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#LovingNow: Nene Goose Bakery in Kailua

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The other day I had to pick up my dogs at Nalowinds Boarding Kennels in Waimānalo.

It was early in the morning — well before 7 a.m. — and I needed to pick up something to give the Duartes, who had watched my dogs that weekend.

I was already on the Pali Highway, halfway to Waimānalo, and I couldn’t think of a quick place to grab something small, like a box of donuts or a custard pie.

I went down my mental list of bakeries on O‘ahu’s windward side: Deluxe Pastry Shop with its cream-filled long johns, Kaneohe Bakery next door with its custard pie, Agnes’ Portuguese Bake Shop in Kailua with its to-die-for malasadas.

All of which were too far. I was in a hurry.

So I Googled bakeries nearby and up popped Nene Goose Bakery in the Keolu Shopping Center. It was practically on the way!

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It’s a very unassuming, Japanese-style bakery, tucked away in a very quiet shopping center that boasts a movie theater and an okazuya, among other things. You can barely see the sign, though the bright interior lights and glass cases filled with colorful pastries will definitely draw you in.

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The bakery, started by the Nagai family in 1995, churns out all sorts of delights, from glazed donuts to cinnamon rolls to savory pastries. The specialties here, though, are breads, particularly the French and spinach loaves, not to mention small breads in the shapes of animals.

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I’ve been here before, in the early afternoon, and it’s almost a faux pax to ask for spinach bread, as the bakery’s signature loaves sell out very quickly. You have to go early in the morning to grab a half loaf. (The bakery makes raisin, walnut and whole wheat breads, too.)

The spinach bread doesn’t taste like spinach at all. It has a soft texture, typical of Japanese-style breads, and a clean flavor. It’s not laden with preservatives or overly sweet. It’s a perfect loaf, to be honest, even with the speckle of green.

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Another signature item here is the mochi anpan, a Japanese bread pastry filled with sweetened red bean paste and a small, round ball of mochi. It’s expensive, but the size of the anpan — about a big as a baseball — and the uniqueness of this pastry make the price tag worthwhile. The bakery makes about 100 pieces a day.

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I love that this is a true, old-fashioned neighborhood bakery — there aren’t many left on O‘ahu! — that serves high-quality baked goods, including breads, butter rolls, donuts, even pies (on Saturday only).

My favorites are the mochi anpan (of course), the spinach bread (duh), the glazed donuts (best on the island, for sure), the old-fashioned cake donut (loaded with white sugar), the cinnamon rolls (made with a butter flake roll), and the buttermilk donut (perfection).

Of course, I haven’t tried everything on the menu, so that list isn’t definitive. But it’s a start!

***

Nene Goose Bakery, 1090 Keolu Dr. #111 in Enchanted Lake, Hours: 6 a.m.-4 p.m. Mondays, Thursdays through Sundays, closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays and during lunch from noon to 1 p.m. Phone: 808-262-1080.

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Why I don’t hike as much anymore

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There was a time when, just about every weekend, I was lost in the mountains somewhere.

And most often, I’d be alone.

I’d hike everywhere, with friends, with hiking groups, alone. We’d drive to the other side of the island just to get a different summit view. We’d cross private properties, jump fences and made our own trails at times.

I used to climb the tracks at Koko Crater when there was a tree growing in the middle of the bridge. And more often than not, I was the only at the top.

But that all changed.

It seems with this GoPro-Instagram-Facebook culture, hiking has become the “it” thing to do. Everyone wants to post that cool summit photo on her social media platform — and the more dangerous, the better.

I got tired of waiting for people — many of whom weren’t in condition — struggling up the tracks at Koko Head or stopping every few minutes to snap photos at Olomana. I just want to be outside, feel the air in my face, listen to the quiet. I don’t need to hear a 20-minute FaceTime conversation about the latest drama at work.

