer drip, chemex, moka pot, cold brew and more. Sound something like Metronome in Tacoma? It is.
The cafe’s coffee beans come from Seattle coffee purveyor Anchorhead Coffee. That company focuses on fair trade and organic beans and also bottles its own cold brew.
Look beyond the coffee menu at Nomad PNW for something really interesting and not commonly found in that end of Pierce County: empanadas.
Those Argentinean turnovers are a hand-me-down recipe in Felisha’s family. Her grandparents grew up in Argentina before moving to California. Felisha and Jeff are both from California but wound up here after deciding to do what their cafe name suggests: become nomadic.
They wound their way to Maple Valley but wanted something more rural. They got lost on a drive to get a look at Enumclaw real estate. The road from Enumclaw led to Buckley. Buckley led to Wilkeson.
When they hit Wilkeson, they fell in love.
“We’re nomads. Our family are nomads. Wilkeson has so much history and was built by immigrants,” said Felisha. “We felt at home.”
They bought a house with a Buckley address, but as Felisha says, “We’re closer to downtown Wilkeson than Buckley.”
They bought the building where their cafe is located at 529 Church St.
The empanada list is short right now, with spinach-and-cheese and ham-and-cheese versions, but Felisha plans to add the beef-filled traditional turnover for which her mother is known, among others. Felisha learned to make empanadas and chimichurri, the traditional accompaniment, from her mother.
“My mom gave them for gifts,” she added. “If it was teacher-appreciation day, there’d be a plate of empanadas. Any kind of appreciation for anyone, it was a plate of empanadas.”
Her ham-and-cheese is another nod to her mom’s recipe. It’s made with a river of gooey Monterey Jack cheese threaded with diced ham. The spinach-and-cheese comes with garlic, onion and a trio of cheeses — Parmesan, mozzarella and ricotta.
Empanadas are $4 each, two for $7, $20 a half dozen or $40 a dozen.
The delicate pastry crusts carry an interesting emblem. They’re stamped using a press with the cafe’s name, but also two initials. Those initials tell diners what’s inside. “HC” is ham and cheese. “SC” is spinach and cheese.
Felisha’s family says her chimichurri tastes just like her grandfather’s version.
“It’s so hard to keep the chimichurri on the shelf,” she said.
I understand why. The garlic-and-parsley condiment is a staple in South America because it’s delicious. Felisha calls it the ketchup of Argentina.
Coming next at Nomad PNW are those beef empanadas, sweet empanadas and one made with chorizo and eggs.
“That’s where our Southern California comes out,” said Felisha.
On the sweeter side of the menu, find house-made doughnuts and other treats.
Find Nomad PNW at 529 Church St., Wilkeson. Call 360-761-7771 or visit the Facebook page at bit.ly/2noMcBV. Hours are 6 a.m. to 4 p.m. Mondays-Fridays; 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturdays-Sundays
Want to know where else to find empanadas? Here are five more empanada finds.
This longtime Tacoma empanada company has built a farmers market following for years. Off season, they sell from an appointment-only commercial kitchen on South Tacoma Way and the deli counter at the Proctor neighborhood Metropolitan Market. Flavors include beef, chicken, spinach-and-cheese, roasted corn, dulce and eight other flavors.
Where: 14506 Pacific Ave. S., Tacoma; 253-535-6328; carneaqui.com
This South American(ish) restaurant comes with a varied menu that ranges from Argentinean-brushed dishes to tacos and tortas. It also serves delicious, meaty empanadas with house-made chimichurri. Chef Nathan Hawes fills his flaky turnovers with pork shoulder and occasionally short rib and/or lamb. An order of four is $8.
Where: 1924 Pacific Ave., Tacoma; 253-272-8200; indochinedowntown.com
Is it a samosa? An empanada? Both! The curry potato-vegetable filling tastes like a samosa filling, but the crust is all about flaky, tender puff pastry. They’re $10.95 on the appetizer menu, served with peanut sauce for dipping. Coming soon will be a pulled-pork empanada for the restaurant’s new happy-hour menu, said co-owner Russel Brunton.
Where: 2810 Sixth Ave., Tacoma; 253-272-7770; asadotacoma.com
Empanadas are made three ways at this sophisticated Argentinian-themed steakhouse in Tacoma’s Sixth Avenue neighborhood. They come with filling choices of beef, vegetarian or chef’s choice. The veggie option currently is butternut squash with kale, cotija and rosemary. The chef’s choice filling right now is an inside-out empanada made with chorizo, shrimp, cotija and salsa criolla. Price: $11 for an order of two.
Where: 5500 Olympic Drive NW, Gig Harbor; 253-313-5198; tasteofperuonline.com
This Peruvian restaurant has an empanada on its menu that is a merge of flaky dough and a tasty olive-spiked meat filling. Price: $7 for an order of two.