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Cyclists' Guide To Dining In The San Francisco Bay Area

Le Boulanger

International Coffee Exchange

Robert's of Woodside


Marin Cheese Factory

Gizdich Ranch

Tierra Bella

Strawberry Fields Forever

People Powered Ride

Skyline Cycling Club

Almaden Cycle Touring Club

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Bill Oetinger  The Biking Life

   by: Naomi Bloom 10/1/2004

Eat to Ride

Bicycling experts agree: Food is what makes the cranks go round. I mean, have you ever met a cyclist who doesn't like to eat? So naturally rides with planned food stops on the route are the most popular. And why the club rides I lead mostly about what we eat along the way. Like last month's "Chicken Run" to Hector's Bodega in Watsonville for barbecued chicken extraordinaire. The ride started drive "over the hill" in Soquel, so I figured only about a dozen riders would show up. Yeah, right. Thirty-four hungry people signed in!

That's why this column is all about great food stops I have known. A lot of them are listed in Dick Blaine's "Cyclists' Guide To Dining In The San Francisco Bay Area." There are plenty of reliable, well-tested standbys from cafes like the Plantation Deli and Le Boulanger. There are coffee houses like Cafe Borrone, in Menlo Park and International Coffee Exchange in Saratoga. Even markets likeMollie Stone's all over the SF Peninsula and in Sausalito and Robert's of Woodside offer refreshment and energy boosts.

Since I ride mostly on the Peninsula and in the South Bay, I can recommend some really great places down here. Take Los Gatos: I like Andale Taqueria -- big, bean-stuffed burritos and aguas frescas seemingly made with carb and electrolyte replacement in mind. Order take-out and eat your burrito on the grass in the park around the corner. (A Le Boulanger sits at the other side of the park.) But my favorite place in Los Gatos is Sweet Pea's Cafe on North Santa Cruz, even if we have to vie with the regulars for the limited outdoor seating.

Riding in the other direction, up the Peninsula, the most logical stops are in Woodside. Although many folks enjoy the Woodside Bakery and Cafe, I've found it less than friendly to sweaty, smelly cyclists hobnobbing with their high-end clientele. Just as pricey but tons more interesting isBuck's. Who can resist the signature chicken mole or stuffed artichoke while taking in all the tschotschkes hanging from the ceiling and walls?

Coastside cravings

If we're riding around Half Moon Bay, we often continue up Highway 1 about 3.5 miles to Barbara's Fish Trap in Princeton-by-the-Sea. Further south we nearly always stop in mouthwatering Pescadero, where we hit Harley Farms on North Street just off Pescadero Road for a miniature wheel or two of simply outstanding goat cheese. We carry that into town to Aracangeli Grocery (aka Norm's Market) on Stage Road for fresh-from-the-oven artichoke-garlic bread. The picnic area out back is the perfect place to kick back and scarf the bounty of San Mateo coastside.

Now don't get me wrong. This kind of eat-to-ride excursion is definitely not a short-distance, flat-as-a-pancake junket. More often than not, the cycling features the kind of elevation gain Northern California is known for.

Case in point: Our Marin County triple-threat Cheese to Oysters to Cheese ride. We start in Nicasio and take the short route to Point Reyes Station and the Cowgirl Creamery at Tomales Bay Foods. Then it's up Highway 1 to Marshall and Tony's Seafood for barbecued oysters. Then, believe it or not, we haul our full bellies up the Marshall Wall (aka Marshall-Petaluma Road) to the Marin Cheese Factory, home of Rouge et Noir camembert, brie and -- my favorite -- quark.

Riding a bit further north into Sonoma County? Get bread and pastry at Tomales Bakery, a default rest stop on every ride through Tomales.

Santa Cruzin'

Back to Santa Cruz County, where the culinary delights abound. Besides our Chicken Run to Watsonville, we can't resist a scenic ride out to Gizdich Ranch, home of apple pie, boysenberry pie, and amazingly refreshing apple juice blended from all the varieties in their orchards. (In winter months, you might find a pot of help-yourself mulled cider simmering on a wood-burning stove.)

Any ride passing through Capitola must visit Gayle's Bakery and Rosticceria, voted #1 favorite lunch stop anywhere. Yes, it's that good. Take a number at the door to the patio and be prepared to muscle your way to the counter when it's called. And save room for a pastry dessert!

Riding north from Santa Cruz? The Davenport Cash Store is a must-stop for filling sandwiches as well as fresh-baked muffins and cookies.

Dessert, anyone?

A destination ride to a great ice cream parlor on a hot summer day is just the ticket. I have a couple of double-dipper routes, each to two such establishments on the same day. In Los Gatos, Dolce Spazio, on Santa Cruz Avenue, tops my list for real Italian gelato. Try the Oreogasmic. There's also Sweet Retreat on Union Avenue, for those who prefer all-American ice cream.

On the Peninsula, the choicest stop is at Rick's Rather Rich on Middlefield Road just off Charlston. Or Gelato Classico on Castro Street in Mt. View, where you can sample Pear Chardonnay and Blackberry Cabernet, which tastes almost like the glace cassis (black currant ice cream) I've eaten in France.

Other Foodie Rides

Of course, there are other ways to ride and eat. Any well-run century would never neglect the culinary aspects. Like the Tierra Bella, with bagels, nut breads, and hi-rollers at rest stops and post-ride lasagna and apple pie with ice cream.

My vote for the century with the best food, however, is Grizzly Peak with their traditional Alice Waters-generated menu. A close second place goes to Strawberry Fields Forever, which has the good sense to include Gizdich Ranch as a rest stop, as well as Italian and Russian specialties at others.

Traveling further from home, I've always enjoyed the food on the People Powered Ride near Solvang. Great rest stops, plus BBQ chicken you can wash down with Firestone Brewery ales at a mere $.50 a glass.

The Ultimate Ride-to Eat Ride

What better way to combine eating and riding than a progressive dinner by bicycle? This takes lots of coordination but boy, is it worth it! Skyline Cycling Club pioneered this concept in the '70s with its early November Munch-Along. Almaden Cycle Touring Club also stages one in October.

Here's how it works: Riders start at the home hosting the last stop (either dessert or maybe main course). They then pedal on routes of various difficulty to the first course, usually hors-d'oeuvres (the Munch-Along also features cocktails, both alcoholic and non) at another host home. Then it's more cycling to the second course, generally salads with bread and light drinks. Then on to the main entrees, including the usual carb-rich and vegetable side dishes, at a third home. And finally back to the start for dessert. It's all done as a pot luck, so all the participants contribute to at least one of the courses. And lots of recipes are swapped at ride's end.

For me, finding great food stops is a never-ending quest. In fact, I'm still looking for a good Dim Sum place outside my own home turf of Cupertino (where we have more than enough to choose from, thanks). If you know of any in the Santa Cruz area or on the Peninsula, I'd sure like to hear about it.


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