Category Archives: Foodutopia

Quirkutopia is the epicenter of the foodie epidemic. Overheard conversations in at cafes will often be recountings of four-star meals cooked at home the night before, and sharing notes on favorite artisan cheeses makers or paring knives. Facebook posts are laden with tales of pickles made and grilled feasts.

Restaurants are held to a sky-high bar, and they deliver – often focusing on local ingredients,including meats. One chef described running low on the lamb special one weekend, and rushing to the local ranch to arrange for some more. The internationally renowned French Laundry has their own gardens, and the famous Charlie Palmer calls the region the country’s “culinary cradle”.

Aside from the Big Guys, it is hard to enter any local establishment and get a mediocre meal. The variety and level of foodcraft is mouthwatering. You will need a bib as you enter – just to get past the other tables and the menu-reading with a dry shirtfront.

Some of the best feasts in the region are outside: fresh-harvested abalone, mussels and urchin (uni) fireside at the beach, garnished with sea vegetables and wild mushrooms all harvested the same day. Just remember a couple local Meyer lemons, some wine and crusty multi-grain bread from that award winning bakery down the street …in nearly every town.

You can mince around in dainty sandals or lace on the hiking boots – either way, you’ll end up eating Very Well Indeed. Here’s your (handcrafted) bib.

Feed Stop #2 : Guinda Commons

Inside this deceptively simple exterior lies a palace of food, drink and community. Photograph by Heather Granahan

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 the bumper to accompany our pint jar cocktails), we awoke with a powerful hunger. Photograph by Heather Granahan

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

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

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

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

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 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

“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

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 by Heather Granahan

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!

Feed Stop #1 : Rollerville Cafe

The Rollerville Café’s name has nothing to do with skating.
Read on to find out what it really means.                (Photo by Heather Granahan)

The Quirkutopian coast is a motorcyclist’s paradise. Moto enthusiasts enjoy the curving roads with astounding scenery; the fresh scents of the sea, forests and occasional medical cannabis planting.  Small villages offer excellent feed-and-watering stops along the way and the gorgeous riding weather most of the year – especially in the “Secret Summer” that peaks in October.

A recent moto camping weekend had these Quirks searching out breakfast just north of Point Arena. A local sent us to Rollerville Café, perched on the corner where Lighthouse Rd. turns off Highway One towards the famous Point Arena Lighthouse and Museum.

While you wait for your table-cracking load of delicious breakfast at the Rollerville Cafe, have a big ol glass of fresh-squeezed orange juice delivered by this friendly and quick young San Francisco Giants fan. (Photo by Heather Granahan)

Turns out the Rollerville also makes a damn fine lunch (prawn tacos! BLTs and burgers!) and on Friday and Saturdays extend service into dinner and sometimes do a prime rib . Makes us wish we could stay right there – but no go since the spiffy-looking set of cabins on the property run are a private time share. No matter, there is a lovely state campground and even a KOA up the road at Manchester where we slept just fine, thank you.

Popular for huge portions of from-scratch corn-beef hash, biscuits and gravy and the famous Monkey Omelet made with chicken sausage. No, I don’t want to know why it’s named that.                    (Photo by Heather Granahan)

Rollerville has nothing to do with rollerskates; in fact there is nothing close to a skate-able surface for miles around. Rollerville was the name of a small enclave built around a sort of roller-coaster  system for getting milled logs from the mills just inland out to the waiting ships tossing just off the rocky coast.

The flumes. With a rush of water, logs were delivered to a loading platform offshore where the ships picked up the wood. (photo from Mendocino Rail History)

Logs were steadily advanced on barbed rollers from the mill to Rollerville. There they were transferred to a long downhill water ride through wooden chutes – to Flumeville, another loggers station.

A log flume at Brennan Creek in Mendocino County. Some early quirks would ride the flumes for “inspection” and thrills. (photo from Mendocino Rail History)

Whey Cool

What a lovely water buffalo. And yes, the girls have horns, too. And no, she's not a bison.

California cows are happy, sure, but so are California goats, sheep, and water buffalo. And their cheeses makes Quirkutopians very, very happy.

We celebrate annually with the quirky folks who carefully hand-make cheese in small batches all over our corner of country. We invite a couple of artisan cheesemakers from Other Places and throw a big California’s Artisan Cheese Festival every year,  this year in Petaluma, CA on March 23-34th at the Sheraton there on the Petaluma River.

There you can meet the dedicated early risers; milkers, stirrers and cheese-wheel-turners who labor literally 365 days a year to make the delectables. For one, try a little “Fat Bottom Girl” cheese, a buttery and nutty sheep’s milk creation of  Bleating Heart creamery, Ramini Mozzarella’s real water buffalo mozzarella, or one of the famous Laura Chenel’s specialties , like the “Me’lodie”, gently enclosed in ash.

The young cheesemaker of Bleating Heart is one of many participating in California's Artisan Cheese Festival this month.

Karen Bianchi-Moreda of Valley Ford Cheese Company shows off some of her babies in brine - meet them at the Festival, too. Photo by Devin Granahan

Joining the locally-known and world-famous both in the cheesiest display in Quirkutopia are equally hand-crafty makers of beer and wine – of course! –  and honey, cured meats, olive oil, chocolate, jam, crepes, cookies, pizzas and more. Many of our favorites like Rocker Oysterfellers, Nick’s Cove (did someone say oysters??) and Corks will be doling their wares at the festival. Workshops and farm tours galore fill two of the days and a big brunch and tasting festival the other. Revealing the true DIY nature of the locals, the how-to-make-cheese workshops are already sold out.

Grilled artisan cheese? Two Cali traditions in one heavenly moment...

There is still room in the Grilled Cheese seminar, however. Grilled…cheese…I will wade through the winter rain to try that one.

A bit crabby…

The really BIG crabs

Just when the salmon season ends at the coast, everyone gets ready for crabs. At this time of year getting crabby is a good thing. Here in Quirkutopia we don’t have those dainty little blue crabs they have in the Atlantic, no, we have Dungeness crabs – the giants. The average weight of a legal sized crab is two pounds or over. And sometimes they are three pounds. That’s a serious crab.

At the ports you see large round crab pots everywhere and everyone is busy painting their identity buoys to mark their pots. The pots are laid in “strings” in a line to make them easier to fish. Some strings are 100 to 150 pots long. The baited pots are left for a few days then emptied. The legal male crabs are put into an aerated tank on board for delivery.

The season opens close to San Francisco Bay just before Thanksgiving unless there is a “tie-up” over prices. It’s tradition that the buyers and fishermen haggle and sometime it gets serious enough that the opening is delayed.

How do you eat the luscious things? Same way you do the little blue ones – steam or boil them, melt some butter, squeeze some lemon.  Pour some chardonnay or a fruity pinot noir, set out a loaf of sour dough bread and you have a feast fit for a king and definitely too good for a Congressman!