The tasting room at Blooms Winery’s new location in Freeland has taken on a whole new meaning.
Husband and wife team, Ken and Virginia Bloom, hired a chef, installed a commercial kitchen and added a bistro to their business name when moving from their Bayview Corner location last month.
Judging by the number of plates of lamb sliders, Argentine red prawn tacos, chorizo tacos and organic salads being served the past opening week, the winery’s foray into food was a smart business move.
“We needed a place in the area for a sit-down casual dinner,” declared Elizabeth Polasek of Greenbank. “And that has vegetables. The food is very good and well-priced.”
Main dishes cost $11-$14; starters and small plates, such as an olive mix, antipasti tray and hummus plate, range from $5 to $12.
As Polasek dined with two friends Thursday evening, all raved about the healthful ingredients and “beautiful” plate arrangements.
“Fresh, fresh, fresh,” declared Mariam Ross. “That’s all I need to say.”
The couple who started their wine adventure in their garage 20 years ago now operate out of a spacious and comfortable 6,000-square-foot dream space called Blooms Winery & 5511 Bistro at 5511 Freeland Ave.
“We needed to do something. We were bursting for more space,” said Ken Bloom, as he pressed a button on a remote, and laughed. “And look, I now have control over the room temperature.”
A tenant of Bayview Cash Store for nine years, Blooms became a popular spot for tourists and locals. But it was limited in the number of people who could come in to enjoy music and a glass of vino.
“They played a major role in the creation of South Whidbey’s flourishing local music scene by being one of the first to offer musicians a consistent and supportive place to perform,” said Marian Myszkowski of Goosefoot that owns the Cash Store.
The Blooms plan to continue supporting local musical acts with performances Friday and Sunday and open mic nights.
At the Bayview location, Blooms was limited to crackers, cheese and hummus offerings because it didn’t have a kitchen.
Fresh food, creatively prepared and served, is a natural to pair with fine wine, they said.
“We want people to come here for the food as much as the wine,” Virginia Bloom said.
5511 Bistro reflects the couple’s personal food preferences.
“We wanted to open a restaurant that has food that we eat,” she said. “We eat low fat, low sugar, heavy on the vegetables. There’s no deep fat fryer here and the plates are low on carbs but delicious.”
The Blooms hired Wayne Carter, who’s cooked at a range of Whidbey restaurants over the years, as executive chef and gave him carte blanche freedom to develop a menu.
“He knows what he’s doing,” Virginia said. “Everything he’s done has been delicious and looks amazing, so why interfere?”
Carter’s job has been challenging since the Sept. 28 opening because the kitchen stove isn’t fully installed. He’s been grilling out on the building’s ample deck where he set-up a miniature outdoor kitchen under a canopy.
Until the kitchen is finished, Carter said he’s creating small appetizers and a lot of small plates.
“There can be a lot of sharing at tables and I want to make the food focus on the wine,” he said.
He plans to start buying more locally-grown produce, including fresh clams, oysters and mussels, and offering more entrees for lunch and dinner.
Last week, Carter created a Caribbean cruise-themed feast for a group of 30 attending a special Rotary Club Whidbey Westside dinner with the visiting district governor.
Jamaican jerk chicken spears with pineapple were grilled and placed in a small pile on plantain leaves. Next up, Chilean crab cakes with Cajun remoulade sauce, a passion fruit citrus salad and side of Argentine red prawns.
The newly constructed building combines wine making on the first floor with wine service on the second floor.
The Blooms buy their grapes from local growers and Yakima Valley vineyards. They crush, age and produce a wide variety of red, white, rose and dessert wines.
The new Blooms is designed with a sloping roof and an open floor plan with wrap-a-round windows and wall colors reminiscent of subtle shades of red and green grapes. Paintings of local artists line the room.
Blooms previous space at Bayview’s Cash Store seems like a closet compared to the nearly 3,000-square-foot new ballroom-size retail space. It could easily accommodate bowling lanes, roller skaters, even.
What the Blooms have in mind instead is catering small parties, business gatherings and being a place for Whidbey’s many nonprofit organizations to hold fundraising dinners. It’s already booked corporate Christmas parties.
“Since I’m in several nonprofits, I know there’s not many places to book for 50 people or less,” Virginia said. “There’s many places for really large groups.”
The Blooms builder, Chris Dance with Dm Custom Homes, used repurposed material where he could. For example, beams found under the mobile home previously on the lot now support the ceiling.
“A lot of builders have miscellaneous stuff,” Virginia said. “So Chris told us he went through what he calls his bone yard.
“We still have landscaping, the parking area and entryway to finish,” she added. “But it feels great to be here.”
• Blooms Winery on Whidbey Island & 5511 Bistro, 5511 Freeland Ave., Freeland. Open: Sunday, Monday and Thursday 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Closed Tuesday and Wednesday. More information, call 360-321-0515 or visit www.bloomswinery.com