Before the Fall, Step Outside for a Bite
Sierra Lodestar 9/25/13

Foothill Flavors

‘Rosebuds’ Ripe for the Gathering

By Antoinette May Herndon

Don’t know about you, but “Summer Time” is my favorite song, a veritable hymn to my favorite season. I love the warm, balmy nights, the fluttery flattering dresses, the taste of sweet cherries, corn and ripe tomatoes, the scent of jasmine, the sight of sunflowers reaching halfway to the sky. I could go on and on and on.

As for summer’s aftermath, what’s there to say? It’s windy, cold, rainy, snowy. People wear big, clunky shoes and heavy, shapeless coats. Burrrrr! Lucky the bears that can hibernate.

OK, so not everyone sees it as I do. I know that, but still think anyone who doesn’t is crazy. One thing we can all agree on is that the days grow shorter as they reach September. Check the calendar and you’ll see that 2011’s outdoor dining ops are dwindling fast. The summer days left to us are few and precious. Consider this column a reminder to gather your rosebuds while you may.

Start the day at Thomi’s in Sutter Creek, a leafy grotto facing out on historic Highway 49. Enjoy life as it is while imagining things as they used to be . . . stage coaches rounding the bend, gold panners in the creek and newly rich miners gambling away their nuggets in rinky-dink saloons.

This is an ideal breakfast spot where both food and service live up to the ambience. Your personal homage to early California might include Spanish style eggs ($7.60.) They are a make-your-own-taco bonanza with three scrambled eggs, diced tomato, cheddar cheese, cilantro, green onions, avocado, pinto beans, sour cream and salsa served with corn tortillas. Mucho Bueno! (Thomi’s Coffee and Eatery, 40 Hanford, Sutter Creek, Phone: 267- 1108.)

Jamestown’s National Hotel has a resident ghost. It also enjoys the coveted Triple A’s 3-Diamond Award. Whether or not you experience the ghost of fluttering Flo, you can expect to be wined, dined and delighted. Spirits you’re certain to enjoy are those of the pom-tinis (Absolut vodka, triple sec, pomegranate juice with a splash of lime) or the classic martini (about as good as a martini gets, trust me) at $7 each.

Patio dining is lovely amidst old brick and latticework with lots of trailing greenery. Menu highlights are the hotel’s signature scampi etoufflee (prawns sautéed Cajun style with scallions, tomatoes, mushrooms with white wine and herbs--$20.95) and spinach fettuccini with creamy parmesan sauce ($14.95).

National Hotel, 18183 Main St., Jamestown. Phone: 984-3446.

Mokelumne Hill’s Hotel Leger is another hotel restaurant with a ghostly past. Expect to hear stories . . . Suffice it to say, the founder— George Leger—liked the place so well, he never checked out.

The hotel’s back garden spills down the hillside like a green velvet carpet dotted with umbrella tables. A lovely dining choice for certain, but personally I prefer to look down on it all from the restaurant’s balcony.

It is here that I must tell you that, on the basis of ambience, the Leger balcony is my favorite dining venue in three counties.

So, let me tell you about that balcony. The Leger’s been around since 1852. Imagine all that hand holding, all those burning glances. Romance has seeped into every pore of the wooden frame. You can feel the vibes and the view’s fabulous: wooded hillsides, miners cabins, ancient hand-cut stones.

It’s heaven, fragrant flowers on every table, trees laden with oranges, and green hills as far as one could see. Shawn Canty makes a great martini ($6.50) too, and the fish and chips at ($7.95) are flaky

and tender, a menu mainstay.

Take my word, the balcony’s divine. Now, some day I’ll tell you about the ghost.

The Leger, 8304 Main St., Mokelumne Hill. Phone: 286-1401.

Speaking of history, what could be more Gold Rush than Pine Grove’s Roaring Camp? Yes, this is the real Roaring Camp, the one Bret Harte wrote about. And, yes again, it’s still a working gold mine. Look no further, Roaring Camp is the perfect family destination and will remain open through Oct. 21.

Hear tall tails of gunfights. See the hanging tree. (Claim jumping was a no-no; miners’ justice swift.) The descent to Clinton Bar is precipitous but the running commentary and breathtaking scenery make everything worthwhile. The Mokelumne River Canyon is narrow, the meandering stream bordered on either side by lush forest and almost vertical mountains.

The call of the campfire waits at the bottom. Expect steak, fried bread, corn, salad and ice cream. Afterwards, you’ll hear mellow music and tall tales.

The departure point for Roaring Camp is at Pine Acres Resort on Hwy 88 just beyond Pine Grove. Phone: 296-4100. Saturday night dinners are $50 and include panning, and panning lessons, swimming, and gold mine touring. Trucks leave at 5 p.m., return at 10.

Dinner at Susan’s Place is an entirely different experience. Stylish, upbeat, a tad dramatic—the sophisticated Sutter Creek bistro is the perfect setting for a romantic outdoor evening. Sitting in a lush flowering garden, you’ll watch twinkling lights vie with starry skies.

