It’s quarter past eight as I start writing this and I’m sitting in Mary’s Pizza Shack, just off the plaza park at the center of Sonoma, sipping a pomegranate martini. I’ve been on instant messager sporadically, but an obvious truth—one can’t be going solo if one’s typing on the damn cell phone—battered at me until I turned it back off. The side salad just arrived: heaps of fresh mozzarella, pickled beans, and salami on iceberg lettuce. Despite the hip bar drinks, this is an old school family Italian place.
I had three Chowhound-ish places to hit today. First: Marvin’s in Cotati, a bakery and breakfast place famous in some circles for its country fried steak special. See, it’s a steak. New York strip. While I woke up about 7:00 a.m., just after looking at the clock and thinking, “this is a good time to get going,” I fell back asleep and woke up again at 9:00, so I didn’t hit Marvin’s until about noon. I’ve only just started to get hungry again.
Next, the Downtown Bakery and Creamery in Healdsburg. They’re famous for both their namesake products, pastries and ice cream. Their ice creams tend to be more icy than creamy, not as sweet. This doesn’t sound good, but it was—the flavors become more intensely focused. I tried a tart Morello cherry one, but got a cup of the red currant.
Finally, the last “scheduled” stop was the Ace-in-the-Hole Cider Pub just on the north edge of Sebastopol, run by the microbrewery that makes Ace Cider. I had their cider sampler—small glasses of dry apple cider, an apple-honey cider that’s something like mead, an apple-berry cider, an organic apple cider, and a pear cider. I’ve had Woodchuck pear cider before and didn’t like it, but this was good stuff. I also had a half-pint of Abbey Ale, a British beer they import, and bought a six-pack of the apple-honey cider.
If you know the North Bay area, you know those three towns aren’t next to one another—there’s been a bit of driving involved. The good part of that is that the Valley of the Moon area (roughly the path Highway 116 takes, following Dry Creek) wasn’t packed with tourists, and I felt like I could focus more on the scenery. The bad part is that I forgot to throw my camera bag in the car before I left. Between Sebastopol and Sonoma, I spent a while on Westside Road, and in the golden late afternoon light every curve revealed another postcard for the Sonoma County Tourist Bureau.
One of the most interesting things about the area is how rural it still feels. On a lot of roads in Sonoma, you’re still definitely in farm country. Tourism is much bigger business now than it was even a decade ago, I’m given to understand, but it’s mostly the wineries (and a few farms) throwing open their gates to tourists at set visiting hours. The towns often have a very sophisticated air to them, but they’re all still pretty small towns. It’d be a nice place to live, if you could find the work.
Well, it’s now nearly 9:00 and the pizza I ordered defeated me. Admittedly, 9″ is big for a single-serving pizza, but I still blame the country fried steak.
This trip wasn’t all food and driving, though. I detoured to take a stop at Jack London State Historic Park, the estate where Jack London lived in his final years. While I’d considered going because I knew it was in the area (and I’d recently visited Jack London Square in Oakland), it was still a serendipitous trip, I think—I realized, while browsing through the museum in the “House of Happy Walls” (the house London’s widow built as a smaller echo of his lost dream of a grand mansion called the Wolf House), that London was, in many ways, exactly the sort of adventurer that the Excursionists’ Society would have wanted as a member, and the sort of person members would claim to be even if they weren’t. So I bought a biography of London as “research material,” as it were. (I’ll write more about the prospective Excursionists’ Society MUCK soon, I’m sure.)
The bill is settled and it’s time to get back on the road toward home, back down the other side of the Bay. Maybe I’ll get dessert on the way—assuming I can find the room.