Mark and Tracey Berkner came to Amador County in 1997 to take over the old St. George Hotel in Volcano.
“There were only 12 wineries in the county in 1997 and just a handful of restaurants,” recalls Tracey.
Nine years later, the Berkners opened Taste Restaurant in the sleepy town of Plymouth and have since gained a wide ranging reputation for the dining experience they provide guests.
“What was once called California Cuisine has now morphed into the farm-to-fork movement. I’d rather think of our menu as seasonal fresh,” Tracey said. “What’s different is the proximity of products available to us.”
They source sturgeon from nearby Passmore Ranch and take advantage of area farmers markets that now happen four days a week in Amador County.
“Our customers have changed, too,” Tracey observed. “They want to know where our food comes from. Does a family produce it?”
She sees the same association with nearby small wineries. Diners want to see family connections or perhaps vintages made in the simplest form.
“I love a recent patron’s winery experience described as getting hugs from the Dillian family in every bottle of their wine!”
Tracey said this summer was strong and they are seeing a wonderful influx of people escaping gridlock and high prices in Sonoma and Napa. She sees people going back to simpler things and uncomplicated home foods.
“This time of year combining tomatoes, corn and herbs makes my taste buds sing. My quest is to bring our customers foods that will change their world! One that works well is the Oregon Bay shrimp salad with heirloom tomatoes, fresh herbs, sweet onions and green goddess dressing.”
A favorite food and wine pairing of hers is the Terra d’Oro Winery “Home Vineyard” Zinfandel with the a rack of lamb served with Laura Chenal goat cheese-stuffed dolmas and quinoa tabbouleh with roasted tomato vinaigrette. Taste also boasts as many as 25 different wines by the glass.
“This allows us to create a wine flight that will go with a guest’s meal so they can explore more wines from the region. We have some local wine sleepers that are perfect menu matches.”
From Tuolumne County to Amador County, the foothill culinary options as of late are wide reaching and in tune with the expansion of wineries, specialty products and the local farm movement. Yes, you can still find downhome menus that haven’t changed much over the years, but food items considered trendy just a few years ago have even made it to your simple mom and pop eateries.
There’s definitely a new food vibe in the foothills and this is evident in a number of popular restaurants. “Have you tried so and so?” or “This is as good as anything in the Bay Area” pops up more frequently online today. And then there are the bakeries, cheese shops, regional meat markets and olive oil producers who are found at the growing number of farmers markets and specialty shops throughout the region.
Sutter Creek and the Jackson area were once known for a large number of family-style Italian eateries. Large portions and multiple course menus were part of their traditional menus. How things have changed. Winery cuisine – or farm-to-fork menus, as they are called – has sprung up in small towns from Sonora to Murphys and north to Sutter Creek and Plymouth.
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