DISCLAIMER: This story, like so many others you read here on We The Eaters, contains bacon. Lot’s of it. It’s like a freaky bacon party up in here. Proceed (I mean, read) with caution … and a fresh supply of crispy goodness nearby.
Last summer while visiting the folks in San Francisco, my brother, the hubs and I found ourselves with nothing to do, a car at our disposal … and the brilliant idea that beers were in order.
On such a gorgeous, sunny day—a drive up the coast, perhaps?
Our tour began with lunch, as we barely made it out of the city before deciding we were hungry enough to consume our own arms. This is a common problem in my family, and, I think, the precursor to my insatiable zombie fetish.
A little over an hour outside the city, just off Highway One near the Point Reyes National Seashore, we pulled into Point Reyes Station with our tummies growling. It was there we stumbled upon Marin Sun Farms.
This welcoming roadside stop boasts a fabulous outdoor eating area, complete with hay bale “benches” and natural-edge wood tables. Inside, there’s refrigerated cases of every kind of bone broth imaginable, including goat, beef and lamb. Fresh meats are displayed in another case with quirky signs advertising “super awesome bacon.” (Um … isn’t all bacon super awesome? The answer: No. All bacon is not created equal. This may be the best I’ve ever tried.)
What we order may clue you in on how well we roll together as family. All three of us get the same thing—a beef burger with Gruyere and bacon (and it begins…) and a side of Brussels Sprouts with Parmesan and aioli. (Frankly, I feel the same way about Brussels sprouts as I do Zombies … especially when they come with bacon.)
While the boys discussed the day’s beer strategy, I excused myself to chat with then-chef, Paul Bondick, who shared the Marin Sun Farms’ story.
He says that owner Dave Evans—a fourth generation farmer—inherited a large parcel of grasslands in the nearby park. Evans had a dream … about bacon. No, I’m kidding. According to the company’s website, he had a dream to, “[create] a more sustainable food model and inspire an agrarian culture that conserves our landscapes, supports the health of its inhabitants and restores the vitality of a region that has thrived for hundreds of years.” That idea came to fruition in this pasture-to-plate establishment, where the meat served is sourced from within the region’s own food shed.
What the heck is a food shed, you ask? It’s a geographic region that produces the food meant to supply the population of that specific area. This one consists of a 250 mile radius of land surrounding the San Francisco Bay Area, where co-operative farms raise livestock according to specific rules about how the animals are treated. To Marin Sun Farms, that means 100% grass-fed and pasture-raised.
But the grass-fed part is interesting given the heat of summer and an ongoing drought, which this year alone has left thousands without running water.
“Ninety-Five percent of California is in severe drought right now,” Bondick says, pointing to grass on pasture lands that is not replenishing. Cattle operations have had to supplement feed with alfalfa and corn, an expense that drives prices up and has consumers questioning the grass-fed moniker. “It’s raising issues about all grass-fed [beef].”
Our food was served, which was excellent timing, as I only had one good arm left to eat it with. Thankfully, I managed to wolf it down before the freaks I was travelling with tried and take it from me. Yes—it was that good. Like really, really … probably one of my top five burgers of all time. Bondick explains why.
“That beef you just had was slaughtered June 20th,” he says. “It was processed the 23rd, delivered here the 25th, ground the 29th.”
So this happy moo-moo cow was home on the range—just down the road—chewing cud about 10 days before it landed on my plate. Typically it take three to five weeks from farm-to-market. Although some would argue aging improves the flavor, this was the freshest beef I’ve ever consumed—and absolutely delicious.
Moving on, our next stop was decidedly more touristy in nature. Any guesses as to where you’ve seen the house pictured at right before? Can you re-caaaaaaawwwww? Come on … don’t assume my little riddle is for the birds and peek at the answer before you decide I’ve put a hitch in your plans to get to the end of this incredibly long post (and sentence). Definitely worth the stop in Bodega, CA.
Making our way further north, we stopped in Santa Rosa at Russian River Brewing Company, where we threw down $16 for a flight of 18 different beers. We sample suds from Suplication (which I thought interesting, but the boys declared no) to a wide variety of hoppy beers, including Happy Hop, Blind Pig IPA and Row 2, Hill56). After 45 minutes of waiting for our appetizer, I decided Pliny the Elder was my favorite … and that we should go somewhere else.
We found Third Street Ale Works just around the corner, where they had the Detroit Tigers creaming the Oakland A’s on TV. The Tigers make me almost as happy as Brussels sprouts, zombies and bacon. The hubs grabbed a Southern Hemisphere, while I saddled up to the delicious Bodega Head IPA and my baby brother finally got his grub (in less than 15 minutes, I might add.)
On the road again, we finally arrived at our furthest point of the tour: The quaint little town of Healdsburg in Sonoma County. Don’t let the population (under 12,000 as of the 2010 United States Census) fool you: This tiny town has a big personality.
Our first stop was for a bit more beer at Bear Republic Brewing Company. My brother, Ryan, had a lot to say about this place, none of it good. He likened their Double Aught to Bud Light and their Global Kolsch to Miller Light.
“It’s like a CD,” he said, “There are two songs and everything else sucks.” Maybe this is what we get for going beer tasting in wine country.
That said, I quite enjoyed their New Oak Big Bear Black Stout, which made me think of this song. And the Tartare Rouge was intriguingly deliciousness, with a flavor I can only assume is what happens beer and kombucha get it on.
Oh, darn … that really is two beers, isn’t it? Well, who cares—all you need is one.
Except when it applies to our final stop, and then I truly suggest you need at least two … and maybe five.
I really only went in Moustache Baked Goods because my co-Founding Foodie, Sarah, is obsessed with both moustaches and baked goods. I simply couldn’t resist the two combined. Once inside, however, what I found was more bacon. Only this time, it isn’t topping a burger: It adorned the top of the maple spice cupcake frosting like a tiny little porky crown. I thought to myself, “I’m so getting one (read, ten) of these!”
Which made me think of this song, which I’ll close with today as I think it really says it all.