A food renaissance in Tomales

11/05/2020

Fine places to eat abound in Tomales. Downtown eateries, including several thriving under new ownership, have strengthened their commitment to purchasing food from the surrounding area. 

The pandemic prompted a type of renaissance, as many producers looked closer to home for new buyers after their regular markets reduced capacities or dropped off entirely. Businesses have found renewed support not only from residents hoping to stay local, but also from tourists flocking to the coast to enjoy the outdoors.  

Last weekend, the Light paid visits to Piezzi Provisions, a downtown shop that opened in May to sell products from local farms; Route One Bakery & Kitchen, which reopened around the same time after it was revamped by the new owner Shannon Gregory; K&A Takeaway, a tiny storefront that continues to boast the most delicious sandwich for miles; and the William Tell House, which changed hands two years ago and has served as a key community gathering space during the pandemic. 

There’s something for everyone, with mouth-watering goat and sheep’s milk cheese for sale at Piezzi Provisions, perfect pastries at the bakery, handmade sausage sandwiches at K&A and a range of coastal fare at the William Tell. 

Piezzi Provisions

The combined sheep, goat and cow’s milk cheese made by Tomales Farmstead Creamery is named Taleeka, the Coast Miwok word for “three.”

The cheese featured at Piezzi Provisions, the newest storefront in downtown Tomales, comes from a goat and sheep farm and sister creamery two miles down the road. Toluma Farms owners Tamara Hicks and David Jablons purchased the century-old Piezzi Building, which houses several longstanding businesses, last September to maintain the apartments it provides for several staffers. They opened the store in May as a new venue for their products after the pandemic caused their wholesale markets to disappear overnight. “We had to pivot and sell directly to consumers—and there was the silver lining,” Ms. Hicks said. “It was a reminder that yes, what we really love is that connection with the consumer and the chefs and making it possible for people to come and pick up the cheese locally, which they couldn’t do before. Wholesale may pick up some now, but we want to keep the focus and the priority on this direct relationship.” The little storefront—which previously provided indoor seating at the deli next door—not only sells cheese from Toluma Farms, but also goods from a number of local farms and craftspeople. After opening for pick-up orders in the spring, in September it opened indoors for browsing Friday through Sunday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Ms. Hicks and her husband raise around 200 goats and 100 sheep. They bought the 160-acre farm nearly 20 years ago and opened Tomales Farmstead Creamery on the property eight years ago. Their business, organic and animal welfare-certified, formerly sold primarily to two large distributors in the Bay Area and Los Angeles. Most of the cheeses they make have a Coast Miwok name. Kenne, meaning “one,” is a soft-ripened cheese made from goat milk. Assa, meaning “woman,” is a goat cheese that ages between three and nine months. Atika, meaning “two,” is a combined sheep and goat milk cheese that ages for the same amount of time. Teleeka, meaning “three,” is a soft cheese made from sheep, goat and cow’s milk. Liwa, meaning “water,” is three-day fresh cheese. For the San Francisco bagel shop of a past farm worker, the creamery also helps produce cream cheese using Jersey milk from Silva Family Farm in Tomales, which supplies the cow’s milk needed for the other cheeses. The teleeka cheese has a fluffy, light inside, typical of spreadable goat cheeses. The shell is firmer, with the harder taste often found in a cow’s milk brie. The flavor leads from the expected to something stronger and unapologetically elemental, and back again. The cheese begs to stand alone, though the farmers recommend pairing it with fruit, champagne, beer or cider. Piezzi Provisions provides everything needed for a picnic, including crackers, chutneys and jams, as well as cheese boards and wooden knives. In addition to eggs from Tomales Bay Pasture, those looking to prepare a meal can peruse a large freezer showcasing meat products from Stemple Creek Ranch and True Grass Farms, both within a short drive of the shop. True Grass owner Guido Frosini said that previously, Google and Airbnb accounted for 80 percent of his sales. After they stopped buying in March, he reconfigured his business model, creating new avenues to sell his products. Now, Piezzi Provisions makes his products available locally. “I like what’s happening,” he said. “There’s a new liveliness [in Tomales].” In addition to food, Ms. Hicks has been bringing in two or three new products each week to the store, which last weekend included ceramics, salves and candles produced locally by several women-owned businesses. She said she hopes the shop will help bring producers together. “The last couple decades in Tomales, especially for the ag community, it’s been difficult to get together and have conversations. We are so often on our own farms, and spread out,” she said. 

