Visitors to The Chrysalis Inn are delighted every day by the sweeping views of Bellingham Bay outside each window of its popular restaurant, Keenan’s at the Pier. Abby Rose Skywalker, food and beverage manager, and Ashley Kovacevich, executive chef, agree that their work is inspired by the beauty and bounty that surrounds them.
Both women are new to their leadership roles, though not to Keenan’s at the Pier. Kovacevich moved into her managerial position this summer, after working as a breakfast cook and sous chef. She is now one of a team of three female leaders in the restaurant.
Skywalker also developed her experience at Keenan’s in positions prior to food and beverage manager—from bartender to server to assistant manager and now food and beverage manager. With about five years of Keenan’s experience below each of their belts, the women are glad to be a part of such a cohesive, collaborative food staff.
Kovacevich described the relationship between staff and management as relaxed, noting that their ability to communicate encourages collaboration. The open environment leads to creative ideas from all team members, not just upper management.
“We’re a united front even though [the restaurant] can be a stressful environment,” says Skywalker. “We aren’t just back of the house team, or front of the house, or bar team. We’re one team, one family,” This team-player environment breeds always evolving ideas and inspiration for dishes and craft beverages.
One product of that cohesive environment is Keenan’s new fall and winter menu, available October 28th. The menu isn’t just a result of Kovacevich’s ideas or even Kovacevich and Skywalker’s together. Instead, the menu reflects an entire staff inspired by their surroundings—the environment at Keenan’s, as well as the beautiful Pacific Northwest.
Diners at Keenan’s can warm up with a classic, fall gnocchi made with rich butternut and delicata squash, finished with a béchamel sauce. A new paella dish incorporates tastes of the sea with prawns, scallops, mussels, and a seasonal market catch.
While 80 percent of the menu will be new, some of what the women refer to as “star dishes” will remain. Guests can breathe a sigh of relief knowing their beloved crab cakes aren’t going anywhere.
The updated offerings are a reflection of the community’s local farms, fisher-folks, and producers. “We have always had a local focus, but I really want to highlight that. I want to advertise our farmers,” says Kovacevich.
The two women agree that focusing on the local ingredients our region provides is not only personally important, but beneficial to the community as a whole. “People need to celebrate their food,” Skywalker says. “When people know where their food is coming from, especially when it’s close to home, they get excited.”
Kovacevich and her staff get seasonal menu ideas based on what guests are looking for, what they’re personally enjoying, and what’s available from local farmers and producers. Kovacevich often relies on Skywalker to pass along guest suggestions, since her role is more front-facing.
Staff members also offer input for new menu ideas as the management team encourages them to bring ideas to which they can add a twist or variation. The standard process to getting new dishes on the menu starts with running the dish as a special to gauge guest response before adding it to the menu full time.
The fall/winter menu was constructed through a similar process, with plenty of support from sous chef David Spacey. “He has been a total force,” Skywalker says.
Right now Skywalker’s new menu favorite is the Moroccan lamb stew paired with a rich Malbec wine. The entree’s exotic flavor is a welcome twist on a comforting winter stew. Keenan’s prides itself on an extensive wine list and the restaurant is focused on providing specific pairing recommendations to go with menu items. New wines go through a similar process as menu items, starting as a special before moving to the menu full time.
When asked about a favorite item, chef Kovacevich had a difficult time deciding, finally exclaiming, “I love everything!”
Keenan’s at the Pier
Daily: 7:00am – 9:00pm
Happy Hour Daily: 3:00pm – 6:00pm
Reservations strongly recommended