A la mode in Guerneville

When we first started spending a lot of time in the lower Russian River area a few years ago, we always wondered about the boarded-up but fancy-looking building on a corner right in the middle of downtown Guerneville.

In the summer of 2015, we had to wonder no more. The building was renovated and reopened to the public as the Guerneville Bank Club.

34740026476_167aeb638a_c

We immediately loved this airy, welcoming space, with its tall ceilings and big windows that let the sunlight stream in and offered views of Guerneville’s downtown and the forest beyond. The building’s beautiful vintage architecture has been lovingly preserved, right down to the vaults of what was, as the name suggests, a former bank.

The unique spot houses shops and eateries: the Jam Jar boutique, the Bank Club Wine Collective and the Chile Pies Baking Co. and Nimble & Finn’s ice cream. You can even catch up on local history with a small exhibit of photos from the Russian River Historical Society.  It’s a special space indeed that has wine, pie and ice cream, plus shopping and history all under one roof.

If you visit, don’t forget to drop by the vault. Banks usually aren’t too keen on people photographing their vaults, but now the main vault of this former financial institution is the spot to take selfies—camera provided. Just pop into the vault, hit a button and say cheese. Then go find your shot online. It’s fun seeing photos of other visitors while we’re looking for ours. Everyone seems to be having a lot of fun.

We haven’t had a chance yet to check out some of the Bank Club’s latest additions, like the Wine Collective—we definitely will be there on our next visit! But two tenants with which we are very familiar are Chile Pies Baking Co. and Nimble & Finn’s. The purveyors of gorgeous, rustic pies and the purveyors of wonderfully creamy, creative ice cream flavors share space at one magical counter at the Bank Club.

25060315075_a3382fff49_c
This is where the magic happens: You can order pie and ice cream at the big counter in the middle of the Bank Club.

The signature dessert that gives the pie company its distinctive name is an apple pie that does indeed have chile in it, but the pie isn’t spicy. Mild green chile adds some complexity to the apple and complements a not-too-sweet walnut streusel topping. The specialty of the house is a slice of green chile apple pie á la mode with a red chile honey drizzle—so good!

A slice and a scoop

Dessert served á la mode can seem like gilding the lily. Ice cream is great and cake or pie or tart is great, too, but served with a scoop, could seem like almost too much of a great thing.

That said, even though of course, you can order pie or ice cream separately—and the portions of each are generous—we rarely stick to just one treat when we visit the Bank Club.

34374880110_747a7a5081_z

Pictured above is a slice of creamy, rich lemon-blueberry buttermilk pie, paired with one of our Nimble & Finn’s favorites, lavender honeycomb ice cream. The lavender ice cream, just slightly floral, cut the sweetness of crunchy honeycomb candy—and paired with the tangy pie, it was bliss.

As for other offerings we like, well … that would be pretty much everything we’ve tried. And these clever bakers and ice cream makers keep coming up with new ways to tempt us. The pie and ice cream menus vary by season, so there’s always something new to try.

But there is one item on the menu that we just can’t bring ourselves to try: the pie shake. It blends up pie and ice cream into what we’re sure is a wonderful milkshake. All we that really have it against it is that we would just be too sad to grind up that beautiful pie and perfect ice cream.

Dessert … for lunch?

Sometimes we’ve indulged and gotten our own slice of pie and scoop of ice cream because one of us just had to try this berry nectarine pie or the other had to have that chocolate stout ice cream, and since those might not really go together…

And yes, once, we even had Chile Pie Co. and Nimble & Finn’s for lunch.

But we do restrain ourselves—a little. Especially if we drop by the Bank Club after dinner, we usually split a slice of pie and a scoop of ice cream for dessert. Besides, splitting a serving means we just have to come back more often to make sure we don’t miss out.

But if it’s lunchtime and we’re hungry … well, all bets just might be off.

 

25060315415_c0a4e6e836_m
Can’t take a selfie in this one, but the Bank Club also preserved the night-drop vault by the front door.

The Guerneville Bank Club celebrated its second anniversary in May 2017.

If you go:

The Guerneville Bank Club is located at the corner of River Road (Guerneville’s main street) and Church Street in downtown Guerneville. Parking can be a bit of a challenge during the summer months, so you may have to park a few blocks away.

 

An afternoon in downtown Santa Rosa

 

We love to go exploring all around the Russian River area, but sometimes we end up going farther afield. And sometimes it’s especially fun to just go somewhere on a whim. One weekend earlier this summer, we spent the morning in Sonoma visiting with relatives and then, on an impulse, decided to swing through Santa Rosa and wander around the downtown.

Even though it’s only a little more than half an hour away from Ananda—just about 20 miles—we don’t get to Santa Rosa very often, and this visit reminded us why we should head east more.

After meandering around the tree-lined streets of the cute older neighborhoods, we parked on the outskirts of Santa Rosa’s downtown and decided to do the rest of our self-guided tour (actually more of a self-guided wander) on foot.

