Road Trip Summer 2006: Part 2 - Mendocino, Ft. Bragg & Humboldt (long drive, long report)
Continuing on our journey northward, Y and I head up Hwy 1 from Pt. Reyes towards Mendocino, our destination for the night. You can read about Part 1 from Santa Cruz to Pt. Reyes/Marshall here: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/show/...
So the coastline was gorgeous that day, but Y almost had a meltdown when a wide load halted traffic to 10 MPH when we weren't even close to Mendocino. I calmed him down and told him to go to sleep while I drove...
Due to slow traffic and stopping at so many scenic points, we didn't get into Mendocino til about 8pm. Checked into our hotel (Mendocino Hotel), freshened up, and began the hunt for dinner. Wanted to have a mellow dinner at some place like the North Coast Brewing Co. in Ft. Bragg, but when we called they said they'd be closing in about 20 min. We wandered around the Main St. area and considered the charming-looking Moosse Cafe but ultimately weren't that hungry or in the mood for that kind of Cal-cuisine menu.
MENDOCINO HOTEL RESTAURANT
By that time, it was about a quarter til 9pm and our hotel restaurant stopped serving at 9pm so we hightailed it back to make sure we'd at least get fed; we feared that most places closed early on a Tues. night. The place has a more formal dining room and also a more casual bar and lounge seating area good for a quick bite or family dining. We plopped down in front of the cozy fireplace and ordered drinks to start. Me--a glass of Navarro Pinot Noir (since I've read good things about Navarro on the boards). A strong dose of North Coast Brewery's Rasputin Stout for the old man. Started to relax; however, the wine tasted a bit boring and the worst part was the excessively curved lip of the glass that made it impossible to sip!! Not really a beer drinker myself, but I liked the chocolate finish on the stout.
Not being that hungry, I ordered their house salad w/ Mendocino mustard dressing (about $8) and Y got the shaved prime rib sandwich w/ jus and fries (about $13). The salad was better than I expected for a hotel house salad, but the dressing was too sweet and the nuts tasted weird. Y's prime rib sandwich was not bad, but not great either. It was a very generous serving, but he declared the meat to not taste all that fresh. The beef was very tender and thinly-shaved, and the fresh-cut fries were pretty good.
Not a stellar meal or a place that I'd recommend based on this one experience, but there's something to be said for eating in your hotel after a long and slow-going drive.
GARDEN BAKERY, Mendocino
On Albion St.
Veebee's post here: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/show/...
We got up early and had free coffee at the hotel before walking along the bluffs. Blue sky w/ not one shred of fog. Our hotel package didn't include any breakfast, and after seeing the McCallum House and their menu, I wish we had stayed there since a night's stay does include breakfast. For future reference, how's the food here?
After reading veebee's rave linked above, I was intent on getting some morning pastries at the Garden Bakery. Tucked into an alleyway, it can be easy to miss. The place had a very homey, down-to-earth feel and everything had that imperfect homemade look (in a good way!). My eyeballs bulged at the sight of fresh, huge cinnamon rolls, so we got one ($3.75). Appreciated that the counter girl asked if we liked ones that were more crispy or chewy on the outside (crispy please) and then hand-picked one from the mound. Y got a pastrami and cheese filled croissant (about $3), although the berry danishes looked better to me.
The roll was very fresh and slightly yeasty tasting and had a nice balance of sweetness and spice. While the cream cheese-based icing tasted good itself, I think I prefer traditional icing for cinnamon rolls. The outside was indeed crispy but the further I unravelled, the more enjoyably chewy and soft it became. The dough could have been a touch puffier for my taste. And yay, no raisins! Croissant was just ok.
Other foodie-related stops in Mendocino:
MENDOCINO CHOCOLATE CO.
Stopped by here to pick up something to give to my folks whom we were staying w/ in Humboldt County that night. Got a pre-packaged box of nuts and chews for about $9 for 8 pieces. Was disappointed to find out upon tasting later that they were cream fillings instead! Doesn't hurt to double check or just make your own box. Are the truffles here as good as the locals say?