Don’t get me wrong: I still love to hike. But once I got Sunny about six years ago, I started looking for trails that were dog-friendly — and, of course, that limited me to only a few. At first, it was an adjustment. I liked wandering in forests, clinging to trees, crawling along narrow trails, breathing in that moment you reach the summit. But I realized I wasn’t missing the crowds and sharing that experience with people who don’t seem to get it.

A couple of weeks ago, I decided to brave the late-morning crowd — that never existed before — at Koko Head to get in a quick workout. I was horrified to see nearly 100 military personnel with heavy packs, along with the dozens of other people, climbing the stairs. It was slow-going up and even slower going down. One guy sprained his ankle, another woman looked like she had heatstroke, and a few couples completely stopped in the middle of the trail and sat down, blocking the way up.

I’m conflicted. On the one hand, I love that people are getting outdoors and being active. I do. But I wonder about their safety — and the safety of others. I was nearly run down by a guy plugged into earbuds who decided he wanted sprint to the bottom of the tracks regardless of the people still climbing up.

I realize this is a contentious topic — and it’s no wonder Civil Beat is hosting a #CivilCafe on hiking today at Fresh Cafe. (RSVP for the event here.) It’s something we should probably start talking about now before anything really bad happens.

In the meantime, I’m going to walk my dogs to the top of Makapu‘u. And if I wanna wear my sturdy Merrell Moabs for purely nostalgic reasons, I will.

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#FieldTrip: Spending the evening in Waikiki

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We just can’t get enough of each other.

The four of us who traveled to Greece a couple of weeks ago planned to meet up with another friend, Dara Lum, who just started a new job as communications director at the posh Hakeulani.

And, of course, we had to eat.

So we decided to check out a new art exhibit at the Waikiki Parc, a swanky boutique hotel on Helumoa Road across the street from the beach.

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For the past year and a half, the hotel has partnered with the University of Hawaii at Manoa to transform what used to be a bare walkway through the hotel into a quaint gallery space to showcase student and alumni work. (It’s called the Parc Promenade.)

For the next three months — the art changes that often! — the works of Nathan J.H. Ditzler of Kailua (above), who graduated from UH and is now a graduate student at West Virginia University, will be on display (and for sale). This is his first solo show.

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His sculptures show a tension between the natural and the constructed — and with a clear sense of humor. I mean, just look at the ones above!

My favorite — and Ditzler’s, too — is “Shaka Mudra” (above), constructed from stoneware and metallic glaze. “It lends itself to art history but has this subversive element,” he explained. “I have to think this historical figure would have had a sense of humor.”

After the art opening, we walked across the street to the Halekulani for drinks at the House Without a Key and dinner at Orchid’s.

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I love this open-air restaurant for a lot of reasons, namely the view and the live music. It’s that classic Waikiki scene visitors romanticize about: the sun setting behind a trio of Hawaiian musicians with a former Miss Hawaii gracefully dancing under a century-old kiawe tree as you sip on your Mai Tai. How does it get better?

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The view from our table was perfect.

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We started with drinks — of course — and I had to sample the restaurant’s famous Mai Tai. Such a classic — and perfectly crafted.

But once the sun dropped behind the Pacific Ocean, we headed to Orchid’s, the hotel’s signature restaurant. Best known for its Sunday brunch, Orchid’s has a stellar dinner menu, too, that’s definitely worth checking out.

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We started with the lobster bisque, a decadent soup starter that’s a must-not-miss.

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Next, we sampled the grilled Romaine salad, the greens slightly charred and warm. It was nicely paired with feta cheese, cucumbers, onions and a lemon-oregano dressing. But it was the tomato chutney that was out-of-this-world. I could eat that with just bread and be happy.

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The server recommended this tuna and foie gras croquette, with a tomatillo salsa and green apple-frisée salad.

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A standout appetizer is the seared scallops with cauliflower mousseline — like a Hollandaise sauce — with caviar and gribiche cream. The scallops were buttery delicious.

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Another popular dish — and rightly so — is the olive oil-poached salmon paired with Big Island goat cheese and pistachios and roasted beetroot. This was so unexplainable delicious — must have been the olive oil poaching prep — that two of my girlfriends who don’t care much for salmon absolutely loved this. That says a lot!

