Thursday, October 14, 2010
When a man defeats a horse in a 50-mile race, you know he’s up to a challenge. So that tells you how hard it is to keep a small organic livestock farm afloat.
One-time horse-versus-human champ Jim Dunlop and his wife Becky just announced that they are closing up Tastes Like Chicken Ranch. Shoot.
My first introduction to TLC locked in my affection. I was committed to a 150-mile-radius diet for a story on eating locally, and quickly learned that local bacon was as easy to grab as a greased pig. Dunlop hand-delivered some. It wasn’t cheap, but it was wonderful. I didn’t know if it was from the free-range grass diet, the strict organic upbringing or the right amount of fat. I didn’t care.
But now here comes the curtain.
“After six years trying to create a sustainable farm and sustainable business, we are throwing in the ‘farming towel,’” they wrote newsletter subscribers. They cited the reasons (read the full, enlightening rundown at the Special Edible blog): 1) big ag makes affordable land access very hard, 2) meat processing is limited to a handful of facilities and small farms are given little say in how their meat is handled, 3) most consumers still aren’t ready to pay a premium for consciously raised animals, and 4) they were wearing themselves ragged and had no free time to hang with their little Fiona.
The result: They’re packing her into an RV to volunteer on farms and ranches “around the country that we admire and hope to learn from.”
Just like we’ve learned from them.
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They never failed me. Every time I needed something thoughtful for a friend who likes food, cooking or life itself (read: all of them), Clementine’s was a go-to spot. There were mustards from France. Bamboo cutting boards. Cooking classes. Creatively curated wines – tons of practical things with personality, interpreted by a classy, good-humored staff. No fail there.
So it’s fitting that, even as their business failed, the good folks at Clementine’s didn’t fail to make one thing clear: They wanted to thank the good people who frequented their spot off Highway 68 for eight largely glorious years.
“That’s the most important thing,” says Drew Chernoy, who partnered with David Babcock on the project. “To really thank people.”
Chernoy cites “a combination of things” that won’t surprise. Local retailers are hit hard by economic slowdowns. The cherry spot was not cheap to lease. Their business isn’t must-haves – “not food, housing and gasoline,” he says. Fortunately now he and Babcock can concentrate fully on Babcock’s recovery from a stroke in March of ’09 that continues to require rehab five days a week.
“It was definitely David’s baby,” Chernoy says. “It’s heart-breaking. We are gonna miss customers as much as they miss the store.” (Sigh.)
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When the Monterey County Herald quietly scrapped two regular food columns, it didn’t make a lot of sense to this omnivore. The “He Said, She Said” restaurant reviews and “Food Bites” happened to be some of the rag’s strongest elements, food or no. And as my colleague and longtime local food-and-wine observer Ray Napolitano says, “In a community like this, where there are more restaurants per capita than almost anywhere, to not have a connection between the local daily and the restaurants is really a sad and mournful day.”
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There is good news. Habanero (375-3700) is alive and kicking like its delicious housemade salsas (the Habanero’s shrimp quesadilla, $8.95, and the housemade guacamole, $5.95, are also good). Downtown desperately needed a tenant in the corner that most recently housed Croce’s (Pink Tuna came before) and they’ve got a good one in owner Dennis Barwick, who has the budget to go big with the grill and cantina and the neighboring club, which is poised to become a hopping music venue in addition to a Vegas-style club called Luxe next door (in the former Doc’s). The Grand Opening Fiesta is 5:30pm Tuesday, Oct. 19, with live Latin music, complimentary chips, salsa, quesadillas and taquitos served buffet style and $3 margaritas until 7:30pm. A nice raffle benefits MY Museum.
I finally got to the little sushi joint around the corner, brand-new Sakana Sushi on Alvarado next to Golden State Theatre. Tune into the blog this week for some photos and crib notes. Place is tasty.
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Some cool harvest-style activities this Saturday, Oct. 16: “Let’s Go to the Farm” at ALBA (organic produce straight from the farm, trade secrets, hayride tours, 11am-4pm, 758-1469, www.albafarmers.org); and “Celebration of Winter Gardening” at Cole Canyon Farms (great deals on seeds and starts, expert advice, idyllic grounds, 9am-4pm, www.colecanyonfarm.com)… Or do good and eat good that same day (Saturday): Harvest Moon at A Taste of Monterey boosts Gateway Center by way of wine tasting, snacks, raffles and Dennis Murphy and his band (7-9pm, $50/RSVP; $60/at the door, 372-8002 x12). Or help Just Desserts aid the Women Alive! shelter for women on the streets in Salinas with live jazz, wines and a throng of desserts at Carmel Mission (7-10pm, $60, 624-1271 x212)… “Sometimes we stare so long at a door that is closing,” Alexander Graham Bell said, “that we see too late the one that is open.”