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Hotel Windrow and Basalt

Where new and old merge

Ellensburg is a pretty casual place, known for the annual rodeo and Central Washington University. There are plenty of places to stay, at a certain level, like Red Lion, Days Inn, Best Western. And they're fine, but if you're looking for a more upscale getaway, you haven't had a lot of choice. Now there's Hotel Windrow in the historic downtown area.

Locals Steve and Ruth Townsend wanted to bring something more to Ellensburg. They met Rory Turner who was resurrecting the Elks Club building which had been sitting empty for decades. A fairly large ownership group was formed. Hotel Windrow was built on the parking lot next to the Elks building, the two connecting via a brick wall. That wall is a feature of the hotel lobby and Basalt restaurant. Plus there are two historic double queen rooms in the Elks building with original brickwork, out of the total 59 rooms. Throughout the hotel, artwork from Gallery One is rotated every few months, and the hotel is part of Ellensburg's First Friday Art Walk. "Being part of the community has been the hotel concept from the beginning," notes Mark Anthony Breuninger, Rooms and Sales Manager.

A lovely staircase ("the bridge from new to old") leads to the Grand Ballroom, 3000 square feet of history, including the star ceiling light from the original Elks building. A small reception area with fireplace is cozy, and there are several leased office spaces. The basement of the hotel hosts a small business center and gym. Along with guestrooms, the fourth floor is your path to the Top of the Burg, an attractive rooftop area overlooking the city and valley with comfortable chairs and tables. Bar service and a small food menu are offered during summer months. Because of the distance from the kitchen, the rooftop menu consists of items like charcuterie, chips and salsa, and pork rinds.

The lobby hosts two spots where you can sit and relax, one with a fireplace, both with street views. A staircase leads down to Basalt restaurant, helmed by Executive Chef Kelley Cook. There are two dining areas: one that includes the bar and bar counter seating, as well as two larger semi-communal tables made with refurbished wood from the original building; and one with tables and counter seating that allow open kitchen viewing.

Every restaurant must know who their customers are in order to meet their needs. Hotels and hotel restaurants have to balance serving transient hotel guests plus satisfy locals. And although the Hotel Windrow concept is higher-end, it's still located in Ellensburg, a laid-back city. Chef Kelley has done a good job of finding that middle ground. We know because we ate our way through a tasting menu, pairing courses with wines. We started at the bar where there are cocktails created by Chef Kelley, as well as anything else you might want. They squeeze lemon and lime juice for cocktails. Of course, we wanted orange and the bartender happily grabbed the juicer and made it happen.

We sampled Brussels sprouts which were a lighter version of what is mostly trending now and they were a nice change of pace. Roasted rainbow carrots came with tzatziki sauce. Mushroom ricotta ravioli with a cream sherry sauce followed. We tried the hangar steak with chimichurri. "With the cost of beef, we thought we'd try this; it's fatty and delicious and goes well with chimichurri," says Kelley. "We're known for doing halibut well, because it's always fresh, never frozen, and cooked properly." She's right on both counts. The final entrée we tried was the prime rib. The trim was delicious (Chef says it's nothing more than olive oil, salt, and pepper) and it was cooked perfectly.

There was no sense in going this far without trying dessert. We returned to our room with two desserts by Pastry Chef Joey Bale: his grandmother's carrot cake (delicious and beautifully presented) and a strawberry-rhubarb crisp (delicious, and seriously sweet).

The hotel and restaurant opened in January 2020; the hotel stayed open throughout the pandemic although with minimal staff, and Basalt closed from mid-January to mid-April, reopening officially May 20, 2022. "Like most places, we've needed to pare back," explains Kelley. "We went from a two-page menu to a one-page menu. It was important to stick with our concept which is that anyone should be able to find something they'd like on the menu, whether that's our halibut or the chicken saltimbocca. While we love hosting people celebrating special occasions, we also want Basalt to be a place you come on Wednesday because you're hungry. It works because this team is so dedicated to their craft. They work hard, they're talented, and good natured. There is no tension in this kitchen, which is unusual. Everyone wants to be here for Basalt and our customers."

That seems to be the feeling across the property. We stayed one night and by the time we left we knew many of the staff members' names. People smiled. There was no stuffiness. It all felt sincere. There was no change in stress level at the front desk when they were helping one person or there were four in line. Everyone was given the time they needed. You bring you into the mix: the kind of day you had, who you're with, why you're there, etc. It's pretty great when all that mixes with the hotel, restaurant, and staff to create a really enjoyable visit.

Connie Adams/June 2022

Click here to read about Chef Kelley Cook's background.

Hotel Windrow
502 N Main St
Ellensburg, WA 98926
509-962-8000
hotelwindrow.com

Basalt
509-962-8002
basaltellensburg.com


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