Date (and Bacon) Night
We initially missed the bar tucked away in the back of the Diver Bar and Grill (2830 F St., Eureka) and despite the name and the diving helmet logo, it's not a seafood place. But given our current socio-political climate, is this really the biggest shock you've had lately? Shake it off. Finally inside after seasons of passing its brown papered windows, we can crane our necks at the gleaming tin ceiling and the red glow of the wood fire oven in back. If it's chilly out, sit as close as you can and watch the two-person team slide pies in and out with long paddles.
Good news: I called your mom and she said the carrot and parsnip fries ($7) definitely count as a vegetable. They're sweet and nutty, and their light coating makes for a crispy exterior. More news: They will steam and go soggy in a takeout container, so spare no roasted garlic aioli and gobble them up hot.
If you feel the concrete floor and industrial metal chairs could use a little padding, just wait for your warm, pillowy pizza to arrive. A lot is happening with the Salty Sweet pizza ($14), the bubbly crust of which reaches for the edges of your dinner plate. On the savory end is pungent gorgonzola and blue cheese sauce under mozzarella, spinach, shallots and bacon jam. The sweet is delivered by a sprinkling of chopped Medjool dates. It's a balance of not just sweet and salty, but smoky and creamy. The crust is the real star, though, with a buttery sheen of olive oil and the wood fire char that gives it a crisp bite and a soft middle.
Mac and Cheese Appreciation
We are living in a golden age — golden brown, really — of mac and cheese. Diners, high-end restaurants, bars and food trucks alike all offer their takes on the quintessential comfort food. It's a dish that contains multitudes: the basic elbow and cheddar, stretchy forkfuls drizzled in truffle oil and duck fat, and deep fried breaded nuggets. Roll your eyes and pretend to be jaded but if the trend ever ends and the molten crocks disappear, you will miss them (R.I.P., flambé everything). Bask in it now, before it joins its first cousin the casserole, languishing at potlucks.
You could do a solid tour of macaroni and cheese around Humboldt County. If you do, send pictures. And don't skip Farmhouse on Main (460 Main St., Ferndale). The sunny dining room with its sturdy wooden tables and vintage stove opened last fall in the former home of Curley's Full Circle. (Take a moment to consider the chutzpah of opening a restaurant with a farmhouse vibe in a town where people actually live in farmhouses.) Its mac and cheese is baked dish or orecchiette pasta crusted over in herby bread crumbs that break to reveal a pale, creamy cheddar sauce ($10.50). There are additions to be had, like bacon and shrimp, but consider the sliced cremini mushrooms ($2.50), which stand up well here. If the crispy, flaky fried chicken with homemade tomato jam ($15 small plate) lures you away, at least get the pasta as a side to share. It may well stay on the menu forever but, you know, just in case.
Humboldt's mac and cheese tour would also have to stop at Bless My Soul Café (29 W. Fifth St., Eureka), where the dish tauntingly appears on the appetizer menu ($7.95). Bring help. The overflowing cauldron of cheddar jack macaroni and cheese pushes the ratio of pasta to cheese to the very edge of reason. It's flecked with dill and dried basil, and spooning it onto your plate yields a cartoonish web of stretchy cheese.
Sips of clove-spiced sweet tea ($3.95) will help you recover enough to order the fried okra ($6.95). It's a tumble of whole, fresh okra rolled in cornmeal, fried and modestly sprinkled with the house version of Old Bay seasoning. A bite — take your time, they're hot — reveals the bright green skin and creamy interior that frozen okra cannot deliver. No need to ration the Creole aioli dip because they will bring more. Take that southern hospitality along with a refill on the sweet tea.
Less Instagram-friendly but perfectly done is the blackened catfish ($19.95). The humble filet has a surprisingly delicate exterior that's spicy, buttery and smoky. And if you're struggling with choosing sides, go for the full Sunday dinner experience and get the mashed potatoes with dilly cream gravy.