Lassen Road Trip Report
Hubby and I spent a long weekend in the Lassen area last month. I can't believe I have lived in California most of my life but have never been to Lassen National Park or the area before; it is beautiful, uncrowded country and I can’t wait to go back…
Wish I could be as enthusiastic about the chow. There was some good eating, and nothing really awful, but overall, we didn’t find any secret, hidden chow meccas.
We got an early start on a Thursday and stopped off at Putah Creek Café in Winters, right off of the 505 connecter from 80 to 5 north. This was without doubt the best meal of the trip. I had seen mentions of it on the California board, including at least one hound who thought it was worth the drive from Sacramento. I am not sure whether I’d go that far, but it is certainly more than worth the mile or so detour off of the 505 into the town of Winters.
We arrived about nine-thirty, and were promptly seated by the window. Good coffee was brought immediately, service was excellent. Hubby and I both had omelets; ham and cheese for hubby, spinach for me. Both were fluffy and delicious: I can’t remember the last time I had a better omelet. The rye toast was excellent, and the home fries that came with our breakfasts were very good, although I found myself wishing they had hash browns: I suspect that this is a place that would make them right.
Putah Creek café is known for its baked goods: we didn’t indulge in the cinnamon rolls, but they certainly looked outstanding. If I was here at lunchtime, I’d want to try the bread pudding.
Prices are reasonable. Definitely recommended.
A bit up the road, we saw the sign for Granzella’s in Williams, and hubby remembered that he had once purchased some hard to find mustard there. As a lunch stop Granzella’s gets decidedly mixed reviews on Chowhound (see eg http://www.chowhound.com/topics/374743#2332234)
but we weren’t there for lunch, just for a pit stop and to check out the store. Didn’t find hubby’s mustard, but did end up with several house made marinades and a bottle of their olives ….I have to say, the take-out sandwiches that were coming out of the deli looked very good; I wouldn’t necessarily eat in their sit-down restaurant but I wouldn’t write this one off as a lunch stop either, despite its 'tourist trap' trappings...
Back on the road, we made it all the way up to Mineral, near the Southwest entrance to Lassen Park before we were hungry again. Choices in that area are *very* limited, so we decided to take a chance on the Mineral Lodge. We arrived at two, just before they stop serving lunch, and were practically the only visitors. It was a bit cool to dine outdoors, though they do have a nice patio. Our friendly server immediately brought delicious ice teas. We both ordered the burger, hubby with fries, I had mine with a side salad. The burgers were excellent! Both came grilled perfectly medium rare, as ordered, with flavorful meat, a good bun, nice lettuce and tomatoes, and both the fries and the salad were excellent. Best of all, while they could have charged a fortune (since they are the only game in town) the burgers were quite reasonable: $5 or $6, but no more than that, IIRC.
I can’t vouch for the rest of the menu, and I suspect one might get tired of the place if staying at the lodge, given the lack of options (Chester is probably the closest town of any size, and it is about a 40 minute drive), but this has to be one of the better dining options near the park. There is currently no food available at the Southwest end of Lassen Park at all once you enter the park. (Warning, however: they are doing road work on the road through the park from the Southwest Gate, and on weekdays you will experience long waits of as much as half an hour with no restrooms or facilities nearby, for the privilege of then driving in a convoy on a terrifying one lane gravel road up the mountain with no barriers and a drop off of as much as 1000 feet in places. I’d go around the long way and enter from the North rather than brave that adventure again. You have been warned. They are not doing the work on weekends, which does mean the one lane road becomes two lanes, and thus slightly less scary…..but pack a lunch and your calmest self).
We spent our first night in Chester, where I had asked for dinner suggestions in this thread:
As I mentioned in that thread, we ended up for dinner at Timber House after cruising the town and noticing that a lot of the options were closed down or unappealing. For what it is worth, the biggest crowd, judging by the number of cars, was at the Mexican place on Main Street. I was tempted, but didn't want to take the gamble. (If anyone does, the name of the place with the traffic is Maria's and ???, some male name. There is also a place further down Main called Mi Casita that looked more like a spot for local workers, that would probably be my first choice if I did want to try Mexican. The town is small enough that it shouldn't be a problem finding both and checking out their menus).
