At Molly Ward Gardens, reservations are recommended, but when you call, don’t expect to talk to Molly. You might get Lynn Ward — proprietress, co-founder, head gardener and creative force behind the eclectic Poulsbo restaurant and event destination — but Molly is not only deceased, she was a dog.
In 1990 — when Lynn; her husband, Sam; and their 9-year-old son, Luke, moved to the historic, nearly 5-acre property with the tumble-down barn — the name of their beloved pet seemed a good fit for the kind of establishment Lynn had in mind: friendly, feminine, unpretentious and comfortably countryfied.
Molly Ward is a trifecta of sensory experience: epicurean cuisine, exuberant gardens and a romantically eclectic dining room. It has a fashion all its own — if the gardens are blue jeans and Birkenstocks, and the dining room pleats and pumps, the food served at Molly Ward is pure Chanel suit and stiletto heels. The ambiance may be easygoing, but this restaurant takes its food seriously.
At Molly Ward, crab is elevated to a tower served with lobster sauce and puff pastry claws. Wagyu filet mignon, pork tenderloin, wild salmon and Dabob Bay oysters, as well as vegetarian selections such as baked spaghetti squash with gorgonzola cream sauce, are just a taste of the ever-changing entrees composed by head chef (and Lynn’s husband) Sam Ward, their son and heir apparent Luke Ward, lunch chef Sean Ayers and dinner chef Dan Thieman.
Ingenuity is an ingredient in every dish placed on the table. The team often collaborates to develop new recipes and pairings.
“Our secret is that we all genuinely enjoy food and what we can do with it,” Luke Ward says.
“We never stop learning,” adds Sam Ward.
Not so secret, but just as important, is the quality of the ingredients. Meals are accompanied by a garden-fresh, organic soup or salad. Sauces, relishes and dressings are made in-house from whatever produce is in season. Molly Ward boasts a full — if compact — bar where bartender Luke stirs and shakes specialty house cocktails. As for Lynn’s desserts, roasted strawberry buttermilk ice cream pie just about says it all.
“At Molly Ward, you don’t just eat, you dine,” she says. “Take your time and enjoy the people you’re breaking bread with.”
Now, where will you dine? Indoors or out? Either is a good choice, but garden dining is available for only a few months of the year.
“Gardens” is part of the Molly Ward name for good reason. Having room to grow flowers and food was a big part of the Wards’ decision to buy the former farm. Throughout the family’s three decades on the property, Lynn Ward has not only kept a kitchen garden for use by the restaurant, she’s grown the landscape beds into a plant lovers’ destination.
Hundreds of species, many uncommon, interweave along the paths to provide visitors a postprandial game of name-that-plant. Evidence of the farm’s homesteaders is found in a grand, 100-year-old black locust tree (sadly, its twin crashed to earth several years ago). The sights and scents of the garden can also be enjoyed from a patio chair with a glass of wine in hand.
The gardens are not defined by plants alone, however, and garden art and structures pop up along the paths. The sinuous and metaphysical forms of woodcarver and stone mason James Nybo of Poulsbo appear frequently around the bends. Nybo recently crafted a free-form wooden gazebo that serves as a rest stop for those who have summited the ascending terrain.
The upcycled metal sculptures of Blue Collar Art’s Ray Hammar make the occasional appearance, especially during Molly Ward Gardens’ art weekends. A recent creation of Hammar’s repurposed scrap metal skills, a gigantic, adult-sized teeter-totter is expected to make a return visit to delight and entertain the young-at-heart.
Indoors, the dining room displays a soft-focus romance with beads and flowers and chandeliers made of unexpected objects such as teacups. Tablecloths are vintage and unmatched, as is the dinnerware and cutlery. Fresh flowers grace the tables.
Early each December, Lynn Ward steps up the magic with holiday themes that, in any year, may include Christmas dioramas, crystals, old-fashioned Santas and sleds, fruit or dried flowers. No matter the theme, there is always a fully loaded, locally cut tree. The heartfelt holiday glam makes Molly Ward a popular setting for holiday parties.
Now imagine all of this glitz and good food served up in an authentic, old-timey barn. Molly Ward’s barn was originally Poulsbo’s Yarn Barn, a destination for knitters and weavers from the 1950s to the 1970s. (The family who founded the Yarn Barn, the Bergmans, made a name for themselves in the weaving world with the invention of the Bergman loom.)
By the time the Wards purchased the property, the barn was a shell. It took two years of moving walls, replacing the roof, digging a new well, and more repairs than Lynn Ward cares to remember before the restaurant was ready for its grand opening in 1992.
During that time, and to this day, the Wards not only work at Molly Ward, they live there. Hardly a day goes by that the family isn’t on site, planning and prepping and considering how to make a meal at Molly Ward memorable.
“Restaurants don’t succeed if the owner isn’t there,” Lynn asserts. “You need to know what’s going on.”
The restaurant is most definitely a family business. Luke started serving tables when he was 11 to earn money, he recalls, for a new set of Legos. After high school, he spent several years gaining experience at a high-end resort in Arizona. He is now an integral member of the Molly Ward team. His mother feels fortunate to be part of a family that works together.
Molly Ward customers can come to feel like family, too. The restaurant’s baby grand piano is a gift from the estate of Merritt Major, who dined there with his wife every Wednesday. Music at Molly Ward is as authentic as everything else. If music accompanies a meal, it will be by a talented regular on the piano or a talented young woman on her violin.
Molly Ward has many regulars who come weekly or for special occasions. One father and daughter have been visiting for more than 15 years, ever since junior high daddy-daughter dances. The restaurant has also attracted the rich and famous. Cell phone industry pioneer Craig McCaw flew in by helicopter for his first visit, by float plane for the next (from which he was picked up by the Wards in their humble 1986 Chevy pickup, recalls Lynn Ward with a smile).
Those interesting people come for lunch and dinner Wednesday through Saturday, and brunch or dinner on Sunday. In addition to holiday parties, Molly Ward Gardens hosts banquets, rehearsal dinners, birthday parties and even the occasional wake. There’s nothing like good eats and elevated coziness to keep them coming back.