- PHOTO BY DAN HARDESTY
- SHOWING OFF THEIR MUSSELS : Bartender and server Leah Moline and Chef Greg Holt of The Clubhouse at This Old House display some of the delectables, including a plate of roasted garlic with chevre and crostini, baby back ribs, and steamed mussels in Thai red curry coconut sauce.
# When you can boast ownership of San Luis Obispo County's historic icon, a sort of sputnik circa 1957, you're sure to draw sightseers. But how do you lure hungry San Luis Obispans into coming back to the oldest restaurant in town even when it's not conveniently located on busy Higuera Street? Make sure the attractions are too good to resist.
That's what Andrew Adams seems to have had in mind when he bought This Ole House and completed his fabulous redux renamed The Clubhouse at This Old House. Explaining he was formerly in construction (mostly building homes), he's done the remodeling himself and taken the ancient eatery from what many described as dark and funky to bright and airy thanks to the addition of several skylights and additional lighting. You can see he's put his heart and soul into creating the Clubhouse but he also retained the quaint character of This Ole House and restored the sputnik.
"I wouldn't want to disappoint its original fans. I didn't want to make it a steak house but I knew we needed a good steak," Adams admitted. "I want the Clubhouse to support a healthy lifestyle." To achieve that goal he made it the kind of place he'd want to frequent: a gathering spot for social and athletic clubs that becomes home base after events or games. But don't mistake it as strictly a club for baseball and rugby athletes, Adams said his first goal was to create an upscale dining atmosphere without pretentiousness.
I don't want people feeling like they have to get dressed up to dine here," Adams explained. With several big screen, high-definition TV's, three fireplaces, two bars and a spacious wrap around deck for dining, no one's going to mistake it for restaurants like the Park or Lido. But Adams' spacious dining rooms do offer booths and tables that aren't crowded and the back bar features the original old bar from This Ole House.
The health-oriented restaurateur said he wants it to feel club-like but in a respectable manner, noting that adult athletics are under-supported in this country: "I want the Clubhouse to support a healthy lifestyle, so we're offering healthy food that makes you feel good when you leave."
Adams hired Chef Greg Holt, the first kitchen manager/chef (there eight years) at Big Sky, for his flair in creating health-oriented foods that taste good and are still fun to eat. The duo explained they use rice bran oil, never saturated fats, and created polenta fries as an alternative to french fries. Holt says everything is made fresh daily by his team of cooks and he praised sous chef Jason Chenaux for his talent in the kitchen.
My favorite appetizer provided a pound of mussels in a Thai red curry/coconut sauce. The tender small mussels melted in my mouth and the perfectly spiced sauce didn't overpower their subtle sweetness. For my entre e I tried the seared sesame seed-crusted ahi. Perfectly rare and fresh, it was served with jasmine rice and saute ed bok choy drizzled with a delicious ginger/soy glaze.
All entre es are offered with one choice of sides like wild rice pilaf, potatoes (including fries), or grilled sun-dried tomato polenta. Sandwich orders are also offered choice of a cup of soup, green salad or pasta salad. One sandwich intrigued me (I haven't been there for lunch yet): the ratatouille club sandwich with slow-roasted eggplant, red and green squash, lettuce, tomato and basil, which Holt admitted was a "nod to Big Sky."
Although the wine list is small it's well suited to Holt's cuisine. Choices include Meridian or Edna Valley Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc, Rosenblum Zinfandel and Kenneth Volk Pinot Noir. Wine prices are moderate with by the glass offerings ranging $6 to $13.50. I chose the delicious Kenneth Volk Pinot which paired beautifully with the mussels and ahi.
Adams proudly noted that they have two pastry chefs making desserts, adding: "That's the one area where we make no attempt to make it healthy. We don't skimp when it comes to chocolate." His wife Emilie Adams, whom he calls a crËme brulee expert, proved the chefs with her recipe for that decadent treat. He said they're going to switch to her chocolate chip cookies too, calling them: "the best I've ever had."
Adams wanted to do something to bring the young crowd that far out on Foothill Boulevard so he bought what looks like the Caddilac of shuttle buses. It carries nine people comfortably and you can call them for a ride there and home again if you have at least five in your party. Adams hopes to have the Clubhouse shuttle on a downtown route every Thursday through Saturday evening to bus people back and forth free. It's also conveniently provided for banquet guests.
In the near future Adams plans to provide SLO's morning commuters with something important to him: a place to get a decent cup of java that's not too expensive, as well as good breakfast foods that are delicious yet good for you. There was one last thing Adams wanted made crystal clear: the Clubhouse is no nightclub. Although there's music on weekends and for special events he's always respectful of his neighbors so the volume is kept down.
"I want the Clubhouse to be a place where people want to be no matter what time of day or night," Adams promised.
SIDEBAR: Atascadero wine festival turns 12
The Atascadero Wine Festival, which runs June 22 and 23, always begins Friday evening with a multi-course dinner by local chefs which includes Charlie Paladin Wayne and Jeff Scott, two talented caterers who've earned the respect of Central Coast wineries for their expertise in pairing food and wine. Glamorously titled "Wine Country Impressions: An Evening in Monet's Gardens," it begins at 6:00 p.m. at the Pavilion on the Lake where guests will sit down to a feast of fine foods complemented with premium local wines. Through dinner there are live and silent auctions of lifestyle lots and collectible wines with proceeds benefiting Charles Paddock Zoo.
On Saturday the wine tasting event takes place under the shade of ancient oaks beside Atascadero Lakeside Park from 11:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. It features 80 wineries as well as local restaurants, the lively music of the Mighty Croon Dogs, and an art show. Ticket prices: $100 per person for dinner $30 in advance or $35 at the gate for the wine festival. But they're offering a terrific deal if you buy the ticket combination of dinner and wine festival for only $120 per person. Tickets are available online at www.atascaderowinefestival.com or at the Atascadero Chamber of Commerce at 6550 El Camino Real.
You can reach New Time's Cuisine columnist at Kathy@GrapevineRadio.net.