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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

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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.

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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