We know what it’s like. You’ve made a reservation at an inn on the Mendocino Coast and you want to get there… soon. But first there’s that pesky drive through Anderson Valley and that blip of a town (is it even a town?) called Philo. Time to take a breather and explore what Philo has to offer… you’ll be surprised!
Philo is becoming famous for fine dining! At the Bewildered Pig, Chef Janelle Weaver takes a bold and innovative approach to cuisine utilizing produce grown at Pegasus Farms and harvested especially for the Pig. Foraged mushrooms, nettles, and other wild foods find themselves on the menu challenging diners to try something out of the ordinary. A dinner at the Pig is likely to yield lively conversation with local winemakers and artists, as well as fellow travelers. The new kid on the block is a no-nonsense diner smack bang in the heart of Philo. At the Poleeko* Roadhouse, belly up to the counter and snack on peanuts while your beer is poured. Order from the menu that features John and Regine Bemesderfer’s Mendocino Heritage Pork. In warm weather, bring your canine companion to dine with you on the patio. The petite size of Stone & Embers belies the enormous palette of flavors that Chef Patrick Meany creates in the restaurant’s tiny kitchen, fueled almost entirely by a wood-fired pizza oven. Pizzas are light as air topped with either tomato or panna sauce and a lively selection of locally sourced veggies and meats. Try the smoked potato beignets… they won’t disappoint. Dine al fresco or at the counter to watch the action.
* Poleeko … that’s Philo to the rest of the world.
This tiny town boasts world-class wineries well worth a visit. Goldeneye’s reputation for superb Pinot Noirs is well deserved. Take the time for a tasting on the back deck overlooking exquisitely manicured gardens and the spread of Confluence vineyard that stretches from the valley to the redwoods of Hendy Woods. Just across the way is Domaine Anderson, scion of Roederer Estate, which is dedicated exclusively to Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Balo boasts a bocce ball court and is just the place to pick up some local cheese, a bottle of their “killer Pinot”, and while away the afternoon tossing the jack around the court. The Madrones is home to three tasting rooms (and with a restaurant and guest quarters, you may not need to go anywhere else!). Drew Wines focuses on small lot coastal Pinot Noir and Syrah from both Anderson Valley and the Mendocino Ridge. If it’s available, try the Albariño! Ali and Eric are the dynamic duo behind Smith Story Wine Cellars but the star of the show — apart from their wines of course — is Lord Sandwich, their Instagrammable Golden Doodle who has his own charity! Meet the team at Long Meadow Ranch, the newest tasting room in Philo. The sophisticated interior is matched only by the estate-grown Burgundian varietals that mature slowly and ripen to the peak of their varietal character.
Located next to Lemon’s Market — a great stop for fresh crab and fish if the sign is out — is Witching Stick Wines, where winemaker Van Williamson applies his years of experience and a touch of magic to create premium estate-grown Zinfandel, and a full stable of Pinot Noir from some of the storied vineyards in the area. Baxter’s post-modern tasting room just across the highway is home to father and son team of Phil and Phil Baxter (yes, it’s confusing) who craft artisan single vineyard wines using traditional old-world techniques. Get your sparkling on at Scharffenberger Cellars where bubbles are de rigeur under one of the patio umbrellas. And you’ll feel right at home at Toulouse Vineyards. Owner Vern Boltz is often behind the bar pouring tastes of his Alsace varietals and more, while regaling visitors with stories of his days running the Oakland Fire Department.
The inevitable consequence of eating and wine tasting is what some refer to as “inner eyelid research” or, in common parlance, “the nap.” Fortunately, Philo is well-equipped to handle such situations. At the elegant Mediterranean-style estate, The Madrones, select one of the nine Guest Quarters some of which are nestled around a garden reminiscent of England, replete with the heady perfume of roses and the gentle cooing of the property’s exotic doves. Just a stone’s throw away, nestled deep in a towering redwood grove, The Brambles offers a napping experience like no other. Dream of the great Pachyderm tree while listening to the soothing sounds of Indian Creek as it saunters through the woods. Views of the valley are a dime a dozen at Indian Creek Inn’s Hilltop buildings perched on a rise that affords vistas as far as the eye can see.
So next time you wend your way to the coast, plan to spend a little time to discover some of the hidden-in-plain-sight splendors of Mendocino County.