Jam shop (forget name) on Main St.
Shop owner said they are known for their olallieberry jam, but I didn't like it that much after sampling...too sweet and one-note. Instead got a jar of sour cherry which had nice cherry chunks and isn't a common flavor.
LAUREL DELI, Fort Bragg
401 N. Main
So after driving north to Fort Bragg and exploring the town a bit, we stumbled upon Laurel Deli near the Skunk Train Station. I remembered reading something positive about it, so we decided to eat there. We shared a cup of the clam chowder, a small salad, and a reuben w/ macaroni salad. The chowder was too thick and starchy for my liking, but I liked the smokiness from the bacon. Not a whole lot o' clams that I can remember.
The best part of the meal was the reuben and mac salad. The sandwich was made w/ corned beef from Roundman's Smokehouse nearby. The beef was on the lean side, but it was tasty and well-sliced. Pumpernickel was perfectly griddled on the outside, but it could have used a little more sauerkraut. Russian dressing tasted housemade. Mac salad made w/ little pasta shells instead of curved tubes was very eggy and creamy and was brightened up w/ fresh red onion and diced pickle.
Service was friendly and efficient, and I wish I had had room to try some of their pie. What's their best dessert?
Other foodie-related stops in Ft. Bragg:
CAROL HALL'S HOT PEPPER JELLY CO.
More varied and interesting selection compared to jam store in Mendocino, and overall, I preferred the products here. We bought the olallieberry jam and hot pepper jelly. Everything just tasted spot on and controlled...not too sweet. Can't wait to use the pepper jelly in my late summer cooking!
Small, tidy shop w/ smoked and fresh meat products. None of the smoked products truly stood out for me, but the fresh hanger steak looked so incredible! If we had a rental w/ a kitchen, I know where I'd stop in for meat...
So we decided to take Hwy 128 to 253 through Anderson Valley to connect to the 101 to take us up to Humboldt for the night at my folks' place. It was on the late side, so we only had the chance to stop at a few places.
I've really been into bubblies lately, so I thoroughly enjoyed myself here. Everything tasted good, but the 1998 L'Ermitage Brut (about $44) was the most captivating. Very creamy, fine bubbles, a mouthful of luxury. What the helpful and knowledgeable young woman termed as a "celebration" wine. We didn't buy that but instead opted for their more limited selection Pinot Noir at around $22 a bottle. $6pp for tasting; $3 can be applied to any wine purchase.
Just down the road is Navarro. I was very excited to taste here since I've read so many consistent praises for this winery and their products. I believe they are best known for their Gewurtz. Unfortunately, I was underwhelmed w/ their wine offerings. They had a huge list of tastings (around 10-13), so we were selective since we had an evening of driving ahead and asked them to choose their best. In general, I found their wines to be thin and not very interesting on my palate. Had so many wines, but nothing stood out. Compared to Roederer, they had much more traffic, so they're clearly popular. Tasting room was a bit cramped, but the grounds outside are lovely. Friendly staff and free tasting.
ANDERSON VALLEY BREWING CO., junction of 128 and 253, Boonville
Stopped in here for a quick taste. Y ordered a taste of one of their abbey ales ($1.75?). He proclaimed it decent but nothing remarkable. Falls into his "beer kit" category. I liked it ok, but not as good as something like Chimay for me.
So we finally hit the 101 and were intent on stopping at City of Ten Thousand Buddhas in Ukiah for dinner. We were crushed to find the restaurant closed at 6:15 on a Wed. night. So we console ourselves by knowing that a nice hot bowl of pho will be waiting at the parents' place when we putt into town.
The pho for dinner hit the spot, and lunch the next day was a plate of mom's banh cuon w/ storebought Viet bologna. We then head out to Trinidad to visit Patrick's Point State Park.
KATY'S SMOKEHOUSE, Trinidad
Family-owned shop that's been around for a long time. I remember Dommy! mentioning how her SO brought some smoked salmon from here for her. The shopkeeper was very talkative and proud about their product. The smoked scallops looked intriguing, but we bought a small piece of their American Indian style salmon jerky w/ black pepper to nibble on. Smoked using alderwood, I liked the flavor but Y and I both agreed that it was a tad too salty.