Susan’s signature Greek Pot Roast, a marvelous cut of beef slowly braised and roasted for hours in zinfandel wine, cinnamon, and cloves, is also a winner at $17. There are also exciting surprises like lobster sandwich ($14) which is not on the menu, so be sure to ask. Save a little space for delightfully sinful desserts like the chocolate truffle torte ($8) or the luscious lemon tart ($7.)

Low-keyed background music, like the restaurant itself, is the stuff of romance: “Where Or When,” “Dancing In The Dark,” “Someone To Watch Over Me.”

And—so appropriately: “That’s For Me.”

Susan’s Place, 15 Eureka St., Sutter Creek. Phone: 267-0945.

Tallahan’s Café, a brown shingle roadhouse near Arnold, greets the visitor like welcoming arms. Sit outside on the redwood verandah threaded with young burgeoning trees and you’ll cherish that memory all winter long.

You won’t be surprised to learn that Tony Fabbro, the owner, comes from a long line of master chefs and has, himself, won impressive awards. Tony is especially proud of his flavors and sauces and takes singular pleasure in making the restaurant’s sausage and pasta from scratch

The menu is dazzling but be certain to try the gazpacho. Now, I make a pretty good gazpacho myself, but this is like no gazpacho I’ve ever tasted. Very spicy and thick, thick, thick. Layered. You bite into this soup rather than sipping it and each bite contains a delicious surprise. ($3.75)

The entrées are all divine, but check out the Polenta Tower or the Scampi Wot. Another dinner highlight is the wine flight, Tallahan’s exciting beverage innovation. For $13 each guest gets 4 oz. pours of three different chardonnay varietals. I particularly liked the Kautz Ironstone “Reserve” 2007.

Tallahan’s Café. 12225 Oak Circle, Arnold. Phone: 795-4005.

The leafy patio at Clark’s Corner is where you hang out to talk about the latest book you’ve read or maybe write one of your own. A literati audience awaits in tiny Ione’s coffee house, a fun place to see and be seen

while sharing iced lattes, espressos and cappuccinos.

Think about it: A coffee house’s draw is its ambience, that air of vibrancy, the excited buzz that telegraphs a happening place where issues are debated, deals struck, reputations made or unmade. Clark’s is that kind of place.

Besides book readings and signings there are story hours and concerts But possibly Clark’s most appealing feature is the wireless access that keeps literary aficionados in touch with stock commodities, political tallies and that perennial biggie: personal relationships.

Clark’s Corner. 12 Main St., Ione. Phone: 274-2233.

San Andreas’s Pickle Patch with its broad covered deck overlooking lush gardens and small umbrella-tables, is tailor made for anything from wheeling-dealing power lunches to intimate tête-à-têtes.

Don’t you love the vintage1930s architecture. Atmosphere with a capital A. But, of course, what really sells the place is its excellent food and classy, competent service.

A variety of salads, quiches and desserts are displayed in a large glass case opposite the entrance. Staff members are always busy making sandwiches to order or ladling soups day into cups and bowls. Potato is a particular favorite.

The day’s specials are printed on a blackboard. Each looks irresistible. Choices! Choices! I especially enjoy the shrimp and avocado salad with blue cheese crumbles and red onion. The sandwichs come with a cup of soup. ($8.95) Another winner is the ultimate BLT—toasted wheat bread liberally laced with cream brie cheese and—as if that weren’t enough—a side order of my favorite Pickle Patch salad, (three bean). ($7.95)

The accompanying ice tea ($1.50), perfect for a warm summer day, is a real tea drinkers tea that had been allowed to steep long and lovingly before chilling.

Pickle Patch. 577 St. Charles St. , San Andreas. Phone: 754 1978.

Amador City’s Andrae’s is teeny- weeny, but there’s an inviting front deck, facing out on Highway 49. From this vista one can easily envision stagecoaches rounding the bend filled with gold barons, fancy ladies, dudes and desperados.

Still, to my mind, Andrea’s best seating is on the narrow foot bridge at the back of the building. The setting is bucolic now but just imagine the gold panners of yesteryear.

Currently, the babbling brook is down to a trickle but the area remains lush and green.

Does Andrae’s turn out the world’s best sandwiches? I think so. Try the brie and roasted red tomatoes with artichoke-lemon pesto on French bread. Or the salami and pesto. ($5 for either.) Then top it off with a coconut macaroon cookie ($2)

Not only is Andrea’s great for tete-a-tetes, it’s also an ideal spot to be alone with one’s thoughts. Listening to the faint sounds of the brook, you might try a little meditation. Ommmmmmmmm . . . Maybe you’ll find enlightenment, maybe not; but this is surely one calming way to prioritize what remains of the summer.

Andrae’s, 14141 Highway 49, Amador City Phone: 267-1352.


Thomi’s in Sutter Creek is both a get away and a window on the world.

How high the moon from the Hotel Leger’s balcony in Mokelumne Hill.

A truck transports diners to Roaring Camp.

A fantasy of lights turns Susan’s Place in Sutter Creek into fairy land.

Outdoor lighting highlights the relaxed atmosphere at Tallahans in Arnold.

A broad deck overlooks a broad garden vista at the Pickle Patch in San Andreas.

Diane Sanchez dispenses goodies at Andrae’s in Amador City

Andrae’s in Amador City overlooks a babbling brook.