- Thomas Broderick
New on the Scene Farmhand, home of this satisfying Italian sandwich and river views, is a Guerneville newcomer.
Bouncing Back February's flooding was devastating but downtown's restaurant scene is returning to normal.
Wine with Mission Equality Vines donates a portion of all sales to LGBTQ and women's rights causes.
Building a Better Biscuit And you thought biscuits were just a butter delivery device.
We in the North Bay are "cursed." There are too many good things to eat and drink. Dine, brunch, snack and sip all we want, we'll go to our graves having never sampled a near-infinity of treats.
If we must try to eat everything in the North Bay, we may as well stuff ourselves for a good cause. In February, flood waters submerged much of Guerneville and displaced thousands of people along the Russian River. Thankfully, the town jumped into recovery mode the moment the waters receded. Just four months later, in June, the Stumptown Parade kicked off the summer tourist season and brought back some much-needed normalcy.
But Guerneville's businesses, especially restaurants, still need help. And lending a hand turns out to be delicious. Here are my new favorites.
A 'McMuffin' for the Ages
At Coffee Bazaar, I queued up behind locals ordering breakfast. My first visit, I ordered the same thing as the patron in front of me—a breakfast sandwich and a medium coffee. The fresh sandwich arrived a few minutes later wrapped in wax paper. Inside, I found a McMuffin on steroids. It was huge. After just one bite, however, I discovered that I was eating a superior sandwich, one that featured a delectable runny egg.
Over the next hour, I watched locals come and go, and the barista knew just about everybody's name. Conversations centered on trips to the river beaches and getting back into the swing of things after the 4th of July.
I also overheard some conspiracy theories about Bohemian Grove, but that's another story.
I had a lot of eating ahead of me, so I had to pace myself. For the next 45 minutes, I took a long walk around town. The holiday weekend over, Johnson's Beach had only a few visitors. On River Road, many enticing restaurants were closed until Wednesday. But I found "food" in unlikely places. Hanging outside the hardware stores were river rafts designed to look like donuts and lollipops.
Seeing all that inflatable food, I followed the hobbits' example and sought out a second breakfast. But what would I eat?
Growing up in Central Tennessee, I lived less than a mile from the Loveless Café, a local institution famed for its fluffy, moist and buttery biscuits. The creator of these heavenly puffs was the Biscuit Lady (Carol Fay Ellison), who perfected the Loveless biscuit recipe during her many decades in the kitchen. Although the Biscuit Lady passed away in 2010, her creations live on seven days a week alongside the Loveless' southern comfort food.
I never thought I'd find a comparable biscuit on this side of the Rockies until I stepped inside Big Bottom Market. Every wall was covered with biscuit swag: biscuit mix in cloth bags, biscuit cookbooks and even cute biscuit plushies. A Southern gentleman such as myself had to know how Big Bottom's signature biscuit stacked up.
Waiting for my biscuit to warm in the oven, I poked around the store's wares. Besides biscuits, patrons can purchase local honey, olive oil and wine. Big Bottom's kitchen also serves up filling breakfasts, sandwiches and salads.
Finally, it was time. My biscuit gave off a single puff of steam as I opened it. I spread on a little fresh butter and strawberry jelly before biting into the salty and flaky crust.
They should have sent a poet.
Lunch by the River
After even more walking, I traveled to The Farmhand, one of the many Guerneville restaurants recently reopened after post-flood renovations. They did a great job, as I couldn't find any sign the restaurant had suffered damage. The restaurant, market and coffee bar gave off nice, rustic vibes, so I decided to dine inside.
If you're in the mood for a sandwich or panini, you can't go wrong at The Farmhand. Besides ordering from the menu, patrons can design their own sandwiches and select from dozens of local beers and many more non-alcoholic drinks. I ordered The Italian: salami, ham, tomato, onion, lettuce and pepperoncini on Italian bread. This filling sandwich paired excellently with a Barrel Brothers Naughty Hops IPA.
Outside, the grounds boast comfortable seating with excellent Russian River views. Stomach settling, I walked down to the deserted riverbank to watch the water make its journey to the Pacific.
During my walk around town, I discovered Equality Vines, an organization that donates a portion of all sales to LGBTQ or women's rights causes. In their small but intimate tasting room, hostess Alice introduced me to four wines—a Sauvignon Blanc, a rosé, a Pinot Noir and a Zinfandel—the names of which all referenced landmark events in LGBTQ or women's rights history. My favorite was the aromatic rosé.
Equality Vines' connection to the LGBTQ community goes much deeper than its generous philanthropy. Jim Obergefell—the plaintiff in Obergefell v. Hodges, the Supreme Court case that legalized same-sex marriage nationwide—cofounded the label.
And unlike some other tasting rooms, Equality Vines doesn't participate in the hard sell. If you want to buy a case of wine or join their wine club, that's great. But if you just want to enjoy a tasting or have a glass of wine in the lounge, then by all means, pull up a chair.
Not So Curiously Strong Mints
I wasn't done yet.
Like The Farmhand next door, Riverside Wellness Collective was waterlogged by the February flooding. Although the cannabis dispensary was running at only 25 percent capacity when I visited, much-needed cash and new fans brought in by the 4th of July tourist crowds will help this business get back on its feet over the coming months.
"What's the best tasting edible you have?" I asked while reviewing the limited (for now) selection. After considering my options, I chose an old favorite: Petra Mints by Kiva Confections. With only 2.5 milligrams of THC in each piece, Petra Mints are some of the gentlest edibles on the market. Also, they're perfect for a lightweight like me.
Of course, I didn't enjoy my mints until I got home later that day. Always freshen your breath responsibly.
Mild weather, kind people and excellent dining make Guerneville a must for North Bay locals and tourists. Just don't forget to bring an empty stomach.