BLUE LAKE CASINO RESTAURANT, Blue Lake
I'm kinda embarrassed to report on this, but hey, it was a meal. I would have rather had my mom's bun rieu for dinner, but well, my dad wanted to show us the relatively new casino in the nearby town where I finished my junior high years. My dad loves AYCE buffets and he and my mom never eat out, so it was a treat I was willing to indulge him in. They have reported that the Fri. night seafood buffets are pretty good, and you can bet all the townsfolk come out for that!
We went on a Thurs. night and my dad said the selection was skimpier than usual. Cost was about $12pp. It was beef brisket night, so they sorta had a southern food theme going. The brisket was pretty decent (cook said it was smoked for 16 hrs?), and I did like the pulled pork which reminded me of carnitas sans the Mexican seasonings. Everything else was mediocre buffet fare. The highlight was when I stuck $1 in a slot machine on the way out and won $5 and cashed out for the night!
We saw soooo many casinos in NorCal and Southern Oregon, and I wondered if any of them might have exceptional food. Comments?
So we head north on 101 the next morning (Fri) to explore the Southern Oregon coastline. Getting further into the redwoods and into more remote territory, the feeling is a bit eerie but also spiritual w/ all of the American Indian territory. Just north of the mouth of the Klamath River, we stopped to sample and buy some authentic American Indian salmon jerkey from a Yurok Tribe vendor. Like Katy's, alderwood is used, but we bought the kind that was smoked low and slow for around 5 days instead of 1.
This stuff was incredible, and made the Katy's version taste relatively weak. Very smoky and meaty w/ an indescribable depth of flavor. Not cheap at $50/lb., but a 6" piece was just about $10 and well worth it. We sampled 4 different kinds, but liked the plain one the best. I was tempted w/ the "salmon candy" that's cured w/ brown sugar. The woman vendor was very open about discussing their smoking methods and local cultural issues.
Photos of this leg of our journey can be viewed here: http://www.kodakgallery.com/Slideshow...
Didn't get all shots of the above food, but did include some gratuitous scenery shots for your enjoyment.
Well, now we pass Crescent City and cross over into Oregon. Look for my Oregon report on the PNW board in the next few days...
Thanks for letting us relive your trip with these details!
When you were in Ft Bragg, you didn't happen to notice the Main Street Diner did you? It's a couple blocks south of the Mendecino Chocolate Company, not easy to notice since it's tiny (around 6 tables). I have such fond memories of that place, where you get old-fashioned american classics but cooked with care as if you were in someone's home.
Your trip is such a chowish AND scenic adventure, I can't wait for your Oregon post!
re: Alice Patis
Glad you and Tracy L were able to get through my ridiculously long post!
No, I didn't notice Main St. Diner. Sounds like it was somewhere just north of the brewing company? I googled to see if I could find a local review or anything, but that phrase brings up many random hits.
I didn't even notice there was a Mendocino Choc. Co. in Ft. Bragg since we went to the one in Mendocino. Only when we were leaving Glass Beach and heading south did I spot it.
I should mention that we stopped by the North Coast Brewing Co. store, across the street from their tap room. The deep yeasty smell we were welcomed w/ was intoxicating since they brew and bottle in that same building. The bottling plant was pretty cool from what I could see through the open side door. We bought a bottle of a new release (introduced about 2 months ago), Brother Thelonius Belgian Style Abbey Ale. I've never seen this anywhere, so perhaps you can only buy on site for now.
Thanks for such a nice report. Once again your pictures are great. I expected to hear seagulls in the background. I especially appreciated the pictures of Patricks Point. We've camped there a couple of times and of course ate plenty of salmon jerky. I had some friends who had an inn in Fort Bragg and used a lot of Roundman's products.
re: free sample addict aka Tracy L
Thanks for your comments, Tracy L! That would be funny if I could link seagull sounds w/ my album...
