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FOOD AND DRINK

Four Great South Lake County Wineries Perfect for Picnics

One of my favorite months of the year is May. Not only does it continue to bring spring flowers, but also picnics! With North America’s oldest freshwater lake, mountains, parks, vineyards, and wineries, it would seem Lake County was destined to be a picnic paradise. Drive just about any direction, and a scenic view made to enjoy awaits. And if you love wine, here are some of the most scenic spots and fantastic wine picnic spots in South County.

Get Away From it All: Wild Diamond Vineyards

Let’s face it; Lake County is truly the place you go to get away from the real world. There are few better ways to leave the city, relax, and enjoy some incredible wine. Let me take you on an adventure. 

It all starts on Spruce Grove Road–meander through rural Lake County before turning on the gravel driveway that winds upward towards Wild Diamond Vineyards. Traverse an oak grove, winding higher and higher in elevation as the oaks slowly turn to pine trees. That’s when you know you’re almost there. At the tasting room–or more accurately, mountain top–the world turns truly silent and still. A strong breeze greets you first as you step out of your car, a reminder that the world is far, far below.

Aromas Cafe: The Epicenter of Lake County’s Culinary Scene

Odds are you have eaten some of the food prepared by someone who once earned their chops at Aromas Cafe. If you’ve gone out to eat at any restaurant in Lake County, it’s a certainty. That’s because Aromas has been the birthplace of many of the area’s best chefs for several years. Located on the Woodland Community College Clearlake campus, it’s a hidden gem, and a place where you can go to find some of Lake County’s tastiest food. And with only three more weeks before they close down for the semester, now’s definitely the time to enjoy it.

Nostalgia on the Menu: Exploring the All-American Charm of Main Street Bar and Grill

Take a trip with me down memory lane for just a minute. It’s summer vacation and it feels like it’s going to last forever. You’re on a thrilling road trip with Mom and Dad. The wind rushes through the open windows, drowning out the radio as you lean out, basking in the early morning sun. You open your mouth only to have your voice and air taken out of your lungs, leaving them dry and pasty. You’re not just on the road; you’re soaring. You push the limits, leaning out a little further until Mom’s voice brings you back to reality. Seatbelt laws are a thing of the future, so you sit, squirm, trade seats, or lie down to pass the time. 

Stories in Every Sip: The Artisanal Magic of Rosa d’Oro’s Italian Wines

It’s a damp day in Lake County. The clouds hang low in the sky, hiding the top of Mt. Konocti in the distance. The rain is squalling, slanting sideways in the wind. But that hasn’t slowed down anything at Rosa d’Oro Winery in Kelseyville. Owner Nick Buttitta winds his way among the olive trees, turning his forklift into a garage as he sees our car park in the graveled driveway. “It’s bottling day,” he tells us as he slides off the seat, pulls his gloves off, and walks our way. “Let me make a quick phone call.” Phone cradled between his shoulder and ear, he walks to the tasting room/bottling shed, unlocks the door, and lets us in. It’s already clear that this experience is far different than tasting in Napa, where people elbow their way to the tasting bar to receive pours from people who don’t know anything about wine. No, the experience here is personal, intimate, and uniquely refreshing. 

The Ultimate Burrito

Now, I’ve been in pursuit of the perfect burrito, and it turns out I’ve already found it! 
It’s a hot summer’s night on Main Street in Kelseyville, Lake County, when the air is still, and vapors of sunlight have already saturated the earth. Music plays from the stage where friends gather, swaying to the tunes. Patrons enjoy local fairs before joining in the fun at one of the Keleyville’s Kickin’ it in the Country street dance. My family and I are one of them. And at every street dance, we get John’s Market Taqueria burritos.

Power Nine: Part 1 – Food

Well, I thought we’d get the “diet” out of the way when I tell you about my two-year Blue Zone journey with food–one of the Power of 9 principles. Two things that I love about the Blue Zones are that it’s carb-friendly and loves wine. Whew, that was a close one! First of all, this is a lifestyle, not a diet. Instead of forcing you to remove carbs or drink shakes, Blue Zones encourages increasing your plant-based foods while eating smaller portions of meat and dairy. I realized I had to live with the changes I made forever, not just for a short time like I would on “diets.” That took some real thought. And here are some tricks I’ve learned so far.

Hidden Valley’s Culinary Gem: Exploring Alvarez Restaurant’s Irresistible Mexican Seafood Delights

Tucked away in a shopping complex behind Hardester’s in Hidden Valley Lake, you’ll find some of Lake County’s best Mexican seafood. You’ll have to look for it; it’s in the Coyote Valley Plaza, situated between a salon and a doctor’s office. But once you find it, you won’t be disappointed. It has food that’s fresh, bright, and overwhelmingly tasty.

