Going hog wild through Wine Country
My boyfriend has a Harley. Yes, grandma, we wear helmets. It’s a sleek, black, monster of a motorcycle and there is no more spectacular way to experience Wine Country than from the back of that thing. As we wind around the little country roads the smells of California are heavenly, the piney scent of eucalyptus is always my favorite, although right now the heady aromas of flowery rose and Camilla blossoms are super sweet and pretty. Riding on the back of his bike, holding on for dear life, we twist and turn dramatically. The rides are always exhilarating, the roadside scenery, always stunning, no matter if we head west towards the coast or if we cruise over the hill and up north to Calistoga, or even as far as Mendocino.
I know that he loves the rides for the thrill of going fast, the feeling of the raw power of that big machine as we roar around, but me? Oh sure, I love the wind in my face, being that close to the wild flowers that fill the roadside ditches, the faded red barns, and velvet-nosed cows in their green fields, and all of that, but what I truly adore…are the food-filled pit stops!
I can’t say that I have much experience with the Harley community, except for a few strange days spent with a girlfriend back when I was young and stupid during Daytona’s insane motorcycle-riding, tattoo-filled fest that is “Bike Week,” but that is a story for another time. I think that Harley riding is sort of half about the actual ride and the other half about the camaraderie, the hanging with the other guys, the leather, and the pit stops at atmospheric roadside eateries along the way. There cannot possibly be an area where it is more perfect for riding, where there are more beautiful backroads and more delicious pit stops than right here in Wine Country. During a recent, gorgeous, sunny Saturday, we climbed aboard the Harley and headed out for an afternoon of twisting roads, hot sunshine and, what turned out to be, plenty of porky goodness along the way.
We headed towards Napa, but didn’t get very far. Riding on the back of a motorcycle is actually pretty hard work. I swear! So, I figured that we needed some good, hearty fuel before we got going and there is no dish that I crave more on a Saturday morning than a ham biscuit from the Fremont Diner. The popular diner’s oversized, picnic table-filled patio is the best spot for Harley folk to sit. You know they like to stay close to their hogs and with the diner’s simple, grown on site country fare, and super cold local beers, I can’t think of a more ideal eatery for my newly found two wheeled friends. The Fremont’s ham biscuit, you all must know by now, is certainly in my top ten favorite things to eat. The homemade biscuit is buttery and fluffy and just like my grandma used to make. The Southern style ham is sliced not too thin and not too thick and is just exactly the right amount of salty and, when paired with a vinegar-inflected grainy mustard and a sticky-sweet homemade jam, it is nothing if it isn’t downright heavenly.
The afternoon zoomed by in a blur of vineyard after vineyard and endless people on bikes, the self-pedaled kind. The winding roads between Napa and Sonoma counties are all truly beautiful, but when turning onto Highway 128 as we headed back towards Sonoma County and the little town of Geyserville, it simply took my breath away. This is motorcycle road-riding at it’s absolute finest. The smooth, narrow road gently banked around the range that separates our two counties. We first passed through dark, towering redwood forests that smelled intensely of pine and felt moist and cool, the sunshine filtered delicately through the tall trees. The Valley then opened up with bright, golden sunshine which warmed my bare shoulders. The vineyards of the Alexander Valley are some of the prettiest in Sonoma County. Old Zinfandel vines, with florescent green buds just breaking, roll along the hills as far as the eye can see. Historic farmsteads dot the landscape, their rambling old farmhouses leaving me drooling, envious for one of my own one day.
The tiny town of Geyserville is a Wine Country anomaly; it has not even one red light, but several world-class restaurants, interesting galleries and tasting rooms. I was utterly starving and knew that we would be fed well at Diavola Pizzeria right on the bustling little main street. We parked the bike right up front – I love that about motorcycles! – and sort of ambled rather sorely up to the bar. After two hours on the back of a vibrating, hot, Harley a cold glass of wine sounded rather divine. The rustic, Italian menu is always appealing, but that day it was even more so. A wooden board beautifully layered with house-cured meats and pâté staved off our incredible hunger until two super thin pizzas from the wood-burning oven were delivered amongst a steamy cloud of sweet tomato and spice. Both pies were a porcine lovers dream, one generously topped with crumbles of homemade sausage and the other with the chef’s own crisp, cured pork belly. A much-needed, ultra rich espresso guaranteed we would stay awake just long enough to get home and a scoop of vanilla bean ice cream was simply because we couldn’t resist.
I have always been a huge fan of the hog, but now I guess that has a fun new meaning. If you haven’t seen – or eaten – Wine Country from the back of a motorcycle, I highly recommend it! Rent a Harley Davidson locally in Vacaville at Iron Steed Harley by calling 455.7000 or visiting ironsteedhd.com. The Fremont Diner is located here in Sonoma at 2698 Fremont Road, 938.7370. Visit thefremontdiner.com for hours and to see their full menu. Diavola Pizzeria is located in Geyserville at 21021 Geyserville Avenue, 814.0111. Visit diavolapizzeria.com for a full menu and to make reservations.
Yield: Makes 12
4 cups all-purpose flour plus more
2 tablespoons sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons baking powder
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) chilled butter, cubed
1 1/2 cups (or more) heavy cream plus more for brushing
Special equipment: A 3” diameter biscuit cutter
Preheat oven to 375°F. Whisk 4 cups flour and next 3 ingredients in a large bowl. Add butter; blend with your fingers until pea-size pieces form. Add 1 1/2 cups cream; stir until dough forms, adding more cream by tablespoonfuls if dry. Transfer to a lightly floured surface; roll to 3/4” thickness. Using biscuit cutter, cut into rounds. Repeat until all dough is used. Transfer biscuits to a parchment paper-lined baking sheet. Brush tops with cream and transfer to oven. Bake until golden brown, 25-30 minutes.
Kristin’s foodie event pick of the week
Sheana Davis’ Epicurean Connection hosts a “Foie Gras Dinner with Sonoma Artisan Foie Gras and Duck” on Wednesday, May 16. Junny and Gueillermo Gonzalez, the fabulous local duck producers, will supply their gorgeous duck products while guest chefs Norman Owens – of the Hot Box Grill – and Antonio Ghilarducci – of the Depot Hotel – prepare an amazing sounding meal of foie gras torchon with poached apricots, a salad of duck confit and hazelnuts, pan seared liver and breast with melted turnips and Chanterelles, and finally poached pears with a walnut-brown sugar cake. Wines by Ghilarducci Vineyards will accompany the sure-to-be-delicious meal. The cost is $75 per person, inclusive of wine and gratuity. Please RSVP quickly to save your space by calling 935.7960. The Epicurean Connection is located at 122 West Napa Street.
Kristin Jorgensen is one of Sonoma’s most passionate, food obsessed residents. In this weekly column, she covers all the delicious happenings, foodie events and restaurants in Sonoma, the rest of Wine Country and beyond. Find her blogging daily as the Cook at thecardiganandcook.com or via email at email@example.com.