But back to the Timber House: getting my martini proved difficult, but it wasn’t bad once I got it. The wine list is decidedly limited. A good place to stick to martinis, or to bring a bottle. Our ribeyes were certainly tasty, and cooked as requested, though they had a bit more seasoning that I prefer. The ‘baked’ potato on the side would have been much better if it hadn’t been baked in foil (sigh), but the side vegetables were fresh and not overcooked, and the mixed green salads to start our meal were also fresh, and nicely dressed, with some good cherry tomatoes. We were pretty full and skipped dessert. It was quite reasonably priced: I believe our dinner with tax and tip was under $60 with a martini and a glass of wine. The Peninsula Grill, which we also considered, would have been twice as much. So, I’d go back to Timber House if I were in the neighborhood again, though it certainly isn’t a destination spot. Not bad for a martini and a steak if one doesn’t get one’s expectations too high. Next time I might try prime rib: it was a special the night we were there and was only $16 with salad, vegetables and potato.
My BIL had told me he thought The Timber House was the best food in Chester: this could be true, but it isn’t saying that much…
Breakfast the next morning was at our B and B, the Bidwell House. Breakfast was tasty, served in three courses, with fruit and yogurt to start, an omelet, and a pastry to end. Good coffee. This is probably the nicest place to stay in Chester proper, and I recommend it for comfortable rooms, friendly owners and good food.
There is an outdoor fruit and vegetable market in Chester that was operating on Main Street when we were there, and we stocked up there and at the local grocery with picnic supplies. Nice fruit at the market, good prices.
The rest of our Lassen stay was at Drakesbad Lodge in the National Park. I hesitate to even mention Drakesbad as it is hard enough to get a reservation as it is, but did want to report that, even though you are a captive audience (all stays are on the American plan and there isn’t anywhere else to eat anyway), the food, while not outstanding, is tasty and hearty. Breakfasts included lots of beautiful berries and excellent bacon and toast, Sunday morning we also had lox, bagels, and cream cheese, in addition to pancakes and eggs and other breakfast staples. Lunches were unexciting bag lunches, but for dinner one night we had excellent salmon (in dill sauce, which hubby liked. I am a dill hater and got mine plain), and prime rib, also nicely prepared and cooked as ordered, the other night. Desserts both nights also involved some of those great berries; someone made a good buy on them (in a parfait one night and decorating a mousse the other). The wine list is limited but has some nice and very reasonably priced options (I enjoyed the Cline Ancient Vines Zinfandel); and there is a good selection of bottled beers, including Sierra Nevada, Anchor Steam and several German options. It is possible to have dinner there if you aren’t staying (it is a long drive from anywhere, however), which I would consider doing for the wonderful ambiance, if not for the food.
Bottom line: While I wouldn’t go to Drakesbad just for the food, the food is good enough that I won’t hesitate to go again for the entire (wonderful) experience.
Coming home, we found nothing worth writing about….ended up tearing up the interstate and having dinner at home….
Putah Creek Cafe
1 Main St, Winters, CA 95694
Granzella's Restaurant and Delicatessen
PO Box 1210, Williams, CA 95987
Mineral Lodge & Restaurant
CA-36 Husky Way, Mineral, CA 96063
Too bad you did not go to the Penisula Grill. We too were staying at the Bidwell House and were deciding where to dine. We chose Gambonis Penisula Grill and had the best dinner we can , now say , ever! The atmosphere was warm, the staff and owners were interactive and very friendly, the squash soup was the freshest and perfectly balanced and my Salmon, which had just the lightest crispy encrustment I have ever had was out of this world. There is no way it is twice as expensive as the Timber house, and everything was prepared like a top notch fine dining cusine at regular steak house pricing. It is a diamond in the rough and we can't wait for a reason to go back.
re: kelly edge
There was a copy of the menu for Peninsula Grill in the Bidwell House and it showed entrees in the low thirties, a price point that was also stated in scenicrec's post in this thread:
Yes, that is twice the cost of Timber House, where entrees were in the mid-teens (and included salads with the meal IIRC). I obviously no longer have the menu in front of me, but appetizers were similarly (highly) priced at Peninsula Grill. What else did you order and how much did you spend for your dinner?
but this bump does give me a chance to give an update on Granzella's: it is currently closed after a major fire. There is information on their rebuilding and plans to reopen on their website (linked above).