If you’re driving or cycling down Highway One through the rural countryside west of Petaluma, California, you will pass through the small, historic town of Valley Ford. I use the word town loosely, since it’s one of those charming, “blink and you’ll miss it” landmarks that takes up two blocks in the middle of nowhere. The temptation, unless you know otherwise, is to blow right on through.
Don’t. Instead, stop and enjoy a meal at the Estero Cafe; one of the best little roadside eateries in the North Bay.
Husband and wife proprietors Samantha & Ryan Ramey always dreamed of owning a classic, American-style diner that centered on comfort food made with locally sourced ingredients. Estero Cafe marries down home cooking with their philosophy to support local farms and ranches.
The Rameys are no strangers to the restaurant business. Their story is an “East meets West Coast” love affair where food is the common denominator. Samantha hails from Long Island, New York, where she started her career working in restaurants before moving west to attend San Diego State University. Ryan is a native Californian who grew up in Rohnert Park and graduated from the culinary program at Santa Rosa Junior College. When he met Samantha, he was the chef and farm manager at a restaurant called The Turquoise in San Diego.
“I applied for a job at his restaurant,” she says with a sly smile, “and ended up with a husband!”
The newlyweds eventually returned to the North Bay, and set up home base just outside Valley Ford. Together, they combined their considerable talents and experience to launch their own business, Northwest Catering Company.
When the previous owner of Estero Cafe decided to sell the business in 2014, the couple lept at the opportunity to buy the eatery which was conveniently located just down the road from their home. They immediately began turning dream into reality.
“We didn’t want to reinvent the wheel,” says Samantha. “Our menu features the kind of approachable, down-to-earth comfort food we grew up with.”
Estero Cafe uses the freshest, locally sourced seasonal ingredients they can find. “We are passionate about supporting our local farmers and serving the best quality, sustainably produced foods available,” says Samantha adding, “About half of our customers come to support our philosophy, and half just love the food.”
Estero Cafe gets pastured eggs from Coastal Hills Farm in Valley Ford, and produce from Laguna Farms in Sebastopol, Worker Bee Farm in Freestone, and Little Organic in Bloomfield. The Ramey’s also source grass fed beef from Twisted Horn Ranch, pastured chickens from Mendo Meats, and non-GMO pork from Sonoma County Meat Company. Local cheeses come from nearby Valley Ford Cheese Company and Redwood Hill Farms, along with fresh baked breads from the Village Bakery and Alvarado Bakery, and heirloom beans from Rancho Gordo. For dairy they depend on local favorites Straus Creamery, and Clover Stornetta Farms for milk, butter, and cream.
To top things off, Samantha makes her own seasonal jams and preserves in-house, while Ryan bottles a mean signature hot sauce.
I am a big fan of the Breakfast Salad; a flavorful cornucopia of fresh greens, mushrooms, bacon, and goat chèvre crowned with poached pastured eggs.
Samantha was kind enough to share her recipe!
Estero Cafe is open 7 days a week serving Breakfast and Lunch fare all day from 7:00am-3:00pm. Next time you’re bound for Bodega Bay, be sure to stop and savor the fare at this noteworthy diner.
Estero Cafe’s Breakfast Salad (serves 2)
3 oz. baby mixed green lettuces
1/2 oz. baby spinach
(2) pastured hen eggs
(4) strips bacon
3 – 4 medium size King Trumpet mushrooms, sliced
Small red onion; thinly sliced into rings
Goat Chèvre, preferably Redwood Hill Farms
Dressing (makes 8 oz.)
1 bunch fresh thyme, stripped of leaves
1 – 2 cloves garlic
1 small shallot
2 tablespoons honey
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
(1) cup organic extra virgin olive oil
salt + pepper; a pinch of each
Make dressing in a food processor or a bowl with a whisk. Finely chop thyme, garlic, and shallot. Mix in mustard and honey and add the vinegar. While mixing slowly, pour in the olive oil. Set dressing aside.
Assemble the Salad:
1. In a large sauté pan, fry chopped potatoes in hot oil until crispy. Set aside.
2. Crisp sliced bacon in a frying pan. Drain off most fat and add sliced onions and mushrooms to sauté. Set aside.
3. Bring a small pot of water to a simmer. Add a splash of apple cider vinegar. Carefully crack two eggs into simmering pot of water, being careful not to crack the yoke. Simmer for 7 minutes or until whites are cooked but yokes are still runny; longer if desired. (Note: This can be done one day before and then heated in simmering water).
4. Toss greens and spinach in a bowl with a little dressing and transfer to (2) large dinner plates.
5. Top greens with sliced avocado, crumbled chèvre, and onion slices.
6. Spoon warm mushrooms and crispy potatoes evenly over salad greens.
7. Lay two strips of bacon on the top of each salad.
8. Use a slotted spoon to carefully remove each poached egg and place in between bacon strips on top of the salads.
9. Garnish egg with cracked pepper.
Serve and enjoy!