bolinas: coast cafe after failed oktoberfest attempt
sunday, the 21st, a few of us headed out to the "tourist club," or the german/austrian naturefreunde hiking club on mt. tam for the oktoberfest celebration. it didn't happen. there were mobs and mobs of people, the event was sold out, and many, many parking tickets were issued. it was a shame, since the building looks like a bavarian gasthaus plucked out of southern germany and planted in marin. we walked down in hopes of sneaking in, but it wasn't meant to be. it was sad to see women in dirndls turned away, and the oompah music left me nostalgic for my army brat years in munich.
but being in marin, we decided to drive into bolinas, which true to legend, had no sign off the road, as locals seem to tear them down whenever the state plants one. we ended up at the coast cafe, which was closed between lunch and dinner, but there is a kiosk there with a limited menu. i wasn't thrilled at first, as our teenaged waitress looked extremely irritated when we asked for menus. we were seated outdoors in front of the restaurant, still closed. that wasn't part of my irritation. it was lovely outside, but i wasn't encouraged when we asked our waitress whether the Great White beer on the menu was a hefeweizen. she said it was a light beer. i asked if it was indeed a hefeweizen, and she muttered something like, "yeah, it's like a pilsner." short silence and then we asked, "so, is it a hefeweizen or a pilsner?" uh..."is it clear, or cloudy?" uh..."bring us four." it was a fine enough beer, and i'm not up on our local breweries, but...
anyways we ordered almost the whole menu offered from the kiosk. we had two dozen raw oysters (they offer them barbecued), sausage, a rack of ribs, garlic bread, grilled mahi, pie, and cheesecake.
i wasn't blown away by anything that we ate, but i thought i'd post this for bolinas visitors. i did a quick search and didn't find anything. it was good. and fun.
i didn't catch the type or origin of the oysters, as i wandered over to the local store to explore beef jerky options. but they were sweet, and served with both cocktail and mignonette sauce. i only touched the mignonette, as i was told the cocktail sauce was lacking. the ribs were super tender, but i wouldn't call it barbecue by any stretch. but satisfying and tasty if you're not thinking of traditional american barbecue. the sausage was reminiscent of weisswurst, which, with the beer, helped me get over the oktoberfest disappointment, the mahi was eh...apparently there was a delicious dipping sauce which was whisked away from the table.
we ordered desserts, as one of us had been there recently and loved the pies. some of us shared a blackberry pie a la mode, while one of us closely guarded his slice of apple pie, which i didn't try. the blackberry pie filling was sweet and tart and lovely. the crust was thin, almost disappearing under our forks, but was nicely browned and quite flaky. the lemon blueberry cheesecake was rich and rewarding.
had a drink at smiley's across the street, admiring their "86 list," mostly made up of first names. small town. if this is possibly the only real bar in town, where do these miscreant drunks go drink? i think that was answered when we drove to a place by a cove and walked downhill to the beach at sunset, and on the way back a very, very drunk young man in a car expressed his admiration of all of our heads of hair.
so i'm not raving about anything i ate today, but if you're in bolinas, you can do much worse than eating oysters and ribs and fish and sausage and pie at the coast cafe, or at least it's kiosk, since i've since found that the restaurant itself has a very extensive menu. just mind the crazy old lady with newspaper woven through her silver hair, who apparently sometimes smears chocolate all over her face.
oysters were good. ribs tender, but not smokey, nice german style sausages. anyone know more about the difference between the restaurant and the kiosk? i would come back. they apparently use not only niman ranch but also marin sun farms meats. i don't know that there's much else to eat in this special, weird little town, but i was only disappointed by the fact that they were out of the pint of peel your own prawns.
30 Ridge Ave, Mill Valley, CA
46 Wharf Rd, Bolinas, CA
You should try to get to the tourist club sometime, maybe other than when they've got some party going on. It is almost -exactly- a gasthaus plucked from the Bayerische Alpen and plunked down on the side of the canyon. Except beer only, you need to bring your own stuff to munch on. A very nice day can be made up by parking in Stinson Beach (easy to do without getting a ticket) and hiking uphill the 5 miles or so for a break at the tourist club before hiking back down. Call first to make sure they're open.
