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Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Artichoke Soup

Saturday started off overcast and stayed that way most of the day. Yet the schizophrenic weather didn't dampen our spirits the way the rain has dampened my exposed head walking home for the last several weeks. Note: Got to remember to bring umbrella.

Bruce, Debbie, and I, having previously planned a get-together, decided to drive down to San Gregorio and Pescadero for a little road trip. Debbie thought one of her friends was playing music at the San Gregorio General Store, so maybe would could swing by and see what was going on. Debbie is one of those people (and Bruce and I know a few) who can't throw a stick without running into someone she knows. That's what's great about her; that, and she's just a cool individual to begin with. She also takes great photos (see below).

The drive was beautiful down Highway 1, as we passed fields of young brussel sprouts and vegetable stands. Did find some red onions at 59 cents a pound, but a pound of baby artichokes (which are grown in the area) were $5.00! Perhaps this is because most of the spring produce is being vacuumed out of the state, causing the locals to pay national prices. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if the artichokes for sale in the little Farmer's Daughter stand outside of Half Moon Bay had been to Florida, New York, Mexico, and back to within a 100 feet of where they were picked, selling at a price that covers mostly the gasoline costs. Of course, I'm just speculating.

It's been a while since I've been to the San Gregorio General Store, and while it's a nice place to visit, I was hoping to see more local produce for sale. From what I hear, there is usually some near the door, but being a produce stand is not what they are known for because, well, they are a "general store", boy howdy, with a functioning bar, café, convenience store junk, cookbooks, preserves, pickles, clothing, and lots more. While at the General Store, Debbie ran into a guy who use to play for a band called Boxed Set and she chatted with him while Bruce picked out postcards and I tried on hats. To the un-amusement of the stone-faced cashier(or was it just vacant?), this Cityboy left with new Cowboy hat on head, probably as so many weekend, wannabe-rural, poseurs have done countless times before. It probably didn't help cultivate a rugged image that I put it on my card. On that note, we high-tailed it out of San Gregorio and set a course for Pescadero.

Pescadero is a very small town with a bakery/deli, a goat farm, a restaurant, a church, and a couple of banks. That's it. No MickeyDs, no Starbucks, no cafés, nothing really too froo-free, unless you count the few craft stores. If there was ever an artichoke festival, this is where it should be. Pescadero is in the heart of artichoke country and the local foods reflect that.

By the time we rolled into Pescadero, we were famished and desperately wanting the artichoke soup Debbie and Bruce so fondly remembered eating at Duarte's. At Duarte's we chatted with the hostess/cashier a little before being seated. We asked how far Phipps Ranch was and while she gave directions, she also let us know about the local goat farm that sells its own cheese, which was right down the road. By the way, I also noticed that Duarte's sells their own preserves, some of which, like the Ollalieberry jam, looked kinda interesting. We were seated at a wooden table under dim lights near the divide between the bar and the restaurant. The ambiance/interior design of Duarte's restaurant can pretty well be described as "crab shack", while the bar looks like it's been dragged through the centuries, with the residue of various decades trailing behind. The various portraits of cigar-smoking, pool-playing, dogs illustrates my point, I hope.

After perusing the menu, Debbie ordered the artichoke soup, and Bruce ordered the green chille soup, while I had the deep fried smelt, which were not as large as I've had at other places. In hindsight, I probably should've ordered something different because I think we were all under the assumption that we would be sharing and it didn't occur to me that I was the only one at the table who eats fish with the heads and tails on. Oops. I sometimes forget that my taste in seafood goes beyond what some people find appetizing.

