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Best Of Humboldt 2010 — Staff Picks 

Best Old Town Sunbather

The sun comes out -- when it comes out, oh, praise the sun! -- and out comes John Tutuska. Skinny legs in baggy jeans cinched tight. Sandaled feet smooth-brown. Bare torso, creased arms and serene face baked to madrone. Tutuska sits in a chair or stands beside it -- a dark, still exclamation against the white, white, eye-shattering white wall of the Clarke Museum. Ah, but he does not worship the sun. He is not here to work on his tan.

"My primary purpose is to meditate," says the gentle Tutuska. "The sun serves as a jump start to the light within."

You understand, don't you? The light glowing in the closed eyelids?

"And once you find the light within, that's all you have to do. That's where your social questions get answered. That's where all your questions get answered. And that's a place of true healing."

But why this place, this wall? Well, says he, when the wind is blowing off the water, this is the warmest spot.

-- Heidi Walters


Best Observer of Eureka Street Life


Though he depicts a world that the city's boosters might look at askance, Jesse Wiedel depicts the down-and-out precincts of Eureka honestly, if satirically. He's influenced equally by the landscapes of the Salton Sea, country music iconography, sword-and-sandal epics and broken-down neon motel signs. The flavor of his work is aptly expressed in the titles of some of his solo exhibitions: Haunted Trailer Park, The Unbearable Ugliness of Being, and God is Dead. The characters in his art are full of violence, pain, fear and desperation, though a surreal gallows humor is never far away. His technique is the visual analogue to the music of The Ramones: what on first glance seems the expression of a simple trash aesthetic ultimately transcends its subject matter through imaginative intensity. Like some post-punk Brueghel, he prefers to view the world through the eyes of society's lower orders, and though his befuddled peasantry have some very serious problems, they do seem to have more character than the superficially normal people who surround them.

-- Jay Herzog

Best Arts Night Noisemaker

What a perfect Saturday night in Old Town! The street lamps are lit. The sidewalks are packed. And the arts, if you will, are alive!

Music permeates. "Oh, that's nice," you think to yourself, "a guy playing old standards on accordion. This feels like Paris!" But as you got closer, the melody strikes you. "Wait ... is he playing ... The Pixies' 'Here Comes Your Man'?" Let me confirm. He is.

If you're a regular attender of either Arts Alive or Arts Arcata, odds are you have paused to take in the novelty of Rick Fugate. Once a month, you can usually find him busking in front of The Linen Closet, just a man and his accordion. But what makes Rick unique, other than being the owner of Humboldt's most intimidating handlebar mustache, is his song catalog. Whether it's a Cheap Trick sing-a-long, deep cuts off Pink Floyd's The Wall, or the theme song to Reading Rainbow, the man has a tune for every occasion.

A drummer by trade, Fugate picked up music theory in high school jazz band, around the same time he picked up the accordion. "My parents exposed me to an unhealthy size dose of 'Weird' Al Yankovic." And the rest is history.

So hey, Arts Alive is this Saturday. When you see Rick, throw a couple bucks in his accordion case. Dude has five kids, with one on the way. Every little bit helps.

-- Andrew Goff

Best Secret Happy Hour

Carter House Inn. This tiny (10-seat) gem of a bar was added in 2007. They opened with a special introductory offer: premium cocktails served at half price from 5 to 6, and so far they have continued that policy. Selections include Chopin (a marvelous potato vodka) and distinguished single-malt Scotches. Guests can also sit in the lobby, which has large overstuffed chairs. There are often special cocktails, such as their pomegranate cosmopolitan. (417 M Street, Eureka)

-- Joseph Byrd


Second-best Secret Happy Hour   

The Madaket Cocktail Cruise. A party voyage around Humboldt Bay, with a limited but creative selection of cocktails at bargain prices ($5-$6!). The ultimate local ambiance, complete with seal and pelican action. One of the county's best Bloody Marys. A wind-in-your face, sun-in-your-eyes, no-narration event, the cruise costs just $10 per person. (Foot of F Street, Eureka. 5:30 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday. Reservations highly advised.)

