Cookbook Adventure, in October
This is the illustration that accompanies a recipe, inside our 1950 Ford Motor Cookbook.
Last fall Don and I had the cookbook with us, while traveling near Santa Barbara. A quick look on the internet told me Cold Spring Tavern was still open for business in 2022!
The sweet looking tavern pretty much matched the vintage image! It looked so darn charming, it could have been part of a movie set. But there's a lot of real history behind those checkered curtains!
The little log structure was originally built in the 1860's, as a stagecoach stop along the San Marcos Pass. Today, visitors drive from Santa Barbara and beyond, to enjoy drinks and food and sometimes live music.
Don and I followed Mapquest directions, winding along this scenic road.
For a while we thought we'd made a wrong turn.
Then we spotted a sign on the hill. It reminded me of arriving at Silver Dollar City (theme park) in the Missouri Ozarks, when I was a kid.
We followed the 2 lane road and spotted a cluster of buildings ahead.
We took the last spot in a small dirt lot and wandered towards the little oasis of weathered shacks.
There seemed to be a fair amount of activity near the green umbrellas.
The air felt like an October day in the Ozarks. Warm air with cool shade. Perfect.
The folks didn't look like Ozark hillbillies or Branson, Missouri tourists. Mostly the guests looked like Santa Barbara locals, who had driven out to the tavern for lunch. I'm sure they wouldn't care for my Ozark comparison.
How did they even know about this place? We only did because of our 60 year old cookbook. I hoped they weren't all waiting for inside tables.
Stone & Wood
The log structure looked larger from the side. I believe it began as one room and 3 more were added in the '40's.
I was eager to get inside and see the place, that's been serving food and drink since 1941.
We stepped inside and I smelled the the same comforting smells I remember from my Uncle Morris' log house in Missouri. Wood and smoke. 80 years worth of fires in this cabin!
The cabin is much older than 80, but it was in 1941 that Adelaide Ovington purchased the property. She was the widow of Earle Ovington, the first airmail pilot. She paid $2,000 for 40 acres, including the tavern.
Don and I practically had the tavern to ourselves. The front room was cozy, with a small bar on the right.
Only one guest was seated in the front room. I imagined the same room on a winter night, with guests begging for the table near the fireplace.
There are 3 fireplaces in the tavern and all were added after Adelaide purchased the property.
The room behind the bar, was the coziest. There were dark wood booths and stacks of wood just waiting for chilly fall weather.
The wood walls and floors were all original. The Tavern didn't even have electricity until 1954. They still use gas lanterns today.
Don and I took a seat at table near the window, in The Long Room. I read that the large round table in The Long Room, once belonged to Gene Autrey. I love that kind of trivia.
There were no other guests in our dining area, but we were not alone. We were surrounded by lots of critters, on the walls above us. They shared the walls with lots of photos and news clippings
The antique "kitchen queen" is evidently the only original piece of furniture from before the Ovington's ownership. It was built in this very room and was too large to be moved when the property changed hands.
The White Room?
I peeked past the white door to see the back room. It appeared to be closed off for dining, but I believe it's called The White Room. Adelaide and her daughter Audrey lived in The White Room, until 1951.
Mother and daughter worked and lived together until they eventually built a small home on the property and named it Blisshaven. After Adelaide died in 1972, Audrey operated the Tavern for 33 more years.
I had a hard time focussing on the menu with everything that surrounded us. I popped up to study the curious divided door. What was that metal thing?
I got sidetracked reading up on some history, on a wooden board.
...Cold Spring Tavern is a stagecoach stop almost 100 years old...
Wow! When was that history board created? The Tavern turned 100 in the 1960's!
Marcos & the Book!
Our waiter, Marcos was the best! He had worked at Cold Spring for 27 years! As we were deciding what to order, I pulled the old cookbook out of the bag and Marcos had the best reaction.
First he laughed and said, no they DID NOT have the Monte Carlo Sandwich on the menu! Then he suddenly seemed totally amazed by the old illustration and asked if he could take a photo with his phone.
We explained the whole cookbook deal... how we travel with it... it helps us find classic restaurants all over the country,.. so many of the featured restaurants are no longer around...
