Occupation: City Bike, Editor-in-Chief
Favorite Restaurant: Station House Café
Reviewed Station House Café: Monday, March 5, 2012
“We were all in a freight train of sportbikes, hittin’ redline in sixth gear, bombing down the Graveyard Straight, when along comes Wayne, on his back wheel goin’ past all of us about a buck-fifty…”
That’s not the kind of breakfast conversation you’d expect to hear over plates of carefully prepared organic, locally-sourced ingredients, but to me it seems perfectly logical. I hear it Sundays at the Station House Cafe in Point Reyes Station. It’s been the regular breakfast stop for local motorcycle enthusiasts since it opened in 1974, and no wonder—instead of the industrial food-service slop served at most moto-hangouts, the Station House is proud of using fresh, organic, and locally-produced ingredients, some from its on-site garden. The coffee isn’t local—that’s one thing they can’t grow in West Marin—but its organic, from small producers and is cup-after-cup delicious. We usually have to sit under a tree for an hour after breakfast for the worst of the jitters to pass before we feel steady enough to ride home.
My favorite dish is the Hangtown Fry. $12.95 gets you a trio of fresh oysters—raised just a few miles away at the Hog Island Oyster Farm—deep-fried and cooked into an omelet packed with crispy, thick-cut applewood-smoked bacon. It’s served with your choice of bread, and I always opt for the thick-sliced, locally baked sourdough toast. There are other things on the breakfast menu popular with my moto-mounted fellow travelers, including hash, house-cured lox and bagels and a crowd-pleasing Mexican omelet, but the oysters cry out to me with tiny, gargling voices. “Gabe, Gabe! We’re briny, crunchy and delicious!” Served with crispy fried potatoes, I just see no reason to order anything other than the Hangtown.
Lunch is another treat, reserved for more leisurely rides with friends or out-of-town guests. A fried-oyster po’ boy is predictably delicious, as are the Niman Ranch burgers. Midweek on a sunny day, the pleasant outdoor patio is a great place to kill an hour or two, munching on the perfect fries and telling tall tales while relaxing under a shady trellis. A children’s menu complements the kid-friendly outdoor space.
In all those years, I had never sampled dinner, so I took my cousins one Monday night. It was surprisingly busy, but there was plenty of room. The dinner staff is friendly, knowledgeable and competent. We ordered a locally made burrata cheese, along with a half pound of steamed Tomales Bay mussels and a dozen garlic-butter roasted oysters. Main dishes included a tender, smoky and perfectly cooked flank steak, potato-crusted Petrale sole, and house-made fettuccini with local (do I have to keep typing “local,” or do you get the idea?) hedgehog mushrooms that were so delicious that we all forgave the pasta’s somewhat lumpy texture. Portions were more than adequate (as always), even with lots of sharing.
If you’re looking for the latest in molecular gastronomy or whatever the hepcats are eating these days, you won’t find it here. The Station House is more about showcasing the variety of high-quality meats, produce and shellfish—especially shellfish—that are products of tiny West Marin. Simple cooking methods are all that’s needed for this kind of food—and that means reasonable prices and a relaxed, unpretentious atmosphere that welcomes everybody, from aging West Marin hippies to backpacking tourists to hungry bikers.
There are probably fancier, fine-dining places nearby that have better service and more accomplished kitchens, but I’ll never know. Motorcycles, oysters and the best pavement on earth make any other pit stop theoretical—I’ll keep going to Station House as long as I’m riding on Sunday mornings. Since the oldest guy in our group is pushing 80, that’s a good many more years of the bivalves, coffee and camaraderie this institution provides.