-- Joseph Byrd


Best Place to Swim in the Bay


As this nation's adventurism in far-flung parts of the world has demonstrated again and again, it's often easier to get into a situation than it is to get out of it. This is certainly the case if you're planning a dip in Eureka bay. Jump in from almost any of the floating docks that line Eureka's waterfront, and when you want to get out, you'll be doing what I think of as the "sea lion hump" as you attempt to beach yourself back onto the dock. Which is why the dock at the foot of C Street is the best bet, because 20 feet west of it is a sturdy ladder that will allow you to exit the water easily and with dignity. Just remember to start off swimming against the current -- which can reach up to four or five knots -- so that you'll have some energy left to clamber up after your cold-water excursion.

-- Barry Evans


Best Lazy Sunday Stroll in the Outdoors


Feel like immersing yourself in nature but don't feel like getting wet or exhausted? Then the Humboldt Bay National Wildlife Refuge is the place to go. The Shore Loop trail is only 1.7 miles of flat and well-maintained grass and gravel. Thousands of birds wheel and call overhead or settle in contented flocks on the water beside the path.

Birds aren't the only critters you'll see. Sometimes otters swim sleekly alongside the path. Deer bound off, or stare wide-eyed.

In an hour you can stroll the whole trail, stopping to take photos, inhale the smell of salt, and listen to birds call, cry, screech, hoot and twitter. When you're through you won't be anymore mussed than if you had been window shopping at the mall, and your shoulders will be a lot more relaxed.

-- Kym Kemp


Best Out-of-the-Way Bakery


We love Ramone's in its various Eureka and Arcata incarnations, Café Brio's sunny corner spot on the Plaza is hard to beat, and you get a fine array of baked goods at both. Then you have Loleta Bakery, a cosmopolitan operation way off the beaten path offering old world-style breads, fine pastries and espresso all day with panini, salads and lunch specials afternoons. Perfect for Loletans, but well worth the side trip for the rest of us.

While you're in that classic small town, stop by the Loleta Grocery, where they have an old-school meat counter. And of course you'll want to stop in Loleta Cheese Company up the hill to see them making cheese and try some samples. (348 Main St., Loleta. 733-1789)

-- Bob Doran


Best Fruit Stand


A produce stand in the minuscule town of Pepperwood (population 60) basks in sunshine and opens its shutters to passersby, sometimes without even a farmer manning the booth. Instead, a simple request to drop money in a slot is painted on a cheery sign.

Sweet Walla Walla onions nestle in wooden boxes next to dark green acorn squash. Zucchinis and Golden Delicious apples rub shoulders in battered baskets.

Come on inside. There's homemade popsicles in the freezer for $1. Help yourself. The purple indulgence tastes like cold blackberry pie -- sweet and dusky as a summer evening. (Address: Go to Pepperwood in the summer or autumn. You'll see it.)

-- Kym Kemp


Best Unknown Lettuce


Crisp like Iceberg and sweet like Butter. Unlike many exotic lettuces, "Little Gem," from Redwood Roots Farm, has flavor and texture, and can even be stir-fried. Raw, the larger leaves make perfect cups for Asian hash or seviche, while the smaller are ideal for Caesar salad -- actually superior to Romaine, because they stay cool and crunchy. (Farmers' Market, Saturdays on the Arcata Plaza)

-- Joseph Byrd


Best Fruit


There are lots of ’em, but the Waltana apples are uniquely Humboldt. Created by Walter Etter, a well-known local horticulturalist from the turn of the last century, they are green with a flush of red stripes. Crisp, sweet and firm, they were cultivated by "The Hillbilly Luther Burbank," as the founder of Ettersburg was known.

Delicious in pies especially, but so crunchy and sweet that it's challenging to sneak them past devouring mouths, the Waltanas are hard to find in stores. However, knowledgeable local farmers usually have trees for their personal use. Try the Pepperwood fruit stand for these softball-sized delights, or ask at the Sylvandale Nursery near Garberville to get a tree of your own.

--Kym Kemp


Best 10-napkin Chili Dog


V & N Burger Bar. The chili is the best in the county, a recipe inherited from legendary Maggie's Burgers in McKinleyville. The bun is toasted and soaks up the red chili grease, abetted by yellow mustard; the dog is grilled, then generously covered with chili and a sprinkle of grated cheddar. The trick is getting all the flavors together in one bite. I use a knife and fork, but only because I'm too old and dignified to have chili dribbling down my shirt. (460 I Street, Arcata)

-- Joseph Byrd


Best Cinephile Smorgasbord


While continuing the tradition of the late, lamented Video Experience, La Dolce Video has, in its first year of operation, carved its own niche in a rapidly dwindling market. Some might ask, why a brick-and-mortar video store in this brave new pay-per-view, bit torrent world? The answer is that La Dolce offers an informed curatorial attitude toward movies, one that's more akin to a museum or library than the fast-food-chain mentality of most video stores (though neither the chains nor a library is likely to have a well-stocked section of Jess Franco exploitation classics).

