While I generally like to keep the writing I do on my blog and the writing I do elsewhere separate, I have been wanting to feature more travel-related food writing on A Sweet Spoonful so I’m carrying this one over. I wrote this piece for Bay Area Bites this week. If you live in the Bay Area or ever plan to visit, Boonville is still a bit off-the-beaten track and absolutely worth checking out.
I’d driven through Boonville with my Dad and my sisters once, all too briefly en route to Mendocino. We stopped at the Boonville General Store for a sandwich and sat outside admiring the coolness of the little stretch of road and the delightfully slow pace of life. All along Hwy 128 there were orchards, farm stands, hidden hiking trails, and–of course–vineyards. I vowed to come back and do some exploring.
It did take me a good three years, but I returned last Friday for a one-day getaway with a dear friend, good wine, and great food. I’d actually wanted to make a weekend of it, stay at the Boonville Hotel and wile away a few days–but reality precludes such leisure at the moment, so we set out early and packed in as much as we could. A two hour (ish) drive, a stop at Flying Goat Coffee in Santa Rosa for a little extra fuel, and we found ourselves in Anderson Valley (115 miles N of San Francisco on Hwy 128) right around lunchtime on a quiet, sunny fall day. Not only were we delighted by what we found, we both vowed to come back soon–and to stay just a bit longer.
The Boonville General Store
Lunch at the Boonville General Store
Right across from the Boonville Hotel sits this friendly, bustling café. Don’t let the name fool you. While they do have great provisions for picnics or treats to take home, it’s more a spot for creative, organic meals than it is a place to pick up a gallon of milk. They have cheeses, olives, amazing baked goods, jams, and pestos to grab-and-go for the road. But the idea is to take some time and eat there, either at one of the rustic indoor tables or on the breezy outdoor patio. For lunch, we shared one of the house pizzas and a sandwich of the day.
The pizza had a super thin-crust (automatic ten points in my book) and was made with goat cheese, caramelized onions, local pears, bacon, and sage. The slightly sweet crisp of pear balanced with the earthy goat cheese and salty bacon made for a perfect bite. The sandwich was equally good: an organic turkey melt with Swiss cheese, lettuce, tomato, and pesto on housemade honey wheat bread. We grabbed a few pieces of homemade candy corn for the road (would love to track down their recipe for these) and lingered a bit on the patio mapping out our next move. I hear on weekends the place is a mob scene with cyclists and bikers, so if you’re looking for peace and quiet, Sunday may not be your day.
After lunch, we wandered down the road to the Farmhouse Mercantile, a local shop that stocks everything from unique kitchen tools, to vintage papers, paintings, tablecloths and local preserves. The owners are the folks behind Philo’s Apple Farm, and they certainly have a brilliant eye for unique home and garden goods. They’ve hand-selected products you don’t see in your everyday chain stores. From tiny whisks to mini Lodge cast-iron pans sized perfectly to fry a single egg (sheer brilliance), they’ve got it all. A sweet spot for gifts or to treat yourself to a post-lunch treat–precisely what I did with a new, shiny corkscrew. There’s an adjoining café so while you’re browsing, you hear the pleasant din of dishes clanking–fitting indeed.
Before continuing on down the road, we backtracked a few blocks, turned down Highway 253, and quickly discovered the Anderson Valley Brewing Company. Now you can get their bottled beers in select grocery stores, but I was eager to see where they’re made and try some of the seasonal brews. If you’re into factory tours (we’re not), they offer them daily at 11:30 am and 3:00 pm. If you like disc golf (we don’t), there’s that, too. And if you enjoy sampling numerous beers out of small glasses (we do), then you’re in for a treat. They offer a few different samplers, ranging from 5 glasses to 12 glasses. After a pretty lengthy discussion and unsolicited input from our fellow bar-mates, we decided on the 6 glass sampler with the Hop Ottin’ IPA, Boont Amber Ale, Winter Solstice, Deep Enders Dark Porter, Oatmeal Stout, and Brother David’s Triple Triple Ale. Let’s get the negatives out of the way first: Brother David’s is, in my humble opinion, some pretty raunchy beer. When I asked the gal at the bar what the story was, she didn’t have much to offer. She said it was a strong ale in the typical Belgium tradition. Hmm, I appreciate a Belgium beer just like the next girl, but this was different. It was incredibly strong, cloyingly sweet, and tasted much more like sherry than like beer.