Occupation: Reggio-Emiliano Teacher
Favorite Restaurant: The Chairman (Food Truck)
Reviewed Station House Café: Saturday, March 10, 2012
The Station House Café is a whole new reason to drive out to Point Reyes other than the gorgeous beaches. This restaurant may seem a bit unassuming by having “café” in the name, but this is not your average small town coffee shop. Offering bountiful portions of clams and mussels, hearty sandwiches, and sharp cocktails, this restaurant is a surefire stop to make on your way to the coastlines. Reservations are acceptable, especially on their Sunday live band nights, however, The Station House Café has ample seating, with a large bar and garden to the side of the restaurant. Clean and minimal décor keeps the eye on the open kitchen with counter seating for a front row show of the chefs at work. Friendly staff seated us right away for our Saturday lunch, and they were very knowledgeable about the menu and ingredients.
With every item sounding deliciously tempting on the menu, we ordered a tableful of food. For our starters, we had calamari, steamed clams, a cup of clam chowder, a cup of their soup of the day: butternut squash soup, a French 75, and a pomegranate mojito to top off the appetizers. The calamari and steamed clams were so amazing that I would take the hour-long drive on a Monday night just to have them grace my pallet. The calamari was crisp yet tender and came with a side of cool jalapeno yogurt sauce, which was a new take on the classic olive oil vinegar sauce that I usually see accompanying calamari. Along with the steamed clams was a simplistic white wine and garlic broth that was better than San Francisco’s famous Fisherman’s Warf clams. The garlicky wine broth — that I could have had a full bowl of to slurp up — made the steamy clams sing. Those same clams in their chowder set up another great dish, being rich and chunky with pieces of potato and celery. The butternut squash soup was surprisingly peppery with spiciness and pureed smooth. Our drinks were also outstanding with the sharp zest of lemon in the French 75 and the cool mint in the mojito.
For our main dishes we decided on the fettuccine with mussels, tuna melt on rye bread, mushroom sandwich with bacon vinaigrette topped with a fried egg, and fish tacos. Sharing our plates around, we started with the fettuccine (which I am pretty sure, I could have eaten a platter sized portion of), which was dressed with marinated mussels in tomatoes, garlic, and white wine and it quickly became our tables’ favorite dish. Incredibly flavorful with the sharpness of the wine, the fresh garden tomatoes brightened up the succulent mussels, which soaked up the all the bold flavors. The tuna melt had just the right balance of mayonnaise and spices, topped with local cheddar cheese, and was large enough for two people to share with a helping side of natural cut fries. Next up was the portabella mushroom open face sandwich that sat upon arugula leaves laced with bacon vinaigrette. The bacon vinaigrette was something that I had never had before, but it impressed me greatly with the smoky bacon flavor and tanginess of the vinaigrette, which pulled the entire dish together. The fried egg on top of the mushrooms was also done perfectly and provided a rich creamy sauce as it mingled with the tart vinaigrette. Ending our main dishes were the codfish tacos that were lightly battered and topped with a shredded cabbage and salsa verde, which was the only item lacking a punch a flavor. The tacos were in need of a bit more seasoning or even some heat. For dessert we went for the bread pudding packed with golden raisins and apples with caramel and cream poured on top. The pudding was soft and filled full of decadent custard. The apples provided a slight crunch and that with the sweetness of the raisins along with the ladled cream and caramel on top made a perfect dessert without being overly sweet.
The Station House Café is a wonderful surprise in the small quaint downtown area of Point Reyes which offers a delightful assortment of mom and pop shops to peruse along with the Redwoods and the nearby shores, which provide a beautiful locale. The only true critique is that our service was a touch slow with the progressions of our courses and that the fish tacos were bland. However, our waitress was accommodating and thoughtful with her knowledge of the dishes, which are quite large in portion so that many can be shared between two people. Not to mention it has a wide arrange of delicious menu items at reasonable prices along with happy hours and a prix fixe menu on Friday nights, which includes salad, fish tacos, and beer or wine for under twenty dollars. There is also a full bar with an assortment of beer, wine, spirits and large coffee selection all which is enough to make an impromptu trip to Point Reyes any day of the week. The Station House café also includes many ingredients from local farms that they incorporate into their dishes, so not only are you eating a scrumptious meal but also supporting neighboring farming communities which makes the meal even more delectable.
