The world renowned Penn Cove Mussels are the stars of one of Whidbey Island’s biggest traditions, Penn Cove MusselFest, to be held Saturday and Sunday, March 12 and 13, in downtown Coupeville.
The event is put on by the Coupeville Historic Waterfront Association in partnership with Penn Cove Shellfish, producers of the above-mentioned famous mussels.
Started 30 years ago by two local restauranteurs as a way to bring people to town during the slower season, the event now attracts thousands, most of whom are anxious to get a taste of the chowders cooked up by local chefs.
“We’ve added a fourth ticket this year, another 500 tickets per day, for a total of 2,000 tickets each day,” said Vickie Chambers, executive director of the Historic Waterfront Association. “We sold out of tickets by 11 a.m. last year, so by going to a fourth ticket, we hope to have more available for people who get there a little later.”
Tasting tickets are $10 each and each ticket is good for a chowder sample at four different restaurants.
“We encourage couples to buy two different tickets, that way they can taste eight different chowders,” said Chambers.
Tickets can be purchased starting at 10 a.m. each day at the Coupeville Rec Hall, also known as MusselFest Headquarters, 901 NW Alexander Street. Once participants have their tickets, they can taste the chowders from 11 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. and can take a free shuttle to the different restaurants. Tasters get to cast their vote for their favorite chowder and the winning restaurant gets the coveted “Best Chowder” award.
“We have a total of 14 restaurants participating and we have been lucky enough not to have to go outside of Coupeville for them,” Chambers said. “And I really want to give a shout out to our restaurants. It’s a lot of work to make that many chowder samples.”
According to Chambers, the CHWA purchases enough mussels (at a very reasonable cost) from MusselFest partner Penn Cove Shellfish to provide each participating restaurant with 50 pounds of mussels to help offset their cost.
For those folks who – say it ain’t so! – don’t like mussels, Chambers said there will be plenty of other food items available from vendors on the street downtown.
One of the other big draws of MusselFest, said Chambers, is the opportunity to tour Penn Cove Shellfish. There will be even more opportunities to do so this year.
“This is the only time Penn Cove Shellfish does public tours of the farm,” she said. “This year, we’ve added a second boat, so instead of leaving for the 50-minute tour every hour, we’ll now have tours leaving every 30 minutes.”
Cost for the tour is $10 per person and tickets can be purchased at the Rec Hall. Every passenger must have a ticket, including children. This year Front Street Grill is sponsoring a free ride to the first 100 children ages birth to 12 with an adult. Tours leave from the Coupeville Wharf from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.
But there’s even more to do at MusselFest. There will be free cooking demonstrations by some of Seattle’s finest chefs at the Rec Hall from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. There will also be live music at several venues.
If you just can’t get enough mussels, $5 will enter 20 mussel lovers into the mussel-eating contest, held both days at 3 p.m. at the Rec Hall. Whoever can eat three 16-ounce cups of mussels first wins the crown.
And there’s fun planned for children as well. Kids can toss a line off the pier at 22 Front Street and fish for treasures. There will also be clowns, face painting and other activities.
“We try to make it fun for every age,” Chambers said. “If nothing else, come and take the tour. It’s a thrill, it really is.”
More details and a complete schedule is available online at www.penncovemusselfest.com.