From the ocean, I turn down Pescadero Creek Road, motor for about 2 miles, then land in Pescadero, a tiny town in San Mateo county, that once served as a haven (and still does) for city dwellers looking to escape it all.
On Pescadero’s single-road downtown, on any given weekend, there are invariably cyclists in their spandex and bikers in their leather fatigues. The two-wheeled riders likely have the same idea as the rest of us: to get away from the big city’s frantic energy for a few hours in peace.
At the edge of the teeny downtown, which takes about five minutes to walk from one end to the other (longer if you’re perusing the town’s handful of shops), Downtown Local is the town’s bonafide gathering spot, where locals and visitors gather out front, sipping javas and catching up on the day’s news. Along with its funky collection of vintage and consignment wares and freshly brewed, third wave coffee, Downtown Local is all about the vibes.
Just down the road, the historical soul of Pescadero is Duarte’s Tavern, established in 1894, Duarte’s retains the old-world charm implied by its long history as a stopping place for vacationers and hungry drivers.
Started as a saloon and barbershop by Frank Duarte, the business soon began offering food to visitors, including its now legendary pies in the 1930s. Thirty years later, the tavern’s famous cream of artichoke soup joined the menu, where it remains to this day. The soup ($15) is smooth and creamy and vibrantly green. Our server explained that what makes the dish so memorable is the local globe artichokes, macerated to fluffy perfection, that come from Castroville, 60 miles down Highway 1.
Another staple of the Duarte’s menu: Locally grown olallieberries — a bright red cross between a blackberry and dewberry. I started with a tart olallieberry margarita ($15), concocted with homemade olallieberry syrup and arriving in a tall glass rimmed with salt. After one cocktail, it was hard to stop, so I moved on to a strong Old Fashioned from the original tavern bar, which was preserved after a fire tore through town in the 1920s.
My appetite sufficiently whetted, I knew I couldn’t leave until I had one more taste of those mouth-puckering olallieberries. And let’s face it, no visit to Duarte’s is complete without a tender slice of olallieberry pie ($9), served with a heaping scoop of vanilla ice cream.
Goats and artichokes
Our bellies stuffed to their breaking point, my traveling companion, Amanda, and I waddled out of the dimly lit Duarte’s and into the sunlight of Stage Road. We couldn’t stop our food tour quite yet, however, as we’d heard rumors of something magical baking in the ovens of Arcangeli Grocery Co., just a hop down the road from Duarte’s.
You can smell it before you spy it. The homemade artichoke bread that is. Started in 1929, Arangeli’s has become famous for its lovingly baked breads, especially those of the artichoke variety. The loaf is thick and heavy, crispy on the outside and tender on the inside. It’s best enjoyed with a button of fresh goat cheese from Harley Farms Goat Dairy down the road (which we’ll get to later) and a seat at one of the picnic tables toward the start of Stage Road.
Though our stomachs sloshed with Duarte’s treats, we made room for ripped-off handfuls of the artichoke garlic herb bread smothered with luscious monet chevre and extra garlicky dip.
We decided to walk off our noshes with a stroll into Pescadero’s smattering of shops. There’s Made in Pescadero, with its gorgeous handmade wooden furniture. There’s Topia Antiques, which displays its vintage goods in an old white house and a little dirt side street, off the main drag, where local artists and vendors sell pottery, clothing and potted plants.
Along the way, there are often musicians playing for passersby. On our visit, a fiddler and banjo player strummed lively tunes as children danced and tossed dollars in their cases with glee.aside">