LA Lunchbox
Road Food: Highway One bakeries (and more)  December 2008

December 2008  
Road Food: Highway One bakeries (and more)
by Cameron Walker

Who cares about scenery? I found breakfast on Highway One.

Yes, it’s scenic. And true, during the week that we spent driving Highway 1 from Mendocino to Santa Barbara, the weather was gorgeous, the whales were migrating, and there was so little traffic we thought there’d been a national emergency that we didn’t know about.

But what I really wanted to see was food. While wine touring seems to be one of the main attractions, a nine-month abstinence (give or take), made me turn to another of my comfort foods: baked goods.

Maybe I shouldn’t have been surprised. When I saw the musical “Fanny at Chez Panisse”—I think it only had a month-long run in Berkeley—the song that stuck in my head was that of the pastry chef, who croons a lullaby about baking lemon tarts. Butter, eggs, flour, sugar: even when not set to music, I can’t imagine anything more soothing.

My culinary comfort tour started off at the Garden Bakery in Mendocino (707-937-3140). A whole pumpkin pie was tempting, but I figured I shouldn’t blow my breakfast ration all in one place. I picked a pear-and-apple turnover that seemed to be rapidly disappearing from the daily specials. Along with good pastries, my other bakery requirement is a good place to sit and eat. The Garden Bakery, the entrance slightly hidden off Albion Street, has—not surprisingly--a garden oasis in which I holed up with my treats, where no one could see the buttery flakes sticking to my face and fingers.

Another morning, the Two Fish Baking Company (www.twofishbakery.com), drew us off the highway into the Sea Ranch development. The crowd was definitely local—everyone seemed to have a morsel of gossip for the folks behind the counter—but the almond and savory spinach-and-cheese croissants (along with my hot chocolate, which arrived steaming in a latte bowl) had me thinking I’d fled the country for a slower-paced land. Next time, I’ll know to arrive earlier to try the bakery’s legendary sticky buns, which have weekenders lining up at 7 am.

I departed briefly from my breakfast fetish when we droved south along Highway 1 to Tomales Bay. We’d heard about the hip restaurant at Nick’s Cove in Marshall (www.nickscove.com), where 1930s buildings clustered on pilings above the bay, and across the highway, make for a retro retreat. Dinner here proved mediocre for the price—or maybe I’d just been spoiled with sweet, un-spendy bakeries. If I was passing through again, I’d soak up the old-time sportsmen’s ambiance with an afternoon cocktail and fresh oysters, then head into the town of Point Reyes Station for more feel-good (and wallet-friendly) fare at the Station House Café (www.stationhousecafe.com). Here, I inhaled a mushroom-topped polenta with Point Reyes Blue Cheese and a lemon pot de crème, which had the perfect amount of tartness hidden behind the silky cream that coated my spoon. And there was still room for home-baked goodness, in the form of popovers that arrived at our table almost as soon as we sat down. (I’m not the only one who likes them. A man at the long table next to us, when asked by the server how his day was, said “It’ll be much better once we have some popovers.”)

Just a few blocks away, the renowned Cowgirl Creamery fashions its seriously divine cheeses. On a Friday, we made our way through a cheese-making and tasting session, sampling a combination of fresh cheeses (crème fraiche, fromage blanc, and clabbered cottage cheese) and wedges of their aged siblings.
The cheeses, along with sandwiches from the in-house deli (I picked roasted eggplant with fromage blanc on a baguette), are perfectly portable for a trip to nearby Point Reyes National Seashore—or for making it to your next stop on the highway. We loaded up with a half-round of Red Hawk, its orangey rind a product of a brine wash that the cheesemakers discovered by happy accident, to tide us over on the next leg of our journey.

When we talked with friends, I’d mentioned the jaw-dropping cliff edges and stunning hiking as reasons to visit Big Sur. But my real goal was a stop at the Big Sur Bakery and Restaurant (www.bigsurbakery.com). When we drove by one morning on the way to a hike, my husband noticed the bakery’s lot packed with cars. He asked if we should stop for a snack; I tried to agree with just the right amount of nonchalance.

I spotted the line out the door starting from the pastry case and jumped in. I eavesdropped on the old hands in front of me and heard them worry that the ginger scones were almost gone. Now I knew what to order. But from the side of the restaurant, tables with people lounging with full plates of nine-grain pancakes and breakfast pizzas seemed to beckon. I could hear my husband talking with one of the servers, asking if we should get baked goods or brunch.

The server looked at my husband, then saw me watching from the bakery line and smiled. “Why don’t you have brunch,” he said, “and I’ll wrap up some pastries for you to go.” A man after my own heart. And he even snagged the last ginger scone for our hike.

copyright 2008, Cameron Walker. All rights reserved.
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