Route One Bakery & Kitchen

Expect only the best from the small team of bakers at the helm of Route One Bakery. The pastries are both light and hearty, made from a newly unveiled croissant dough.

In the same Piezzi Building, the town’s corner bakery reopened in mid-May after several months of renovations undertaken by the new owner. Tomales resident Shannon Gregory, whose family owns the Marshall Store and Tomales Bay Oyster Company, took over at the start of 2020. He kept the doors closed for most of the spring to rehabilitate the bakery, while his bakers underwent a rigorous program that kept them working 10 hours a day under the guidance of a consultant. As they perfected their product using organic flour from Central Milling, they piled bread outside the bakery for anyone who wanted it. Now, two bakers are producing enough to supply the bakery, the Marshall Store, the Bodega Country Store and the sandwiches sold at K&A Takeaway. Mr. Gregory’s current offerings include baguettes, seeded sourdough rounds, and French and oat wheat pan loaves. “I don’t have to drive anymore, after 14 years of driving to Berkeley to get bread,” he said. A third baker, Alison Cavallaro, described a renewed effort to achieve perfection when it comes to pastries. Six weeks ago, she transitioned from a Danish dough to a croissant dough, which can best be described as equal parts substantial and delicate, for many of the pastries after mastering her recipe. She’s using all-purpose flour, which is heartier than a typical pastry flour, and a European-style butter, which has a higher fat ratio than table butter. Through trial and error, she figured out how to keep the butter content high in the finished product, without leaving eaters with a greasy aftertaste. She had to continually adjust her recipe so the butter didn’t melt out, she said, adding, “I was wasting butter, watching it puddle in the pan.” The morning buns are made from the new dough, rolled up like a pinwheel with cinnamon and sugar and baked in a muffin tin. The browned and crisp outside gives way to softer, spiraled layers punctuated by cinnamon and grains of sugar in every fold. The kouign-amanns are a showstopper. The pastry hails from the Brittany region of France, where “kouign” means cake and “amann” butter. As promised, Ms. Cavallaro’s homemade plum jam-topped amann was neither greasy nor overly sweet. The pastries are stacked in an outdoor glass case to accommodate safety procedures. Last Friday morning, the bakery was abuzz well before 9 a.m. Current hours are 7:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Thursdays and 7:30 a.m. until 7 p.m. Fridays through Sundays. Lunch and dinner menus include sandwiches and Roman-style pizzas.

K&A Takeaway

K&A Takeaway chef and owner Amy Brand hand-made fenugreek and cilantro sausages last week, serving them on baguettes baked across the street and alongside a chicory salad.  

