Camps: Where the Stars Come Out to Play
By Antoinette May Herndon
You could say, quite accurately too, that Camps is the Sardi’s of Calaveras County. True, the approach through gently rolling hills and manicured lawns is a far cry from New York’s noisy, teeming streets and awesome cement towers. You might spot a deer or rabbit on the road but nary a skyscraper. Hooting owls may liven the night never honking taxis.
Still, Camps is clearly the local equivalent of New York’s famous hang out where theatre goers and stars flock to rub elbows. People are people. We all like to gawk—just a little.
The fun began late one Sunday afternoon when Charles and I and Marta and Kevin Brady attended an Ovations event at the Bret Harte Theatre in Angels Camp. It was a Woody Guthrie Revue.
Woody Guthrie—what an icon. Many of us grew up on songs like “So Long It’s Been Good to Know You” and “Nine Hundred Miles.”
“The Woodies”— Jim Cooper, Hoyt Cory, Lillian McLeod, Amy Perkins, Richard Sholer, Rick Barlow and Ron Cotman—who performed the review, played and sang with a passion and poignancy that set the whole audience to clapping and stomping. The show’s closer, “This Land Is Your Land,” had the Bret Harte really rocking.
Such a lively occasion could hardly end there. Where to go but Camps? We and the Bradys, among the first to arrive, had settled into a cosy view table for four when the Woodies came in and were seated at a center table not far away.
From then on the restaurant filled up fast. Everybody
was there it seemed. And if not, they must surely have wished they were. Camps is action center in Angels, the perfect setting for an after theatre crowd.
The building, inspired by another ground-breaking icon, architect Julia Morgan, has a lively ambience that’s immediately warm and welcoming. You expect to be well taken care of at Camps and are. It was hectic that night with so many people arriving at once but our waitress, Amy Brown, took good care of us.
The menu, admittedly pricey, offered lots of variety as well as a few budget-friendly specials. Sunday dinner includes a three-course offering for $18.
On this particular Sunday evening, with shrimp and salmon shish-kabob as the centerpiece, Charles and I each decided to go for it. The iceberg wedge salad was crisp and fresh, as pretty to look at as it was delicious to eat. I loved the creamy blue cheese dressing. Every restaurant seems to feature blue cheese dressing lately but Camps is king of hill.
The salmon and shrimp, anchored by onion and green pepper slices, were excellent too. Though I am not a bread pudding fan, this was absolutely as good as it gets. Charles and I were both very pleased with all three courses of the special.
Kevin appeared delighted with his beer batter fish and chips served with French fries. ($12.95) There were no leftovers. Marta started off with a cup of clam chowder ($4.95) followed by penne pasta prepared al dente and tossed with roasted tomato sauce. ($12.95) It all looked great.
The restaurant ambience is pretty great
too. Though modern in execution with high ceilings and an abundance of natural light, Camps doesn’t stray far from its country roots. I feel certain that Woodie Guthrie would have felt at home there.
Like the chimney of the original 1862 ranch house, the restaurant that has evolved is built of rhyolite stone cut and chiselled at a local quarry. Tables are made from 230-year-old wood recycled from an old Pennsylvania barn and the doorways and windows are framed in recovered Douglas fir, dating back to 1910.
Something else I need to add is that, like Sardi’s, Camps has a great bar. It’s the first thing you see as you go in. I think a well appointed bar is a very reassuring sight, don’t you? At Camps they have a deft way of turning juniper berries into pure silk. One mean martini!
Whether in New York or old Calaveras, a large part of the sizzle comes from sharing the after theatre buzz with friends. And whether at Sardi’s or Camps the real fun starts when you see the stars live and sparkling only a table away.
VITALS: Camps is in the Greenhorn Creek Golf Course, at 611 McCauley Rd, Angel’s Camp. Phone: 736-8181. Lunch is served Wednesday through Saturday from 11:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., dinner from 5 to 8 p.m. weekdays, and Fridays and Saturdays until 9. Sunday dinner is served from 5 to 8 p.m. Credit cards accepted. Reservations desirable.
Dean Link, left, with the cast of the Woody Guthrie Review.
Amy Brown serves fish and chips to Kevin Brady.
Camps has lofty ceilings and lots of windows.