Karaoke at Andre’s Lounge

To get to Six Sigma Ranch, you have to want to get there. It’s not the kind of place to swing by for a quick taste. No, once you turn off Spruce Grove Road, bump over the cattle grate, and see the sheep grazing in the vineyards, you enter a place that exists in a different timeline than the rest of the world.

Mad Mac’s Knows Good Food

It’s a bright fall day. The first colors of autumn leaves reluctantly give way to the shorter days and cooler nights. It’s a quiet, calm evening at Mad Mac’s Bar and Grill just off Highway 20 in the heart of Clearlake Oaks. A young couple casually make their way inside, even though it’s cool enough to enjoy the spacious outdoor patio seating. Inside, a full bar welcomes locals for a quick bite and friendly conversation. 

The Ripe Choice Experience, Continued

Wanna have it all? Well, you can. Nestled in the heart of Lake County’s wine country rests a picturesque vineyard, orchard, and working farm, complete with a pot-bellied pig, tortoise, and chef Tammy Lipps. It’s a unique place where it’s possible to check in and never leave. Here’s how you do it.

The Ripe Choice Experience

Have you ever experienced something so wonderful that you struggle to find the words to describe it? That’s me at The Bloom’s Five-Year Anniversary party at Ripe Choice Farm and Catering. I’d been in contact with Tammy Lipps, owner of Ripe Choice, for several weeks leading up to the event. I knew I wanted it to be something unique and memorable. Although several of our restaurants promise all those things, I knew I was looking for something a little more intimate, quiet, and off the beaten path.

Welcome to the Ripe Choice Farm: The early evening glow reluctantly gives way to the onshore breeze that promises cooler temperatures. But for now, a glass of sparkling wine, under twinkling lights and the small chatter amongst friends, makes for a delightful distraction. The barn’s high ceiling helps absorb the day’s warmth amongst its exposed wood.

The setting seems right, country, rustic, and yet elegant. Locally grown flowers adorn the center of the tables. Linen napkins and a formal place setting all promise tonight is not an ordinary Sunday evening.

Blue Wing Celebrates Blue Zones Approval

Rarely have I had a meal so thoughtfully prepared and served. The Blue Wing serves consistently good food, so when I learned that they had just become Blue Zones approved in Lake County, I couldn’t resist attending their celebratory dinner; I have already learned that anything Chef Pablo Aguilar does will be nothing short of breathtaking.

The late August evening brings its predictable slow, leisurely pace when the days are still long, and dining under the late sun’s rays is almost a requirement for any dinner in Lake County. Welcome to the Blue Wing’s courtyard.

Simply Comfort Food: Shoreline Coffee Shop

Just in front of Wholly Bowl, and sitting between Grocery Outlet and the Dollar Tree in Lakeport stands Shoreline Coffee Shop. It’s an unassuming spot, sandwiched next to a wireless store and discount shop. Usually, diners sit inside, but since COVID, tables stretch out in the open-air hallway where customers sit, sipping on drip coffee and forking into plates piled with food. If you’re looking for comfort food, Shoreline is a great place to begin.

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“I Make Wines That Drink Well” – Gregory Graham Winery

“I call myself a winegrower,” Greg says. “I’m my own vineyard manager, and at the end point, I’m a winemaker. It’s not about getting tonnage. It’s about growing high-quality fruit. Grapes don’t ripen at the same time. I pick them over three weeks to ensure they are picked at the peak.” And it shows in his wines. Every bottle at Gregory Graham is distinct, unique, and thoughtfully created. “I would put my grapes and wines against anyone,” he says. “I put my thumbprint on the wines.”

Asian Food Made Easy: Thai American Market

Dale Grable, the owner of Thai American Market, always has a new idea. Since opening his unique Asian store in Nice several years ago, he’s committed to taking the stress out of cooking Asian food. I don’t know if you’ve ever walked into an Asian food store, but if you don’t know what you’re looking for, it can be intimidating. None of the labels are in English, it’s difficult to tell the difference between five varieties of fish sauce, and, seriously, is that dried jellyfish?

Fortunately for Lake County, Thai American Market is nothing like that. Dale selects the best of each item, removing the confusion. He grinds and makes his own spices and seasonings. And, if you’ve never cooked Asian before, he’s made it simple by creating meal kits that demystify your favorite foods.

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Bold Food and Good Beer: Romi’s Brew and BBQ

You can smell the smoker as soon as you enter the parking lot of Romi’s Brew and BBQ in Nice. And, if you’re lucky, you’ll get there just as someone’s taking ribs out for the evening’s dinner. The char, dense and smoky, fills the nostrils and overwhelms the senses, making it impossible to crave anything but a full rack of those mouthwatering ribs–and you haven’t even opened the door to the restaurant yet.