Sometimes it's hard to explain the whole treasure hunt & nostalgia experience to younger people, or to people who didn't grow up with Ford Motor Company advertising gimmicks! But Marcos was someone who was thrilled about history. He reacted with such enthusiasm!
Tri-Tip Sandwich & Wild Game Soup
Marcos also was good at encouraging us with food choices. I ordered the Wild Game Black Bean Soup. Initially I shied away from the soup, packed with venison, rabbit and buffalo. But Marcos raved about it.
Good choice! The flavor was amazing! It was served sour cream and cheese and a fresh hot flour tortilla.
Famous Cold Spring Original Tribute-Tip Sandwich
I wonder if they served try-tip, back when they served Monte Carlos? Marcos talked this up too. He pointed out the window to the stacks of oak used for the outside grill.
The oak-grilled, thick sliced meat was served on a brioche bun. The barbecue sauce was house-made with apple horseradish. Potato salad too!
A perfect feast with a perfect woodsy view!
Marcos and Ashely
Marcos checked on us often. We talked about everything from fires to droughts. He showed us a photo of the Tavern in the snow. It's a miracle the buildings have survived, over all this time.
At one point another server stopped by the table and wanted to see the cookbook. Ashely was young, but seemed surprisingly interested in the funny old book. She introduced me to her mom later. Her mom was even more curious, since she'd worked at the Tavern for 33 years! Another mother/daughter team! Did her name start with an A too?
We weren't able to linger as long as I wanted, since we had hours of driving ahead. But we wandered the property a bit.
We headed past the picnic tables and took a peek inside two other buildings.
Log Cabin Bar
In the early 1900's, this building held a water bottling plant. The Orvingtons changed it into a bar in 1955.
Inside, the bartender looked a little bored. No one seemed to want to spend anytime inside, on a beautiful Friday afternoon.
The fireplace at the end of the bar was added in the fifties. They had to take down the wall, in order to remove the bottling equipment. They added the fireplace and used a local telephone pole for the mantle..
Old Bunk House
This little gift shop was once a bunkhouse used by stagecoach drivers.
It's hard to imagine horses and stagecoaches traveling through this area, way over a century ago. Evidently you can still see ruts made by the wheels, in the stone along the old pass.
Questions for Audrey
We didn't explore nearly enough. There are more structures on the property, that we totally missed. I sure wish we could have visited when Audtry was still running the tavern. She died in 2005, but evidently left behind an enormous collection of cookbooks. I'll bet she had a Ford book, like ours.
We saw and learned a lot during our short visit. And the website is excellent for learning more later. It has a very fun list of interesting facts and stories. It was nice to find out that a third generation (Wayne & Joy Ovington Wilson) still operate the Cold Spring Tavern today!
Nepenthe in Big Sur
Don and I dined at Nepenthe 40 years ago.
We finally made it back and it was better than I remembered!
High Above the Sea
Don and I revisited Nepenthe while traveling the California coast, last fall. The drive along scenic Highway 1 in Big Sur, was our favorite. I kept my eyes glued to the west, so I could spot the iconic Nepenthe restaurant.
In my photo, you actually have to look above the more obvious building, which holds Nepenthe's newer cafe and shop. The original restaurant sits even higher, perfectly perched on the hillside, 800 feet above the sea, It's been sitting there since the 1940's.
First... A Log House
This is the log house that originally occupied the same spot. It was built in 1925. (I was excited to find a photo display near the restaurant's restroom!)
In 1944, Orson Welles and his wife Rita Hayworth, discovered the cabin while stopping to picnic. They purchased the cabin with hopes of making it into a romantic retreat. But they divorced and sold the cabin to the Fassett Family, before they had a chance to enjoy it.
I'm assuming there were no stairs, when Rita and Orson explored this area nearly 80 years ago. When Don and I arrived last October, there was an impressive set of steps, winding upward through the lush growth.
I'm guessing that Lolly and Bill Fassett put in the stairs at some point, after they bought the property. The rocks and railing looked like they'd been there a long time.
Lolly and Bill bought the 3-bedroom cabin with surrounding 12 acres, in 1947. They moved in with their 5 kids, but soon realized the setting was too beautiful to be enjoyed by just one family.
