Mount Rainier is a bustling summer destination, but September slides into an easier season for visiting (fewer crowds, decent weather, etc.).
The drive through Ashford is my preferred route.
Mostly because of pie.
Copper Creek Inn’s blackberry pie comes with a delicate, shortening crust and oozy filling. Pair it with a scoop or a blackberry shake.
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Wildberry Restaurant is another worthy pie destination. The casual Ashford restaurant boasts a tranquil covered, outdoor patio. Blackberry pies are baked daily. Gentle hands do the work here. The sugared crust tastes tender while the blackberries hold their shape. The flavor slips between tart and sweet ($5.99).
Look to the entree menu for one more reason to head to Wildberry Restaurant.
They make excellent Nepalese thali plates.
It’s also the area’s only Nepalese restaurant. Wildberry is owned by Lhakpa Gelu Sherpa, who is the restaurant’s chef alongside wife Fulamu. Sherpa is a well-known mountain guide.
Thali is something I order whenever I see it, which is not often locally. A thali set is an arrangement of small dishes giving a broad range of tastes from a restaurant’s menu and are served in various compositions throughout India, Nepal and nearby destinations.
The flavors can move from spicy to cool, from bitter to sweet. Hilltop Indian Restaurant and Pizza in Northeast Tacoma serves its thali sets in beautiful little metal dishes, giving diners a broad tour of its curry, daal, raita, naan, spicy pickles and rice pudding.
Like Hilltop Indian, which serves a secondary specialty of pizza, Wildberry also has a subspecialty of American fare (sandwiches, burgers, fish and chips, chicken strips, etc., $10.99 to $15.99).
Unlike Hilltop Indian’s more stylized thali display, the thali sets at Wildberry were presented in a more utilitarian fashion on metal cafeteria-style trays, kind of fitting for the low-tech vibe of the local climbing community.
Similar to Hilltop Indian, Wildberry’s thali moves diners through a range of flavors and textures.
Wildberry also caters to vegans. Dining at Wildberry begins with a server asking whether a diner is vegan. Sherpa said the kitchen can substitute a coconut based curry sauce for the other curry sauce made with cream.
The three thali sets swap the main course of a curry-based stew, but come with the same sides.
The mushroom thali, one of the vegan options, held a big bowl of tangy tomato-tinged mushroom curry made with coconut milk ($18.99). The mushrooms were broadly chopped with a bit of texture still left in them. The chicken thali came with a bowl of cream-enriched curry sauce with a light tomato tang and mild spicing. Slow-simmered chunks of white and dark chicken filled the bowl ($19.99).
Both thali plates were accompanied by rice. Cabbage salad with a milky dressing (think: sweet coleslaw) mellowed the heat of the accompanying pickled veggies.
A bowl of fragrant turmeric-scented dal (lentil) soup accompanied the thali set. I spent most of the meal dunking the outstanding roti into that bowl. Think of roti as the flakier, more elastic counterpart to Indian naan bread. It arrived hot.
As for other Nepalese specialties, there’s a vegan channa (garbanzo bean) thali platter ($18.99) and pork and vegetable momo, the Nepalese dumplings ($14.99), plus Himalayan sherpa stew ($13.99). Don’t miss the milky, spice-tinged sweet Sherpa tea that tasted like an intense chai ($2.50).
You only have another month to eat the thali plates and pie. Wildberry Restaurant closes for the season in October and will reopen in the spring.
Where: 37718 WA-706, Ashford; 360-569-2277; rainierwildberry.com.
Closing: In October for the season.