Nick’s Cove owner’s new cookbook serves up a side of history
Nick’s Cove, located along the salt-licked shores of Tomales Bay, is a destination that has gone from a hunting and fishing lodge to a modern retreat in the past 90 years, all while staying true to its rustic roots.
For owner Dena Grunt, the landmark restaurant and bar, 400-foot-long pier, quaint fishing shack, 12 cottages and terraced garden have an aura of magic about them. Although not quite stuck in time, the little haven has stayed in people’s minds through memories passed down through generations.
“Unlike so many other places, it’s basically in its same form of use from the time Nick (Kojich) created a bar, restaurant and an inn in 1931,” Grunt said. “That’s exactly what it is now.”
As soon as she started working at Nick’s Cove in 2010, Grunt wanted to pay homage to the spot nestled between the craggy coastline of the Point Reyes National Seashore and the rolling hills of West Marin. Her dream was to write a cookbook and give it a dash of local flavor.
“This is so much more than a place where people come to eat,” she said. “People would come and say, ‘My mom and dad would take me here when I was little.’ People had such nostalgic and happy memories.”
During the past year, Grunt finally made her dream come true by finishing a 192-page cookbook sprinkled liberally with local lore and historic photos plus enticing landscapes and food shots by well-known photographer Frankie Frankeny.
“Table with a View: The History and Recipes of Nick’s Cove” (Cameron + Company, 2021) will be available to buy at Nick’s Cove starting April 1 and at local bookstores on May 11. To celebrate, the restaurant will host a series of Cookbook Brunches in its Croft garden, COVID-19 permitting, starting May 2 and continuing on the fourth Sunday of each month, May through August.
The hardback book includes nearly 60 recipes from a trio of talented chefs who have cooked in the Nick’s Cove kitchen over the past 15 years, including Kua Speer, the executive chef since 2017. Speer served as sous chef under Austin Perkins, who worked alongside Grunt as executive chef from 2011 to 2016.
“He had never been an executive chef, and I had never been a (general manager) of a restaurant,” Grunt recalled. “We were probably not totally prepared to it, but we figured it out together. To this day, we’re very good friends.”
Well-known Bay Area Chef Mark Franz bought the property in 1999 with restaurateur Pat Kuleto, and Franz served as the opening chef in 2007 after the Nick’s Cove resort underwent a massive redevelopment that took seven long years.
“It’s really just three chefs in the book — Mark Franz, Austin Perkins and Kua Speer,” Grunt said.
In 2010, Grunt started working for Kuleto, then was asked to stay on as general manager when Nick’s Cove was sold in 2011 to one of its original investors, Prescott Ashe. Grunt and Ashe, who died suddenly last year, also joined forces to launch Highway One Hospitality, a company for which Grunt still serves as CEO.
“From Day One, Nick’s Cove was the darling of our hospitality management company,” she writes in the book’s introduction. “The property is delicate, refined, temperamental, fiercely strong, exquisite and difficult, but when you are here, you experience such joy that all of the challenges fade.”
The cookbook includes recipes for starters and cocktails, soups and salads, seafood and meat or vegetable entrees, plus desserts. Many of the recipes reflect the restaurant’s fresh take on classics such as the Oysters Nickerfeller (a play on Oysters Rockefeller) and the Nick’s It oatmeal cookie sandwich (a play on the iconic It’s It frozen treat from San Francisco).
Seafood dishes range from perennial favorites like Tomales Bay Clam Chowder and Shrimp Louie Salad to hearty comfort food such as Dungeness Crab Mac & Cheese and Tuna Melts with Roasted Tomatoes and Thyme.
Both Nick’s Cove and its new cookbook celebrate the culinary bounty of the coastal region, home to organic creameries such as Straus Dairy, grass-fed beef ranches like Stemple Creek Ranch and tomato growers such as the legendary Larry Wagner. Of course, local oystermen and fishermen are also part of the Nick’s Cove story; they provided fresh ocean-to-table seafood to the restaurant from the very beginning.
Many Nick’s Cove neighbors get a nod in the book in a nostalgic, hand-drawn map that highlights producers of the restaurant’s farm-to-table cuisine, from Cowgirl Creamery in Point Reyes Station to Tomales Bay Oyster Co. in Marshall and Liberty Duck Farm in Petaluma.
“There’s so much more that we could have talked about — the dairies and the cheeses,” Grunt said. “And there’s so much history to go into. We only had so many pages.”