Hate to eat and run, but I'm on a deadline
Sierra Lodestar 02/29/12

Foothill Flavors 958 words

Sierra Lodestar--I love you!

By Antoinette May Herndon

Three years ago when Buzz Eggleston asked me to write a dining column for the soon-to-be launched Lodestar, I was taken aback.

It wasn't the writing part that stopped me. I’ve worked for newspapers since I was 15. It was the subject matter. After turning out hundreds of stories about people and places, I'd never written about food.

Was I right for this assignment? Not likely. Not being much of a cook myself, who was I to talk about other peoples’ cooking?

` But I was excited (and impressed) at the idea of an innovative publication starting just when other newspapers and magazines were folding. I wanted to be part of the team . . . but a dining column? “I don’t know, Buzz . . .” I shook my head doubtfully.

My misgivings seemed not to phase him. “You eat, don’t you?”

“Well, of course, but------”

“Write up your favorite restaurant. It’ll follow from there.” He shrugged dismissively; that was that.

I had no problem selecting my favorite. Frank’s Café in Mokelumne Hill was and remains my hands down choice of Foothills eateries. Considering the Greek heritage of owners, Frank and Angie Giourousis, you might call it the Olympus of Highway 49.

Frank and Angie are a lively pair who exude presence. Helping them in the business are their children and grandchildren. The nine Giourousises work seamlessly cooking, serving and pleasing.

Eating at Frank’s has enabled me to watch a family saga unfold. After six years of working six days a week every week, the Giourousises called time out and returned to Tripolis, Greece for a holiday.

Mok Hill and its environs was devastated. We counted the days, waited with baited mouths. What if they didn’t come back!

Finally in October of 2010, Frank’s re-opened. The same consistently good food, the same great service, the same flashing smiles. Nothing had


Or so we thought.

We didn’t know it then, but something was very different. Toward the end of the family’s stay in Greece, Dimitrious, the eldest son, had met Georgia. It was one of those "the earth moved" things. In May of last year, Dimitrious was back in Tripolis. He'd gone a courtin’.

In August, Frank’s closed once more for a two month holiday. The family was going back again to Greece –this time to attend the wedding of Dimitrious and Georgia.

Now, isn’t that a sweet story? But there are lots of sweet stories, loads of amazing restaurants and delightful people in the foothills. Getting to know them through writing a dining column is a fabulous ongoing experience. I'm so lucky!

I also appreciate the feedback from readers. (Please keep those emails coming.) Like it or loathe it, mine is a very personal column.

I write about my husband, Charles, my finicky houseguests, my dog. Chloe knows a doggie bag when she sees one and takes her position as a dining columnist’s assistant seriously. Others take her seriously. Once as that adorable dog and I were walking down Main Street, a passing motorist called out, "Is that Chloe?" Wow! A she's celebrity!

As for those frequently mentioned houseguests, they never cease to amaze me. When I moved to the foothills ten years ago, I assumed I was saying good-bye to Bay Area friends. Little did I dream that I was about to know them better than ever because they would all be coming to visit. Where to take them is a challenge. Apparently, many readers identify with me.

It’s an adventure for Charles and I to search out new restaurants. We're always looking. Not long ago my husband was approached by a stranger. “Are you Charles?” she asked, “the one Antoinette Herndon writes about?" He allowed that he was and the woman suggested we check out Christopher’s in Sonora. We did and were grateful for the tip.

Not too long ago I was at a benefit event and a man introduced himself. “Do you really like Gianinini’s all

that well?” He was referring to a rave column I'd recently written. The answer is yes, I surely do. Gianinini’s in Pine Grove is my favorite dinner house. Great food, great service. A plus is watching Nico Lee, the restaurant's young scion grow up before my eyes.

Count on it, I never lie. (Not in the column, anyway). I call them as I see them. The consistency of Jackson's Mel & Fay’s, where the salad bar is always fresh, and the excellence of the fish at Pelican’s Roost are a continuing joy.

I always enjoy good ghost stories and have heard plenty at Willow and the National Hotel, both in Jamestown.

Breakfast at Thomi’s in Sutter Creek, a leafy grotto reaching back to the 1850s, is a time trip. What fun to sip lattes while facing out on a street where gold barons strolled with fancy ladies.

Looking ahead to summer, I dream of steaks at Roaring Camp and picnics on the bridge behind Andre’s in Amador City.

Yet there’s sadness connected with writing a dining column. Jane and Ron Canty were among the first people I met in Mok Hill. They had just bought the Hotel Leger and were transforming it into the town living room. Despite a heart and soul effort, the couple had to fold.

Since then Tracy and Darryl Zellers have assumed Leger ownership and are doing a fine job. I love dinners in the hotel's historic dungeon and look forward to weather warm enough for the balcony.

I deplore the closing of the Dorrington Hotel. Marc Lanthier, the former owner, is a foothill treasure. Who can forget his fabulous, 498?

So many wonderful restaurants have closed. It's up to all of us to support the survivors and keep their doors open.


Frank Giourousis of the famous Frank's in Mokelumne Hill is master of all he surveys.

The Dorrington Hotel is calling for a new owner.

Thomi's in Sutter Creek is a window on the past.

Sue Sooja serves saki at Pelican's Reef in Jackson.

Sue and Winston Sooja, owners of Pelican's Reef in Jackson, take pride in their fresh fish dishes.