Gold Country--Historic hotels and restaurants offer superior dining"

By The Editor

Like gold good restaurants are where you find them. This was certainly the case on our recent visit to Sonora and the surrounding communities.

We spent a delightful evening with Peggy and Grover Mosley, owners of the Groveland Hotel which was first established in 1849. The Mosleys took over the Hotel in 1990 and immediately started a restoration which eventually was a million dollar investment.

Peggy Mosley also likes wines and the Victorian Room at the Hotel now has a wine list of over 800 labels which has given it the 'Wine Spectator' award of excellence. Peggy gave this Writer a personal tour of her extensive wine cellar. With executive chef Jaime Rivara the Groveland Hotel dining room shows a California seasonal menu.

That evening there were four of us for dinner and we each ordered a different entree and then shared so we could try each. They included a stuffed rosemary herbed chicken breast, the Groveland Hotel's baby back pork ribs, pan seared duck breast and the 'Sea meets the Sierra', four large scallops wrapped in apple smoked bacon and four large grilled shrimp. Our conclusion was that the Victorian Room is a very good restaurant.

Earlier in the full service bar Dave Perra of the Henry Wine Group showed up with four new wines for Peggy to try. As it happened Dave and this Writer recognized each other from some earlier wine event. Anyway Nanci Sikes of the Tuolumne County Visitors Bureau and this Writer joined Peggy Mosley in tasting the four vintages..

They included two Ceretto Italian wines, one a 2003 Blange and the second a 1999 Barolo from Piedmont. Also a 2001 Stags Leap Wine Cellars Fay Estate Cabernet Sauvignon and a 2001 Elyse Syrah from the Napa Valley. The Groveland Hotel offers 17 elegant rooms filled with antique furniture and two suites. For more information call 209 962-4000 or 800 273-3314.

Historic Place

Across the street in Groveland is the Hotel Charlotte, It was established in 1921 and is on the National Register of Historical Places as is the Hotel Groveland. A husband and wife team, Victor Niebylski as chef and Lynn Upthagrove as Innkeeper, purchased the hotel and restaurant last year and have enjoyed immediate success.

Lynn and Peggy are great friends and Lynn joined us for dinner. Then we all moved across the street for dessert at the Charlotte's dining room which is open for dinner only Thursday thru Sunday. Cafe Charlotte quickly achieved a reputation for good food with moderate prices and excellent desserts all from the hand of Chef-Owner Victor. There is also a full service bar.

The Hotel has 10 rooms and two family suites. Breakfast is for hotel guests only. For reservations call 209 962-6455.

Groveland is on Highway 120 and is just 23 miles from the Yosemite Park Entrance making it an ideal stopover to and from the Park.

One other stop is a must here. The Iron Door Saloon boosts of being the oldest bar in California and is still going strong. Adding to the picturesque is the fact that the ceiling is covered with dollar bills stuck to it. If you go on Thursdays they will show you how to stick a dollar bill there as well.

Mediterranean cuisine

We enjoyed a fine dining experience in Sonora. One day we had lunch at Banny's Cafe and Wine Bar which is located in the heart of downtown. Owners are Chef Rob and Rosetta Bannwarth who have operated the Cafe for 16 years. With a light and airy contemporary decor the Cafe offers a California Mediterranean cuisine with seating for 60.

From the lunch menu our selections included a smoked chicken sausage served on foccacia and a spinach quiche which came with garden salad. Dinner entrees show items like eggplant grilled with portabella mushrooms or a veal chop or a prawn, mussel and fresh vegetable Risotto. The Wine Bar has an excellent selection of California wines many from Sierra Foothill wineries. The Cafe also features wine and food pairings on a regular schedule. Banny's is located at 83 S. Stewart Street in Sonora. On the web at

Since 1859

Another day we had lunch at the National Hotel's restaurant and saloon in Jamestown. The Hotel was established in 1859 and has been continuously operated ever since. Current owner is Steve Willey.

The Hotel's restaurant has a large menu offering dinner, lunch and brunch items. The dinner menu offers five steaks, six items from the sea as well as veal and chicken. Our lunch selections included a cold beef sandwich on sourdough bread and the southwestern chicken sandwich topped with jack cheese and black olives.

We of course had to spend some time admiring the 19th century back bar in the saloon as well. The National calls itself a bed and breakfast hotel and is located at 77 Main Street in Jamestown. On the web at Telephone 209 984.3446.

After our wanderings around Columbia State Historic Park, which is much the same as when gold miners tramped its streets some 150 years ago, we looked to an oasis for tired feet.

This we found at the Columbia City Hotel which first came into existence in 1856. The Hotel has an admirable bar. The restaurant is actually a part of the training of culinary students from Columbia College's Hospitality Management Program.

We were at the City Hotel for its annual historic Ghost dinner. About 24 of us gathered in the dining room of the Hotel to hear Author Carol Biederman relate tales of some of the ghosts that haunt both the City Hotel and the nearby Fallon House.

However our culinary experience was real enough. We opened with a potato leek soup and then moved on to mixed young lettuces with apple, candied nuts, cheese and an aged sherry vinaigrette. Diners had a choice of pan blackened salmon or beef tenderloin ragout or breaded Cambazola stuffed chicken breast or Pan seared pork chops.

The choice of desserts included chocolate decadence cake or fig and pear crisp with vanilla bean ice cream or cheesecake with gingerbread cookie crust.

The Columbia City Hotel has an enviable wine list of over 150 labels and has received national recognition for its wine program.

Both Chef Jeffery Zahniser and Tom Bender, hotel manager, are also instructors for the Culinary school. The Hotel features luncheons and dinners prepared by the Culinary students as well as many special wine dinners and special events.

Fortified with this splendid repast we were more or less ready to move on to the nearby historic cemetery to the light of old kerosine lanterns . Lanterns or not it was very dark in the cemetery as we heard stories on how some of the original miners and settlers died and their showy discontent afterward.

One day we called at Cover's Apple Ranch which has achieved fame for its wondrous pies and other bakery goodies. The Ranch has been developed by the Old Brethren which has communities in Indiana, Ohio and here in California.

Almost all the products sold at the Ranch have been grown there. It is a great place for children since there is an authentic miniature steam train they can ride and well as a petting zoo. Yes we too wandered through the barnyard to look at turkeys, cows, sheep, lazy porkers and horses.

Cover's Apple Ranch is located at 19211 Cherokee Road in Tuolumne, California. It is open Monday thru Friday from 6:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. and on Saturday 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., closed Sundays. Call 209 928-4689 for more information.

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Last Update:10/1/07

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