Welcome to the first installment of “Nosh Weekend” — what we plan to be a regular series of travel stories around the Bay Area. We’ll explore off-the-beaten path locations within a short distance of our East Bay home, all with the aim of tasting new and exciting food and drink. First up is Winters, a small city located near Davis in Yolo County.
Driving into Winters after leaving the bustle of the Bay Area is like entering an alternate universe, a universe that looks simultaneously like a picturesque 1950s town and an old western movie. The small downtown area has charm in full effect, complete with a bandstand and wide, lazy streets. Visitors and residents congregate on the street and on the newly constructed nature trail, ready to chat up any passers-by. It’s not a place with a million events and activities, but that’s all the better — here, you’re encouraged to wind down and sip your coffee (or wine or beer) slowly. For a 24-hour trip, Winters is perfect.
Leave the East Bay first thing in the morning, and you’ll have no trouble making it to Winters traffic-free, and in time for a hearty breakfast. (Winters is about 60 miles, or an hour’s drive, north of Berkeley.) Bacon, eggs and waffles with a towering scoop of whipped butter are standard orders at Putah Creek Café, located right in the center of downtown. The café is open all day, but we’re partial to breakfast at the diner-style counter. Solid, no-frills cups of coffee come out fast, and food is not far behind. Omelettes are generous — try The California with close to a full avocado inside — and breakfast potatoes are well seasoned.
If you’d rather have your breakfast in sandwich form, Steady Eddy’s, a coffee shop down the street, sells a line-up of breakfast panini and wraps in addition to a huge list of coffee and tea drinks. Like at Putah Creek, Belgian waffles are also in high demand. Steady Eddy’s is a popular spot for cyclists stopping through town on weekend trips. We counted close to 30 cyclists on a recent Saturday, most of whom pedaled over from nearby Davis. Strike up a conversation with one of your table-side neighbors while drinking a cool glass of iced tea for the ultimate Eddy’s morning.
After breakfast, take a stroll around the historic downtown. The Winters Visitors Center (11, Main Street) has a print-out guide to the historic buildings downtown if you’re looking for details, or just take a gander map-free. First, take look at the former Hotel DeVilbiss, which is now the home of Buckhorn Steakhouse, to which we’ll return at dinner. The hotel was built in the late 19th century, and it was the most prominent commercial building in Winters at that time. Down the street, peek into the First Northern Bank of Dixon, a grand Classical Revival building complete with towering ionic columns. The bank has changed hands a few times since its construction in 1912, most notably to the Citizens Bank of Winters, of which its largest group of stockholders were women. Nearby, a small archway of trees sits next to a cute wooden upright piano.
Later, stroll over to Putah Creek and walk along the newly renovated Putah Creek Nature Walk — and be sure to walk across the Robert Chapman Memorial Bridge. It is the second railroad bridge built across Putah Creek, the first of which was constructed by the Vaca Valley Railroad in 1875. This first bridge brought about the birth of the town of Winters in that same year. In 1906, the Southern Pacific Railroad replaced the original wooden bridge with the existing steel-truss bridge in 1906. It eventually fell into disrepair, but was restored for its 100th anniversary in 2006.
You can venture down the path for about a mile (it’ll eventually change to a dirt walkway) and then loop back across a wooden footbridge to the south side of the creek to make your way back to town. Wander off the trail for a few minutes and venture down to the creek. The water is crystal clear and a popular play spot for dogs. Two swings hang nearby for kids and kids-at-heart.
Back in town, few more restaurants will have opened by lunchtime. Preserve Public House is right across the street from the downtown entrance to the Putah Creek Nature Walk and it serves pizzas and brew pub-style fare made with local ingredients. A few preserved foods — jalapeño jelly, charcuterie — are made in-house, so that’s where we turned for our afternoon meal. The generous preserve platter included house-made salami and lonza (cured pork loin), local asiago and triple cream cheese, jalapeño jelly, house-pickled onions and peppers, nuts, dried fruit, and a tower of warmed bread. A salad, such as a protein-topped Caesar or summery Caprese, will be enough for a light meal. Bubbling mac and cheese or bacon-laced shrimp and grits should satisfy larger appetites. Local beers and wines are abundant.
Other lunch options include a return to Putah Creek Café (above) or a stop into El Pueblo Meat Market for legit tacos — carnitas are a specialty. Or, if you’re ready to start wine tasting, pop into Main Street Cellars for a cheese-centric meal. (Main Street Cellars also serves brunch on certain Sundays with charcuterie, cheese, bread and bubbly wine.)
Wine tasting, beer sipping
Speaking of wine, Winters has three other tasting rooms serving local and further flung wines. The afternoon is a perfect time to visit at least one or two of them while you while away a lazy afternoon. Turkovich Family Wines produces small-lot wines using grapes from Western Yolo County — primarily syrah, viognier, tempranillo and petite sirah. The winemaking operations are headed up by husband-and-wife team Chris and Luciana Turkovich, who founded the winery in 2007. Turkovich’s tasting room offers complementary tastings of wine and cheese (also made by the family) in the afternoon, and then switches to bottle and by-the-glass service in the evenings. On our visit, tried the first sparkling wine made in Yolo County from local grapes, a rosé made from a blend of tempranillo and granache. Sip outside for maximum enjoyment.
Around the corner, Berryessa Gap also offers wines made from its Winters vineyards, plus more locally made cheeses. For a tasting of wines from even smaller vineyards, venture across the street to the Berryessa-owned RootStock gift shop — it pours wines from even smaller local producers like Casey Flat Ranch, Marr Cellars and Dunnigan Hills. Back at Main Street Cellars, you’ll find wines from across the west coast, plus select bottles from around the world. And if beer is more your style, be sure to check out Berryessa Brewing Company; its taproom is located a little outside of town on Highway 128 and features 100% naturally carbonated and unfiltered beers.
