See Part 1 of this trip here.
Lunchtime, and it’s time to test the drive-in portion of our food adventure. This time it’s Taylor’s Automatic Refresher in nearby St. Helena. No, I do not know what an “automatic refresher” is but I do know that Taylor’s is a 63 year old burger stand that servers lean Nieman Ranch burgers, delicious green garlic fries, and an assortment of beer and wine.
The burger was delicious and juicy, not like a lot of lean burgers I’ve had in the past. We also had a hot dog, a quarter pounder, that was good but there are better out there for less. The picnic are seating area on the lawn out back is wonderful…a great place to escape the crowds out front.
Afterward, we continued on to V. Sattui winery just down the tourist-clogged road (why was it so crowded on a Tuesday afternoon?) because they were one of a number of wineries to have a free tasting coupon in the local rag. We weren’t the only ones who noticed this as there was a traffic jam to get in and no parking available at all. We turned around and kept heading south.
That would be the case at a number of wineries along highway 129…Beringer, Mondavi, and more were just packed to the gills. We went to the south end of the valley and turned west at Napa and followed the map on our guide to Folio Winery, just off of highway 12 heading for Sonoma.
It’s just hard enough to find that the crowds can’t materialize. It’s just us and one other couple in the tasting room. Quiet, relaxed, and not a speck of pretentiousness. We hand over our free tasting coupon and are presented with a list of ten wines. We can pick six of them to taste. For another $10, you can taste their reserve wines with list prices of up to one hundred dollars. Getting our tasting glasses, we sit by the crackling fireplace and sip the delicious wines as we shed the chill of the cold day outside.
There are a number of good buying options, I settle for a three-pack of Hangtime Winery wines (Folio handles about a dozen labels) for $50.
After our wine tasting adventures in the Napa Valley were done, we continued up highway 12 into the mission town of Sonoma. It was raining off and on so we ducked into Murphy’s, a warm and inviting Irish pub hidden up an alley behind the old Sebastiani Theater.
A leisurely pint here while chatting with the other patrons quickly warmed us up. We continued on to the mission at the end of the block. This is one of the smaller missions in California with the basic church and outbuildings surrounding a courtyard. The military barracks are across the street. We’d seen this before, and frankly, the Sonoma Mission is about as basic as it gets. For historical value, though, the building across the street…back towards the pub…is interesting. The Blue Wing Inn, according to the docent, is the only unrestored Spanish era building left in California. It’s a two story adobe structure that looks like an old apartment block. It’s closed these days, waiting for funds from the ever more bankrupt state government for restoration.
Leaving the mission grounds, just a half block away is one of the more touristy spots on the plaza, the Sonoma Cheese Factory. This all-purpose picnic emporium is worth a stop. At the long cheese case in the front of the store, customers can take as long as the need to sample the dozen or so cheeses being sold. After that, move to the adjacent fudge counter for another tasting of the several varieties being sold. Do this again at the ice cream bar in the back. If it’s daylight hours, be sure to try one of their delicious barbecued burgers on the side patio. Get some bread, deli meats, cheese, and a bottle of local wine to have a picnic later. Great place to explore.
As the sun sets, we get back in the van and head back to Santa Rosa to bed down for the night.
The next morning, we have breakfast at Dierk’s Parkside Café, just south of downtown. Letty has a broth infused egg dish that is delicious but defies description. Tim and I share their delicious chicken fried steak platter that also comes with a side of their light and fluffy pancakes. On top of this is the pull-apart, kind of like Indian fry bread. For Letty and I, this will be the best restaurant of the trip.
Walking off breakfast downtown, there are some fun things to see. First is an old fashioned stationary store. It’s amazing what we took for granted growing up, but these stores are very rare back home. Someplace where you can go in and just buy a couple of pens and envelopes instead of buying them by the case as you do at Office Depot and Staples.
At the end of the street is the Zap Car showroom with their fleet of cool looking electric cars. No, they have no plans at the moment of making a wheelchair accessible model.
Later, we head west of town along the Russian River Valley to our last food test of the weekend. If you’re keeping track, this would be the “dive” portion of the trip and a dive we would get.
Into the muddy parking lot of the Russian River Pub we drive. A side door provides access into the dark room with the pool table in the middle. Thousands of names are etched into the wooden walls and we grab a table near the front. A woman with a sling on her arm welcomes us and introduces herself to us, explaining that she’s usually in the kitchen cooking but with her arm this way…not today.
We order some prime rib steak andwiches and are told they are not available, why not order the prime rib dips instead? Why not. Basically the same sandwich with au jus I guess. Still good.
We also get an order of their wings, which they are famous for and what was featured on the show. They are bright orange, spicy, and pretty good. Service was a little spotty and the jukebox didn’t like the feel of paper money, but overall the food was good and the place was fun. Fieri gets high marks on all three places. Of the three, we like Taylor’s best; followed by Hank’s Creekside Diner; and then this place.
The next morning, we pack up, have another breakfast at Dierk’s…this time having their great French toast and a benedict that was just oh so good…before heading down the 101, over the Golden Gate Bridge and on south to Los Angeles.
Copyright 2010 - Darryl Musick
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