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Easily the most popular dish here — actually, it could be its signature — is the steamed onaga (long-tailed red snapper), done Chinese-style. It comes with shiitake mushrooms and green onions, sizzled with sesame oil and shoyu. Melt-in-your-mouth perfect.

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Here’s the ravioli using Kahuku shrimp and asparagus from Waialua and topped with a lemon verbena butter.

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My girlfriend and I split the beef ribeye and tenderloin (shown), which came with root veggies and mustard cream. The tenderloin, as expected, was lean and a bit dryer than the fatty ribeye, which exceeded expectations. I will think about that ribeye for awhile.

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For dessert, we tried the organic chocolate plate with a rich chocolate cream paired with roasted apple bananas and organic white honey. Interesting, for sure.

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I ordered the ice cream sampler, all made in-house. You can pick from vanilla, nougat, Kona coffee, coconut and chocolate.

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But the star of the dinner is Halekulani’s signature coconut cake, a slice of heaven, really. This chiffon cake features coconut-amaretto cream, whipped cream and shredded coconut. And if you don’t like coconut, don’t worry. Most of us weren’t coconut fans — but we gobbled this up in no time. There’s a reason why this cake is legendary. It’s THAT good.

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#Revisited: Afternoon tea at the Moana

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I’m not much of a tea drinker.

But when Lorraine Elliot (@notquitenigella), blogger extraordinaire and food enthusiast from Sydney, informed Melissa Chang (@melissa808) and me that she was coming to town and wanted to meet at the historic Moana Surfrider in Waikīkī for some afternoon tea, well, I suddenly craved some iced tea and scones.

It’s had been awhile since I sat down on the famed veranda at this iconic hotel. The tea service here is steeped — pardon the pun — in history, it’s practically legendary!

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We went a little later than normal to beat the lunchtime crowd — we got there at around 2:45 p.m. — and only had to share the veranda with a few people. There was live music at the bar fronting the banyan tree and we had front row seats to the Pacific Ocean. You couldn’t beat it.

There are three tea options: $34 for the Veranda Tea Service, $40 for the Moana Classic Tea Service, and $48 for the First Lady Tea Service. All three come with your choice of tea, three assorted finger sandwiches, traditional scones and a sampling of pastries and petit fours on a three-tiered tray. The difference between the three? The Moana has an extra finger sandwich, a ginger biscotti and a mini pot de creme; the First Lady has all that plus a plate of fresh berries and a glass of sparkling dry rose. (We got the Moana Classic Tea Service.)

And it all starts with the tea.

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The service — in this case, Carlo who likes grasshoppers — brought out six different teas (above), including one herbal tea, for us to smell and pick.

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I chose the Moana Royale, a fruity blend that’s one of the service’s most popular. Melissa picked the hotel’s signature Moana Sunset with mango notes and Lorraine opted for the Veranda Breeze with caramel. The others were jasmine phoenix pearls, mango melee, and darjeeling and lemon rooibos.

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The tea, which you can get hot or iced, arrived first. You have to let the tea steep for a few minutes before pouring. It was nice — and strategic — that we had ordered three different teas so we could sample more than just our own.

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Next came the grub.

We were served this impressive display of scones and pastries, so perfectly crafted and pretty it was hard to eat. (OK, it wasn’t THAT hard to eat them.)

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The top tray featured a roll sponge cake filled with a creamy haupia (coconut) filling, mango macarons and a macadamia nut cookie.

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The second tier had traditional scones — a bit hard but tasty – paired with Devonshire clotted cream (my favorite) and lemon curd.

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The last tier boasted mini cakes — guava and coffee — that I figured got Lorraine excited! (She’s a bit of a cake aficionado. Read her blog.

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But the service doesn’t just offer sweets. We were also served this small plate of finger sandwiches: salmon over toast, a mini roast beef bite, and a tasty little bánh mì with pork and shredded radishes that gave it a nice crunch.