They hired Rowen Maiden (once a student of Frank Lloyd Wright) to build a structure surrounding the cabin. They called the finished creation Nepenthe, which comes from the Greek word for no sorrow. In 1949, about 500 guests attended the opening. The combination home/restaurant soon became a gathering place for travelers and locals. A place where guests could forget their sorrows and worries.
To the Top
I was excited to once again experience this magical place of no worries. We headed up the winding walkway and passed an old red phone booth, with a man actually talking on the phone. There's very little cell service in the Big Sur area.
As we neared the top we could see blue skies and colorful umbrellas and an interesting bird sculpture.
The curious Phoenix was created by an artist, from the trunk of a coastal live oak that once stood at the end of terrace.
Looking past the sculpture, you can see the spread out seating on the terrace and the slanted roof of the restaurant structure. Little has changed over time.
This vintage photo shows the oak tree before it died in 1972. The image captures the modern glass and wood structure, that housed the restaurant. The Fassett's lived in the connected, original cabin. It's just out of the photo, above the stair-step seating on the right.
Big Sur was not a huge tourist attraction, when Nepenthe opened 73 years ago. But the oasis above the sea, attracted some interesting, bohemian characters. The open air pavilion was designed to encourage gatherings. The stadium seating (think Greek amphitheater) gave guests a good view of the terrace happenings... dancing, music, poetry readings... The round adobe fire pit kept guests warm after the sun went down.
The Terrace Today
During our visit, I didn't spot any belly dancing or bongo drums, not even a beatnik beard. But there were people sitting on colorful cushions above the terrace and there was a wonderfully calm vibe. It was nice to see people looking at each other or studying the view... not their phones.
Today there are plastic chairs instead of director's chairs. They still have the have the fire pit, but they've also added standing heaters.
I wondered about this mosaic table and who created it. So many artists contributed their work to Nepenthe. Lolly even made some of the adobe bricks that were used in the construction. Sadly the old log exterior is now hidden behind an updated exterior. It's fun to look at those windows and know that the Fassett's children and grandchildren often watched the parties and patio activity, from above.
My memories from our visit years ago are very vague. I honestly don't remember the view being this stunning.
Maybe the weather was foggy on that day in 1983. It was perfectly clear on October 5, 2022.
Nepenthe takes no reservations and no food is served between 4:30 and 5. So we arrived at 4:30 to avoid crowds and get our name on a wait list for dinner. Don headed inside to get us drinks, since the bar remained open.
In the summer, I'm sure it would have been packed inside. It was nice to look around without crowds and see all the curves and angles... glass and redwood beams! I can't imagine what it must have been like for the Fassett kids, growing up in this setting. They helped with chores from cleaning wax off candlesticks to chopping vegetables. Was this space their playground, when the restaurant was closed?
Once we had our drinks, we found some seats and made a toast to more than the view. It was Don's birthday!
This guy really deserved a special birthday outing. Don's birthday adventure the year before, had been to the hospital for open heart surgery. What a beautiful spot for toasting to Don's birthday and good health!
Time to Dine!
After only a few minutes of enjoying the view, we were called to our table.
The inside dining room was fun with enormous windows and retro brass candle sticks... clean of candle wax! The original fireplace had a welcoming mid-century vibe. But we could hardly pull ourselves away from our view. We said we were in no hurry and would wait for an outside table.
Table for Two
There were a few tables set up along a walkway, leading back to a (closed off) patio. We got the table at the very end, beneath an umbrella!
This may have been a temporary set up, so I'm not sure we'll ever dine at this spot again. It was lovely!
I think we had the best table that night!
Eddy Takes Our Pic
And I'm also quite sure we had the very best waiter. Eddy, was knowledgable and comfortable and enthused about his work.
When I asked if he would snap a photo of us, he had us stand up to get the view behind us. He couldn't have been nicer.
We ordered a bottle of local wine and took our time with the menu. You have to love this phoenix, with his crown and curly feathers!
"Forget your worldly cares at Nepenthe's gay pavilion Where the Phoenix bird repairs..."
I'm pretty sure we did just that! At least I forgot my worldly cares!
As we sipped our wine, the light grew more golden.
We enjoyed the view and then enjoyed some conversation... with the people behind us.
