“Isn’t this amazing?” I ask my husband as the clear, crisp blue sky turns pink, purple, and gold. We’re watching a beautiful sunset at Borax Lake. “We should do this more often.” Since neither one of us wants to cook dinner after our short, steep hike, we drive along Sulfur Bank Road to pick up some take-out from Happy Garden Chinese Restaurant and Bar on Highway 20 in Clearlake Oaks. We’re long-term residents of Lake County, but we’ve never been to Happy Garden. From what I hear, it’s the best Chinese food in Lake County.
RESTAURANTS AND BARS
High-Quality, From Scratch, and Homemade. What Else Could You Ask For? Try Live Oak Grill in Kelseyville
Since reopening October 15th, Live Oak Grill has quickly established a loyal customer base. Much of it has to do with owners Jennifer and Jamie’s friendly disposition. They’re relaxed, comfortable, and easy to talk to. And a lot has to do with the quality of the food. Everything’s handmade and done well, with plenty of attention to detail.
It doesn’t matter what you order at Wholly Bowl; you’ll get quality food made with fresh ingredients. Jenn doesn’t over-spice or over-sweeten her food. It’s meant to be balanced. “’Wholly’ means all-inclusive,” Jenn says, excitement in her eyes. “It’s all in one bowl.” She ticks off ingredients on her fingers: “The crisp of the veggies with the fat of the avocado, the hot rice, and the crunch of the cabbage and kale. The protein, the starch, the veggies and the sauce. It’s the layered ingredients with the multiple sauces; the synergy of them all combined creates something wholly new.”
If you live in Lake County and haven’t been to Castle Donuts yet, you’re seriously missing out. This shop creates donuts that fill people’s fantasies. It doesn’t matter which type you choose; you can’t go wrong. From bacon maple bars to custard-filled, chocolate-covered donuts, from old-fashioned to glazed, from apple fritters to bear claws, Castle Donuts makes them all spectacularly.
I’ve been to my share of East Indian restaurants. Back in the day, it was the choice location for many a dull business lunch. And those restaurants varied from delightful to those that seemed to be trying to punch me with spices. I’ve left restaurants smelling like I just worked out. So when my wife and I decided to visit Arti Natural and Organic Indian Cafe, I had no expectations. It is the only Indian place in the county, and I had already decided that I would be polite, regardless of whether I had a strong gym sock odor at the end of the meal. If you’re a fan of Indian food, you’ll understand. But as soon as I entered the restaurant, I knew this place was different.
“We try to make the best pizza that we can,” Pete Ogo, co-owner of Pogos Pizza, says. “Everything’s from scratch. We make our own sauce, and our sausage is locally made for us using a special recipe.” He pauses for a second, but that’s just to catch his breath. “We’re really picky. We only prep our vegetables for that day; they’re never old.” Pete’s getting excited. It’s undeniable that he loves what he does. “You know what? Our biggest goal is to have the best product in the community and be as involved as we can.”
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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The afternoon sunlight filters through the willow tree stretching above the table. Sitting on the edge of Clear Lake, it’s easy to hear the slap of the water against the bulkheads and watch the grebes dance across the lake, necks outstretched. Behind them, the shoulders of Mt. Konocti stretch upwards. And on the table sits a Smokin’ Burger complete with sides of beans, fries, and coleslaw, waiting to be consumed.
The Smokin’ Burger is one of the top-selling burgers. It’s a big burger, topped with smoked pork, pepper jack cheese, and a healthy dose of barbecue sauce. And, of course, there’s magic happening there. The sauce gives a creamy contrast to the grilled flavor of the burger, and the pulled pork slides across the top, layered with intention to draw out the fullness of the meat. The burger veritably drips with flavor, and across your hands and down your arms as well. It’s impossible not to get messy eating it, or not to leave full.