27307815315_9f0035edde
Stone church in downtown Santa Rosa.
26700669544_c576e28dc5
One of several Victorian mansions next door to the stone church.

In need of some mid-afternoon fuel to keep the energy going, first we dropped by Brew, an independent café serving some really great coffee—and also some really great-looking beer. And we’ll be honest, those taps were so tempting, but the rich aroma of the coffee won out. In addition to a bright, colorful interior with natural light streaming in from plenty of windows, Brew also offers a shaded front patio that looks like a good low-key beer garden to us, both right in the center of things, but also a little removed. So we’ll definitely be back.

27274512376_6a9b5e8fc9_c
We enjoyed a nice cup of coffee at Brew, but we’ll be back to sample the beer—and enjoy the front patio.

 

From Brew, we wandered through a neighborhood full of beautiful Victorian houses, crossed under Highway 101 and into Railroad Square, which is probably the best known of Santa Rosa’s many historic districts. There’s an abundance of cool old brick or stone buildings in Railroad Square, including the train depot for which the area is named. A small park in front of the depot (it’s named “Depot Park,” go figure) features a variety of sculptures, including a bronze statue of Charlie Brown (Peanuts creator Charles Schulz lived in the North Bay, chiefly Santa Rosa, for many years.)

Restaurants, cafes and a hotel line the area around Depot Park. Since we had recently caffeinated, we didn’t visit either one of the coffee places that flank the train station, but on several occasions we’ve gotten beans roasted by one of these cafes—Flying Goat Coffee—and really liked them.

 

For about an hour, we walked around, looking at buildings, popping into shops and just taking in the atmosphere.

28730323681_bd34f80690_z
A closer look at the beautiful old stone building that houses Flying Goat Coffee.

We wanted to grab dinner before we left Santa Rosa, and a friend had recommended Jackson’s Bar and Oven, on the edge of the Railroad Square neighborhood. So we dropped by for an early bite. The space is modern and spacious but still cozy thanks to dark, warm woods, indirect lighting and an interior that makes the most of the restaurant’s location in a vintage building: high windows along most of the space, with light filtering in from the larger windows at the corner storefront.

27237964201_967fa5b14d_z
Jackson’s Bar and Oven is modern but still very cozy.

 

Jackson’s serves a thoughtful selection of local and regional beers, local wines and a small selection of artisan cocktails.

Because it was early still—and the family fed us a little too well earlier in the day—we wanted something light, so we split a salad of farro, pea shoots, fresh peas, arugula and toasted almonds. It was very fresh and just what we wanted (and about those fresh peas—we made this visit earlier this summer. Jackson’s menu does follow the seasons.)

We followed that wonderful farro and pea salad with a summer vegetable pizza, which we also split. Some might say it’s heresy to put so many vegetables on a dish more often used as a vehicle for pepperoni, but we loved the crisp, clean flavors of this white pizza. Delicate, creamy ricotta made a perfect base for zucchini, tomato and roasted corn, allowing them to truly complement each other. A light hand with the cilantro pesto (full disclosure: we love cilantro) meant that this love-it-or-hate-it herb helped round out the flavors, rather than dominating them.

We were a little too full from the day’s family gathering to get dessert, but we would definitely give it a try on a return visit to Jackson’s.

After dinner, we wanted to enjoy more of Santa Rosa’s downtown and took a little time to walk around before heading to the car. Crossing back under Highway 101, we did some more exploring.

 

As we began to see more and more folks within just a few blocks carrying away their hoards of Pliny the Elder, we knew we were close to the Russian River Brewing Co. We dropped by but didn’t really expect to get in quickly, and sure enough: the line was long enough outside that we decided to save it for our next visit.

27237967891_3621884937
Maybe next visit?!

But for those who are making a beer pilgrimage, we know there’s enough to enjoy in downtown Santa Rosa even beyond the beloved Pliny that it’s well worth making a day of it.

Until next time, Santa Rosa.

Dinner for Close Friends

 

The night was the hottest so far of the year; so hot for spring that we definitely weren’t going to cook that night, and anyway, we’d been thinking a lot about the food at Hazel, a new restaurant we’d tried last fall, a short drive south on the Bohemian Highway, about 15 minutes from Ananda.

Hazel opened last summer in a small place on the outskirts of the town of Occidental, taking over the location from a popular eatery known as Bistro des Copains (that we never got a chance to try). “Copains,” as far as our French goes, means something like “close friends” (another translation is “boyfriend or girlfriend”) … and like we said, the place is small.

The Bistro is gone, but Hazel still seems like the spot for close friends—yes, because it’s slightly close quarters—but much more so because some of the fare is pretty perfect for sharing, especially the selection of about half a dozen wood-fired pizzas (more on that in a bit). And the welcoming, stripped-down rustic atmosphere, punctuated with colorful art and warm lighting, invites conversation.