It began when the man stood to take a photo. We shared enthusiasm about the view, then ended up swapping travel stories. The California couple said we were invited to their vineyards anytime, for a wine tasting. They were much more Bohemian than us, so I'm pretty sure we had a proper Nepenthe Experience, with our enjoyable socializing. The Fassetts would be pleased.
The food was quite amazing, from the bread basket and salads, to our entrees.
Don ordered Diver Scallops, pan-seared with polenta cakes and sautéed asparagus.
He was happy!
Lolly's Roast Chicken Dinner
I placed my order with Eddy, telling him, "I'm ordering the roast chicken! I'm sure I can trust Lolly's old recipe!" He sort of laughed, but then seemed pleased that I had an interest in the restaurant's past.
But actually I really liked the idea comfort food in such a comfortable setting! Roast chicken, served on a bed of sage stuffing! Gravy and cranberry sauce or course! It was just right!
Sneaking a Peek
The deck area that was closed off for renovation, was just behind Don. I couldn't help myself and popped up when the coast was clear. I dipped under the caution tape and snapped a photo.
The quiet deck looked so appealing and retro, with the glowing lanterns. I could picture Ernest Hemingway enjoying a drink with this view. He was one of the many famous past guests.
As the sun lowered, the scenery became more and more dramatic.
The sky grew darker and we suddenly had some added entertainment, when an owl began hooting nearby.
I got extra giddy when I saw the glow of the nearly full moon, reflected in the water. I don't think we were the only guests, sighing over the view.
By the time our meal was done, the air was cool and our jackets came on. I insisted Don order dessert. He made a good chocolate-y choice.
Then suddenly Eddy delivered a wrapped box, with an attached lit candle! We hadn't even mentioned Don's birthday, but Eddy overheard us talking to the California couple. What a fun surprise. A blue Nepenthe coffee mug gift, for the birthday boy!
We gave Eddy huge thanks. He had made our evening extra special. Nepenthe's has a history of memorable staff and again, Lolly and Bill would be glad to know he did a great job.
I wish I could have thanked Lolly and Bill in person, for creating this wonderful place. I obviously couldn't do that, but as it turns out, their grandson ( I believe) runs the restaurant now. I should have left him a thank you note!
As we headed off, I snapped some photos of the lit patio and the huge fire pit. They are blurred, so I almost deleted them.
There's a nostalgic, dream-like quality to these patio pics. They remind me of the blurred photos from my childhood, in family albums. Those photo seem magical, too.
The photos below are also blurry. I took these pics of our TV last night, when we watched the movie The Sandpiper, from 1965.
This film was shot on location, in Big Sur. I studied this scene eagerly pointing, out the guitar, the fire pit... and some dancing! And of course Richard Burton and Liz Taylor having drinks on Nepenthe's terrace. The movie was not their best, but what a hoot to see the setting!
We ended up spending a total of 4 hours at Nepenthe. I enjoyed every minute.
I was glad we only had a 5 minute drive to our cabin at Ripplewood Resort, which has been around longer than Nepenthe.
Cafe Kevah and Phoenix Shop
We detoured partway down the stairs to peek at the buildings that hold the cafe and gift shop, which were added years after Nepenthe was built.
Both were closed, but I heard they are very much worth a visit. Next time!
On the stairs, we paused to chat with a young man who was smiling at his phone. No he wasn't on Instagram, since there was no cell coverage. He was admiring a photo he'd just taken of the moon. He shared it with us and we talked a while.
I started to share the moon picture, that I'd just taken. The moon seemed to float above the Phoenix. But I just listened instead. The young guy was so happy, explaining how he'd propped the phone still... It was a sweet encounter.
Maybe that was a Nepenthe Moment... a positive encounter at Nepenthe. I just made that up, but surely those nice shared moments happen more often here. A beautiful and friendly setting, where phones are only good for taking photos!
As I write this post months later, I'm feeling eager to go back! We won't wait 40 years this time. I might not be able to do those stairs at 105!
Miguel's in Comanche, TX
Father's Day in Comanche
Don has been flexible about Father's Day, for 35 years. June travels are an issue for many dads!