While they do stock the hits everyone else has, they take pains to track down hard-to-find titles, even buying foreign imports or DVDs directly from the filmmakers themselves when necessary. In short, they have lots of stuff you can't find on Netflix. It's a store designed for the film aficionado, especially fans of documentaries, independent films and, particularly, foreign films, many of which don't even get a domestic theatrical release these days. (1540 G St., Arcata)

-- Jay Herzog


Best Beginning Hill Bomb


For all the glory of helping the environment and keeping one's self in tip-top physical shape, a bike rider loves nothing more than to zoom down a nice steep hill without really having to worry about getting hit by a car, or having to brake mid-bomb and be denied the full experience.

For those bike riders who just want a nice safe drop, it's all about Arcata's Seventh Street. This jewel of a hill starts at Union and Seventh Street, right near the gorgeous tree-canopied ride into Sunny Brae. If you take the hill down toward town, not the sharp hill that lands you near the Colony Inn, you will be thankful for the uphill climb you had to endure to get there.

Riding down the hill will definitely be whee-worthy, and if you play your cards right, the velocity gained in the bomb will be enough to easily get you up and over the overpass and then down yet another hill until you hit City Hall. Enjoy!

-- John Osborn


Best Suicidal Hill Bomb


Consider yourself a seasoned bike rider, one who can deftly navigate sharp turns and tear-generating hill-bombs? Got an itch for a challenge?

I give you California Street in Arcata. This is a monstrous hill, a nightmare to climb and a suicide wish to bomb. The dangerous part with this hill is an extremely tight turn right about the point in which you are gaining significant speed.

If you got skills -- and hopefully brakes -- you can take the turn without flying off the cliff, and your reward will be a smooth hill-bomb right to LK Wood, but watch out for the cars and the stop sign. Good luck (and wear a helmet).

-- John Osborn


Best Nighttime Sport and Traffic Hazard


Is it just our neighborhood, or has a new breed of electric light-up Frisbees (or some sort of flying disc) started luring 20-somethings out into the street all over? Long after dark you find them sprinting through intersections, lunging to catch glowing saucers. Watch out. They don't seem to.

-- Bob Doran


Best Place to Get Bigger, Better, Faster Despite Your Own Lazy Self


If you're the sort of person who already gets off on working out, all you need to know is Humboldt County's premiere triathlete, the steely-eyed Pam Jennings, has made Eureka's Praxis Fitness the nexus of her professional life. But if you're the sort of person intimidated by gyms or think you don't need one, then Praxis Fitness is still the right place for you. It's not scary. Sure, the trainers encourage you to push beyond what you thought were your limits, but if we always defined our own limits, we'd never get anywhere, right?

Don't need a gym? You must already be in prime physical glory with a long-term plan to stay that way. If that's not the case, then, seriously, if you value good health, if you want to be a stronger hiker, faster cyclist, better lover, able to dance for hours, possessor of the greater emotional stability that comes with regularly working up a sweat, the path to self-improvement starts here. (530 F St., Eureka)

-- Jennifer Savage


Best Kids' Playground For All Ages


Along with the requisite swings, slides, towers, rope bridges and hanging apparatus, the playground outside the Arcata Community Center boasts a terrific climbing wall, safe and challenging for children of all skills and sizes. Mornings see lots of moms and dads chatting over coffee while their toddlers toddle on kiddie structures. After school, bigger kids ride bicycles on the concrete that surrounds the center and horse around on the playground equipment. After playtime, let the dogs out of the car and stroll over to the grassy spaces around the ball fields. There are doggie-do plastic baggie dispensers and trash cans, and down between the bleachers, a water fountain with a faucet for canines. If you and your kid are hoopsters, there's usually a friendly game of one-on-one or HORSE going on at the basketball court. You will surely leave saying, "A good time was had by all." (321 Community Park Way, Arcata)