But moving on, the Winter Solstice Seasonal Ale was absolutely delightful. It literally tastes of winter and afternoons by the fireplace, with a creamy flavor and hints of spice. And if you like IPA’s, theirs is hoppy and citrusy while the Deep Enders Porter is smooth with coffee undertones. We had a great time sampling and rating the beers and chatting with other locals and visitors. Do know that they don’t serve food here. I was envisioning more of a rustic, pub-style atmosphere for some reason, but in reality, it’s quite spare and airy. People brought pooches, families, Frisbees, and even a few picnic blankets. As I’m writing this, I’m reminded of how much I regret not getting a case of the Winter Solstice to take home, and how I need to seek it out here locally. Pronto.
Right up the road about 5 miles (northwest of Boonville on Hwy 128) is a small family farm with a lot of appeal. Upon turning down the little gravel road, you’ll notice the farm stand first. They believe in eating in season and eating as minimally processed food as possible. Their website reads:
“Food preservation is a time honored way of stretching the harvest bounty between seasons. In our not too distant past it was an absolute necessity for our rural population. Many of the techniques and recipes that used to be handed down from mother to daughter are being lost in our fast-paced times. We hope to carry on the tradition.”
The farm stand is their way of carrying on this tradition. They sell a variety of local apples and their own jams, chutneys, syrups, and vinegars. I can’t remember the last time I saw a place where you pay using the honor system. But here, you mark down what you took on a clipboard, drop your money in a slot, and call it a day. Beyond the stand itself, there are beautiful grounds open to the public where you can explore the orchards, hidden little paths, the gardens, and the pigs and roosters. If you’re lucky, the resident dog with two different colored eyes will give you the grand tour.
Besides the farm stand, you can opt to stay at farm in one of their cottages. I haven’t had the pleasure myself, but they look fantastic. Each cottage is unique in design and has its own porch and fireplace. From what I gather, if you’re the type of person who loves good room service and a nightly turndown, this isn’t your place. It’s more independent and private–just as you’d expect after a quaint and secluded visit to the farm.
Before we headed home, I wanted to stop at Toulouse Winery after a few locals suggested that they had some of the best Pinot around. Little did I know, they have way more than that. Vern and Maxine Boltz began the boutique winery post-retirement in a quest to become growers and do something creative with their days. The Boltz’s do all of the winemaking and bottling on site–they even live above the winery.
From the affable winery dog, Tess, to the warm owners who were doling out recipes and advice on the most scenic route home, you can tell they genuinely love what they do and want to share it with their visitors. The thing that often turns me away from wineries and wine tasting is all of the pretension and artifice. It makes me sweat. At Toulouse, I was calm and collected. The tasting room is in a warehouse-type space with barrels set up as causal tables, a concrete floor, and a bunch of dogs roaming around. My kind of place. They give you tasty cheese crackers, are laid back in their presentation of wine education, and there’s’ no pressure or expectation to buy–although we did. In addition to Pinot Noir, the region’s also well known for Gewürztraminer, a slightly sweet white wine. While I generally don’t love sweeter wines, Toulouse’s was subtle and had distinct floral notes that were surprisingly refreshing. Vern mentioned he’d been looking for the perfect breakfast wine for quite some time, and he’d finally nailed it. It was hard to leave Tess, Vern and Maxine behind, but it was growing dark and we had big plans of going the long way home–and returning soon.
