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Shelling out the good times

Coupeville restaurants had the solution for the hundreds of shellfish-starved festival-goers heading into their historic town over the weekend: Pounds and pounds of succulent mussels.

The town’s first big celebration of the year, the Penn Cove Mussel Festival, took place over the weekend and came off as a huge success.

The weekend-long event featured live music, arts and crafts, classic automobiles and, of course, the world-renowned Penn Cove mussel.

For Greenbank resident Mary Atwater and Anacortes resident Alison Miller, the annual festival is a yearly tradition. Atwater clearly has her favorite place to eat the blue-shelled bivalves.

“We have to come and get the Bayleaf mussels,” Atwater said as she sat down in front of the specialty food and wine shop to enjoy a bowl of the shellfish. “They’re out of this world.”

David Day, who is also a member of the Coupeville Planning Commission, spent Saturday cooking mussels for Bayleaf. He used garlic, ginger, orange juice, butter and several other ingredients to prepare the shellfish.

The festival also seemed to have provided a cure for cabin fever for people cooped up in their homes all winter.

“It went wonderful. People had such a good time,” said Mary Alice Sterling, who is part of the Coupeville Historic Waterfront Association and volunteered selling tickets for the mussel chowder contest.

Organizers estimate 5,000 people attended the three-day mussel festival.

Ten Coupeville businesses were competing for the best mussel chowder. Christopher’s took home top honors for the second-year in a row. Sterling said tickets were sold out for the chowder tasting contest. People were given little metal cups and wandered through town, or even took a shuttle provided by Whidbey Seatac Shuttle, to the various restaurants participating in the contest.

Sterling said all of the entries received numerous votes, but the deciding factor was the uniqueness of the flavor of the dish each business offered.

She thanked Ian and Rawle Jefferds of Penn Cove Shellfish and Cindy Olson and Lark Kesterke of the Coupeville Historic Waterfront Association for their efforts putting on the festival this year.

There was a new addition in 2008. Beginning Friday night, people could attend the Mussel Mingle, which featured live music, wine tasting and, naturally, mussels.

Olson added that the Whidbey Cruzers brought their classic cars for display at the Coupeville Recreation Hall parking lot on Saturday and Sunday. Because of the better weather, more classic cars were on display Sunday.

The Mussel Festival is the first big festival of the year for the town, which provides a boost to local businesses in preparation for the busy summer tourist season.

Many people shopped the town’s stores while they walked between the businesses participating in the mussel chowder contest.

Shifty Sailor Verne Olsen pointed out while he was shopping Saturday that events like the Mussel Festival attract people to the town during what would otherwise be a quiet time of the year.

“The Mussel Festival gets people to Whidbey Island when nobody is here,” Olsen said.

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