-- Stephanie Silvia


Best Place to Buy Kids' Party Favors


Crawling crabs, penny whistles, jacks, yo-yos, squirting tree frogs, you name it -- Barnes Arcata Family Drug Store is the spot for affordable party favors for your next kids' shindig. When our son was having a school party for his whole fourth grade class, we came here for toys and trinkets that cost from 50 cents to a couple of bucks each. Balsa wood airplanes, balloon punching bags and mood rings were his choices, and his class had a blast on the playground with their toys after cupcakes and apple juice. Barnes is the spot for kids' birthday and holiday presents, too, including Tiddlywinks, Chinese checkers, Pin the Tail on the Donkey and hacky sacks. The best gift I ever bought there was a set of car bingo cards that had rows of tiny pictures of things you'd see from the car window -- barns, cows, railroad tracks, stop signs -- each covered with a retractable plastic window the player slides down over the icon when it's been spotted. A brilliant way to keep the kids from fighting in the backseat and save you from yet another round of I Spy. (1080 G Street, Arcata)

-- Stephanie Silvia


Best Thrift Store


American Cancer Society Discovery Shop. Thrifting, alas, is not what it was when I was a wee punk at Arcata High scavenging for grunge cords and Texas-themed T-shirts. I generally have poor luck in Arcata, probably due to the hordes of impoverished students who have nothing better to do than go thrifting at 9 a.m. and grab the cute stuff. (Although the Hospice Thrift Shop gets some nice dresses.)

Eureka thrift hasn't escaped the students and eBay vendors and their early rising times, but if you are looking for clean, occasional higher-end clothes that have been selected from the masses of dusty rags, Cancer Shop is a good bet. Granted, their prices are slightly higher than St. Vinnie's and Sally's, but their collection is curated so you don't have to burrow, sneezing, through crammed racks of endless crap. Apparently the more hoighty-toighty ladies of Eureka see cancer as a more worthy cause than, say, homelessness, because chi-chi labels pop up here and there, and the leather boots are abundantly polished.

Plus it's a good reason to check out Henderson Center, that bastion of suburban charm. Get a hot weenie at Fresh Freeze, and if you go on Thursdays there's a Farmers' Market, so bring your basket and feel all warm and small-towny. (2942 F St., Eureka.)

-- Jada Calypso Brotman


Best Support Place for Women Diagnosed with Cancer, and Survivors


Those in need will find both emotional support and medical information at The Humboldt Community Breast Health Project, a community resource of support and education for those facing a breast health concern or a diagnosis of breast or gynecologic cancer. Beautiful artwork, comfortable couches and a cadre of professionals and volunteers are on hand to help ease the uncertainty. The Project's services include a patient navigation program, support groups, information specialists, Warmline (HIV information) volunteers, an extensive resource library and more including Amazon Writers, a writing and support group that meets the second and fourth Wednesday of each month from 2-4 pm. No writing experience necessary. These services are lovingly administered free of charge. (987 8th Street, Arcata)

-- Stephanie Silvia


Best Auctioneer


Rex Bohn has the magic chant, that familiar rapid-speak cadence that compels people to offer competing bids on two yards of shredded bark, or a case of fine wine. He donates this gift almost every weekend to benefit civic organizations at fundraisers all over Humboldt County. Executive directors and board members count on him to turn donated goods and services into cash.

He's introduced to the crowd, he cracks a joke, and then boom! "Who'll give me fifty dollars? Fifty dollar, fifty dollar, got fifty now se'ny-five, se'ny-five se'ny-five-dollar-bid, will you give one hundred? Gimme one, gimme one -- now one-twenty-five, twenty-five, twenty-five..." From opening bid to sold in thirty seconds. His witty interruptions and asides add up to first-rate live entertainment. So when your sister-in-law asks if you'd like tickets for the fundraiser/auction, get your checkbook out.

-- Joel Mielke


Best Blanket Response to an Arcata Panhandler


Don't get me wrong: People have a right to panhandle, but in Arcata there are those, particularly the younger ones, who tend to go through a mental checklist of items they ask you to "spare" after a typical encounter downtown. It gets downright disrespectful.

If you feel inclined to give, do so (sharing is caring), but if you really don't want to or you feel uncomfortable with the exchange, here is a blanket statement that should cover all your bases:

"No, I can't spare any change, cigarettes, leftovers, cell phone minutes, booze, nugs, hugs, or drugs, but you do have a witty sign."

This should have you covered until the next day, when that same panhandler will more likely than not ask you for stuff again and probably not remember the interaction from the day before. Welcome to Arcata!

-- John Osborn


Best AA Meeting


"Monday Beginners" at the Presbyterian Church. New drunks, people tripping and humming Dead songs while they try to eat their hair, cute girls and wise old-timers. Free coffee, and endless entertainment! (670 11th St. Arcata. 8 p.m.)