Now that I'm home, I'm missing salmon jerky. I don't know where to find the Indian-style alderwood smoked kind locally. At least I'll have something to look forward to when I visit my parents. When you visited the Trinidad area, where did you get your jerky from? Katy's?
re: Carb Lover
We purchased salmon jerky in Loleta on the way to Ferndale. The lady at the Loleta Cheese factory recommended a place down the road, unfortunately, I cannot remember the name of the place. Other trips we've bought it at the road side places you have captured with your pictures. Katy's was closed on our first visit and the second visit we were with someone who dislikes fish. It keeps forever so whenever I know a friend is going up there I have them get a big container for me. I have yet to find any in the SF bay area or Sacramento.
My first new Chowhound post everyone! Hey CarbLover, I too just got back from the Mendocino area. Here's a brief rundown of where we went:
Our first night we ate at the restaurant at the Little River Inn – a recommendation of one of the innkeepers. The bar of this inn has a few windows that overlook the ocean with the dining room in back that has windows showing off the gardens. I had the pinenut crusted salmon with spinach purée, parmesan polenta, and basil coulis – all really good as I gobbled it up quickly. My wife got the ribs, which took quite awhile to eat – it was one of a couple specials that night. The ribs were meaty and the sauce had a good taste. Dessert was something chocolate (what else, right?)
I had read that Café Beaujolais was one of the better restaurants in Mendocino. We started with a special appetizer of stuffed figs (I think with goat cheese) that was really good. We had some great local wine that I can never remember and for eats I had (as posted on the website dinner menu – good God no, I don’t take notes!) the pan roasted duck breast, buttermilk spaetzle, carmelized onions and sautéed kale with fresh Bing cherry sauce. I was warned that the sauce might be a bit tart but the sauce and the duck were excellent.
My wife had the pan seared local wild king salmon served with horseradish mashed potatoes, green beans, blackberry demi-glaze and onion confit. Very tasty – Of course I got to try as always we make up a tiny plate to share with each other.
Dessert was French chocolate mousse cake with ice cream – pretty good.
Mendocino Cafe is a causal eatery in Mendocino with dining inside and outside – a patio where we would take our doggies! We had lunch here. I had the Thai chicken burrito and my wife had a chicken sandwich with melted gruyere, pesto, and aioli – this was served on a good looking roll with a really tasty side of pasta salad. I liked the attitude of this place – they use local organic produce, free-range meats, hormone-free dairy and wild harvested seafood.
Mendo Bistro is not actually in Mendocino even though the name might suggest it was, but instead it’s in Fort Bragg. This was probably my favorite meal. We started with the seared sea scallops appetizer with tarragon and tomato garlic confit. I had St Louis style spare ribs with blackberry barbecue sauce. Oh yum! This is one plate I can still picture while I write this. I had asked if there would be enough meat for me and the waitress responded that I would get plenty of meat. It ended up being pretty big – 5 or 6 meaty long bones plus potatoes and veggies. I was stuffed and that BBQ sauce was thick, spicy and excellent (I surely ruined a white cloth napkin.) My wife had pasta shells stuffed with ricotta and spinach covered with marinara and topped with mozzarella.
No room for dessert this night.
With a little extra time I’d try the North Coast Brewing Co. in Fort Bragg – I think they do a 10 beer sample thing with better than average pub grub. But I’d recommend all the places we ate at.
Full round up can be found on my very own blog at:
Welcome to CH! Thanks so much for reporting on your trip. You went to a few places that I had on my list, but ultimately, we just didn't have the time and were in road food mode. I'll put Mendo Bistro on my dinner list next time!
We walked by Mendocino Cafe before it was open and it looked like it carried some promise. Thanks for the scoop on that place...
...that was stunning, now, I am longing for a coastal road trip, seagulls and wispy fog in the morning. can't wait for the next chapter on the PNW board to Ashland. Driving I-5 is no comparison at all.
Tran, as always your vivid descriptions of the food, ambiance, and scenery along the way are wonderful "taste" treats. I love adding your photos to my computer background collection of food porn and memories of places we've visited in the past. K and I say keep up the great work and hopefully we'll get over to your neck of the woods before too long.