On Father's Day 2022, we were on the road heading home from Colorado. We had to make it special, so we stopped in the town of Comanche, at the restaurant with the best sign. Miguel's.
Teepee and Metal Art
There was more than a neon sign to lure us. There was a teepee in front.
There was a metal cactus and a pair of howling coyotes. The pink one was hiding behind the plant.
It was 12:30 when we walked across a large gravel lot. There were a lot of cars. It seemed possible that every father in Comanche, was inside dining.
I had a feeling this little restaurant might have some history. And what about the town? There's clearly a history of the Comanches in Texas, but what about this town of about 4,000.
Well the menu told me right away that they'd been around since 1989. That's not so long. That was the year Don became a dad for the second time.
A Comanche Tradition? What did the actually mean? I got a little curious. Was there any connection at all to the Comanche tribe that once dominated much of Texas?
Luckily we were seated right away. Our table wasn't far from a glowing display. There were at least a dozen wind chimes hanging above.
Was this a Comanche Chief? Is that accurate dress for a Comanche woman? I don't think the vacuum was supposed to be part of the display.
There were a lot of crosses on display behind the two figures.
There were crosses of all colors and designs on a few walls. It looked like many of the guests had just come from church. So that fit.
I got up to wash my hands and found a totem pole at the end of the hall. I found more statues that had me scratching my head.
I wish there had been some write up in the menu... maybe about the owner's interest in Comanche history. What's behind these 2 statues? Garage sale or commissioned work? The 2020 census says there are 19 residents who are Native American... I have questions.
There were murals that caught my eye as well.
Saguaro cacti, donkey, rattlesnake, little guy in sandals, with a large sombrero. And a dream catcher hanging above. So many theme going on here. Not sure what to think.
But, I let it go. I was famished and ready for chips and salsa. I would research later.
I only had to glance at the menu and my decision was made. I could have ordered Mama's Chicken or Ladies Plate, but I told our very pleasant server, " I think I'm going to have to order ZT's Special! Because... why not?!" She laughed with me.
My choice doesn't look that unusual, but it was probably the least healthy dish on the menu.
Tamales wrapped in flour tortillas, then DEEP_FRIED and topped with queso! Served with rice beans and sour cream of course! Pretty decadent!
Father Don & Chimichanga
Don ordered Chimichanga for his Father's Day Fest. He looks like he's giving his entree the eye, before digging in.
His choice was actually much better than mine. Mine was all about the surrounding layers and his was all about the filling. His was packed with chicken!
The food was decent and certainly better than a fast food stop on the road. We watched the diners around us, as we ate. There were 2 cute little sisters in church dresses and long black braids that made frequent trips to the Ladies Room.
There were a few cowboy hats and a couple of guys wearing "biker attire," if that is a term. One woman got up from the table and greeted about 5 other tables, as if she was at a church supper. I'm guessing we were the only non-locals.
We finished up and headed to the counter to pay up. There were lots of messages on the wall for us. "Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition" and "Jesus Texas and Tacos".
"AS FOR ME & MY HOUSE WE WILL SERVE TACOS salsa 24:7" Hmm???
I wanted to ask our cashier some questions.
I wanted to ask about some of the decor. Who was behind these collections and decorations? But the signs on the wall and the crucifix behind the statues, sort of silenced me.
Instead I turned my attention towards the "gum machines" on the way out. I didn't have any coins handy or I might have had some fun, for old times sake.
Then I noticed the yellow sign on the glass. "Protect Against Infection". The cow image was used to help us determine "6 feet". Was this farm/ranch humor? I left shaking my head, that there was a lot I didn't understand.
I think our meal qualifies for a memorable, Father's Day Dining Adventure!
Jewel of the South in Nola
Oasis in French Quarter
Last September Don and I had a totally different dining adventure in New Orleans.
We ended up having the most heavenly evening, at the award winning, Jewel of the South.
We had planned to steer clear of the busy French Quarter, while visiting my brother and sis-in-law. Then my bro, Dave lucked into some reservations!
We also lucked into good parking, in the Quarter. We arrived with time to wander before dinner. We enjoyed a little people watching on the crowded streets... and took in some good views, in some quieter areas,
We eventually meandered into a peaceful area of the lower quarter. The tidy Creole cottage looked so inviting, with its blue sign and shutters.