-- Anonymous


Best Place to Reflect on Life, the Universe and Everything


The number one place to go when life's got you down and you need some solitary time to hash out the specifics in your mind is, by far, the Arcata Marsh. This place has long served as a quiet and beautiful place where you can stroll through the interlooping trails or just sit down on the rocks overlooking Humboldt Bay and ponder the greater questions in life.

The shoreline here is beyond breathtaking, especially when the ocean growls and ferocious waves lick the land intensely. There is something about the Marsh that is unmistakably fascinating in its inspiration and isolation. This place will devour you with its serenity, and by the end of it whatever problems were gnawing at you will at least, for the moment, be forgotten.

-- John Osborn


Best No-cream Ice Cream


Always serving at least one non-dairy flavor, often cashew, almond, or coconut, Arcata Scoop is clearly the best, despite operating in an off-the-Plaza, not-great location. Not content with merely being the best in head-to-head competition, they try new flavors all the time, both dairy and nut-based. The line out the door can be daunting, so try going mid-afternoon on a weekday. And don't buy cones, buy pints: the ultimate home-video-watching-cocooning dessert is feeding each other alternate spoonfuls of contending flavors. (1068 I Street, Arcata)

-- Joseph Byrd


Best Magazine Rack


Without any competition to speak of, the rack at Northtown Books takes this hands down. Where else do you find 400-plus different publications, domestic and imported, covering everything from music, art, literature and photography to politics, sports, nature and alternative lifestyles and then some? In an age where the printed word is supposedly in decline, they still offer an abundance of select periodicals, something to delight any reader. Oh yeah, they have books there too. Good ones. (957 H St., Arcata.)

-- Bob Doran


Best Drive to See Horses


Take McKinleyville's Murray Road exit east to Central Avenue, then make a left away from town. Just past Beau Pre Golf Course, take a right on Norton Road and follow this classic, winding country road as it veers to the left, turning into Dow's Prairie Road. For the next few miles you will pass backyards, front yards, pastures and full-on boarding stables with all the pretty horses grazing in the fields for your viewing pleasure. You'll come out by Highway 101. Drive past the on-ramp down to Clam Beach where, besides taking a lazy afternoon walk on a vast expanse of beach, you may get lucky and see equestrians riding their beloved steeds along the shoreline. Ah, life is good.

-- Stephanie Silvia


Best Barbed-Wire Collection


Fortuna Depot Musem. This used to just be a Barbed Wire Museum, but I guess at some point the Fortuna powers-that-be thought, in a fit of insanity, that wasn't thrilling enough, so they threw in some dolls, ancient yearbooks, Indian baskets and fishing lures and now it just counts as a Museum. Well, they can change the name, but they can't change the memories -- or, luckily, their totally awesome collection of barbed wire.

The century-old locks and spark plugs are cool too, but I kid you not, the barbed wire is totally fresh. They have more than 300 kinds, mostly used by ranchers and some by Germany and the Allies, in whatever war that was. The abundance of ways to tie wire into knots rivals a sailor's handbook, and many are startlingly beautiful and complex, if you have an eye for form following function.

The Museum also has a big collection of old padlocks and a super Wall of Wrenches, which is self-explanatory. The whole collection is housed in an old train depot, which makes it that much more old-timey. Seriously, this place is easy to joke about, but the barbed wire collection is actually interesting. Cross my heart. (4 Park St., Fortuna)

-- Jada Calypso Brotman


Best Visceral Gambling Experience


There's a certain thrill in the turn of a card, the roll of the dice, even the spinning numbers and pictures on the modern slot machines at our local casinos. But nothing matches the thrill that comes with tons of living horseflesh thundering down the track toward the finish line, hooves flashing, dust flying, charging steeds battling neck and neck for win, place and show. Unfortunately you'll have to wait until next August for another rush. The horse races at the Humboldt County Fair in Ferndale only happen once a year for too few days, but that's probably for the best. Some of us would be there far too often otherwise.

