Batter up! New Oak Harbor restaurant thrives

The restaurant staff stands in front of bakery shelves showing off freshly baked rolls and a famous giant pancake. - Katie McVicker/Whidbey News-Times
The restaurant staff stands in front of bakery shelves showing off freshly baked rolls and a famous giant pancake.
— image credit: Katie McVicker/Whidbey News-Times

It’s only been open for about three weeks, but the Tulip Cottage Cafe and Bakery has already secured bragging rights. Posted on the cafe door is a flyer that states, “The biggest and best pancakes in town!”

It’s not a lie. The buttermilk pancakes, one of the menu’s many breakfast treats, are about 16 inches wide.

“We haven’t had anyone finish a whole one yet,” owner Michelle Darnell said.

Michelle and her husband Jeff Darnell co-own the Bavarian-themed restaurant which had its soft opening on July 15. The restaurant is associated with Auld Holland Inn on Highway 20 and is located just across the parking lot in the building that once housed Kasteel Franssen and then China City.

Michelle ran a tea room in Lynden for 10 years before moving to Oak Harbor, and Jeff has cooked at a variety of venues in Washington and Oregon.

Though the cafe doesn’t even have a sign posted yet, business is thriving. Jeff said on Sunday about 300 people came through the door.

“I was shocked at how many people came out of the woodwork,” he said.

He thinks part of the cafe’s popularity is due to its ability to seat large groups, which is a feature some Oak Harbor restaurants lack. The cafe has a large banquet room upstairs that can seat about 105 people.

But others say its increasing popularity can be attributed solely to the food and the tantalizing smells wafting from the cookies, danishes and cinnamon rolls which are baked daily.

“We’re part of the slow food movement,” Michelle said. “So we kind of boast the fact that we do everything as fresh as possible from scratch. We use fresh, never frozen products and joke that all the ingredients have names you can spell.”

Kitchen worker Carlos Smith said he’s heard only positive comments from customers and that they received great word of mouth.

“People come in because they say they saw good things about us on Facebook reviews,” he said.

The restaurant has affordable American, German and Dutch entrees on its menu from Dutch pancakes to grilled cheese to gourmet burgers to Schnitzels.

The couple plans to open a European-style bar across the cafe’s entryway called the Lion’s Den where people can enjoy steak, wine and live music. Additionally, Jeff plans to create a large outdoor courtyard complete with tables and fire pits along with a beer garden.

The cafe recently added dinner entrees to its menu and extended its hours.

The decor is classic while the atmosphere is comfortable and family-friendly.

“It’s like eating at grandma’s house,” Michelle said.

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