On a recent afternoon two hours before opening, John Strasinger could be found sitting at one of his restaurant’s tables picking through a bin of yellow wax beans.
They’d been brought to the Bay Street Bistro that afternoon freshly picked from a Port Orchard farm.
“Kitsap produces some absolutely beautiful produce,” he said.
During the growing season, about 80 percent of the produce used at the restaurant, which opened in late July, has come from local farms. Some things, such as lemons, olives and garlic needed for Italian-style dishes, either don’t grow here or aren’t yet grown in enough abundance to fully support a restaurant.
Conversation comes easy with Strasinger, who practices the art when he takes breaks from cooking in the kitchen to greet customers and see how they liked their meals.
While talking about his restaurant, the word community comes up nearly a dozen times. He talks about the community of farmers he’s worked with, such as those at Amber Gardens, Alvarez Farm and Possum Run Farm. He talked about his love for the small-town feel of Port Orchard, and the sense of community he wants the bistro to support.
Strasinger has worked in the restaurant business for 25 years in various roles from waiter to sous chef.
He began in college as he worked to earn a zoology degree in New York. He found he liked restaurants better.
And when his apartment burned down in the early ’90s with all of his possessions in it, he moved to Seattle to work on fishing boats and later at the Pike Place Brewery.
Bay Street Bistro is the first restaurant he can call his own.
He lives in Olalla and while working at the Carter’s Chocolates booth at the Saturday market, he met local farmers and people interested in local foods. He decided that there was enough of a community of both that he could make a go of a restaurant.
Early this year, he saw a vacant space in an 1890s era building on Bay Street that fits about 10 tables and a small bar downstairs and an upstairs that can host 12 to 15 more people. And in late July, he opened Bay Street Bistro.
“It’s very scary, of course,” he said.
He’s created a space with a fireplace cozy enough to be a neighborhood gathering spot where people can pull their chairs over to chat with with friends but one with cloth-covered tables and low, evening lighting elegant enough for a date night. And because the small space doesn’t allow for a separated bar, the whole restaurant is restricted to those age 21 and older per state liquor laws.
A half-dozen entrees range from a $20 pan seared scallops with grilled corn and bell peppers in a cream sauce to a $17 spaghetti with clams, herbs and tomatoes. He also hosts a four-course prixe-fix Sunday night supper in which each course showcases a local farmer or food coming into season.
Being small allows him to take advantage of the changing produce from small local farms, which also means the menu will change with what’s available and in season.
Main dishes are centered on an eclectic collection of plates. Serving plates hold the potatoes and veggies, which are meant to be shared family style.
“I feel like Americans don’t share their food often enough when
they go out to eat,” he said.
“We really want to instill a sense of community with the whole thing … passing the plate and breaking bread together and things like that.”
An hour before dinnertime, passersby on Bay Street are looking in the window, calling hello or just checking the menu.
Another cook, an apprentice who’s studying at the Art Institute, comes in and asked what she could do. Strasinger asks her to finish preparing the beans for the night’s meals.
Where: 834 Bay Street, Port Orchard
Average plate cost: $20 or less
Ages: For 21 and older
Hours: 4:30 p.m. to 10 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday and 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday.
More information: baystreetbistro.com or 360-602-0310