I'm pretty sure the Coast Cafe changed hands around 2002. Not a bad place though the waitstaff seems to be made up of the drunkards who were 86ed from Smiley's across the street. Smiley's is not a pleasant place -- the way you get 86ed is by getting into a fistfight, throwing chairs through the window, brandishing a weapon, and you can see that the list of people who've done this is pretty long -- but it can give you a good sense of what a real bar must have been like in a real coast fishing town a hundred years ago.
re: Chuckles the Clone
i had been to the tourist club previously, a few years ago. it was a beautiful afternoon, there were hardly any people, and the members were warm and friendly. i think that even if we had been able to get into the oktoberfest, it would've been horrible. long long lines for beer, porta-potties, obnoxious rowdy people, like a really bad st. patrick's day celebration. come to think of it, the genuine oktoberfest in munich is kind of like that. i always preferred the other seasonal fests that did NOT draw millions of tourists.
I did get the feeling that smiley's was a bit like one of the saloons in HBO's Deadwood. the bartender would look just right whipping out a rifle from behind the bar.
Chronicle article about Smiley's 150th anniversary *2001"
"We haven't had many shots fired in the last 10 years," Deane said. "I took a gun off somebody who took great pride in it but was three sheets to the wind.
I told him, 'I got to check that.' "
Ahh ... gentrification at Smiley's ... must be the cappucino that's taking the rougher edges off.
Thanks for your report. (Only had to try five times to read it. Grrrrr This site lately!) I haven't been to Bolinas in years, but you've inspired me to go back soon. According to an old Sunset magazine article there is also a Blue Heron Inn and restaurant, but it's a four year old clipping so the place may have closed. It also says there's a museum with the famous disappearing road sign.
The Blue Heron is still there according the the website and a fairly recent yelp review (01/2008).
Smiley's website says they have Free High Speed WiFi Internet
Now that's something I hadn't considered bringing my computer to a bar to work. Though they say they have a cafe for pastries, espresso, cappuccino, light meals and snacks ... probably an excuse to open the bar at 8am.
So ... no jerky? Was that Bolinas People's Store or Bolinas Super Market?
A 2002 report about the Coast Cafe. Seems like it was remodeled about then where the service upgraded from 'same day'.
Smiley's Schooner Saloon
41 Wharf Rd, Bolinas, CA
Bolinas People's Store
14 Wharf Rd, Bolinas, CA
Bolinas Super Market
40 Wharf Rd, Bolinas, CA
To guess on the Bolinas People's Store vs. Bolinas Super Market beef jerky question, I'd put my money on the Bolinas Super Market, which has a pretty good no-frills butcher counter, by which I mean if something good is available, such as Niman Ranch meats or locally caught seafood, they carry it, but they don't spend an arm and a leg to fly it in on a regular basis to satisfy people's whims every day of the week. The basic beef is pretty good, and they have a mix of Saag's sausages supplemented with a few of their own. The bacon's pretty darn good.
The People's Store is somewhat hidden, and is much more like a miniature Rainbow Grocery, with a focus on local, sustainable, low-impact food without much or any meat (they might have some cold cuts in a fridge, but that's all). They do carry a few locally produced cheeses at fair prices, such as Pt. Reyes Blue, and better bread than Bolinas Super.
On the Coast Cafe: it's been through its ups and downs, depending on who's cooking. The turkey chili is consistently satisfying, the more expensive fish options can be great or totally mediocre, with little rhyme or reason. Breakfast items are pretty typical american diner pancakes and eggs, though the eggs would probably be local.
The Blue Heron Inn is more upmarket, and without adjusting for price is the best in town, but that's a really low bar to clear. Competently prepared food at prices that are higher than a comparable meal in SF.
uh..it was the store right next door to the coast cafe. i shifted gears from beef jerky to these small "pepperettes," little dried pepperoni-like sausages sold at the deli counter. they had another name, which sounded polish, possibly. started with a k, forgot to write it down while i still remembered it.
I was at the Coast Cafe a few months ago, and ordered my fondly-remembered fish tacos. Big mistake. What I got was a couple of warm tortillas laid out under some grilled mystery fish, and covered with a big pile of undressed salad greens. No salsa, no flavor, no texture, no personality.