-- Bob Doran


Best Place to Hit a Bucket of Balls


All kinds of trees, including redwoods, line the fairways on both the mountainous and meadow portions of the gorgeous Beau Pre Golf Course, which sports views of the Pacific from its elevated holes. A large bucket of 60 balls will set you back a mere $5.50. Rain, fog or shine, (and contrary to popular belief there are many sunshiney days in this neck of the woods), golfers of all ages swing their clubs on the driving range. This family-friendly course offers many kid programs and lesson packages. If you're on a budget, nine holes costs $20 on weekdays, or $14.50 during "Super Twi-light" after 4 p.m. Students, if your clubs from home are getting moldy in your dorm room closet, a student membership is $199 per semester. The coffee shop has great prices for sandwich fare and one of the best deals around for breakfast. (1777 Norton Road, McKinleyville)

-- Stephanie Silvia


Best East Coast-Style Autumnal Landscape


People come from all over the world to drive the Avenue of the Giants and gaze awestruck at the towering trees. But some of these trees are even more spectacular in the autumn. Near the tiny hamlet of Phillipsville at the southern end of the Avenue, a glade of gold grows right beside the road. Years ago grapes escaped and ran wild. The vines climbed half way up the tall redwood trees and, in the fall, they cascade down in a shower of gold, which splashes onto the ground and creates a pool of leafy sunshine on even the foggiest Humboldt day. Go a little farther south to the far end of the Avenue and there trees and meadows combine to create a vision of rural beauty virtually unrivaled in the whole county.

--Kym Kemp


Best No-kitsch B&B


A working cattle farm with simple, comfortable rooms in a restored country farmhouse, Farmhouse Bed & Breakfast Inn features a sumptuous breakfast, reasonable rates, and no kitsch. The road winds east through the bucolic Van Duzen Valley, and Shamus T Bones is just a 10-minute drive to supper. (Route 36, one mile east of Hwy. 101)

-- Joseph Byrd


Best Native Plant for Gardeners


The red-flowering currant, or Ribes sanguineum, is a woody, deciduous shrub that blooms colorfully in the dullness of early spring, attracting hungry hummingbirds. It grows quickly and matures at six to 12 feet high. The delicate pink flowers give way to beautiful, tart berries that attract birds. The leaves are bright green and start to turn to fall colors in mid-summer. The early-arriving autumn color in the leaves is striking.

The Red-flowering currant thrives in full sun or partial shade, and tolerates moist or dry soils. Like so many natives, it hasn't been much appreciated around here, but they're easy to find nowadays, and you could do a lot worse than to have a few of these in your yard -- preferably in a spot where you can observe the birds it attracts.

-- Joel Mielke


Best Drive-By Megafauna Wildlife Viewing Experience

Get your big-game safari fix right here in redwood country with the honkin-big Roosevelt elk. Strap on your camera, pack a lunch and cruise the 101 to Redwood National and State Parks.

There are several reliable elk hang-outs on or near the highway: Redwood Trails campground (a.k.a. the Little Red Schoolhouse), Elk Meadow at Davison Road and Elk Prairie near the park's visitor center on Newton B. Drury Drive. To find the herd, just look for clusters of people -- cameras a-blazin' -- near their cars parked on the side of the road. (Drive carefully. These people are known to bolt out into traffic in their excitement at seeing these majestic animals up close.)

Spring, summer and fall are the best viewing seasons, but keep close to your car -- if not inside it -- especially during the autumn rut. You wouldn't want a 1,000-pound bull to mistake you for his missus.

-- Holly Harvey


Best Crystal Wonderland


Chapman's Gem and Mineral Shop & Museum. When I was living in New York one of my favorite things about visiting home (here) and returning was the totally awesome gifts I could get for all my square NYC friends. "What is this?" they'd laugh delightedly, fingering a be-feathered geode dolphin sculpture mounted on a burl ocean wave. "Are they all, like, hippies where you come from? Is everyone high, like, all the time?" Answer: Sort of, and yes.

Chapman's not only has geode dolphins at their 7,500 square-foot emporium, they have such "gems" as pick-your-own-fossil barrels and bulk rose quartz, not to mention what is billed as "the world's largest petrified palm tree collection" and a killer black-light room to check out all nature's phosphorescent goodies. They also have plenty of amber with dead things inside, amethyst bird sculptures from Brazil, beads, paintings, petrified wood, giant crystals, dark crystals, semi-precious stones, huge bejeweled rings, jade fish, obsidian spheres, rock tumblers, small agate boxes to hold your stash, topaz yin-yangs -- the list is endless. Nature's eye candy! (Four miles south of Fortuna on Highway 101)

