The Shelburne Hotel has endured many reinventions since first opening in 1896.
The hotel, which is the oldest continually running hotel in Washington state, experienced its first major change in the early 20th century. At the time, the Hoare family hired a team of horses to drag the hotel across the street from its original location, which is where Sid’s Market now sits.
The new property contained two existing houses attached by covered breezeways, expanding the hotel’s footprint. Eventually these breezeways were fully finished, forming the initial stitching of the handsome Victorian Frankenstein façade seen today.
Husband and wife David Campiche and Laurie Anderson have owned the Shelburne since 1977. Around this time, the pair rescued the inn’s stunning stained glass windows from a church in Morecambe, England. It’s hard to imagine the Shelburne without them.
The latest upheaval in the hotel’s long history came in 2017 when Campiche and Anderson leased operations of the hotel, pub and dining room to Adrift Hotels’ growing hospitality empire. The company, owned by Tiffany and Brad Turner, reaches from Long Beach to Seaside. The company will soon expand to include Astoria’s waterfront in a collaboration with Buoy Beer Co.
The couple’s lease lasts three years and includes an option to purchase the Shelburne. A decision will soon be made on whether the hotel becomes a permanent fixture of Adrift.
Since the lease began, the Adrift team has given the Shelburne a subtle facelift, rejuvenating the historic property. A coat of fresh blue paint and minimalist decor forces the eye to concentrate on honeyed wood climbing the rooms and the beautiful stained glass.
Even the air is vibrant, thanks to some expertly curated playlists. French covers of Leonard Cohen songs accompanying a leisurely dinner in the stately dining room? Yes, please. 1960s pop tunes are also the perfect background to eggs and shuffleboard.
Those familiar with the Shelburne’s sister property, the Adrift Hotel, and its flagship restaurant, Pickled Fish, will find a lot of similarities. The Shelburne’s revamped food and drink menus emphasize local ingredients, though a few surprises lay in plain sight.
While I have found the quality and service at the Pickled Fish to be hit or miss over the last few years after a very strong start, the service at the Shelburne was accommodating and friendly. The more formal dining room is attentive without being stuffy, while the pub across the way was laid-back. Both approaches work for their respective purposes.
Note that the full pub menu is available in the dining room alongside a short seasonal menu with special offerings.
That said, during a few recent visits, the kitchen’s pantry, timing or anticipation seemed a little off. Come 6 p.m. on a Friday night, there was a lull in what sounded like a delicious rabbit stew with white beans and gremolata ($18), rendering it unavailable. There must have also been an early evening run on steam buns stuffed with pork belly ($13), as they too were off the menu. During a brunch visit, there was no more sausage, which limited options.
What did reach the table was well executed with only one or two exceptions.
French onion soup ($12) was as rich and boozy as you’d find in any Parisian café. Strings of melted gruyere clung to spoons, stretching into gooey webs. A slice of sourdough from Blue Scorcher Bakery & Cafe held its own in the deeply flavored broth.
A grilled romaine salad ($11), accompanied with more of that great Blue Scorcher bread — grilled this time — had a nice garlicky and briny Caesar dressing, sharpened with a well-aged manchego and a few locally-scooped fillets of marinated white anchovy.
The size of the smorgasboard plate ($32) may confuse some Scandinavian purists or tourists accustomed to the bounty and variety of the traditional buffet, though those with a keen eye will catch that smorgasboard is not a misprint of smörgåsbord, but a play on words.
The plate is essentially a charcuterie plate with the addition of a few items of seafood. Every item was of the highest quality, even if it lacked diversity of meats and cheeses. There wasn’t an olive or an egg to be found, as pictured on their website.
The plate included wee Willapa Bay oysters fresh as a sip of an untouched sea, a heap of Olympia Provisions salami etna, a semi-hard cheese from Briar Rose Creamery in Dundee, pickled fennel and red onions, almonds, red radish microgreens, stone ground mustard and horseradish crème fraiche. The star of the platter was an entrée-sized cut of house-smoked salmon, which can be ordered as an appetizer for $10.
The smorgasboard could easily serve as a light dinner for two with a few add-ons or as an appetizer for four or more, though more oysters will have to be ordered to avoid a coup at the table.
A chicken and waffle sandwich ($15), drenched in maple syrup, is certainly a fork-and-knife affair. The sourdough waffle is light and fluffy with just the right amount of char, but the chicken, which takes top billing, felt more like an afterthought.
It was certainly a high quality breast and well-trimmed, but it was a bit dry and bland. It arrived wearing a thin batter that was under-seasoned instead of the crispy exterior expected of southern fried chicken or Japanese katsu. You want that crunch to work against the airiness of the waffle. This batter slipped off the meat into the syrup easily. Call in a brine or some buttermilk as this bird deserves better.
If a restaurant’s commitment to brunch were solely judged on the quality and creativity of their house bloody mary ($8), then the Shelburne would be square in the middle. This salted pint was perfectly serviceable with only the required garnishes — no frills, but not bad.
What turned out to be the most satisfying and surprising items on the menu were the few Korean-inspired offerings. These flavors are found nowhere else on our local peninsula and are scarce throughout the region.
The Korean burrito ($13) on the breakfast menu arrived fish-wrapped in faux newsprint, but it was the umami bomb wrapped in a tortilla beneath that really woke up the taste buds. Fried rice and eggs played well with the funky, crisp bite of house-made kimchi and the sweet, slightly spicy glaze of gochujang.
Similarly, the bibimbap ($13) is a wonderful mess. While you can add pork belly for an additional $5, don’t skip the sunnyside egg ($2) which is a traditional accoutrement. Let the gold of the yoke slip over the steamed rice, the pungent fermented bean sauce and the pickled veg and stir-fried bok choy for a mouthful that is earthy, rich, sweet, sour and salty simultaneously. Try not to shovel it in.
Who knows how many historic storms have pelted and shaken the Shelburne over the years? And yet it survives, mutates and is reborn. This new iteration of the Shelburne shows much promise as it forms its own identity. Once the kitchen is as consistent as the service and atmosphere, it would not surprise me if 30, 50 years from now, someone else writing this column laments the end of the Shelburne Hotel’s most recent era.