After chatting for a while, Pascal picks out some pastries for us to try. Marcel’s Bakery and Café does it right. They get their flour and butter from France, which means fewer chemicals and gluten. That, along with considerable skill in baking, makes pastries that are light, flaky, and created with attention to detail. Take the apricot croissant, for example. Marcel’s uses whole apricots that give it a tangy tartness, which combined with the creamy custard and flaky, creates a croissant that’s memorable, and impossible to put down.
Speaking of impossible to put down, the éclair causes its own dilemmas. “You’ll want to eat the éclair now,” Pascal told us. Sizably portioned and drizzled in chocolate with a refreshingly cool custard, it disappeared immediately. The same goes for the chocolate twist, a sweet, but not overly sweet, creamy chocolately twist that leaves one with a satisfied, happy feeling.
Of course, Marcel’s Bakery and Café has many other options, from baguette to panini. The Lakeport store has a full deli, and our children love Marcel’s macaroons, delicately flavored cookies that dissolve in the mouth.
Recently, our family ran into a dilemma. We bake our bread at home and were running low on yeast. So I went online to get some more and saw that the price had not only doubled, but it wouldn’t come for a month. So, what were we to do? Not only was our homemade bread at stake, but also the evening’s long-awaited plans. Stir-crazy and stuck at home, our family had planned on making calzones, then having a family-only drive-in movie on the patio. But we were out of yeast for the dough. In my moment of despair, Juicy’s Pizza in Lakeport came through.
Carl White, owner of Danny’s Roadside Kitchen, opens the heavy doors to his smoker. A white cloud envelops him, obscuring his red t-shirt and fogging his glasses. He pours a little water in the bottom, creating a billowing thunderhead. “Hang on just a second,” he says. You gotta wait for the steam to clear.”
This article first appeared in The Bloom on November 15, 2019. However, during the Coronavirus lockdown, Danny’s Roadside Kitchen is still open and Carl is still serving his spectacular barbecue. Give it a try if you haven’t yet.
On most days, it’s possible to see Jimmy Tannous cooking outside, tongs in hand. In front of him, dozens of chicken thighs sit on a rack suspended above a bed of charcoal coals. Every few seconds, he pokes a thigh, then flips it; when cooked, he pulls it off and replaces it with a new piece of meat. Those thighs are full of flavor, unique, and designed to go with his spectacular sandwiches. When asked for the secret to their unique and decidedly wonderful taste, he points at his chest, and says, “It’s the guy who cooks it.”
Jimmy’s Deli and Taqueria has been a Lake County institution for decades. The deli moved to its current location in Lakeport in 2008 and has been creating great food since then. It’s common, during regular times, to see a line stretching out of the door at lunchtimes. Everyone knows that it’s the place to go for high-quality, inexpensive food that not just fills, but satisfies. If you live in Lake County and haven’t visited, you’re in for a treat.
Jason Chavez, owner of Kelsey Creek Brewing Company, stands behind the bar, pulls on a tap, and begins filling a two-liter growler with a Mixed Berry Sour. Behind him, a sign sits on a shelf. “Don’t cry over spilled milk,” it says. “It could have been beer.” Over the speakers, Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, and The Highwaymen sing, “The road goes on forever, and the party never ends.”
Jason chats about his beers as he pours, tilting the growler to the side as it fills. His long dark hair, pulled back in a ponytail, hides under a NY Mets hat backward on his head. A long, spiraling dragon tattoo winds down his arm. It’s been four years since Jason and his wife Caroline took over Kelsey Creek Brewing. Since then, Jason has used his creativity to craft unique, tasty beers that cover the spectrum of brewing tastes, from dark, malty stouts to ultra-light, crisp lagers.
Currently, the Saw Shop is offering meals for four people for $40. “We originally started the family dinners in February,” Weston said. “On Monday nights, we were doing a ‘dine and donate’ for local charities. Then, about three weeks ago we decided to do the family-style dinners daily. Now every night there’s a different family-style meal available. You get everything you need to take home and have a complete dinner.”
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