Road Trip Arcata: Gravy fever, 2pac, and Belly Flab.

No trip to Arcata is complete without a visit to the Somoa Cookhouse. Eating there is just like eating at summer camp, in all the best ways. The restaurant is literally an old lumber camp cookhouse for the towns loggers, dating back to 1890. The turn of the century “cabin” sits in the middle of an inexplicably large parking lot, out in the cuts. It even has a little museum inside. http://www.samoacookhouse.net/

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The entrance is a long mud room, flanked with coat hooks and benches on either side. At the far end of the room hangs the days menu. There is breakfast, lunch, and dinner. There are no selections. What they serve is what you get.

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The interior of the restaurant is a collection of picnic tables with plastic gingham covers, perched on a rough hardwood floor, with a cafeteria style open kitchen looking out over everything. The camp theme is complete down to the plastic tableware and serving dishes.

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you barely have your ass in a seat before a perky waitress arrives with the items that are included in breakfast every day; coffee, orange juice, a plate of biscuits, and a bowl of gravy. A big plastic bowl of gravy, that is.

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Then she basically makes sure that everyone is eating everything on offer that day, seeing as there are no menu options, and shortly thereafter, the rest of the dishes arrive.

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The eggs are of the liquid variety, the sausage, like Jimmy Dean links. The potatoes…those are a house made step above. Nothing is spectacular, but it doesn’t matter. It wasn’t spectacular at camp either, and anyway, it’s Arcata food, and we’ve already established that Arcata food sucks.

Also, it’s endless, a concept that Jake took too far, and soon, I looked over and he was bright red, his eyes were bulging, and he was mouth breathing. He totally wrecked himself, and was in the throes of a mean gravy fever that would not wane until we arrived in Willits, about three hours later. He literally could not speak and was in as much of a fetal position as one can be in, in the passenger seat of a car, for hours.

Willits is a traffic nightmare. It’s a one light town (possibly two) and conveniently, that light is just part of highway 101. So we sat in horrendous one-lane-highway-with-a-stop-light traffic for a good hour. A hitchhiker that we had passed a good deal earlier skateboarded by us. He actually beat us into town. Skateboarding, slightly uphill.

There is a phenomenally divey dive bar there in Willits, named John’s place. http://www.yelp.com/biz/johns-place-willits

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Outside it must have been 100 degrees and bright as hell, but once we opened the door to Bob’s, well, inside, it was dark, full of old, farmer looking white men, A/C blasting, 2Pac blasting. Really. it was the oddest thing. It wasn’t just 2pac in a bar full of old white men, it was SUPER loud 2pac in a bar full of old white men.

The people watching at John’s place is second to none; if you fancy yourself a dive bar connoisseur, this is the place for you.

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Once we’d had a sufficient respite from the traffic along with a small celebration that Jake had recovered from gravy fever, we moved on. About the time we hit Ukiah, we decided to stop in to the Nelson Family Vineyard’s for a wine tasting. http://nelsonfamilyvineyards.com/

The property was totally beautiful, with a small tasting room, a lovely back porch with a nice seating area and a vineyard view, as well as a serene Redwood Grove with barrel tables for picnics.

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You can bring a picnic to the winery, purchase some wine inside, then go out and enjoy your lunch in the grove. It’s really nice. The tasting was only $5, which is an absolute steal these days when they charge up to $60 in Napa ($60!!! for a tasting!!! I’m serious.) We purchased wine, honey, and olive oil, then joined the wine club for good measure. We were all big fans of Nelson Family Vineyards.

From there we pushed on to Santa Rosa, for one last trip meal at Belly Left Coast Kitchen & Taproom. http://www.belly707.com/

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Belly is well designed for Santa Rosa’s often sweltering weather. The bar is open air on one end, blending into the large front patio. The interior is airy and high ceilinged and has a nice, cool feel to it.

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Our meal was pretty much a disappointment from beginning to end. The wings arrived covered in flabby skin; my personal wing nightmare. I only ate ONE which is just crraaaayyyzzzayyy

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The Hawaiian Kalua pork tacos were the best dish of the bunch, with a good helping of saucy braised pork inside, but that chipotle mayo that’s slathered all over the top just ruins my life. I’m a chipotle hater though, so perhaps this dish is more of a personal affront than a generic one.

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The pizza sucked. It was like they used the wrong kind of cheese or something and it was clumpy and didn’t melt well. The crust was too dense, the jalapenos undercooked. Now that I think about it, maybe the whole deal was just undercooked. It’s not like I didn’t eat it, but I am definitely never eating it again.

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