Inside this deceptively simple exterior lies a palace of food, drink and community. Photograph by Heather Granahan
A recent adventure took us to the big annual Hoes Down Harvest Festival at Full Belly Farm out in lovely Capay Valley in a miniscule town on Hwy 16 called Guinda. Capay Valley is a rural Eden of farms (and a big incongruous casino) located 52 long miles northwest of Sacramento in a sheltered valley that truly feels in the middle of nowhere. It’s a great moto ride destination, especially if you avoid Interstate 80 and trek out through Napa.
After a little volunteering and camping in Full Belly Farm’s park-like almond grove (and cracking a few harvest leftovers on a bumper to accompany our pint jar cocktails), we awoke with a powerful hunger. Photograph by Heather Granahan
You’re on your own for breakfast at Hoes Down, so we hoofed out looking for grub. In the tiny burg of Guinda down the road, we spotted a modest slab porch sporting the sign “Guinda Commons – Food – Drink – Community”. The hand-painted Open sign drew us in. We parked next to their metal shop/barn outside and stepped into what now ranks as one of our favorite places to eat and drink in these known parts. The warm old wood and carved brass-trimmed bar flanked the cozy booths.
Under the old patina of the wood ceiling you park on vintage stools at the shapely carved bar with brass detailing. It made it around the Horn a century ago and now sports banners for football AND futbol over a case of Lori’s famous scones. Photograph by Heather Granahan
Richard and Lori, originally from Oregon, told us how they were visiting a dear friend in the area when they noticed the property for sale including a house, large pecan-shaded back patio, shop and the longtime eatery whose last incarnation had been Ibarra’s Mexican Restaurant. Love at first sight was followed by research by their friend and their consequent purchase and move to Capay Valley.
The sun streamed through simple white curtains onto an eclectic collection of lamps, amusing pig paraphernalia and my tea order. These innocent porcine were only a hint what lay (and stood) waiting in the Commons. Photograph by Heather Granahan
It’s the little brassy things in life sometimes. Rest your boots where generations have before you. Photograph by Heather Granahan
Lori and Richard installed new kitchen equipment and a love of Southern style cooking infused with seasonal local supplies from farms round about. This means when we wobbled in foggily for breakfast, our senses were cleared by breakfast offerings including Lori’s biscuits and scones, and Richard’s brined and smoked pork sirloin ham.
Another interesting lamp, local blooms – and some naughty salt and pepper shakers makin’ some bacon. Photograph by Heather Granahan
Lawd save me, it was the right season for fried green tomatoes. I ordered some with my eggs, heart in mouth, as I have a disorder that causes deep cravings for fried green tomatoes (and okra – another whole syndrome). It’s about the only fried food I like. Spending a good amount of time in Deep (Fried) South will set your bar and hopes high – and all were surpassed. The buttermilk batter was light and tasty, encasing the tangy juicy tomato slices in golden crispiness – a nice plateful for $4. Breakfasts run only $6 and include your choice of meats, and fried grits, Lori’s giant biscuits or toast. Their frequent specials feature deals like old fashioned ham and biscuits at 2 for $5 and mimosas for $5.
More frisky pigs. Humor abounds and the food is dead-on seriously great. Photograph by Heather Granahan
More reasons to make the pilgrimage to Guinda? Get your bib on: Catfish gumbo; grilled house-smoked ham and swiss on sourdough sandwich; all local organic red & green okra and heirloom tomatoes; garlic smashed sweet potatoes; collard greens and hush puppies; fresh ground pork seasoned with bratwurst spices topped with grilled peppers and onions and swiss cheese; smoked chicken salad sandwich on wheat with a cup of local-veg gazpacho .
And pies – did I mention Banana Whoopie Pie , Buttermilk Pie with raspberry glaze, Strawberry Pie, Sweet Potato Raisin Pie and Lemon Crumb Pie?
“If you dig on swine, try some of mine!”Oh, Stumpy Pete, say it isn’t so. Photograph by Heather Granahan
Lori and Richard found that it had a long history as a barbeque-based restaurant, and hung some great old pictures of the original denizens. Richard also pointed out a sign from another distant establishment he could not resist hanging (above) as a homage to his dedicated brining and smoking.
While we waited for our order we explored the homey community living room that welcomes all at the end of the dining area. Photograph by Heather Granahan
This feed stop serves not only as a community breakfast and BBQ gathering place of the highest order, but also as a thirst parlor, music venue and general gathering spot for the surrounding community.
The Commons has a selection of 42 beers,PBR and Sierra Nevada Pale Ale on tap, with the rest ranging from American macro-brews (Bud, Coors Light, Rolling Rock, PBR) to California & Oregon micro/craft breweries (Rogue, Firestone, Mad River, Ninkasi, Lost Coast, Sudwerk & many more). They have four hard ciders and four varieties of Capay Valley Vineyards wine. They’ll serve you a pint or even a quart jar if you’re really thirsty, while you to root for a favorite team with them or catch a local band under the shady pecans out back.
A shady oasis out back waiting for us all to get back out there. Photograph courtesy of Guinda Commons
Richard and Lori have begun some community un-traditions like the Rib Throwdown Competition and all-ages Trashy Flick Tuesdays on Tuesday evenings with free popcorn; you might catch a flick like “Gene Autry and the Radio Ranch”. No matter what you come for, you and all your quirky friends will feel welcome and well fed. And we’ll see you there!