Revamped Agriculture Public House serves up simple dishes with flair
After a three-year hiatus, Guerneville’s historic Dawn Ranch resort has reopened, making a flashy entrance with a dramatic, property-wide renovation and a revamped restaurant, Agriculture Public House.
The restaurant has been in operation for more than a decade, and frankly, in its earlier days, it wasn’t very interesting. Dishes spanned staples like ho-hum fish and chips, a skirt steak sandwich, pulled pork ravioli and shrimp flatbread. It was just what you’d expect at a sleepy stopover in a quirky river town populated by bohemian adventurers.
The refreshed Public House menu still reads simply but has more flair, and now, I must say, I’m smitten.
Grilled Mary’s organic chicken breast, for example, gets a boost from yam medallions and cider-roasted Brussels sprouts sprinkled with pepita seeds ($32), while braised pork shoulder comes from the family-owned, heritage pig-focused Mountain View Pork of Turlock and is served with creamy polenta, arugula and the crunchy delight of watermelon radish ($30).
Even more interesting to me is the new brunch, just introduced in early November and served on weekends. It’s a short menu, but filled with appealing choices, and the food is flat-out delicious. Finally, we’ve got a Dawn Ranch experience that lives up to the resort’s gorgeous natural landscape of forests, meadows, streams and the Russian River.
The Dawn Ranch team clearly is going for a more sophisticated audience these days. New York City-based Bridgeton Holdings bought the 15-acre property last spring, adding to their posh portfolio of boutique resorts that includes Marram Montauk in the Hamptons, Walker Hotel Greenwich Village and Walker Hotel Tribeca in New York.
Visitors now can relax on the restaurant’s expansive deck overlooking the redwoods while sipping Schramsberg Mirabelle Sparkling Brut Rosé ($68 bottle) and nibbling crispy calamari tossed with cauliflower, jalapeños and lime-harissa aioli ($18). We also can borrow Swarovski Optics binoculars, should we want to bird watch (an online check found the upscale sighting toys priced from $935 to $4,200).
On a recent chilly morning, I sheltered inside the restaurant, soaking up warmth from a stone fireplace and the cozy confines of the wood-trimmed lodge. Large windows overlook the now-chic cedar cabins in the valley meadow below, framed by the vibrant foliage of Fife Creek. The look is quite a luxurious change from the ranch’s beginnings as a dining hall with tented cabins in 1905 to its evolution as the first gay destination resort in California’s Wine Country.
Don’t be surprised if you’ve never heard of Dawn Ranch, though. You have to know where to look, as it’s hidden in plain view next to the Safeway store in downtown Guerneville. Dense trees hide the lodge. Turn down the skinny driveway and, suddenly, the destination opens up to resplendent beauty.
The resort name, by the way, is in tribute to the majestic dawn redwood trees that grow here. Considered a rare treasure, they grow to up to 200 feet tall, and the World Conservation Union has classified them as critically endangered in their natural, non-farmed environments.
I’ll be coming here for brunch often. I love classics like a Monte Cristo, overstuffed with carved ham and turkey and thick-sliced Swiss on French toast finished with powdered sugar ($18). Served with waffle fries, it’s a perfect comfort meal for a lazy weekend.
Chicken and waffles get extra points for the fun presentation. The crispy bird is sandwiched tower-like between two waffles, smothered in white gravy, sprinkled with bacon and dripping with maple syrup and, finally, skewered with berries ($19). I like to add a fried egg tucked in the middle ($2), and the dish demands a Bloody Mary alongside, crafted, as I prefer, with spicy chipotle vodka ($15).
Then there’s poutine, a cheeky version of cross-cut fries drenched in white gravy with squeaky-chewy cheese curds and fried egg ($17) that I get with a side of bacon ($3). This kitchen also makes excellent shrimp and grits, stocked with five big crustaceans, a generous mound of creamy cornmeal and soupy, slightly spicy Creole gravy studded with chorizo ($23). A perfect sear on the shrimp and lots of chopped herbs make it all first-rate.
For something lighter, the avocado toast is fine. The twist is the addition of pesto avocado and tomato jam ($19). Better yet, go for a power bowl, with its satisfying pile of butter lettuce, arugula, avocado, pickled onion, hemp seeds, quinoa, roasted butternut squash, pepita seeds and hard-boiled egg in a sweet-sour fig-apple cider vinaigrette ($17).
Dessert of cherry clafoutis is nicely delicate. It’s described as a creamy custard cake, but it’s like more like a bread pudding dotted with lots of lovely sour cherries, sliced almonds and a flourish of thick whipped cream, berries and powdered sugar ($16). Delivered piping-hot in its baking dish, it’s a soothing complement to this peaceful setting of mystical forest that’s often bathed in morning fog.
Some might say Guerneville is on the verge of gentrifying, with upscale changes like this new Dawn Ranch. I say the town is only getting better, and finally getting its beautiful due.
Carey Sweet is a Sebastopol-based food and restaurant writer. Read her restaurant reviews every other week in Sonoma Life. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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