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Since we ordered the Moana Classic Tea Service, we also got this plate filled with a mini pot de creme in dark chocolate, which was divine, and a difficult-to-eat crab sandwich that used cucumber slices instead of bread.

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The meal finished with a dollop of lemongrass green tea sorbet.

My take: This may not be the most posh tea services around — and granted, I’m not a connoisseur at all — but I like the vibe and atmosphere. I want to go to an afternoon tea service that’s slow and relaxed, not stuffy or full of pretense, and this is it. You don’t feel rushed, you don’t feel stressed, and you’re definitely not thinking about all the work you have to do when you leave the hotel. You’re just enjoying the company, the view, and the food. As it should be.

Afternoon tea at the Moana Surfrider, 2365 Kalākaua Ave. in Waikīkī. Hours: Noon to 3 p.m. daily. Cost: $34, $40 and $48. Phone: 808-921-4600.

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#CatTravels: If you find yourself in #Issaquah…

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I thought we were flying to Seattle.

Instead, I found out that morning, we were heading to a small town east of Washington’s largest city city, to a place called Issaquah.

Issa-what?

At least that’s what I was saying in my head.

I’ve been to Seattle a bunch of times, even drove as far as Marysville once. But I had never been — or even heard of — Issaquah.

Turns out, it’s quite a city.

I was shocked at how many people knew about it when I posted my travel itinerary on social media. My girlfriend grew up there, her mom works for the school district, and others have lived or worked or traveled through for years.

Where has this place been all my life?

Here’s some background on Issaquah: The population here is close to 30,500. The name, “Issaquah,” is some kind of misspelling of a local Native American word that could mean “sound of the birds,” “snake” or “little stream.” It was a mining town that turned into a lumber town that turned into a highly desirable residential suburb, ranked the second fastest-growing ‘burn in the state by Forbes.com.

And it’s gorgeous, surrounded on three sides by the Issaquah Alps: Cougar, Squak and Tiger mountains. To the north is Lake Sammamish.

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Oh, just something you’d see walking around Issaquah. So gorgeous.

We were here visiting a relative — and just for about 48 hours.

I thought, at first, that would be more than enough time to see this charming little town.

Boy, was I wrong.

That wasn’t enough time to just EAT in this city, packed with old-fashioned diners and cozy restaurants.

So if you ever find yourself heading to Issaquah and you’re wondering what to do, look no further. Here’s your travel plans:

1. Get breakfast at Issaquah Cafe

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Issaquah Cafe (1580 NW Gilman Blvd., 425-391-9690) is one of those hometown restaurants in a strip mall — and it’s so worth the visit. It was just a comfortable place to get a hearty breakfast. I can see why it’s so popular.

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One of the specials that morning was this omelet with bell peppers, onions, cheese and smothered in the restaurant’s country sausage gravy.

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Here’s the chicken fried steak — a tenderized piece of steak (often round steak) doused in fried chicken batter — with that same gravy. You can’t get this back in Hawaii, so we ate as much of it as humanly possible.

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White sausage gravy like this has bits of sausage on it — but it’s also cooked with that same pork fat. That’s what makes it so good — and so bad.

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In addition to gravy — I realize that’s all I talked about! — the cafe serves up other breakfast items including pancakes, cinnamon rolls and these pumpkin waffles.

2. Tour the Issaquah Salmon Hatchery

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There’s a government-run salmon hatchery right in downtown Issaquah (125 W. Sunset Way, 425-392-1118). You can tour it during daylight hours on your own. Most times there are docents available to show you around. But we went at possibly the worst time ever — a Sunday morning in the summer, when not much is happening. Still, it was interesting to learn what happens here.

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Fall is the most active time at the hatchery, when adult chinook and coho salmon return here. The staff begins trapping adult salmon for brood stock in September through November, collecting eggs and milt, fertilizing eggs, and getting them settled into incubation trays. The hatchery also raises rainbow trout.