Once dinner comes around, you’ve got a range of options. Stay in town for a beefy feast at Buckhorn Steakhouse, the flagship location for Buckhorn Grill, which has locations across northern California. While it primarily serves a traditional menu of grilled steaks, Buckhorn does offer Santa Maria-style tri-tip on Tuesdays and a “Family Feast” of barbecued meats and sides on Sundays. Or walk across the street to Ficelle, which offers non-traditional “eclectic” tapas — expect everything from teriyaki beef skewers to gambas al Ajilo.
Those looking for a more elaborate meal (and who don’t mind extra expense) would be remiss not to venture 10 miles up the road to take part of the six-course prix-fixe meal at Inn at Park Winters. The restaurant, located in a barn alongside a luxurious bed and breakfast, serves what it calls “land-inspired fine dining” — aka hyper-local farm-to-table done up with style. Executive Chef Scott Ostrander has done a stint at Chicago’s Alinea, and that restaurant’s playful modernist influence definitely comes through in the food.
Park Winters treated Nosh to a meal in its dining room, which included courses like “Garden Crudités” (micro greens and vegetables from the restaurant’s farm served on top of a Little Gem lettuce mousse with crystals of frozen vinaigrette) and tortellini stuffed with summer squash-ricotta purée and served with tomatoes and summer truffles. The wine pairing runs the spectrum from local producers to wineries from Hungary and Austria. Service is friendly and knowledgeable but fairly laid-back, and the dining room is spacious and bright — a fine space to spend the better part of three hours eating dinner.
In addition, all dinner guests are given complementary access to the inn’s pool, garden and grounds which are chock-full of edible plants and fruit trees prime for snacking. You can also purchase a day pass for the facility without dining or staying at the inn — $55 will get you all-day access to the pool and grounds, plus non-alcoholic beverages. (Tipplers can also bring in their own wine and beer or order from the restaurant’s bar.)
Stay the night
Winters isn’t exactly bursting with lodging options, but you can certainly make it work should you choose to stay the night. The Inn at Park Winters is the most extravagant option — the main house includes four rooms, and the adjacent water tower holds a three-floor suite. Overnight guests are treated to a complementary breakfast of local fruit, house-baked scones, and egg dishes like omelettes with goat cheese and spinach. Back in town, the Abbey House Inn is a quaint bed and breakfast with several rooms, a wrap around porch and a shared parlor for visiting with other guests. It is only a block away from the center of downtown — a great choice if you don’t want to venture far.
Other overnight options include camping at Lake Solano County Park, just down Highway 128 from Berryessa Brewing, and the few Airbnb homes in the area. You can also consider staying in nearby Davis, which has many more hotels around 20 minutes away.
Winters’ location in southwestern Yolo County makes it a great jumping off point for agricultural tours in the area.
The Capay Valley is a highly fertile area that is home to some of the Bay Area’s favorite farms — Full Belly Farm and Capay Organic are both local and hold farm tours by appointment and hold larger farm events throughout the year. Full Belly hosts reservation-only farm dinners once a month during the growing season as well. Check out a map of all of the Capay Valley’s farms.
Also in Capay Valley is Séka Hills, an olive oil, wine and honey producer owned by the Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation, the historical inhabitants of the valley. Séka Hills opened its tasting room in November 2014 — there you can taste Séka Hills oils, wine and honey in full view of the olive mill. Charcuterie, salads and sandwiches make for a solid lunch. (The Yocha Dehe also operate the nearby Cache Creek Casino and golf course.)
Closer in to Winters is Bondolio Olive Oil, which also produces olive oil and has won 20 different awards for its Sicilian-style oil, a rarity in California. Bondolio hosts private tours and tastings by appointment, as well as occasional events.
Nosh was a guest of the Inn at Park Winters for dinner and accommodation.
Abbey House Inn is at 101 Abbey St., Winters. Connect with the inn on Facebook.
Berryessa Brewing Company is at 27260 Hwy. 128, Winters. Connect with the brewery on Facebook.
Berryessa Gap tasting room is at 15 Main St., Winters. Connect with the winery on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
Connect with Bondolio on Facebook and Twitter.
Buckhorn Steakhouse is at 2 Main St., Winters. Connect with the restaurant on Facebook and Twitter.
Capay Organic is at 23804 State Hwy. 16, Capay. Connect with the farm on Facebook.
El Pueblo Meat Market is at 43 Main St., Winters.
Ficelle is at 5C E. Main St., Winters. Connect with the restaurant on Facebook and Twitter.
Full Belly Farm is at 16090 County Rd. 43, Guinda. Connect with the farm on Facebook.
Inn at Park Winters is at 27850 Country. Rd 26, Winters. Connect with the inn on Facebook and Instagram.
Main Street Cellars is at 9 E. Main St., Winters. Connect with the tasting room on Facebook.
Preserve Public House is at 200 Railroad Ave., Winters. Connect with the restaurant on Facebook and Instagram.
Putah Creek Café is at 1 Main St., Winters. Connect with the restaurant on Facebook and Twitter.
RootStock is at 22 Main St., Winters. Connect with the shop on Facebook.
Séka Hills is at 19326 County Rd. 78, Brooks. Connect with the farm on Facebook and Twitter.
Steady Eddy’s Coffee House is at 5 E. Main St., Winters. Connect with the coffee shop on Facebook and Instagram.
Turkovich Family Wines tasting room is at 304 Railroad Ave., Winters. Connect with the winery on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
Visit the Discover Winters site for more information.
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