Saturday, November 29, 2008

Central Coast Thanksgiving

This Thanksgiving once again found us in the Central Coast area of California, although not in the locale that we've frequented several of the past few years. We'd gotten in the habit (and a good one) of renting a house with 2 or 3 other couples in Cambria. We rented a specific house about a half dozen times, then opted for a bigger one with a view of the ocean, which pleased everyone, not the least of whom was yours truly, the primary chef (although I always have willing helpers and I never complain about it).

Any town that has "By The Sea" in its name, is likely to be a special place. And our beloved Cambria By The Sea is certainly no exception. Nestled in the middle of coastal San Luis Obispo County, ideally situated between San Simeon, the home of the stunning Hearst Castle, several beach communities, and San Luis Obispo to the south, Cambria is an absolute gem. We actually considered a move there several years ago, but the cost of living and apparent shortage of water led us to look elswhere, ultimately landing us in Bend, OR. But we still love to visit, and do so several times a year.

Cambria has an East Village and a West Village. Interesting, since the town flows from north to south, and Main Street parallells Highway 1, which does likewise. But the locals have deemed that there's an East side and a West side, and have named several businesses "East Village ..." and West Village ..." to drum the point home. But there's no arguing that there's some extremely unique shops and restaurants, and some exceptionally nice people who are so proud and happy to live in this unique spot on the California coast. Don't miss Home Arts, Linn's (more on this one below), The Sow's Ear (try the mixed grill, and a bottle of Justin Isoceles to go with it), Moonstones, Fermentations, and the BBQ place on the way out of town.

Twenty miles south of Cambria, 15 miles south of the Highway 46 cutover from Paso Robles and 101, is the community of Morro Bay, which was our destination for Thanksgiving '08. A wonderful couple who we've known for over 20 years, bought their gorgeous home on the beach about 5 years ago. An exceptionally nice location with the "beach trail" nearby, Morro Rock in the distance, "two cats in the yard" as Graham Nash wrote (Woody's pictured here), and peace and serenity everywhere. Quite unfortunately, the lady of the house was a victim of cancer at way too young of an age. She was in fact one of two friends we've known for the same amount of time, who were stricken with lung cancer, and neither had ever smoked. Amazingly bad twist of fate, times two.
As an example of this wonderful woman's generosity, the picture at the top of my blog is me looking out towards Big Sur from the deck of our Ocean House room at the Post Ranch Inn. I don't make "Post Ranch money," but she did, and gave us unbelievable gift certificates to this idyllic spot on the Big Sur coast, four years in a row. Elegantly sparse rooms overlooking the Pacific provide a view of passing humpbacks on their annual migratory path, assuming you plan your stay at the right time of year (we usually shot for August). The restaurant presents genuine world class cuisine, and if you know to ask for it, a 250 page wine list. Service is incomparable throughout this magnificent escape.

As life dicates, the gentleman at the beach abode carries on, and hosted a wonderful Thanksgiving dinner for us. An excellent breast section and two leg and thigh sections from a free range turkey was the main attraction. Sides included an awesome cornbread and chorizo based stuffing, an amazing cranberry and meyer lemon relish, broccoli casserole with cream cheese and gorgonzola, and an unusual sounding potato dish that turned out awesome. Essentially, it started out as mashed potatoes, and I added the kernels from two ears of grilled corn on the cob, and a half can of chopped chipotle chiles. Wines consisted of a great local Pinot and a Tobin James Reserve Cabernet. Great meal, great company, we're blessed to have such a great friend. And since I cook every night, and all I had to do was "help" with a couple dishes, and do the potato concoction, life was truly wonderful!

The Paso Robles area is rapidly becoming a wine enthusiast's dream. Zinfandels dominate, but Chardonnay, Cabernet, Merlot, Pinot, and some awesome Meritages and Ports are available over the length of Highway 46 and beyond. We limited this trip to two favorites; Eagle's Castle,which is about 18 months old and features some exceptional values in a setting of a (new) medieval style castle complete with a moat and an assortment of knight's armor. The second stop was at Zin Alley, which for my money is the best Zinfandel around. The decor of the small tasting room consists of rock 'n roll memoriabilia, leaning distinctly towards a Rolling Stones fanaticism, which the friendly and talented owner will confirm if you ask.

The ride home began with a jaunt up the coast and (as a surfer since I was 14, I can attest) the sight of some amazing waves. 6-8 foot peaks breaking in the middle and peeling left and right. We call this a surfer's dream, because it satisfies both regular and "goofy" footed stances. As a "lefty" I'm the latter, meaning I stand with my right foot forward. A slight offshore wind made for an awesome spectacle, and the fact that there wasn't a single surfer out riding them, was boggling to say the least.

We stopped in Cambria for one specific reason ... Christmas is coming, and Linn's has the best ollalieberry pies on the planet (in my humble opinion). The establishment is family owned and operated, and much of the fresh produce and ingredients comes from their farm, which is a short ride east of town. The restaurant is generally packed for breakfast and lunch, and for good reason. Great home-cooked style food, excellent prices and service, no surprises. They seem to employ a lot of the family's younger (high school / college aged) friends, and the quality of the service makes you feel very confident about the younger generation. They're that nice. Linn's pies and pastries are legendary, and lots of people people do exactly what we did ... go out of their way to pick up some combination of fresh or frozen pies. My haul this trip included two full size and two individual size ollalieberry pies, and a couple of their chicken pot pies, which are also incredible. As soon as it was decided that we were having lunch atLinn's, my decision was already made that the chicken pot pie was what I wanted. No debate. The meatloaf rocks, the sandwiches are excellent, but there's no substitute for Linn's chicken pot pies.

Our friend Nicole (another very close friend from our massage training days) tagged along for the ride home, which was pretty uneventful. Beautiful day, very little traffic other than the usual Gilroy bottleneck, and a fairly quick jaunt up 101. The air had just a slight haze, which provided a gorgeous view of the several layers of Coast Range that's visible to the west. Sunset was spectacular, thanks to the same haze.

It was a good Thanksgiving, nice to get away for a couple of days, fantastic seeing our friends and sharing memories both good and sad, with the ones who mean the most to us. With all the garbage going on in the world, I truly believe we need to count our blessings where we find them, celebrate the good times past, present, and future, and maintain high hopes for a better world for friends, family, and obviously for the less fortunate.

2 comments:

warnsl said...

Linn's is the best pie ever! I was fortunate enough to enjoy a mini rasberry rhubarb pie right out of the oven from Linn's farm store outside of town. The main restaurant has gone upscale and has a wine bar too. Danny and I enjoyed a lunch there and their spinach salad with chicken and mango citrus dressing was heavenly.

Larry said...

I totally agree. Linn's is an absolute gem, and the wait for a table at virtually any hour is proof. They had a fire a couple years ago and had to rebuild the main restaurant, and in the interim they've been selling products from a small shop up the street (by the English tea house). But they're once again in full swing and worth a visit should anyone find themselves in sleepy Cambria by the Sea.