New Oak Harbor eatery to embody rustic, island feel

Jason Tritt

Every scrap of metal and piece of wood has a story.

Jason Tritt wanted the atmosphere in his new Italian restaurant to embody Whidbey Island.

He also wanted it to have an open, community, almost- homey feel, as if guests were sitting down to a meal with family and friends.

Tritt is hoping his new restaurant will encompass all of that when its sturdy wooden doors open in December on Pioneer Way in historic downtown Oak Harbor.

He and business partner Mercedes Fulwiler are calling the restaurant Rustica, and it only takes a peek inside to understand why.

Oak Harbor craftsman Brandon Davis was hired to reconstruct the interior and put in his rustic touches to transform the building formerly occupied by Angelo’s Cafe.

He went beyond Tritt’s expectations.

Using salvaged wood, metal and pipes collected on and near the premise and throughout the island, Davis repurposed the materials, turning them into doors, wall panels, tabletops, table legs and other furniture.

Not only did that method save money, it gave the restaurant the rustic look Tritt desired to provide fodder for guest conversations.

“Ninety-five percent of everything in here is repurposed and salvaged,” Tritt said. “The majority of the project is green down to the LED lighting.”

The most impressive feature is the tabletop for the bar.

It is a 24-foot length of wood that came from salvaged, old-growth timber on the south end of the island.

Davis also built the restaurant tables, using a mosaic of wood pieces fitted together like a puzzle on the tops covered by a gloss finish.

Reclaimed material such as metal roofing and doors came from all around Oak Harbor, including Whidbey Island Naval Air Station. Even old, wooden planters being discarded across the street were rescued by Davis and put to use.

“It’s very, very hip right now to repurpose and re-use,” Tritt said, pointing to a trend popular in metropolitan areas up and down the West Coast. “Restaurants and pubs in Seattle are taking advantage of the history they have.”

Tritt believes Rustica will encompass the atmosphere he desired — an open concept in an intimate setting with no separation between bar and restaurant.

A small stage was built in the corner for live music. A waiting area in the front will include theater seats that once were used in the movie theater that closed down on Pioneer Way.

Tritt likes to refer to Rustica as a “cafe, wine bar and kitchen” that will feature a lunch and dinner menu of authentic Italian and Mediterranean dishes.

“It will be very much farm-to-table–style food, very fresh, made in house,” Tritt said.

Tritt recruited two fellow Oak Harbor High School products to run the kitchen — Seth McKee, the chef, and Laura McWilliams, who will split roles a sous chef and pastry chef.

McKee has worked as a chef at resort-style restaurants in three states, most recently at the Cave B Estate Winery and Resort near Quincy.

McWilliams spent the past two years at Doe Bay Resort on Orcas Island.

Tritt is targeting the first week of December as the opening date and is planning to start with a dinner menu before adding lunch.

Although he also owns Flyers Restaurant and Brewery across town, Tritt said Rustica otherwise has no connection to that eatery.

“What we’re doing is a completely different concept — small, very intimate,” he said.

“Flyers is a pub. This is a wine bar style.”