Good restaurants are still limited in number in California's Sierra Foothills, but enough places provide satisfaction. For a picnic lunch, consider packing some of the many gourmet fixings at Andrae's in Amador City or Dedrick’s Main Street Cheese in Placerville. Most wineries have pleasant picnic grounds; just buy a bottle and settle in for an hour or two.
Wine lists accompanying dinner menus are generally devoted to local producers, but the prices are a bargain and most restaurants charge only a modest corkage fee. Gold Vine Grill in Somerset is a good choice, but Taste in Plymouth is a real discovery, rivaling many places in Sonoma and Napa. For a more diverse selection, Erna’s Elderberry House, a Wine Spectator Best of Award of Excellence winner, has perhaps the most extensive wine list in the area.
The Imperial Hotel and City Hotel offer historic charm, with mid-19th century mining town buildings featuring artifacts and photos from the Gold Rush and subsequent eras.
Please note that owners, chefs, menu items, prices and other details can often change, and we recommend that you call ahead before you go.
Andrae’s stocks a large selection of cheeses and charcuterie, plus sandwiches, for picnic lunches.
14141 Highway 49
Amador City, CA 95601
Telephone: (209) 267-1352
Open: Breakfast and lunch, Thursday to Sunday, 8-4
Cost: $3-$20 for sandwiches, quiches and pizza
Amador City is the one of the last places you’d expect to find a cultivated gourmet food shop like Andrae’s. Housemade bread and pastries accompany a large selection of artisanal cheeses and charcuterie. At lunchtime, you’ll find pizzas, quiches and a good selection of creative sandwiches, such as Kobe beef pastrami with Emmentaler cheese and Fra' Mani salame with gruyère cheese and basil pesto. Stop by for coffee and a treat in the morning and a carry-out lunch for a winery picnic in the afternoon. The shop’s seating is limited, but there are tables outside, overlooking the creek.
Erna’s 750-selection wine list holds a Wine Spectator Best of Award of Excellence.
Erna's Elderberry House
Château du Sureau
48688 Victoria Lane
Oakhurst, CA 93644
Telephone: (559) 683-6800
Open: Dinner, daily; brunch, Sunday
Cost: $95 for 5-course prix fixe dinner; $58 for 4-course brunch
Best of Award of Excellence
Named for the elderberry bushes that line the property, Erna’s Elderberry House offers a sophisticated take on French-American cuisine. Chef Funnar Thompson incorporates fresh, seasonal ingredients into his ever-changing, five-course prix fixe dinner menu; past featured dishes include Phantom Creek oysters in aspic with horseradish-parsnip puree and seared saddle of lamb served with braised black trumpet mushrooms and Zinfandel jus. Sommelier Samuel Aguilar offers wine pairings customized for each menu. The wine list, which holds a Wine Spectator Best of Award of Excellence, consists of 750 selections, strong in California, Burgundy, Austria and Germany.
All of the mostly local wine selections at Gold Vine Grill are available by the glass.
Gold Vine Grill
6028 Grizzly Flat Road
Somerset, CA 95684
Telephone: (530) 626-4042
Open: Lunch, Friday to Sunday, 11:30-3; wine bar, 3-9; dinner, Wednesday to Sunday, 5-9
Cost: Entrées, $8-$22
It doesn’t look like much from the outside, but this is a savvy cafe and wine bar. The interior is smartly done in warm yellow and rusty red hues. The lunch menu is casual, with almond chicken salad on a croissant with zesty blue cheese, a roasted garlic hamburger and signature smoked-salmon quesadillas. Dinner brings a larger menu of surf and turf, as well as pastas. There’s seldom a wrong note in the bunch. The wine selection of mostly local producers is limited to 55 wines, but nary a bottle costs more than $40, and all are available by the glass.
Taste’s sophisticated menu is backed by a wine list that holds a Wine Spectator Award of Excellence.
9402 Main St.
Plymouth, CA 95669
Telephone: (209) 245-3463
Open: Dinner, 5-10, Monday, Thursday to Friday, 4:30-10, Saturday to Sunday; lunch, Saturday, 11:30-2
Cost: Entrées, $20-$37
Award of Excellence
With its urbane atmosphere and first-rate service, this sophisticated bistro provides a polished food-and-wine experience that would be right at home in a big city. Tracey Berkner runs the front of the house while her husband, Mark, helms the kitchen. His menu achieves that rare balance between comfort and creativity; starters include “mushroom cigars,” a savory concoction of crimini, shiitake and porcini mushrooms and goat cheese wrapped in crisp phyllo. Seared duck breast comes with Newcastle peaches, black quinoa, pistachio vinaigrette or pickled chanterelle mushrooms, while rib eye Delmonico arrives with creamy organic polenta, sautéed fava beans and artichoke kalamata tapenade. The well-focused wine list, a Wine Spectator Award of Excellence winner, is mostly devoted to local producers but is astute enough to include key players from elsewhere in California and Europe.
As many as 300 types of cheese, along with other gourmet foods, can be found at Dedrick's.
Dedrick's Main Street Cheese
312 Main St., #105
Placerville, CA 95667
Telephone: (530) 344-8282
Open: Monday to Saturday, 10- 6; Sunday, 11-5
Though its name might suggest otherwise, Dedrick’s Main Street Cheese goes way beyond dairy. The establishment is in fact more of a gourmet grocer, selling everything from locally baked breads to salamis, pâtés and olives. The broad selection of cheeses—300 or more, depending on the season—covers an array of styles from around the world. And don’t think they’ve forgotten about dessert: You’ll find chocolates, candies and pastries to round out your picnic meal.
Patio dining is an option at this restaurant located in a historic hotel building.
Imperial Hotel Restaurant
Amador City, CA 95601
Telephone: (209) 267-9172
Open: Dinner Tuesday to Friday 5-8 and Saturday to Sunday 5-9; lunch Saturday and Sunday, 12-2
Cost: Entrées, $13-$28
The dining room at this family owned and operated establishment retains many of the original features from when the hotel was built in 1879, and if the weather is nice, you can enjoy your meal outdoors on the hotel’s patio. The menu varies with the seasons and provides generous portions of upscale American cuisine, including Liberty duck breast served with a spicy raspberry-chile Port reduction and a bistro steak topped with a gorgonzola cream sauce. The restaurant, which sources local ingredients whenever possible, also focuses its 50-wine list almost entirely on local wines hailing from Amador, El Dorado and Calaveras counties.
City Hotel brings relaxed French-California cuisine to the restored mining town of Columbia.
22768 Main St./Columbia State Historic Park
Columbia, CA 95310
Telephone: (209) 532-1479
Open: Open by reservation only, Dinner, Tuesday to Sunday, 5 to close
Cost: Entreés, $18-$37
Located in a well-preserved Gold Rush town, this restaurant in the historic Columbia City Hotel, which dates to 1854, reopened in late 2010 after having closed two years earlier. The new chef, Jeff Briggs, describes the cuisine as “Gold Rush French,” a relaxed variation on classic French cooking with a California twist and a changing seasonal menu. Past dinner menus have included an appetizer of veal sweetbreads served with chanterelles and bathed in a rich Cognac demiglace and an entrée of pan-seared duck breast served with duck jus, dried Moroccan apricots and fresh thyme. The wine list offers 23 California bottlings, almost exclusively from producers in the Sierra Foothills, with a few selections from Monterey and Napa Valley.