A few years ago celebrity chef Alton Brown had a show on the Food Network called Feasting on Asphalt. He and a camera crew rode around the country–carefully avoiding interstates–in search of real American food. In other words, they did not go to Chilis, Applebees or any other place you’ve ever seen a tv ad for.
He found good and bad. Good biscuits and ham in the South and a bad concoction of cactus and something else in Arizona. Unfortunately, he actually did feast on some asphalt when he face-planted off his motocycle somewhere out west.
Next time Alton gets an urge to travel and eat in some out of the way places, he needs to come to northern California.
We landed in San Jose on July 4 and drove north about 2 hours to tiny Monte Rio on the Russian River, about 10 miles from the Pacific. It’s another world. By about Wednesday, it occured to me that we hadn’t seen a red light since leaving the Bay Area behind. We had traveled from Jenner where we watched the seals from the side of the road down to Point Reyes, the foggiest place in the U.S. In between, we drove though Bodega Bay, the tiny coastal town Alfred Hitchcock chose as the setting of The Birds.
Along the way we saw lots of Italian places. Lots of signs promoting barbecued oysters, a local favorite, and plenty of roadside joints that just promoted themselves as “restaurant and bar.”
This is not a chi-chi area, despite its beauty. And I’m not saying that we had any great meals except for what I cooked–especially my ersatz coq au vin simmered with an excellent local syrrah–until we went to the town of Sonoma. There we ate at The Girl and the Fig and it was outstanding. If you’re ever there, try the heirloom radishes with anchovy butter.
These local places are not guided by a corporate philosophy–they were not selling dishes created in a test kitchen hundreds of miles away, dishes based on focus groups and profit margins. Husband had tongue tacos in a tiny Mexican place in Occidental, something I really can’t imagine on a Taco Bell menu.
I think that for many of us, California is the last place we would think of when it comes to “real” America. But we forget about what a big place this is. It’s not all fake tans and red carpets.
I like my travel with a dash of funky every now and then. It’s why I adore the Keys. If you’re looking for a little adventure, you might want to think about the Russian River in western Sonoma County. It’s not fancy, but it is gorgeous. I’ll put up some pix next time.