The State of the Union (House)
By Antoinette May Herndon
“What kind of fool would open the third restaurant in a town of 500?” Dick Tuttle asked ruefully.
It was a wow moment in the midst of a double header day: the retired judge’s 90th birthday and the pre-opening celebration of his new restaurant, Jeff Tuttle’s Union House.
Dick and Sally Tuttle hosted what appeared to be the entire town of Mokelumne Hill on Jan. 7. What a party!
Apparently we ain’t seen nothin’ yet. The gala was merely a preview of coming attractions. Everything old is new again at the historic corner of Center and Main. In its 157 year recorded history, the property has morphed into an elegant three-story hotel, countless stores, a service station, brewery and pizzeria.
The late Jeff Tuttle acquired the property in the 90’s but as time passed and his focus shifted to law, Jeff perceived the selling of liquor as a possible source of conflict. The property was sold but the sale didn’t “take”. The property returned to Jeff. The building stood empty, all the while growing more and more dilapidated.
Jeff, then 59, had been district attorney for ten years and was running unopposed for yet another term when he died suddenly of a heart attack last spring. I can tell you, he was a poet and musician who livened every party. Jeff would surely have loved this most recent one.
The party fare was masterminded by his old buddy, Brenda Brown, who was Jeff’s “sandwich queen” in the old days, the gay 90s, so to speak. Now Brenda is back at the Union House after a stint at the Pickle Patch in San Andreas and will be managing Jeff Tuttle’s Union House along with Jeff’s niece, Lexie Cowgill.
Brenda’s hors d’oeuvres were nothing short of fantastic.
The cucumber cups with bleu cheese filling, baked brie with brandy apple walnuts and hummas with roasted red pepper bode very well for lunches, brunches and dinners to come. She and Lexie envision the restaurant as a kind of community center. “We’ll have a variety of entertainment,” Brenda promises, adding: “Can you think of anything more entertaining than a belly dancer?
“But in case you’re wondering, the agenda includes readings, movies, rag time piano—I’ve all kinds of plans.”
Dick beamed appreciatively. “We couldn’t do this without Brenda. She is our greatest asset.”
Dick’s also full of praise for his builder, Chris Niebur. “That guy is a lot more than a carpenter. He doesn’t just bounce nails, he’s a creative genius. ”
Chris has been working on the Union House for six months. “The design process involved extensive underground excavation,” he told me. “I started out repairing a sewer line and ended up on an archeological dig.”
In the course of his work, Chris exposed the basement of the original Union Hotel. “The hotel had burned to the ground years ago, nothing left but ashes. Beneath those ashes, I found a thousand pieces of Gold Rush life.”
One relic was a perfume bottle in perfect condition with the name of the New York perfumer clearly etched on its surface. Among the treasures were beautiful ornate door handles and a pair of angel wings from a statue.
“Renovating Jeff Tuttle’s Union House was six months of hard work,” Chris says, but admits, “it was also fun. What kept me going was the community interest. I know the restaurant will make the town a happier place.”
While quaffing his birthday champagne Dick, looked with pride and a touch of amazement
at his newest achievement. “It was a lot more complicated and costly than we ever expected,” he admitted to me. Dick’s goal was twofold: to build a lasting memorial to his son and to provide ongoing income for Jeff’s lovely widow, Galina, who will own and work at the bistro.
“As a judge you get used to hearing your own voice.” Dick admits. “Everyone wants to hear what you have to say—most particularly the lawyers and D.A. Now I’m retired, my jokes are just as funny, but people don’t seem to laugh as loud or pay as much attention. Still, old people tend to say what they think. After a time you don’t give a damn. If you think it, you say it. But right now I think the best thing I can do is just sit down and shut up.”
Dick really doesn’t have to say anything. His new restaurant is going to speak for itself.
VITALS: As of this writing, manager Brenda Brown is keeping her menu under wraps. She plans a “soft” opening targeted around Feb. 1. Brenda intends to expand from gourmet burgers and salads into a destination menu. Jeff Tuttle’s Union House is located at the corner of Main and Center in Mokelumne Hill. Phone: 286-1102. Hours will be Sundays from 8 a.m. to 2; Wednesday from 8 a.m. until 7 p.m. with a movie at 7:15; Thursday and Friday from 8 a.m. until 9; and Saturday from 8 a.m. until 9 p.m.
Galina Tuttle chats with chef Glen Inouf at the opening gala of her new restaurant, Jeff Tuttle’s Union House.
The opening gala of Jeff Tuttle’s Union House in Mokelumne Hill drew a large crowd.
Dick Tuttle, a new 90, has a lot to be proud of as he surveys his latest triumph, Jeff Tuttle’s Union House.
Mokelumne Hill’s Union House has a new look and a new name.