Name: Larry the O
Occupation: Musician and Audio Professional
Favorite Restaurant: Rivoli Restaurant
Reviewed Station House Café: Saturday, March 10, 2012
Station House Café has been in Point Reyes since the 1970s. After a day of hiking on the beautiful but often blustery Point Reyes shores, I have always found the Station House a marvelous place to tuck into some comfort food and hot coffee to take the chill off. Warm and casual, the Station House plays host to tourists all summer, but was filled with locals during our early March visit.
Having not dined there in about six years (since my wife and I got our wedding rings made by the splendid David Clarkson at Point Reyes Jeweler across the street), we were interested to see if the place had changed. Not fundamentally, was the happy answer.
The Station House’s menu has a core of standard American pub fare like burgers and Cobb salad, along with a bunch of fish and seafood offerings and specials like the Osso Bucco on the menu that night. Ingredients are sourced locally as much as possible, which means local oysters and the berries for berry pie came from less than an hour away.
The wine list has an excellent selection of mid-range California wines, including familiar labels like Cosentino and Navarro, as well as a number with which I was not familiar. There is a small but excellent selection of wines served by the glass, including the Steele Wines Zin I chose.
The service was well-paced and knowledgeable all night, starting from our server’s first appearance a few moments after we were seated at a cozy corner table. Although a seared calamari appetizer was on special, we started with the fried calamari (served with a tangy jalapeno yogurt sauce) just because it’s a pub-food classic, especially in coastal towns. Of course, as with any fried appetizer, the question was whether it would be too greasy, but I pushed the crispy rounds aside as soon as they arrived to look at the plate and found only a handful of diffuse spots of oil on the plate, rather than a coating or, worse, puddle. As well, the calamari was chewy but tender, not rubbery.
The clam chowder was the “New England-style” cream preparation most favored in the West. (In seven and a half years living in Boston, I more often found fish chowder in a thin broth, not thick clam chowder, to be the real local specialty.) It was very thick, probably thickened by flour or cornstarch, and not very spiced (a good chowder needs some pepper) but there were good clam and bacon chunks to be found and it was entirely agreeable.
For a main, my wife got the Osso Bucco. The kitchen did a great job getting the meat tender enough to fall off the bone, and the bed of polenta under the lamb was creamy and flavorful. I ordered the yellowtail with romesco sauce over grilled spinach and fried baby artichokes. The yellowtail itself was a minute or two past its most moist stage, but not quite dried out. The spinach was nicely spiced, but the artichokes were brilliant: thin-sliced and crispy, somewhere between tempura and chips.
I spotted that they had corn muffins. Born and raised in Maryland, I like my corn preparations well, so I tried the muffin. It had a great cornmeal texture, but not the intense corn taste one gets in great Southern corn muffins.
The real bread discovery came by way of the only service lapse all night (and a trivial one at that), which was not bringing us bread until we asked. As soon as we did ask, we were brought a basket of popovers that were simply wonderful. Warm, light, and with egg and milk on the inside cooked but not quite crisp, the popovers lasted a few minutes at most. Don’t miss these.
I washed everything down with a splendid Steele Wines “Writer’s Block” Zinfandel, which was fruity, but smoother and less zingy than many other California Zins. My wife had a Boylan’s Birch Beer, which she, as a root beer fan, enjoyed thoroughly.
Finally came dessert, where the question always arises as to whether a restaurant can ride the line between “sweet” and “sugary.” The Station House’s desserts exceeded expectations in this regard: the Chocolate Pot de Crème was more intensely chocolaty than super-sweet, while the berry pie retained its tang.
Speaking strictly in terms of dining, the Station House Café is what I would call “nice dining,” somewhere between fine dining and pub dining, which is fine by me. However, speaking in overall terms, which include the Station House’s role anchoring “downtown” Point Reyes Station and providing hikers and locals shelter from the chill winds that blow across the peninsula, the Station House Café is a quintessential North Coast experience.