-- Jada Calypso Brotman


Best Dagwood Sandwich


"Hungry Man," McIntosh Country Farm Store. Sausage, bacon, fried egg, melted cheese, and hashbrowns, on a homemade roll. The egg yolk and cheese combine in a gooey sauce, and every bite is an experience of flavor and texture. Easily enough breakfast for two, or take the other half home for a guilty midnight snack. (1264 Guintoli Lane., Arcata)

-- Joseph Byrd


Best Potato on Steroids


Overgrown "French Fingerlings," I & I Farms. The two-to-three-inch red-skinned fingerlings are noted for their delicious nutty flavor. They are supposed to be harvested in early summer, but if you break the rules and leave them in the ground, these potatoes slowly develop intense flavor with the increasing summer heat. As they mature, they lose moisture, which translates into being perfect for roasted or mashed potatoes. Only available mid-to-late summer, and only if you get there before we do. (Farmers' Market, Saturdays on the Arcata Plaza)

-- Joseph Byrd


Best Tofu Creation


Tofu Sticks from the Arcata Co-op. "Faux meat" is not tofu as tofu was meant to be enjoyed. Tofu has a nice subtle flavor of its own, and it has an enviable capability for absorbing whatever delicious swill you choose to soak it in. Tofu Shop Tofu Sticks have a creamy mouth-feel and dense texture, but for overall yumminess I have yet to find a product that beats the Co-op's own bulk tofu sticks. They use some kind of mega-absorbent tofu that takes on an even distribution of flavor, so unlike home-marinated tofu there are no unflavored spots. Plus they use enough salt, so you feel like you're eating meaty chips or something.

The BBQ is piquant and slightly spicy, and the Teriyaki is garlicky and tangy-sweet. They're not drippy with sauce, so you can eat them in a dignified manner with your fingers, and they are reasonably priced by the pound. And they're all healthy and stuff. Which is so not the reason to eat them -- they are totally delicious. That's the real reason. I liked ’em when I was 10 and I like ’em now.

-- Jada Calypso Brotman


Best Instant Potluck Dish


Pretty simple. Stop by your favorite taco wagon and ask for a triple side order of refried beans, or enough to fill a to-go box. Ask them to put some cheese on top. (I usually go to the one closest to my house, Taquerio San Antonio behind Fabric Temptations.) Then hit the nearest grocery or gas station quickie mart and get a big bag of Bien Padre corn chips (or whatever kind you prefer). Pick up a sixer or 12-pack while you're at it if it's that kind of party. Open and serve. Trust me, people will scarf up those beans and wonder at your cleverness.

-- Bob Doran


Best Girls Night In


If one of you has a hot tub, hold the slumber party there. If not, other deciding factors are: Who has the most room to dance? Who has a good-natured partner who won't mind being kicked out for an evening? Whose house has enough beds and/or couches?

Because while dinner at Tomo certainly remains fun, now that you and your girlfriends are so terribly busy all the time, what you really need is enough time and space to really catch up. And dance. And paint your toenails. To share your latest drama or pending triumph without fear of being overheard. Tell your people at home that you need this. That nobody's happy if mama ain't happy.

Stop at Wildberries to load up on yummy deli delicacies. Don't forget breakfast -- my new favorite is Brio bread spread with mascarpone cheese, topped with sliced strawberries and apples, and drizzled with maple syrup. Bring along some wine, cocktail fixin's or other indulgence of choice. Chocolate fondue? Load up your favorite old-school happy-making music on your iPod. Prince. Mofro. Joan Jett. Whatever works. Oh -- don't forget to grab some No Miss formaldehyde-free toenail polish. You can make your own nice foot scrub by mixing one part cornmeal with one part ground oats and enough olive oil to soak through. Pedicure time! Party time! Pillow fights optional, but the grooving and giggling in the kitchen is required -- and inevitable.

-- Jennifer Savage


Best Purveyor of Rattlesnake


From smoked eel to mountain oysters, Andy at Murphy's Market in Sunny Brae is your go-to guy, the type who in the old days owned the local butcher shop. He slow-cooks pulled pork, boils crabs and personally goes down to Shelter Cove to get fresh local salmon. Andy is the only local source for "Painted Hills," the marbled beef featured in high-end restaurants from Seattle to the Bay Area (way more flavorful and tender than exclusively-grass-fed, sorry), plus a wide selection from Taylor's Sausage in Cave Junction, Oregon. He even has Humboldt grass-fed, if that's your cup of bouillon. (785 Bayside Road, Arcata)

-- Joseph Byrd

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