Damien Cortez, center, co-owner and chef at The Cove in Coupeville serves up a “salmon sammy.” Photo by Laura Guido/Whidbey News Group

Damien Cortez, center, co-owner and chef at The Cove in Coupeville serves up a “salmon sammy.” Photo by Laura Guido/Whidbey News Group

Taproom owners open restaurant at Coupeville Wharf

If Damien and Tiffany Cortez could only say one thing about their new Coupeville restaurant, it would be: “It’s worth the walk.”

The South Whidbey couple this month opened a seafood- and wild game-centered eatery called The Cove, located on the historic Coupeville Wharf. The family also owns and operates the Taproom at Bayview Corner, but the husband-and-wife duo was looking to create something unique that serves a different style of food than traditional pub fare.

“We always wanted to have more than one thing going on,” Damien Cortez said.

And the two don’t tend to hesitate when they want something. The island natives met at a bar where Damien Cortez worked and were married within five weeks. Less than a year after giving their vows, they opened the taproom in the historic Bayview Cash Store.

He is a South Ender and Tiffany Cortez grew up in Oak Harbor, so they said it seemed natural to set up shop somewhere in the middle. They’d been looking for a place for a while before this opportunity presented itself, they said.

When the previous owners of the Cove Cafe closed its doors, the two were drawn to the space and its connection to the famed mosquito fleet, private transportation companies that ran passenger and freight boats throughout Puget Sound until the late 30s.

The two are working with the Island County Historical Museum to bring in old photos of Coupeville as they aim to cultivate a cozy, “approachable” atmosphere.

Damien Cortez has been working in restaurants from a young age.

“It’s in our DNA,” he said. “I’ve tried to leave the industry a couple of times, and somehow I always find my way back.”

As The Cove’s chef, he’s looking forward to branching out from the pub-style food served at the Taproom. Much of the menu will change with the seasons, but he said there will always be some type of salmon, clam chowder and beer-battered rock fish and chips. Currently, the establishment is offering dishes such as wild boar tenderloin served atop fresh corn polenta, pan-seared sea scallops with warm frisee salad and a rack of elk ribs with mashed potatoes and local squash.

Baked goods come from the Little Red Hen Bakery, located nearby on Front Street. The Cortezes said they’re hoping to incorporate more local ingredients as they become more established.

The two are aware that their location includes what can sometimes be a cold, windy walk across the wharf and that their distance could be seen as a downside.

Damien Cortez said he hopes the restaurant’s “flavors, staff and atmosphere” make it a top choice for tourists and locals alike. There will always be “staples” such as the burger, fish and chips and chowder that won’t break the bank and regulars can count on being available. Those looking to splurge on a more decadent and unique entree will also have options.

Children under 12 may select from their own menu that includes chicken strips and kids’ portions of clams or mussels. The family-friendly setting also provides binoculars in the windows, so patrons of all ages can keep an eye out for seals, boats or maybe even a whale.

The Cove is open Thursday through Monday from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. The two hope to expand hours, but for the moment, they are kept pretty busy with the Taproom, three children and a burgeoning farm operation.

There are also plans to get the wood stove up and running again and make the space even more inviting and thus “worth the walk,” they said.

The two maintain that their location is more of a pro than a con.

“It’s a beautiful walk,” he said.

Chef Damien Cortez plates manila clams with wild board sausage, lemon, garlic, shallots, cooked in Rainier beer.

Chef Damien Cortez plates manila clams with wild board sausage, lemon, garlic, shallots, cooked in Rainier beer.

Chef Damien Cortez plates manila clams with wild board sausage, lemon, garlic, shallots, cooked in Rainier beer.

Chef Damien Cortez plates manila clams with wild board sausage, lemon, garlic, shallots, cooked in Rainier beer.