Yosemite Falls
At the top of Yosemite Falls

Sometimes you just need to get a little Nature back in your life. Good thing, living in the Bay Area, we are in no shortage of accessible natural beauties. We decided to take advantage of the lingering warm weather and got outta dodge for a weekend in Yosemite.

Roadside strawberries
Roadside Strawberries

There is something instantaneously liberating about driving on the open road, music loud, windows rolled down. We saw an adorable roadside stand selling some locally grown strawberries and couldn’t resist. They were sweet and tart and soon our little rental car smelled like a strawberry patch.

Hotel Charlotte, Groveland
Hotel Charlotte, Groveland

Since our day started a tad late, we decided to pit stop that evening in Groveland, a sleepy town about an hour outside the park. Sneeze and you’ll miss the short strip of main street dotted with a few shops. We checked into the Hotel Charlotte, a quaint bed-and-breakfast (that may or may not be haunted…just sayin’…the jacuzzi tub in the room turned on three times by itself in the middle of the night).

Iron Door Saloon
Iron Door Saloon

Bubble bath-loving ghosts aside, one thing the Charlotte had going for it was its proximity to some tasty Sweet Potato Fries right across the street at the Iron Door Saloon, California’s oldest saloon. Built in 1852, the establishment was originally called the “Granite Store”, and served as a general store and post office. In 1937, it was renamed “The Iron Door Saloon” after the hefty iron doors which had been manufactured in England, brought over by ship, and hauled in on mules across the Tuolumne River. The doors were sold to the saloon as a fire protection device, with the idea that if the town was burning, you could just shut the doors and wait it out.

Cowboy at the Iron Door Saloon
The Iron Door Saloon, where cowboys still reign

Today, pass through those very same iron doors, and enter a little slice of California Gold Country history. Inside, you’ll find a handsome, old-fashioned bar, historic pictures of Yosemite, antique gold mining and farming tools of the Wild West, some stray bullet holes, and a cowboy or two.

The first thing you’ll notice, though, is the ceiling, positively covered in crumpled dollar bills dangling down. I spent a good 10 minutes wondering how they got up there, and then finally asked someone. Apparently, all you need is a quarter, a thumbtack, and a dollar, and you too can become a part of The Iron Door folklore. A few times a year, the staff takes down the dollars and donates the money to community organizations.

The second thing you’ll notice is the smoky scent of cumin. The house specialty is Cumin-Spiked Sweet Potato Fries. Smoky, sweet, hot and crispy, these fries are served in a heaping serving that will satisfy any lover of sweet potato fries. They were perfect with my order of saucy BBQ chicken wings (I hear the BBQ ribs are also to-die-for, but they’re only available in the summer time).

Top of Yosemite Falls
The reward

We headed out early the next morning and made it to Yosemite. We hiked all the way up to the top of Yosemite Falls, where we were rewarded with a breathtaking view, and a playground of waterfalls, pristine pools and sunny warm rocks to nap on.

We slept like babies that night, drunk on crisp fresh air, the smell of campfires, and the glow of a full moon.

Caramel Apple Pie
Caramel Apple Pie

On our way back to SF, we stopped to admire all the almond tree orchards along Highway 120 (many of the local producers had just brought in the first harvest of the season and were selling them cheap by the pound). We also turned off to check out The Barn — frolicked in their pumpkin patch for a spell and went home with a handsome Caramel Apple Pie. Note: for all you apple-pie bakers this Thanksgiving, a generous drizzle of salted caramel is just the thing to bring that pie to a whole ‘nother level.

After returning from our little getaway, I was inspired to recreate those addictive Sweet Potato Fries we had at the Iron Door. For my at-home version, I bake the potatoes in high heat, season them with a healthy dose of cumin, salt, and pepper, and serve them with a cool, tangy dipping sauce of roasted garlic, lime, Greek yogurt and mayo.

DIY Sweet Potato Fries
DIY Sweet Potato Fries

Cumin-Spiked Sweet Potato Fries
Inspired by The Iron Door Saloon in Groveland, CA.

Serves: 4 (as a side)

2 sweet potatoes
1 teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon pepper
½ teaspoon cumin
2 tablespoons olive oil

For Dipping Sauce:
3 cloves garlic
1/2 cup Greek yogurt
¼ cup mayonnaise
1 tablespoon lime juice
Zest of 1 lime

1. Preheat oven to 400 F.
2. Peel the sweet potatoes and cut into ½-inch by 5-inch batons.
3. Toss the fries in the olive oil, salt, pepper, and cumin, coating evenly.
4. Place on a foil-lined baking sheet (along with the whole cloves of garlic), in one layer, and bake about 20 minutes. Flip them so they brown evenly. Bake for another 15 minutes or until golden.
5. For the dipping sauce, take the roasted garlic (removing the skin) and mash them up into a paste. Mix well with yogurt, mayonnaise, lime juice and zest. Serve immediately.


Iron Door Saloon
18761 Main Street Map
Groveland, CA 95321-9444

The Barn
25015 Highway 120 Map
Escalon, CA 95320

Yosemite Road Trip and Sweet Potato Fries 17 November,2010Stephanie Hua

  • I wanted to drop a note letting you know what a pleasure it was running across this post! We too thrive on the fresh strawberries (two seasons a year!) and the fries at Iron Door Saloon are the best. If one gets their dollar to stick to the ceiling, they fill out a post card and are invited to the annual dollar party in October. Lots of fun. Thanks for stopping through Groveland and the Hotel Charlotte, I will check on that ghost this winter.

  • Arthur E. Lyons

    It is too bad you missed perhaps the greatest restaurant in the Sierras. If you had continued on over the Tioga Pass from Groveland to the road junction at US 395 at Lee Vining you would have been at Tioga Toomey’s, unlikely situated in back of a Mobile Gas station. A gourmet chef who “vacations” here until the snow blocks the pass, Toomey prepares food to order in luculian portions at unbelievably reasonable prices. When last there in August we had 2 inch thick wild boar chops with lingonberry sauce and sweet potatoes for $12!. Splitting an order my partner and I were stuffed but not too stuffed to each eat a home made 6 inch wedge of apple pie which beat my mother’s hands down.
    This place is an unsung treat apparently only well-known to the few locals. I can’t wait to go back.

  • @Lynn: Thanks! Ghost aside, we had a lovely time at the Charlotte — friendly and knowledgeable staff 🙂

    @Arthur: Wow, sounds like a total gem! Thanks for sharing — I’m definitely noting this for my next trip out there!


Stephanie Hua

Stephanie Hua is the creator of Lick My Spoon, a place for all things delicious. So far she has learned that she very much enjoys salted caramel anything, a good soup dumpling is worth a scalded tongue, and there is no room in life for non-fat cheese and crappy chocolate. Also, a barrel of cheese balls never ends well.

Stephanie has been known to choose her company based on how much they can pack it down. Ability to endure cramped quarters, sketchy back alleys, and uncharted paths to seek out that special dish is also a plus in her book. If you fit the criteria, drop a note. You’ll probably get along just fine.

Stephanie’s writing and photography have been featured in Fodor’s Travel, Wine Enthusiast Magazine, Serious Eats, and Sundance Channel. Follow her on Facebook and @lickmyspoon.

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