Duarte's began as a stagecoach stop in the late 1800s and has been inebriating and feeding the locals since, well, dogs learned to play pool. In 2003, it was awarded a James Beard Foundation award for being an American Classic. There's a lot of history and a lot of pride with Duarte's, and the people who work there, and the staff were more than happy to engage us in friendly conversation. The food's not bad either. Of course, everyone raves about the artichoke soup. I tried Debbie's and liked it, but for my taste it could've been a little more artichokey. That's ok, because it did inspire me to search out recipes on artichoke soup, which I am doing now and will let you know if anything good comes up. Actually, the best dish at Duarte's, at least as far as our table was concerned, wasn't a dish, but the hot sourdough bread brought to our table. It's funny because this is the second time lately that I've been to a restaurant and thought the bread, which is usually to tie you over until your meal comes, was the real star. This was true at Duarte's and L'Osteria del Forno (wonderful foccacia).


Pescadero Road Trip

Speaking of bread, we skipped dessert, since all of us wanted the artichoke bread Debbie mentioned to us earlier. We walked from Duarte's to the Arcangeli Bakery, which is another old Pescadero institution. The bakery is actually a small grocery store with a deli attached. Inside were jumbo artichokes for sale at 99 cents per pound and all sorts of freshly baked French/Italian bread, sourdough, and varieties of artichoke bread. Much of the bread they sell is partially cooked, with instructions of the bag's label which tell you what temperature and for how long to finish baking it. Cool, huh, even if it is sort of "Papa Murphys-ish". As I perused the store, Debbie called me over to the bread aisle and said, "you've gotta feel this". It was the garlic artichoke bread that had been fully baked and was still warm. The smell of it was divine. I picked up a loaf and without skipping a beat, went straight towards the checkout. It was all I could do to wait for Debbie and Bruce to meet me outside before I devoured this piece of manna from heaven. Once assembled, we ceremonially removed the bread from its bag and held it, no, we presented it, to the friendly spirits and forces of good in the universe. Then, as if partaking in communion, we placed our hands on the loaf and broke it in half. To my astonishment were large pieces of artichoke baked into the bread that were now exposed for the eye to see and the mouth to salivate. To say we were giddy as we jumped in the car and began munching on the bread is an understatement. In fact, I think we may have veered off the road in a few places as we drove under the garlicky wafting influence of this bread.

Luckily we didn't have to drive far, since the goat farm was right down the road. We knew it was close when we saw the wooden, painted, cutouts of a girl and a goat, at the intersection of two roads, which were pointing in the direction of the farm. In no time at all, we found ourselves outside of Harley Farms. Something I didn't know, Harley Farms has been around for 14 years, but I believe recently (last few years?) entered the fresh goat cheese business. Another thing I didn't know, their cheeses have won 6 blue ribbons in the last year from the American Cheese Society. The farm includes a milking shed where you can watch the goats being milked twice a day (5 am or 5 pm; guess when we were there), a small retail shop built inside of an old barn, and a rustic dining room above the shop that has been converted from the old hay loft. In fact, we were all ready to head out the door when Dee Harley, the owner, mentioned that we should check out the upstairs. Upon reaching the top of the stairway, I think I said something to the extent of "OH MY GOD!" It was so cool! As soon as I saw it, all sort of thoughts and fantasies passed through my mind of waking up on a crisp summer morning and sitting at the wooden table in the wooden chairs, with the wide barn doors open, smelling the fresh grass, while sun burned through the cool fog, and goats and birds and "things" began to wake up, make noise, and come to life, while I sat sipping hot tea and eating a big English breakfast (and not having to be to work!). Ah!!


Harley Farms Goat Dairy

Harley Farms is run by Dee, a transplant from Yorkshire, England and Wil Edwards, a transplant from NYC. Dee, in addition to making and supervising the making of the cheese, also hand-decorates the tops of the cheese with edible flowers and/or dried fruit, which look, as the British say, quite lovely. In the store you can sample all of the various goat cheeses they make. Debbie and I noted that the apricot-topped cheese and the cheese balls in olive oil were extremely good, as was the chive roll, which I snagged for home use. This particular cheese, if you like goat cheese (of course you do), has a complexity that is often lacking in the fresh goat cheese you find in the store. This cheese isn't flat or metallic-y like some, but tastes full and round, and the tang, while certainly present, isn't so sharp that you feels as if you just bit into a lemon.