 

When we visited Hazel in October, diners had packed the place everywhere but the small patio, where it was too cold to sit. That time, we ate at the bar, enjoying the people-watching that sitting near the front door afforded. Just the kind of cozy evening that makes autumn such a well-loved season.

On this most recent visit, we did longingly consider the patio, but evening temperatures can drop pretty quickly this time of year, and we knew the heat would disappear when the sun did. But with all the windows open, the restaurant offered a welcome taste of summer in April. We’ll just have to save the patio for next time.

A wood-fired pizza oven, visible from the dining room, turns out a centerpiece of Hazel’s menu: a range of thin-crust pizzas, with more familiar choices like the margherita or pepperoni (spiced up with jalapeño), as well as more unusual pairings, some of which change with the seasons: sausage with egg; butternut squash with pine nuts and crème fraîche; or caramelized onions and Gorgonzola cheese with toasted walnuts.

We started with a roasted asparagus appetizer and then shared the Gorgonzola pizza and a red quinoa bowl with sautéed kale, asparagus and maitake mushrooms.

The pizza was rich, dominated by the strong flavor of melted Gorgonzola, but with sweet undertones from the caramelized onions and a welcome crunch of walnuts—it’s so creamy and rich, it’s definitely a good choice to split. The clean flavors and wholesomeness of the quinoa bowl balanced nicely with the decadent pizza.

26665225401_c254f646b4
Paired with caramelized onions and toasted walnuts, creamy melted Gorgonzola makes for a rich pizza.

 

The quinoa bowl is one of about five or six main dishes that highlight a variety of proteins, including seafood, poultry and steak. From starters all the way to desserts, the menu features lots of local ingredients, from the cheese on the pizzas and starters (showcasing some of the North Bay’s many awesome creameries—always a great thing), to locally grown produce.

26127867943_3f5d4dfcfe
Plenty of fresh greens in the quinoa bowl—and they didn’t skimp on the cheese, either.

 

We finished off dinner with a perfectly not-too-sweet apple crumble a la mode. During dessert, we ended up googling what a “fruit crumble” was not only because we didn’t really know the difference between “apple crisp” and “apple crumble,” but mostly because all that brown sugar—and a good amount of butter?—in the lightly crunchy topping made us want to learn how to make our own, even if it won’t live up to Hazel’s version. It’s good stuff. (And unfortunately, we were so eager to tuck in that we didn’t take a photo.)

About halfway through dinner, we were surprised by a loud siren that seemed to echo in the streets. Especially since most of the other diners didn’t bat an eye, we were so curious that we had to ask our server what the siren was all about. She told us that the local volunteer fire department was being summoned to a call, adding with a smile, “That’s small town life.”

Occidental is small—we hate to use the “q-word” but we’re going to—because Occidental is quaint in the best possible way. And this location actually makes Hazel seem that much cozier. So even though it’s not officially the spot for “copains” anymore, it’s still a perfect spot to bring close friends—or have a romantic dinner.

 

Part of WordPress’ Weekly Photo Challenge—Dinnertime

Coming in for a landing

 

Depending on the friends or family who might be with us, how we spend our visits to the Russian River and North Bay can vary, from parent-friendly trips to the casino to kid-friendly strolls in the woods; dog-friendly visits to the beach to wine drinker-friendly stops by local vineyards.

Wine-loving friends, who spend a lot of time in the area themselves, brought us to Lynmar Estate for wine tasting. It’s a sustainable winery located about half an hour’s drive from the house.

The wine we tried was wonderful, but equally impressive was the winery’s beautiful garden, planted with both edible crops and colorful flowers. The garden, like the winery, uses sustainable practices. Certainly this butterfly, headed for a Mexican sunflower, seemed to enjoy the garden—which made us enjoy the garden that much more.

25557017344_ca8b902c06_c
A Tiger Swallowtail butterfly spots the perfect place to land: a Mexican sunflower in the garden at Lynmar Estate.

Tunnel of flowers

One of our favorite breakfast spots/bakeries is a place we stumbled upon in a bid to avoid traffic on the main highway, in what turned out to be one of our best-ever detours. Wild Flour Bread is a bakery on the Bohemian Highway in the tiny town of Freestone.

We love their sturdy, rustic breads and big scones, both sweet and savory kinds, loaded with fruit or herbs. And some of these ingredients are grown in a huge, beautiful garden right next to the bakery.

It’s a working kitchen garden—with its own small orchard, even—but in good weather, it’s also a place to enjoy scones and coffee at picnic tables dotted throughout the garden and orchard. In the middle of the garden stands a big tunnel-like arbor. The first summer we visited, the arbor supported vines with gourds dangling down into the tunnel. Now, the arbor is covered by grapevines, but mingled in with these new vines last summer was a bright wall of nasturtiums.

There are many paths through the garden, but this leafy tunnel is always our favorite path. The garden changes so much season to season, year to year, that you never know what new flower or crop awaits on the far side.

26072301876_bd9e1a93bb_c
A tunnel of nasturtiums and grapevines marks the center of the garden at Wild Flour Bread.