The unassuming, single-door storefront on Dillon Beach Road that serves K&A Takeaway makes the superb quality of the food feel that much more like a secret. Chef and owner Amy Brand often sells out shortly after opening. Her sausages are the main feature; she’s been making them at home since opening the shop in 2012. Before the pandemic she offered four classic sandwiches every week, but since the spring she said she’s gone rogue, often creating a new recipe each day. Last week, she had a sandwich featuring sausage flavored with fenugreek—an herb often used in curries—and cilantro, topped with Dijon mustard, roasted eggplant and tomatoes and wrapped in baguette from Route One Bakery. Every ingredient stood out, complementing but not overwhelming the others. Sides included a chicory salad accented by paper-thin triangles of ricotta salata cheese, cubes of delicata squash, and pomegranate seeds, a sunchoke soup, and sweet potato salad with plenty of spice. Demand has been steady recently, she said. “I like making it,” Ms. Brand said of the sausage. “I really like sausage, and I want to make something that I like. That’s kind of how this works: I make something that I like, and if you happen to like it too, that’s awesome.” Ms. Brand, who has spent her life in West Marin and went to high school in Tomales, said the pandemic has helped strengthen her relationship with producers. She frequents Table Top and Little Wing Farms in Point Reyes Station, the Nick’s Cove garden in Marshall and Meandering Farm in Tomales. Her father, who lives in Sebastopol, has a large garden and supplies her with some vegetables. Her meat comes from Sonoma County Meat Company and Stemple Creek Ranch. Lisa Poncia, who owns Stemple Creek Ranch with her husband, Loren, said their farm has not fared poorly during the pandemic, considering their primary buyers were butcher shops and grocery stores; restaurants, which used to account for their second-largest category of sales, are now trailing behind direct-to-consumer sales. And restaurants like Ms. Brand’s have continued to showcase their products, honoring longstanding relationships. “We love having someone else cook,” Ms. Poncia said. “It’s great for the ag community and the community in general to have so many options for good-quality food.” K&A is open 11 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Thursday through Sunday.

The William Tell House

The William Tell burger features beef from Stemple Creek Ranch down the road. Expect other tried-and-true basics plus coastal favorites such as Tomales Bay oysters on the menu.

The William Tell, one of the oldest bars in Marin, has played a key role as a community gathering space during the pandemic as a new owner makes his mark. For months in the spring, San Francisco food entrepreneur Ted Wilson, who purchased the business two years ago, leveraged his relationships with bulk suppliers to provide dry goods for the benefit of locals who no longer wanted to go over the hill or couldn’t get commodities that were in short supply. Since reopening for seating in May, the large restaurant’s large patio, warmed by strings of lights and outdoor heaters, has kept the town lively. The patio not only serves diners, but has hosted weekly yoga classes, Friday night live music and holiday events such as the tiki party held on Halloween. Mr. Wilson organized drive-in movies on Thursday nights in the old high school baseball field down the road; the proceeds from the movies, which ended last week, are going to a farm-to-table program at the Shoreline Unified School District. Mr. Wilson, founder of Metal and Match catering company and a kitchen-café-event space called the Alice Collective in San Francisco, first opened in 2018 with a limited menu while he revamped the kitchen exhaust system and the inn rooms upstairs. Last year, he unveiled his full menu, which he describes as “honest, straightforward” California coastal cuisine. Lauren Garcia, who came from The Slanted Door in San Francisco, is his chef. Mr. Wilson commutes to Tomales from his home in Oakland, but he described a uniquely intimate relationship with his producers: It’s easy to buy oysters from Tomales Bay Oyster Company, considering he sees Mr. Gregory at his bakery across the street nearly every day. The menu features a raw oyster bar as well as a variety of salads from local farmers. Meandering Farm set up a new farmstand a few feet from the back patio this summer, making the transfer of goods seamless. The menu has a number of tried-and-true basics, including the William Tell Burger, made of Stemple Creek beef. Mr. Wilson said he is “infatuated” with New England-style food and that the inspiration for his first eatery was to provide only crab rolls, oysters and white burgundy. Today a favorite is the seafood chowder, which comes in a creamy, ever-so-slightly spicy broth with healthy helpings of bacon, clams, shrimps and mussels. A number of smaller plates are equally decadent: truffle fries, street corn, wings, fried green tomatoes and grilled sardines. The latter plate offers four decently sized fish; the skin has the touch of the grill, with a salsa verde and added notes of pepper and lemon. The seafood, aside from the oysters, mussels and clams from Tomales Bay, comes from a San Francisco purveyor, Two By Sea. The Tell is open Friday for dinner and from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. on the weekend.