That's it. I'm moving to Winters, California. Winters, California... here I come!
Ok ok.. that may have been said in haste (I'm not moving anywhere), but man... I recently discovered this quaint little town and I am SO tempted to give small(er) town living a try. (Instead, I'm putting the squeeze on my mom to pack her bags and relocate there... mom - have you called the realtor yet?).
Anyhow... Winters. I've had the opportunity to explore this hidden-in-plain-sight gem a couple of times in the last few weeks. Once, when Ran took me on a weekend getaway and we stayed in a cabin nearby, and a second time when I dragged my visiting mom back over the river and through the woods to explore her future retirement community. It's a mere 35 miles from my home here in Napa, but obscured from view by the strip mall sprawl of Vacaville along I-80.
I really did fall in love with this place on first look. Not only is the town itself cute as a button, laid out around a small town square (complete with white gazebo and town clock - straight out of a movie), but it's obviously family-friendly (I counted no fewer than four parks with playgrounds and ball fields), VERY affordable (the realty listings nearly made me cry), and surprisingly diverse (in my two trips, I've seen people of all colors and persuasions). It's also surrounded by stunning acre upon acre of meticulously groomed farms, orchards and vineyards, and is within a stone's throw of a variety of outdoor recreation (cycling, whitewater rafting, boating, fishing, hiking...). All of that is well and good, but what does my budding love affair with Winters have to do with this blog? It's the food, of course!
I had the chance to talk to loads of locals - some new to town, some long-timers - and everyone agrees: there is not a bad place to eat in Winters. Along the main drag, Railroad Avenue, you'll find everything from a cyclist-clogged coffee shop to a trendy tapas bar. There's the requisite small-town diner with the line out the door for its hearty breakfasts; a candy shop and soda fountain; a steakhouse complete with taxidermy animal heads mounted on the wall and portion sizes of beef to match... and likely much more. There's also two - soon to be three - wine tasting rooms within a two-block radius, one of which is also home to the Winters Cheese Company.
I was there on a Saturday night, and I tell you - the place was hopping. Putah Creek Cafe was churning out blistery thin-crust pizzas from its wood-burning pizza oven on the street corner; Cody's Restaurant was grilling tri-tip and chicken on the sidewalk a half a block down the street; the Turkovich Family Winery tasting room was open late and bursting at the seams with a young, hip crowd; the Opera House was gearing up for a night of live music, and The Buckhorn Steakhouse was packed with a 45 minute wait to get a table. People were out, the scene was lively, people were laughing and talking to each other, friends and strangers alike... it was awesome.
Winters will not remain a secret for long. Indeed, the very week following my initial weekend trip, the San Francisco Chronicle highlighted the town in its weekly Street Date feature (I gasped when I opened up the paper, and there was "my" Winters, its charm exposed for all to see!). So, I suggest you get on out there to take a look around and enjoy all that Winters has to offer before the tour buses start descending. If you can't get there, here's a photo tour - go ahead, live vicariously!
Scenes from around and about town...
The Buckhorn Steakhouse - big flavors, big portions. Their website has a great list of 20 reasons to visit Winters - make sure to check it out!
Putah Creek Cafe - the quintessential small town diner. Bakery cases overflowing with house-made goodies, counter space for when you can't score a hard-to land booth, and good, good food. My mom opted for breakfast for her mid-day meal (the thick-cut applewood smoked bacon was amazing); I went for the homemade pezole. It was an excellent choice.
Putah Creek Cafe fires up its wood-burning pizza oven in the afternoon and keeps it going well into the evening. Fresh, piping hot pizza, right there on the street corner.
One of the tasting rooms in town, Turkovich Family Wines. The room is casual and elegant, and stays open late on weekends to take advantage of the people out and about. the buzz is lively, and you'll find all of Winters newest young residents bellied up to the bar, with out of town guests in tow (and in awe). In addition to their lineup of wines, they also pour and sell a champagne imported from Argentina (the winemaker's father-in-law is the Argentine winemaker).
The Winters Cheese Company shares a tasting room with Turkovich Family Wines. As it should - the cheesemaker and the winemaker are brothers. Seems as though the whole family is involved in the shop - there's mom behind the cash register, and a cousin behind the bar. I bought loads of cheese, but I should have bought the shirt too!
The other tasting room in town, Berryessa Gap Vineyards.
Breakfast at Cody's - nothing fancy, but pancakes to order and the chef knew pretty much everyone by name. Those that she didn't know by name, she came out personally to greet, as she was carrying a customer's baby on her hip - giving the babe's mom a chance to eat her meal kid-free.
...and later in the day, Cody's was grilling up a storm for the dinner crowd.
Views from along Putah Creek, the river that runs through the center of Winters.