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Fort Bragg – Come for the fun, stay for the food

Monday, August 11th, 2008

Cynthia Ariosta Piaci

Chef Gregorio Garcia & Piaci Owner Cynthia Ariosta

Walking into Piaci Pub & Pizzeria in downtown Fort Bragg is like walking into Boston’s fictitious Cheers Pub; where everybody knows your name.  “Or at least where you work,” says co-owner Cynthia Ariosta with a smile.  Ariosta and Business Partner Stephen Duerr took over this local hang out, known for its superior thin crust pizza, from original owner Jim Muto in 2003, and its been hopping ever since.

“This is Italian style pizza,” notes Ariosta as she multi-tasks, serving sandwiches and salads to regulars, pouring micro-brewed beer from the tap and offering pizza suggestions to out-of-towners such as myself.  “We make our own sausage in house.  We buy our pork from Roundman’s Smokehouse up the street and we utilize local produce.”  Case in point, today’s caprese salad is made with Sky Hoyt Farm’s tomatoes from Lake County.  Piaci Chef Gregorio Garcia picked  up the tomatoes and basil from the Wednesday Fort Bragg Farmer’s Market.

“We have a great staff and are strong believers in the economic gardening philosophy,” notes Ariosta.  That is, they embrace strategies to grow existing businesses in their community.  This philosophy seems to be paying off in the formerly blue collar town of Fort Bragg.

Mendocino Chocolate Company

Like the product?  Why not buy the company?

Mendocino Chocolate Company Owner Julie Keaton had purchased chocolates for their Seabird Lodge hotel guests for years.  When they heard the business was for sale in 2003, she and her husband jumped in with both feet, or perhaps hands is a better word.  Afterall, the candies are decorated and made by hand.  The coffee toffee with hazelnuts is unique, as is the 6 Angels Mocha Truffle, six being the number of children in Keaton’s household.

For something homemade and unique to Fort Bragg, visit Cowlicks Handmade Ice Cream located on Main Street.  Locals rave about the seasonal mushroom ice cream that tastes like maple nut.  Across the street, Piaci offers Cowlicks Spumoni flavored ice cream.

Mendocino Cookie Company

Mendocino Cookie Company

“Do you want to know something funny?” asks Mendocino Cookie Company Manager and Owner Wendy Alarcon.  “My mother never baked us cookies when we were growing up!” laughs Alarcon.  Previously located in Mendocino for fourteen years, the company moved to Fort Bragg because they needed more elbow room and they viewed the community as up-and-coming.

In selecting a few cookies from the fifteen different varieties, Alarcon suggested the Backpacker cookie,  sort of a granola cookie with oats, raisins, chocolate and butterscotch chips, along with the Chocolate Bliss, a chocolate shortbread cookie with chocolate chips.  Mighty taste cookies.

Mendocino’s Eco-friendly Alegria Inn – Let It Flow

Tuesday, August 5th, 2008

Alegria Oceanfront Inn

Alegria Oceanfront Inn and Cottages

I arrived via Mini Cooper, my husband traveled by motorcycle.  We had decided to meet at Mendocino’s Cafe Beaujolais for a Sunday lunch.  Our feast began with nettle soup laced with truffle oil, followed with Dungeness crab cakes and the Beaujolais Benedict composed of apple wood ham, rye toast and perfectly poached eggs in a cayenne mornay sauce.  The gentleman next to us raved about the bouillabaisse, so we gave that a try, as well.

Beaujolais Bouillabaisse

Cafe Beaujolais Bouillabaisse

It had been fifteen years since our last visit to this seaside village on the Northern California Coast.  Originally owned by Margaret Fox, Cafe Beaujolais is now in the talented hands of Owner and Executive Chef David LaMonica and his wife Kristy, as well as Sous Chef Luis Lopez.  I’m happy to report that the cafe is in fine form and the housemade breads from the Brickery are as wonderful as I remembered.  The Austrian Sunflower bread, with its nutty texture, paired well with the nettle soup. 

After I checked into the Alegria Oceanfront Inn, I bid adieu to my husband and tripped around town.  I discovered the Gallery Bookshop on Main street and the tiny, but delicious Mendocino Chocolate Company with its factory store based in neighboring Fort Bragg.

Let It Flow

Upon my return to the Alegria I set up my laptop and enjoyed the view of Big River State Beach as it flows into the Pacific ocean.  From the Pacific Suite, one of only two rooms on the second floor of the main house, I could watch hummingbirds flit about the garden.  But what really got me excited was the queen FloBed.  This is the most comfortable bed that I have ever slept on, and I’ve slept around a lot!  Composed of organic cotton and Eco-wool, the mattress cover is naturally fire retardant.  What makes the FloBed unique is the multiple layers of natural latex, allowing for a custom mattress fit.

The 28-year-old FloBed company is based in Fort Bragg and still a small, family-run operation.  Owner and founder Dave Turner ran a water bed store during his college days and made flotation beds for JC Penny.  In creating the FloBed, Turner asked Latex International if they would make the layers half of their thickness.  “They thought I was crazy, but I had the idea that I could manipulate the layers to have different combinations of firmness,” reflects Turner.

Alegria owner’s Elaine and Eric Wing Hillesland would eventually like to have FloBeds in all the main house rooms, as well as the collection of unique cottages on the property.  For a slightly less expensive alternative, the Alegria Quartet is a Mendocino Craftsman-style house divided into four lodgings located across the street.  No matter where you land at Alegria, happiness, joy and merriment are sure to follow.