Sunday, January 31, 2010

Rocker Oysterfeller's, Valley Ford, CA

It took only a slight twisting of the arm to get my girlfriends to drive out to Rocker Oysterfeller's Kitchen + Saloon in Valley Ford on my last Friday night off (for a while at least). It had been raining for days, and even though I looked forward to some southern fare in the “country”, I understood their trepidation after commuting at 20 mph in huge downpours earlier that day. This week between jobs has been no vacation, as moving on Wednesday was done in the midst of torrential downpours, my brother and I muscling my inflexible couch up the narrow stairwell of my new Victorian flat on B Street. The Temperapedic mattress posed another unwieldy challenge. Not to mention I basically have too much shit.

So back to Valley Ford and why the hell I picked a restaurant in the middle of nowhere on a rainy-ish Friday night?  Situated about 20 miles west of Petaluma, on Hwy One, Valley Ford forms the eastern apex of a triangle between Bodega Bay to the north, and Tomales Bay to the south. I passed through there last September on my quest for oysters (Oysters in Marshall post, September…). And a few weeks ago in my search for a place to call home, I met a guy who happened to be one of the chefs there. While we stood in his kitchen and chatted about the fact that there was no way I could live all the way out in Bloomfield (yes, there is a town named Bloomfield about 15 miles west of Petaluma), I sipped on his incredible homemade Kombucha and made plans to go check out the restaurant, as I’m always up for a road trip if food is promised.

Having looked at their website with good reviews of hearty southern fare, I coerced my friends to go check it out with me. My sister was only committed to pre-dinner drinks at my new flat, but after a little wine she gave in and decided to join us.   As we pulled up, I felt like we were way out west, as it is truly in the boondocks (did I already mention that)?  Nothing but big sky, cows and sheep roaming the pastures.  Rocker Oysterfellers is housed in the base of the Valley Ford Hotel,  an old clapboard style building with the saloon up front and dining room in the back.  We thought of sitting in the bar to eat, as it was pretty lively, but there wasn't a table to fit the four of us, so we continued on to the dining room.

Sparsely populated with a few local families finishing up their suppers, the room's wooden tables were adorned with paper placemats, nice wine glasses, and cloth napkins, giving  the place a rustic elegance. A local artist's Sonoma County landscape paintings randomly accented the walls. It was only 7:30 but I got the impression that folks around here eat early. Got to get up and milk the cows and all that, you know. Us girls  were in great moods and had to be reminded to “simmer down” as we were shooshed by the elderly group at the table next to us, digging into a giant piece of chocolate cake. "Did they just shoosh us?", I leaned in to ask my sister.  Yup, they did.  It is folks like that who have no idea how most places keep afloat. Scaring off people like us, new customers out to spend a little money and have a good time, could put their local “sanctuary” out of business. You know what I’m saying?

Anyhoo, Kimberly is from the south, and I saw her face light up at Rocker Oysterfellers’ down home menu boasting quite a big southern influence with cheddar grits, jalapeno corn biscuits, fried chicken, two different types of gumbo, fried okra and Tomales Bay oysters prepared every which way. While I pondered which oysters to order: fried over a Caesar salad, barbequed with either traditional style bbq sauce, Louisiana Hot, or their house signature “Rocker Oysterfeller” with bacon, arugula and cream cheese, a combination plate magically appeared on the table, compliments of the chef. Yay, gotta love that! After finding out that both Lisa and Kimberly aren’t big oyster fans, I could barely stop myself from slurping all 6 within seconds. But I had to share (with sister), my favorite being the one with Louisiana Hot sauce, but really, I wouldn’t kick the other two out of my, oh, I mean, off my plate.

After much discussion about what to order off a menu that included Crab and Artichoke cakes, numerous fresh salads boasting the pedigree of local farms, grilled local halibut and a huge sounding New York steak, we decided on a bunch of southern style comfort foods to share.  Lisa and I chose Little Farms Romaine salad with Creole caesar dressing and fried oysters (yes, more oysters), the Gleason Ranch Fried Chicken and a side of Mac n' 3 cheeses.  My sister and Kimberly chose cups of gumbo with andouille sausage and seafood, fried okra (not exactly listed as a side but we managed to fanagle that) and cheese grits.  A side of Jalapeno Corn Biscuits automatically comes with dinner, and we wished we had more as the texture of the corn played off perfectly with a hint of heat and cheddar cheese.  More please...

The caesar arrived, with chopped romaine and cornmeal fried oysters dotting the edges.  I was happy with more oysters to indulge in, although they could have used a remoulade or some more dressing, as the lettuce was very sparsely adorned.  In the meantime Kimberly and sis were contending with bowls of dark brown gumbo, unsuccessfully fishing around for seafood, shrimp or even a piece of andouille sausage.  The soup lacked salt and unfortunately, flavor in general. Lisa and I occupied ourselves in between courses with small carafes of Unti Dry Creek Valley Grenache, from a well priced tidy, yet well represented list of both local and european producers..  The also have a full bar and good array of specialty drinks.

Next came the Gleason Ranch fried chicken with Lagunitas Ale-caraway gravy and crushed potatoes.  We quickly forgot about the gumbo and caesar hiccup, as this comfort food dish still has me craving it a week later.  A large thigh and breast were perfectly encased in a crunchy crust:  moist and flavorful. The Gleason family has been farming sustainably out in Bodega for over 100 years and it shows, as the intensely flavored chicken was the most "chicken-ey" in recent (and not so recent) memory.   The delicious gravy, rich but not overwhelming, and "crushed" potatoes were so good, we had to guard them, as our dining companions kept reaching over to steal  That's okay though, as their Estero Gold cheese grits, made with an asiago type sharp cheese from the Valley Ford Cheese Company, kept finding its way over to my side of the table.  The mac and 3 cheeses was out of this world.  I didn't get a chance to try the fried okra, which my companions said was just "so so".  I really can't imagine what were were thinking on this carbo load mission.  However, it was a rainy Friday, and one couldn't deny this was perfect "stick to yer ribs" kind of fare.
You may or may not believe that we actually decided to try one dessert, the eponymous chocolate cake our "shushy" neighbors were having. The four of us couldn't even finish one piece, generously filled with a layer of house-brandied cherries.  They added a serious touch of the incredible, as even though we were stuffed to the gills, we couldn't stop picking at them. 

Rocker Oysterfellers definitely has its share of items to return for, as well as much to look forward to:  They are open for weekend brunch, a perfect stop on a Sunday drive in the country and lucky for me, just a few miles out of town.


  1. So glad you were able to make it out to see our restaurant last month.

    I'm amazed you were shooshed at our restaurant though as it's better known as more of a fun and semi-racous eatery.

    Not so sure what happened with the gumbo and the caesar salad. The gumbo is typically chock full of crayfish tails, rockfish and halibut and the caesar well adorned with dressing.

    So glad you enjoyed the rest of your meal though and we hope to see you all again soon. Thanks for coming to see us!

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  6. We drove through this quaint little town and totally missed the hotel and restaurant! Darn. We did shop at a small Cowgirl shop. Please can you tell me the name of the store. I would love to send Karen a note of thanks. And next time we are in the area we will , for sure , stoop and stay