Over the last few years, I’ve burned quite a few bytes in this blogspace glorifying my fishing exploits and motorcycling adventures. Not so this time.
The fishing gear was left behind last weekend despite my Pavlovian response to throw a fly rod in the trunk whenever a trip takes me more than 100 miles from home and toward the Sierra Nevada mountains. Yes, our destination was in the foothills of the Sierras; we’d even be near the South Fork of the American River.
However, there is one way to distract this fly fishermen from fishing. Food.Apple Hill has been a favorite tradition of mine (and the kid’s) for many years. Near as I can figure, I’ve made the 100-mile trek to the hills just near Placerville, Calif., for at least 15 years. This time, however, we’d be without kids; the upside of becoming an older parent. This called for something I’ve thought about many times. An overnight visit.
The Wife and I left home a bit later in the day than expected, driving east on Hwy 80 through Sacramento. Though the early apple season can bring with it unpredictable weather, it also offers fewer people and a more relaxed pace. A clear sky, warm sunshine and winery visits can reinforce that relaxed feeling.
The first stop was the surprising Fenton Herriott Vineyards. They make an interesting semi-sweet/dry Gewurztraminer (not your father’s Gewurztraminer). We were also impressed with the Barbera and Syrah. The next stop was Lava Cap Winery, which didn’t quite tickle our taste buds. Subtle and slight would be my description.
Unknowingly saving the best for last, we followed a single-lane gravel road that when filmed in black and white might otherwise signal one’s pending arrival at out-of-the-way lodging in an Alfred Hitchcock film. (The road is appropriately named Hidden Valley Lane.) In our case we ended up at Wofford Acres Vineyards. This small winery produces some very good wines, including one of the few Sauvignon Blancs I like, a nice “Dulcinea” (Viognier/Rousanne blend), and a Rhone-style red named Iowa Hill and a Pinotage/Petite Sirah blend labeled Redbird Canyon, both of which we liked quite a bit.
And it was only by honest mistake (and thanks to a clue in the way of trout lithographs hanging by the door) that I learned from the wife/owner that the husband/owner enjoys fishing, downhill and just a few miles away on the South Fork of the American River.
Because the actual fisherman wasn’t presentLike the good husband, I quickly dismissed any further discussion about fishing in the area.
(When it comes to wineries, the fun factor can play a big part in an enjoyable visit. During our visit to Wofford, they were supporting a breast cancer awareness campaign with barrel tasting for the charity and by wearing supportive t-shirts. The winery supports a good many other causes, including prostate cancer awareness in the spring, when they wear “Go Nads” t-shirts.)
Winter Fishing Food?
I’ve found that there’s no middle ground when it comes to unsolicited dining suggestions. The “suggestor” often doesn’t have a clue as to the taste preferences of the “suggestee.” However, a suggestor’s sheer enthusiasm can often overcome any hesitation.
In a conversation with one of the wine tasting room staff, it was revealed that we were out-of-town
interlopers visitors without a clue as to the better dining establishments in town. She nearly jumped up and down to tell us that we must have dinner at Z Pie. The Wife didn’t hear anything after “gourmet pot pies.” It was settled without a word between us.
So it was that we checked into the supposedly haunted Cary House, walked most of downtown Placerville, and ended up at Z Pie. Tucked in an alley, it’s a rather unassuming restaurant. While the tables have white linen tablecloths, brown butcher paper is laid down over the tablecloth, lending the place a decidedly informal atmosphere.The menu surprises with much more than beef or turkey pot pie. Choices include Southwest Chicken, Spicy Black Bean Chili and Steak Cabernet. The Wife jumped for the Lamb with Rosemary while I, apprehensive about a bland dinner, choose the Italian Sausage pie. Both were excellent choices. A gloriously crust, no doubt helped by large amounts of lard, flaky away to reveal wonderfully tasty fillings, with plenty of meat throughout. All in a package that’s just the right size. I couldn’t help think how one of these homey, stick-to-your-ribs pies would make a wonderful lunch on the shore of a favorite fly fishing stream.
Feeling good and not quite too full, I enjoyed an after-dinner gelato while The Wife picked out a glass of wine at The Synapse tasting room. It was nice to simply enjoy time being away from the every day, though I suffered a bit a through a musician unsuccessfully attempting to bring his own style to Beatles songs. He did a much better job with his own music and lyrics.The next morning brought a nice drizzle, as if to make sure we knew fall had begun. That made our next stop that much better. We rolled up to Creek View Ranch, our favorite pastry place and the reason we skipped breakfast, just in time to see the sign flipped to “open,” allowing us to grab a couple of apple cider doughnuts (aka the breakfast of choice for fly fishermen on the road everywhere) and an apple fritter, each full of more apple goodness than should be possible. And those cider doughnuts…the best! A thin crispy crust gives way to a light, soft dough. We sat down on the patio of the old house that now serves as the bakery/gift shop, and enjoyed noshing on warm, gooey goodness, watching a light mist of rain swirl through the trees.
Our weekend finished with the usual stops for juice (Bolster’s Hilltop), a walk through craft booths (High Hill Ranch), and to pick up our traditional Christmas ornament and a lunch of corn dogs and a shared tri-tip sandwich (Boa Vista Orchards). Not once did I push to visit the local fly shop, even as we swung by Z Pie to pick up a frozen pie. We’ll soon see how well it bakes up at home. And no matter the outcome, we’ll be back. Maybe marking a first — our second trip to apple country during a single season.
Yes, we will drive for food.