Bella Donna: Breakfast chef Sarah Sundance wears her whites at the Naked Lady Cafe. –>
Eating your way to Bodega Bay (and back again)
By Heather Irwin
If an army travels on its stomach, consider me a one-woman battalion. A girl needs to eat, after all. And to keep up my morale through a weekend of driving through West County, lazing about, reading the newspaper and window shopping, I need to know that a good meal is just around the next bend in the road. Screw the MREs, I need some serious Bohemian grub.
So through the apple orchards and forests, just past the carved burl furniture and incense shops I go, finding plenty of new, old and downright tasty stops en route to Bodega Bay (and back). Regardless of time, route or direction, this trip is about letting wanderlust get to wandering. And lust? That’s up to you. Let’s hup-to, private.
Accidental Tourists: Occidental
Winding along the Bohemian Highway in a borrowed Mercedes convertible, I’m lost in thoughts of rapturous meals past. I’m dreaming of banquets and parties with friends and family enjoying food, wine . . . until, that is, my son threatens to hurl right on the rich, very-much-not-mine leather interior. Seems the 40-mile-per-hour curves don’t agree with his seven-year-old tummy, and we’ve dawdled far too long on this lazy Sunday morning hunting out just the right place to eat. The time for breakfast, he makes very clear, is right now.
Heading into Occidental, I lay out the choices. The Naked Lady Cafe, I say, winking and smiling. (The “naked” humor is totally lost on him, as is my desire to stop there first.) Or, I say, with the flattest inflection I can muster, the place with all the people waiting outside looking really hungry. Being seven, a contrarian and a ravenous carnivore, he chooses the place with the longest line and the most bacon. Fifteen or so stomach-growling minutes later, we find ourselves seated at Howard’s Station Cafe (3611 Bohemian Hwy, Occidental, 707.874.2838) with a good part of the rest of Sonoma County.
Primo potatoes soften my irritation and hunger pains. The cubed and grilled tubers are piled ridiculously high, then smothered in salsa, sour cream, cheese and roasted mushrooms. Evil, I say. But as the morning sunlight streams into the windows and onto the worn wood floors, and the happy chatter surrounds us, I can think of almost no other place I’d rather be. Except maybe down the street at the Naked Lady Cafe (3782 Bohemian Hwy., Occidental, 707.874.2408), I remind my son.
After stuffing ourselves without mercy at Howard’s, we stop at the Lady for a quick ham and cheese croissant and coffee, which, compared to the prospect of the menu’s Red Flannel Hash and Eggs Benedict, pales wanly in comparison. Not until a week or so later do I discover just how wanly. The Benedict Florentine ($9.95) is dangerously good with some of the best hollandaise sauce I’ve experienced. Lemony and creamy, it drips over perfectly cooked eggs and sautéed greens.
The Naked Lady Cafe involves very little (OK, none) of the advertised female nudity. Naked, it seems, refers instead to the simple, most organic and local produce and meats that go into the mostly Californian- and Italian-inspired dishes.
Lunch and brunch at this newish/oldish restaurant is served most weekends from 11am to 2pm, with daily specials like a tiger shrimp salad sandwich on focaccia, fresh fish and the aforementioned Benedict Florentine (eggs Benedict is a menu staple). Though the restaurant itself has been around for years, the new name and menu have only been offered a few months. The restaurant’s interior is a simple affair, with just a handful of tables and a small eating bar stretching nearly the length of the small cafe. There’s a walk-up counter for pastries and coffee. Large windows overlook the narrow Bohemian Highway, where you can watch the world, or at least the tourists, go by.
On a hot Sunday afternoon, two girlfriends and I decide to sit outside on the small patio and share our lunch with some fairly eager bees. Despite our uninvited guests, the standout winner on the lunch side of the menu is the BLAT, which aside from just being fun to say, is disarmingly tasty. A take on the BLT, this monster sandwich has crispy bacon, butter lettuce, tomatoes and avocado with a house-made mayonnaise on hearty slabs of homemade bread. The side salad of organic designer greens is barely dressed with vinaigrette and pepper. The Naked Lady Cafe is open for dinner Tuesday through Sunday with a focus on simple, hearty plates and pizzas.
And just in case you’re planning to call your friends or check your voicemail in Occidental, forget it. Most cell phones go dead until you hit Highway 12, and the only payphone in town is located near Negri’s (3700 Bohemian Hwy., Occidental, 707.823.5301), the unintentionally funky retro-Italian home-style eatery. Fresh raviolis await you amid the been-there-since-the-’60s décor.
Elvis Eats Here: Sebastopol
I’m being stared at by a giant pompadoured Elvis head as I eat my brisket. And that’s OK, I think, looking at his full, pink lips–as long as he doesn’t try to steal any of my fries. King or not, I don’t share.
Nestled onto the roadside, the Mojo Cafe (9890 Bodega Hwy., Sebastopol, 707.829.3065) is a bit of Louisiana Cajun in, er, apple country.
Wiping the last bits of sauce from our lips, noses, fingers, ears and chins, we decide we aren’t done with Sebastopol yet. Not by a long shot. Gorge your inner meat-lover at the tiny walk-up window of Inn the Dog House (150 Weeks Way, Sebastopol, 707.829.8353), then redeem yourself the following day by gathering organic, vegan and oh-so-wholesome goodies of every hue and stripe in the Sunday farmers market or across the street at Slice of Life (6970 McKinley St., Sebastopol, 707.829.6627), where there’s no pesky worry of eating any animal flesh in your tofu scramble, pressed vegan burger or organic soy mozzarella pizza.
Despite the fact that weddings bells are (mercifully) in my past, I can’t help but look a little wistfully at the amazing two-, three- and four-tiered creations made by Patisserie Angelica (6821 Laguna Parkway, Sebastopol, 707.827.7998). Chef Condra Easley, trained in Paris, creates insane pastries, cakes and other highly caloric goodies that will make you weep with joy that you never have to squeeze into another wedding dress again.
In serious threat of imminent food-coma, it’s a wise idea to get a jolt of joe at Coffee Catz (6761 Sebastopol Ave., Sebastopol, 707.829.6600). Aside from the fact that sitting in a mock-Victorian parlor inside a mock train station is really cool, there’s usually a chess game or a jazz combo going on somewhere inside.
Journey as Destination: Bodega Bay
By the time I’ve reached Bodega Bay, I’m suddenly less than hungry. Did I mention grabbing a sticky bun at Wild Flour Bread (140 Bohemian Hwy., Freestone, 707.874.2438) and a stroll through the wild flower gardens out back? There are two stops, however, that can’t be missed before this journey ends. The fish and chips at Lucas Wharf Restaurant (595 S. Hwy. 1, Bodega Bay, 707.875.3571) are served up as hot and yummy as the local fishing dudes who hang around by the deli counter. Bring on the extra tartar sauce, grrrrr.
Meanwhile, the Seaweed Cafe (1580 Eastshore Road, Bodega Bay, 707.875.2700) is all about super local and super fresh seafood and produce, as in, hey, was this still swimming this morning? Dinner is only offered Thursday through Sunday, and brunch from 9am to 2:30pm Saturday and Sunday, so you may have to make a point of planning out your trip ahead of time. The deftly prepared seafood, however, makes this journey’s end a true destination. And I’m much too full to fight.
From the September 29-October 5, 2004 issue of the North Bay Bohemian.