Festivals on Main Street, family-run boutiques, and a new cycling path—this little farm town is as all-American as rhubarb pie. Washington food writer Rebekah Denn gives us a taste of Sumner.
Few towns appreciate their produce quite like Sumner, the proudly proclaimed Rhubarb Pie Capital of the World and host of an annual summer series of festivals (yes, series) devoted to celebrating all things rhubarb. In August alone, you can catch a fine-arts show, a production of Hello, Dolly! at Sumner Performing Arts Center, and a classic-car show.
Slice of life
Ask the mayor, Dave Enslow, where to head for rhubarb pie, and he’ll give you two suggestions: buzzing Berryland Cafe, if you want to catch up on town gossip along with the pastries that co-owner Lola Burslie makes by hand each day, or Dixie’s Home Cookin’, if you favor a crumb topping. For more sweet treats, you can join the high school sports fans who line up after games at the Main St. Dairy Freeze to sample the 40-plus flavors of milkshakes. Those games have a musical benefit too. “The Sumner High School marching band—they’re so good, they may as well be a college band,” says city-planning manager Ryan Windish. “They march through the streets practicing, so you’ll be eating dinner or out in your yard in the evening, and you can listen.”
Residents’ rhubarb-pie fixation isn’t based solely on nostalgia. Sumner is still a leading producer of the crop, with a number of area operations owned by fifth-generation farmers. A downtown stroll shows countless nods to the town’s agricultural heritage, from the hop flowers on the iron trellises of the train station to the rhubarb carved on a mini cedar stage just off Main Street. You can even bring a sample home to test your own green thumb. Gorgeous hanging baskets, supplies, and plants (including rhubarbs in season) abound at Windmill Gardens. Another verdant stop where you can get cut flowers and garden art is the elegant VanLierop Garden Market.
All in the families
Downtown Sumner is independent to the core, from the family-run hardware store to the nonchain drugstore. Ruffled dresses and frilly shoes adorn the shelves at SugarBabies, an upscale children’s boutique, while individually wrapped caramels are shelved along with practical canning jars at Simple Tidings & Kitchen, a 30-year mainstay on Main Street. Hobbyists and professional carpenters flock to Sumner Woodworker Store for supplies and tools (a common quest is restoring classic Chris Craft boats to take out on nearby Lake Tapps).
Last spring, the final section of the Sumner Link Trail was paved, closing a gap in the 8.4-mile path cyclists can take between the Interurban Trail, 12 miles north of Sumner, and the Foothills Trail, 12.5 miles south. You can BYO wheels or rent cruisers at Trailside Cyclery, in nearby Orting. Anglers should pack a fishing rod too; the trail edges the confluence of the White and Puyallup Rivers, which are chock-full of trout. Stuck Junction Saloon serves burgers made of local beef and a big selection of draft beers—perfect for a post-pedal feast.