My travels through the rural countryside in Marin and Sonoma counties have led me to some amazing out-of-the way roadside eateries. One such gem, tucked off the crossroads at Highway One and Dillon Beach Road in sleepy downtown Tomales, is a tiny kitchen that puts out some of the best comfort food around.
Celebrating their fifth year in business, K&A Take Away is the pride of West Marin native Amy Carpenter and her husband Trevor “Kaianui” Brand, who have built a devoted following of locals and day trippers that clamor into their unassuming eatery for grab n’ go specials that vary according to season.
It all started with Amy’s sausage. After a five year stint working as a veterinary technician, she was at a crossroads. She wanted to do something different, but what? It was Trevor who first broached the idea.
“He said, ‘Hey, you eat a lot of sausage,’ she recalls smiling. ‘Why don’t you try making it yourself?”’ Intrigued, she got a meat grinder and spent the next year refining her technique and recipes at home, before leasing an old pizza parlor space in Tomales that had been vacant for more than a decade.
She opened the door to K&A Take Away (inspired by the initial of her hubby’s middle name and her first name, “because ‘T&A’ just didn’t work!”) in the fall of 2012, and hasn’t slowed down since. “It’s taken a lot of TLC and a steep learning curve,” she says as she deftly navigates her small galley kitchen like a seasoned pro. “I’m still learning! I had never made a sandwich to order until the day we opened. It’s been an adventure for sure.”
A self-taught chef with a penchant for winging her recipes (and rarely repeating them), Amy is a true example of someone who is a natural-born cook. Her pinch-of-this and dash-of-that approach is decidedly old-fashioned and intuitive, albeit hard to replicate since she often improvises. “I get bored,” she confides. “I want to keep it fresh.”
In a word, her style is approachable. “I like to eat fancy food,” she laughs, “but I don’t like to cook it.”
Her eat local philosophy is reflected in the ingredients she sources from small West Marin organic producers like Wild Blue Farm and Table Top Farm, along with produce grown in her parent’s Sebastopol home garden. Grass fed meats from nearby Stemple Creek Ranch are often in the rotation, and fresh-baked breads hail from Full Circle Bakery in Penngrove.
Open Thursday-Saturday (11:00am-6:30pm) and Sunday (11:00am until sold out) year round, K&A’s take out menu changes daily, depending on what’s in season, and everything is made in small batches so when she runs out, she’s out!
Staple offerings include her ever popular homemade-from-scratch sausages (chicken, bratwurst, and Italian in pork casings) and hearty potato salads. She even makes her own condiments including mustard and salad dressing.
The most popular item she makes? “Meatloaf sandwich, hands down,” Amy replies without hesitation. “People actually get mad when I sell out!”
And sell out she does.
One of my personal favorite dishes in her cold weather repertoire is this flavorful, soul-satisfying Winter Succotash. At my request, she was kind enough to recreate her magic for this blog post.
Brimming with smoked ham, seasonal veggies, heirloom beans, and lots of fresh herbs, it’s a winning combination that’s a complete meal in a bowl.
The next time you’re passing through Tomales on your way to the beach, be sure to stop by K&A Take Away and grab some of Amy’s picnic comfort food to go. You will be back!
AMY’S WINTER SUCCOTASH (serves 4-6)
- 2 cups ham, diced in 1/2” thick cubes
- 2 cups kohlrabi, diced
- 2 cups butternut squash, diced
- 1 1/2 cups frozen sweet corn
- 1/3 cup minced green garlic
- 1/2 cup onion, diced
- 2 cups dried heirloom beans (*Rancho Gordo Scarlet Butter Beans or other white bean), soaked overnight and prepared according to package directions.
- sea salt to taste
- 1 teaspoon each fresh thyme & sage
- 1 teaspoon dried summer savory
- 3/4 cup heavy cream
- Soak the dried beans overnight. In the morning, prepare the soaked beans according to package directions.
- In a large skillet, lightly brown the cubed ham over medium heat. Remove and set aside.
- To the same skillet, add green garlic and onion. Season with a little salt. Cook for 1-2 minutes.
- Add the butternut squash and kohlrabi. Cover and cook until tender (about 5 minutes).
- Add corn, beans, reserved ham, and herbs. Cook 1-2 minutes.
- Gently mix in cream and cook until thickened.
Serve with a side salad of fresh field greens.