We followed a walkway that took us around to the courtyard.
We entered from the back and stepped inside to see the cozy interior, with exposed brick and beams.
The Jewel calls itself a "classic New Orleans tavern, reimagined". You could tell there was an exciting vibe near the bar, but I was glad our table was being prepared in the courtyard.
It was a busy evening in Nola. LSU and FSU were going head-to-head in the Superdome. The Quarter was extra colorful and packed, with the annual Southern Decadence celebration.
Nola was bustling, but we were suddenly seated at a lovely garden table, with no other guests in sight. Perfect!
Award Winning Cocktails
I ordered a Sazerac, because that's what you do in New Orleans. But I guess that was a lame choice.
I didn't realize the "Cocktail Program" was under the direction of Chris Hannah, a James Beard Award winner. I probably insulted the staff by not ordering a more complicated drink. But I read later that Chris Hannah creates his own version of the classic Nola cocktail. It's a nearly controversial creation... But Esquire Magazine raves about it!
Relaxed and Happy
No worries about looking like tourists as we snapped photos. There was no one to see us.
The tables around us stayed unoccupied at least for a while.
The paper menu looked casual, but the options looked a bit intimidating. The server talked us through and encouraged us to share the small plates. Kind of like tapas.
We didn't go all out with the Siberian Beluga Caviar, for $205, but it seemed like we sampled almost everything on the menu.
Caviar and Potato Scallops!
We started with one of the (other) caviars. I was pretty delighted with the serving dish to begin with!
I lifted the rotating lid to reveal the iced caviar.
Inside the tavern I would have played it a little cooler, and pretended I was one of the regulars who come for Caviar Happy Hour! No need to hide my enthusiasm here. The caviar and the potatoes were divine!
I didn't get photos of all the plates that we sampled, but every bite was an adventure, from the Eggs Royale, Smoked Trout Roe, Truffle...
...to the Malted Chocolate Custard, Macerated Blackberries, Crystalized Almonds... Honestly, I can't remember all we ate. It's been over 3 months and I wasn't really going to write this up. But I have such fond memories of enjoying the entire experience with Dave and Amy, on a perfect September evening. There was a lot of raving and pondering and savoring and wondering, over all these dishes!
And then to complete the evening, I had an entertaining trip to the rest room. I wasn't surprised to find a non-gender restroom. But I was nicely surprised to see the decorated walls! Such a collection of old concert posters.
I did feel a little uneasy about the non-gender restroom, when I realized there was no lock on the door. Unlocked restrooms. Is that the latest hip thing? Ugh. I rushed. And then I noticed the lock, (way up high) on my way out. I'm 5'2''. I need to look up more.
I had to step out of the restroom, to wash my hands at a sink near a window. As I washed my hands, I looked out on the walkway and felt a little odd with people walking by.
It felt too public to powder my nose, but I could have. There was a mirror on the wall outside the window, after all. So I washed my hands and snapped a photo. Funny. The photo reveals some kitchen activity behind me. I love an added restroom adventure when I'm dining out!
We left the glowing tavern, feeling happy and satisfied! I took a photo of the pretty brick building and wondered who had lived there 100 years ago.
I also wondered about the Pluto Water sign. I looked it up, later. Evidently, Pluto water was a natural water product, in the early 1900's. It was high in sodium and magnesium sulfate and claimed to be a very helpful laxative. That gave me a good chuckle!
I really do love the old classic New Orleans restaurants, but what a fun change! So glad we got to enjoy a totally different New Orleans Dining Adventure, in the French Quarter! So glad we found this Jewel!
The Dining Blog
This is a blog about Dining Adventures. Sometimes, I talk about food. Below, you can read how this started.
On July 4th 2011, I set a goal to try 50 culturally diverse restaurants in one year! (I knew that was possible, living in the Houston area) I spent the year pulling in friends and family to join me, on some unusual dining adventures. I met some curious people, tried some scary foods and explored places and cultures I never would have otherwise. Even though I met my goal, I learned too much to end my adventures in dining. I have continued blogging about memorable dining adventures of all kinds, near and far... and all the discoveries and funny things I've learned along the way!
Locations and types of dining adventures, are listed further down.