Philo Apple Farm
18501 Greenwood Road
Philo, CA 95466
4111 Hwy 128
Boonville, CA, 95415
Hours: Thurs.-Mon. 11am-5pm (closed Tues.-Wed.)
Anderson Valley Brewing Company
17700 Hwy 253
Boonville, CA 95415-0505
Hours: Daily 11am-6pm (with the exception of Fridays, 11am-7pm)
8001 Hwy 128 (P.O. Box 152)
Philo, CA 95466
Hours: Mon.-Sun 11am-5pm
The Thanksgiving Table
Today is a different kind of day. Usually posts on this blog come about with the narrative and I manage to squeeze in a recipe. But sometimes when you really stumble upon a winning recipe, it speaks for itself. We'll likely make these beans for Thanksgiving this year. They're one of those simple stunners that you initially think couldn't be much of a thing. And then they come out of the oven all sweet and withered and flecked with herbs. You try one and you realize they are, in fact, a pretty big thing.
I always force myself to wait until after Halloween to start thinking much about holiday pies or, really, future holidays in general. But this year I cheated a bit, tempted heavily by the lure of a warmly-spiced sweet potato pie that I used to make back when I baked pies for a living in the Bay Area (way back when). We seem to always have sweet potatoes around as they're one of Oliver's favorite foods, and when I roast them for his lunch I've been wishing I could turn them into a silky pie instead. So the other day I reserved part of the sweet potatoes for me. For a pie that I've made hundreds of times in the past, this time reimagined with fragrant brown butter, sweetened solely with maple syrup, and baked into a flaky kamut crust. We haven't started talking about the Thanksgiving menu yet this year, but I know one thing for sure: this sweet potato pie will make an appearance.
It has begun. Talk of who is bringing what, where we'll buy the turkey, what kind of pies I'll make, early morning texts concerning brussels sprouts. There's no getting around it: Thanksgiving is on its way. And with it comes the inevitable reflecting back and thinking about what we're thankful for. And about traditions. The funny thing about traditions is that they exist because they've been around for a long time. Year after year after year. But then, one Thanksgiving maybe there's something new at the table.
I didn't expect green beans to bring up such a great discussion on traditions, sharing of poems and how a piece of writing can linger with you. So thank you for that. Your comments pointed out how important people and place are and how food takes the back seat when it comes right down to it. Even if you feel quite warm towards Thanksgiving and are looking forward to next week, reading about recipe suggestions and meal planning online and in magazines can start to feel tiresome right about now. Why? Because I suppose when it all comes down to it, in the big picture it doesn't matter what we all serve anyway. Next year, you likely won't remember one year's vegetable side dish from another. What you'll remember are the markers that dotted the year for you: whom you sat next to at the table, a toast or grace, and the sense of gratitude you felt for something -- large or small.
I got a text from my mom the other day that read: demerara sugar? I responded back with a question mark, not sure what she was referencing. It turns out she was experimenting with a new pie recipe that called for the natural sugar and wasn't sure why she couldn't just use white sugar as that's what she's always done in the past. A few days later we talked on the phone and she mentioned she'd let me take charge of the salad for Thanksgiving this year as long as there was no kale. No kale! And I wanted to do the mashed potatoes? Would they still be made with butter and milk? In short, we're always willing to mix things up in the Gordon household. Whether it's inspiration from a food magazine, friend or coworker, either my mom or one of my sisters will often have an idea for something new to try at the holiday table. But what I've slowly learned is that it can't really be that different: there must be pumpkin pie, the can of cranberry sauce is necessary even though not many people actually eat it, the onion casserole is non-negotiable, the salad can't be too out there, and the potatoes must be made with ample butter and milk. And while I was really scheming up an epic kale salad to make this year, there's a big part of me that gets it, too: if we change things too much we won't recognize the part of the day that comes to mean so much: the pure recognition. We take comfort in traditions because we recognize them -- because they're always there, year after year. And so today I present to you (mom, are you reading?): this year's Gordon family Thanksgiving salad.