What's also really nice is the openness of the farm. From what I could see, and you could pretty much see the whole operation, there were no grotesqueries like that you see in some of the cattle feed lots. In addition, I noticed that the workers seemed happy, that there were no obvious unsafe working conditions (other than stepping in goat poop), the goats looked healthy and lively, and everything looked well-managed and sanitary. Finding Harley Farms was a very, very pleasant surprise to all three of us, and we were so happy to have "found" it. I'll definitely keep my eyes open for their cheeses here in San Francisco.


Harley Farms Chive Chevre Log

Wow! Artichoke soup, artichoke garlic bread, goat cheese, all within a couple of miles, and now we were heading to Phipps Ranch, which is a produce stand/nursery that sells rabbits, plants, chicks, veggies, spices and herbs, fresh, fertile eggs, and an amazing variety of dried beans. In fact, the dried beans are worth the trip alone. I'm not a big bean eater, but the amazing, beautiful, and diverse display of beans and lentils was enough to make me reconsider. Phipps Ranch is the corner market you dream of, minus the malt liquor, "Miniature Rose" crack pipes, cigarettes, and porn mags. Unfortunately we arrived right as they were closing and instead of buying beans, I spent my last 3 dollars on fresh eggs instead, which is, like, the opposite of Jack and the Beanstalk when you come to think of it, so maybe I shouldn't complain. Anyway.

Pescadero was an awesome day trip, and awesome day trips, good food, and goat farms are great when you have a good friend to drag along, especially one who doesn't mind that you order deep fried smelt and wear a cowboy hat, and who actually encourages you to do so.

Thanks Deb! You can hang with us anytime!

k.

3 Comments:

Anonymous Mark said...

Reading your 101 wild ride brought back a LOT of memories: Duarte's, Phipps Ranch were places we went to several times over the years and ALWAYS had a great time. We just used that LAST of the Phipps Beans last month. Sounds like you had a GREAT time, and wish we'd been with you.........GREAT WRITING ! Mark

9:47 AM  
Blogger Stephanie said...

Artichoke bread! What an idea. I've been baking bread for about a year (I mill my flour) and that sounds like a great challenge! I'm gonna try it. :-)

Stephanie
The Daily Vegetable
http://thedailyvegetable.com

2:40 PM  
Blogger judeedee said...

I really enfoyed reading, and "riding" along with you three on your country day trip. On Father's Day, (2007) just last weekend, my sis took my dad out there too. we live near San mateo, and the weather was near perfect.
However, as I was loving being in the country, the fruitstands, etc, we arrived at Phipps Farm. Dad said, "there is a wildlife sanctuary in there". I Love Birds! But as we walked through the back, where the animals and birds are, I instantly became sickened. There are pretty canaries, parrots, parrokeets, white doves, just the tip of the iceberg. But, the larger the bird, the worse it got. I know what molting is in birds, but these birds were bleeding, starving for hand-outs, and scraggly as can be. I saw swans, and geese in dirty, dusty dry areas without any water. These are birds with webbed feet who live in water! Then I saw two horribly overweight pigs. They were so sad, and obese. They looked like they were just waiting to die. They were so fat that they could not open their eyes! They were separated from each other and they lie in part shade/sun against the chicken wire/wood fence that kept them apart. Pigs are social animals too, I believe. There was one "sheep" I think it was a sheep. It was also laying down on the same gray dusty dirt, hard and dry stuff. Looked like this poor animal hadn't been sheered in who knows how long! I was in tears when I left.
In fact, I was just doing a goodle search for Phipps Ranch, Animal abuse, when I saw your site listed.
Glad I did, I'm glad you all had a good time. but if you HAD gotten in to Phipps Ranch you would have had a much different scenario to report.

3:12 PM  

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