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In early October, the hatchery — and really the entire town — celebrates the salmon return with Issaquah Salmon Days Festival (www.salmondays.com), a two-day block party of sorts in downtown Issaquah with workshops, live music, food and more. (It’s on my bucket list.)

3. Get a root beer float from XXX Root Beer Drive-In

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According to the company, XXX Root Beer Drive-In (98 NE Gilman Blvd., 425-392-1266) was the first drive-in in the Pacific Northwest, established in 1930. The combination of the XXX brand of root beer and food worked and the concept spread across the country. There’s only two XXX drive-ins left — here and in Lafayette, Ind. It’s been in this location since 1968. And car shows here are a regular thing.

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This sign outside the drive-in really sets the tone.

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The drive-in’s got an extensive menu, with its burgers as the highlight. The Incredible XXX Burger is touted as the juiciest and messiest around, with three different cheeses, grilled onions, lettuce, tomatoes and pickles with the drive-in’s homemade dressing and freshly baked buns. If I hadn’t just eaten breakfast, I would have devoured this — and suffered later!

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The decor really looks like this: a mess of ’50s and ’60s memorabilia literally strewn everywhere.

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We just wanted to try the root beer, for which is what this place is known. The recipe dates back to 1930 and still made the same way. The float uses premium Darigold ice cream, and you can order them in frosted mugs. Perfection!

4. Lunch at JaK’s Grill

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We stumbled upon JaK’s Grill (28 Front St., 425-837-8834) while walking around the historic downtown area. And from the line that waiting outside, we figured it was worth checking out.

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JaK’s has three locations — the other two are in Laurelhurst and West Seattle — and it prides itself on being that great little neighborhood bar and grill. Which is certainly is.

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We happened to be there just in time for Sunday brunch, so we tried the JaK Bene, its take on the classic eggs Benedict but with its signature potato pancakes, grilled filet mignon and poached eggs topped with a Béarnaise sauce and served with freshly baked brioche bread.

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They were still cooking the barbecue pork, so we settled with the steak sandwich, made with marinated Nebraska aged New York steak, grilled to order and served on a steak butter toasted roll with the house au jus.

5. Stop at Boehm’s Candies & Chocolates

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My girlfriend’s mom teaches in Issaquah and sends her candies from Boehm’s Candies & Chocolates (255 NE Gilman Blvd., 425-392-6652). She told me it’s a must-stop, so naturally I went.

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The company was founded by the Swiss-Austrian Julius Boehm, who immigrated to the U.S. in 1940. He and partner George Tedlock opened the first candy kitchen in the north end of Seattle, then moved the company to Issaquah in 1956. He built the Edelweiss Chalet (photo above this one) and an alpine chapel. He lived here until he passed away in 1981. Today, Bernard Garbusjuk runs the company, having worked with Boehm for 10 years. The focus is still on handcrafted chocolates and candies.

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And look what we found: a little bit of Hawaii here.

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In fact, this is one of the chocolatier’s best-selling candy!

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Boehm’s featured a nice range of products, too, from these molded chocolate medallions to decadent, European-style truffles to classic chewy caramels and nut clusters. And the staff gives out free samples!

6. Eat (again) at 12th Avenue Grill

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Another recommendation: 12th Avenue Grill (775-G NW Gilman Blvd., 425-392-5975) in the Issaquah Commons shopping complex.

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This place was packed on a Sunday afternoon. Maybe it’s because you can order breakfast all day long. (That’s always a draw.) Or maybe it’s because this neighborhood diner serves up classic comfort food like warm Belgian waffles, homemade buttermilk biscuits topped with white sausage gravy, blueberry pancakes, loaded baked potatoes and hearty chili topped with cheese, onions and garlic bread.

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We went for the French dip, with sliced roast beef served on toasted French bread with au jus.

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And here’s the fish and chips — four pieces of ale-battered halibut, deep fried and served with either tartar sauce or malt vinegar, with a load of fries on the side.

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And to finish the meal, get the homemade cinnamon roll slathered in icing with golden raisins and a syrupy cinnamon glaze that was to die for.

Not bad, Issaquah, not bad!

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