Your Alternate Reality Awaits: Lakeport Cinema

It’s all things bright and sunny as we pull into the Lakeport Cinema parking lot. The outside wall of the cinema hangs pictures of upcoming movies that will grace the screen in the near future. Ahead are a row of black glass doors. And in this moment, an alternate reality is about to begin. It goes something like this:

There is a set of black glass doors, unlike any others. Oh, you’ve seen doors like these everywhere you go, but what’s behind these particular doors brings a new state of mind to your everyday life unlike any other.

Four Great Mexican Restaurants in Lake County

Lake County has an abundance of Mexican restaurants, and most all of them are wonderful. Everyone we talk to has their favorite, but there’s nothing wrong with trying something new. Of course, there are more than just four great Mexican restaurants in Lake County, but, if you’re looking to try something new and enjoy some great Mexican food, look no further than this list. 

A Perfect Partnership: The Saw Shop Public House and Blue Zones

Main Street Kelseyville is a little busier than normal this Tuesday afternoon. With the recent warmer temperatures, mother nature is coaxing all of us to get out and about. Patrons leave Sophies Day Spa with a scoop of ice cream in one hand and a bag of goodies in another. A man leaves Bell Haven Florist with a bouquet and a smile in his step. Outside the Saw Shop, the covered patio and heaters remain in place just in case this warm spring weather should change its mind and bring us more rain. But the sky is clear and blue, and the rain seems a distant memory. It’s not a question on whether to eat outside or not. It would seem an insult to spring and its beauty to do otherwise.

Art, Wine, and Relaxation: Wine in the Willows

Without a bit of research, I don’t know that I could say which came first: wine or art? I’m sure it’s art. But it seems to me, as far back as we look, both seem to be intertwined in humanity as long as we have been human. And what’s not to love about both? They bring great joy and an ever-changing and evolving perspective. That’s why when I learned Wine in the Willows was recently repurchased, I breathed a great sigh of relief, knowing that wine and art would not lose another supreme location. 

Not Your Ordinary B&B: The Featherbed Railroad, Part 1

“Where are you staying?” her blonde hair frames her bright smile. 

“The La Loose?” my husband states with an I’m ready for anything at this point sound in his voice. 

“Oh, the La Loose!” Jami’s smile brightens even more. “Well, be sure to add a bra to the collection if you have one you want to spare. Some of our guests have done that,” she says it so motherly, hospitably, and oh so matter of factly, like I’ve heard this conversation so many times before in my life. 

My shock is real. I try to hide it. I’m sure I fail. I’m equally sure my husband is too. “Oh!” I say as delighted and with as little fear and trepidation as possible.

Enjoy Tasty Tamales at Betty’s Tacos

On Highway 20 in Clearlake Oaks sits an unassuming white building with red trim. It’s the home to Betty’s Tacos.

Betty’s tacos has a menu full of great items from oversized tortas to burritos, sopes, and salads. But, if you’re going there, you’ll have to try the tacos. Each four inch corn tortilla is filled with flavor; the beef is seasoned and tender, chopped fine, but not too small. Topped with tidbits of lettuce, cilantro, radish, grilled onion, a squeeze of lime, and the salsa of your choice, it’s bright, juicy, and tangy.

Better Than a Three-Hour Tour: Grillagan’s Island

It’s a blustery day in Lake County. The wind whips the palm fronds stretched across the restaurant’s facade and across the highway, the lake, muddy brown, froths and splashes against the bulkhead of Lucerne Harbor Park. It’s cold, rainy, and miserable outside. But inside Grillagan’s island, it’s sunny, warm, and tropical. Calypso music plays on the speakers, tropical prints spread across the walls, and fishing nets hang from the ceiling. It’s the perfect place to get away on a short vacation and enjoy some great food. Cold, wet weather calls for grilled cheese and tomato soup; we all know that. And there’s no better place to enjoy it than at Grillagan’s Island. They specialize in grilled cheese and offer multiple ways to enjoy that delightful sandwich.

Buy Mike and Danny a Beer: Busking for Brewskis at Kelsey Creek Brewing

Tuesday afternoon in Kelseyville, August. Mike Guarniero and Danny Prather perch on barstools next to the front window, half-full beer glasses on the floor next to them. Danny’s taken the lead on a Neil Young tune he’s finishing, and odds are they’ll switch it around on the next song. Between the two of them, they could play all day and never repeat a tune. Danny gives a hearty strum on his guitar as the song ends, then grins as he leans over and takes a sip of his beer. Caroline Chavez, co-owner of Kelsey Creek, sees his glass empty and quickly brings over two full ones. “Now everybody,” she says, walking the smooth walk of a skilled bartender, “You all need to pitch in. I’m the only one buying them beer right now.” Mike and Danny happily grab their full brewskis, sip off the foam, and start a new song.

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