LYNDEN, Washington — When you tell folks, “The Nuthouse is where I wrote my first book — or most of it, anyway,” they tend to look at you warily. Sometimes they take a step back. They think you’re pulling their leg or are a whole lot less sane than they hoped.
Saying it’s a restaurant doesn’t immediately put away all doubt. “What kind of restaurant?” they want to know.
According to the Facebook page, Lynden’s Nuthouse Grill features the “food styles” of “American (traditional), Barbeque, Brunch, Burgers, Sandwiches, Seafood, Steakhouses and Vegetarian,” though the last category is a bit of a stretch. If you really push for it, they can leave the bacon off your salad.
The Nuthouse is so called because there’s a big wagon full of peanuts in the lobby and every table has metal pails of nuts that customers can shuck and eat before, after or in lieu of meals and then toss the shells on the naked concrete floor. Barkeeps and wait staff sweep away the debris while bussing tables.
The Nuthouse has been a fixture of the town for over a decade, changing hands several times. I couldn’t quite recall when it opened, so I phoned my younger brother Andrew, who worked for the original owners.
He couldn’t quite remember either. “I’m going to guess it was 2001,” he said. While I had him on the line, I asked if there were any high- or lowlights of his time there.
My brother said the thing that really drove him “nuts” — pun unintended, I think — was when parents would bring their children with peanut allergies into the place. They would usually ask him to give their area a good sweeping, as if the potentially deadly dust that would kick up into the air didn’t matter.
On the other hand, he asked rhetorically, “Who could blame them?” given that the bar part of the restaurant featured inexpensive Southern Bullets and “the cheapest Mac & Jack’s on the planet.”
Mac & Jack’s, for the uninitiated, is a brewery that distributes locally. It’s similar to Pennsylvania’s Yuengling, except Mac & Jack’s is not bottled and is a whole lot better. When Washingtonians refer to Mac and Jack’s generically, they mean M&J’s African Amber, which is pure unfiltered goodness and thus worth risking filicide.
One hates to admit it, but Andrew does have half a point about the beer. Sipping on a Mac & Jack’s as I worked away at the manuscript of In Defense of Hypocrisy was enough to keep me at The Nuthouse most afternoons in the fall of 2005, a fact that crept into the book’s acknowledgements.
It was what I needed then a good place to filter out the rest of the world, to be alone with my work but not so alone that I chased every random thought off in unproductive directions. The slow shuffle of the barkeeps and other customers and the jukebox — and the beer! — kept me distracted enough at the booth to focus on getting the book done.
When I moved back to town over three years ago now, I didn’t give The Nuthouse much thought for some strange reason. But then I started slowly drifting back.
It hasn’t much changed, I found. The menu is still broadly the same as when it opened, though there have been welcome additions.
The New Orleans style barbeque prawn “appetizer,” which during happy hour will set you back all of $5.50, is a delicious mix of shrimp, mushrooms and toast points. The bar steaks are inexpensive and decent. Folks sometimes blitz the place on Thursdays on account of prime rib night, but it is otherwise non-congested.
The bar still has regulars who are not quarrelsome and barkeeps who show the right mix of diligence and bemusement. If the menu prices have kept pace with inflation, then inflation must not be a problem.
Now I find myself with another book to write after a long hiatus. So, in all likelihood, it’s time for another long stretch in The Nuthouse for me. That’s not as crazy as it sounds.