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So sweet, so savory is Linn's restaurant

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I just tried my first piece of olallieberry pie and it was so delicious I couldn’t keep my fork away from it, until only a trace remained on the plate. I’ve been a health fanatic for years yet I also slurped up all of the McConnell’s Creamery (of Santa Barbara) vanilla-bean ice cream melting on top of that wonderful dessert. That said, I’m glad it came at the end or it might have filled me up too soon to enjoy the excellent dinner I had driven to Cambria to try for the first time.

At the first mention of olallieberry, a blackberry-raspberry hybrid, Linn’s Restaurant in Cambria is the first place most locals think of, as do I. In fact I

MEET THE DIRECTOR :  Aaron Linn upholds the high culinary standards that have earned his family’s Cambria restaurant rich praise and patronage among locals. - PHOTO BY STEVE E. MILLER
  • PHOTO BY STEVE E. MILLER
  • MEET THE DIRECTOR : Aaron Linn upholds the high culinary standards that have earned his family’s Cambria restaurant rich praise and patronage among locals.
was a fan of their special olallieberry jam in the early-’90s when I still lived in San Francisco. Yet after living nearly 13 years in SLO County I had never ventured over to the North Coast to dine in their eatery, popular as it has been.

Now I’m compelled to tell locals, Linn’s may be best known for their preserves, pies, muffins, and farm-fresh breakfasts, but this restaurant isn’t strictly about sweets or breakfast. John and Maureen “Renee” Linn are locals who earned a reputation for preparing good-quality preserves and pies, which began with a humble country fruit stand in 1977. Their products became so popular they opened Linn’s Restaurant in Cambria in 1989, and soon after opened a Linn’s in San Luis Obispo and in Paso Robles. “Five years ago we closed the other restaurants to concentrate on Cambria and the retail store,” John explained.

Not only do they offer quality foods, their prices are affordable for most of us at breakfast, lunch, and dinner. They’ve gone far beyond breakfast and lunch but many locals haven’t discovered their dinner service yet. Aaron Linn, one of their sons, is now director of the family business. “Tourists often tell me they came for breakfast and thought about going somewhere else for dinner,” Aaron said proudly. “When they come here for dinner they always say, ‘we’re glad we came back here.’”

Because Cambria’s an hour drive from my home in Pismo Beach, my husband Dan and I headed over early recently, arriving at 6 p.m. We found the dining room already half full, while the cafe; section beside the pastry display had just one customer. But he didn’t seem to mind the lack of company; he was absorbed by a delicious-looking lemon tart piled high with caramelized peaks of meringue and a cup of coffee. I chuckled at the thought that it might be his dinner.

PHOTO BY STEVE E. MILLER
  • PHOTO BY STEVE E. MILLER

Dan, on the other hand, would rather have a great salad than dessert, anytime. Although you’d think I’m a dessert lover, I prefer savories. So we were pleased to find Linn’s generously-sized special salads fresh and tasty: The “berry bleu” offered butter lettuce with toasted walnuts, fresh blueberries and strawberries, and crumbled blue cheese tossed with an olallieberry vinaigrette that was delightful; and the heirloom tomato salad, with delightful fresh tomatoes that were grown in the Linn family garden, which were complimented by fresh basil and mozzarella, dressed in olive oil and balsamic vinaigrette, Each of those scrumptious salads cost $9.

The newly remodeled restaurant, which had been closed almost two years after a devastating fire in 2006, cost the Linn family $2.5 million to restore. But now they offer dining in three areas: the cafe; and pastry shop; the main dining room at street level; and upstairs, where there’s a cozy nook with cushions and pillows for a party of six. Upstairs is a great choice, if you prefer a quiet spot. Breakfast and lunch are still their busiest hours, but as locals discover dinner at Linn’s they’re coming back for more.

Before our dinner we sat down with John, Renee, Aaron, and chef Brian Tanner and I got to know the passionate people behind this popular eatery. Aaron started picking fruit at Linn’s Original Farm in 1982 when he was seven years old, and has worked his way up the ranks. He undoubtedly shares his parents’ love of the business. Tanner started cooking here when they first opened the restaurant in 1989. At the time, Aaron was starting high school but worked at the “farm store” and the restaurant. Tanner started young, too, previously cooking at his parent’s Upper Crust Bakery & Tearoom in Cambria. In between, Tanner spent four years cooking at Hoppe’s in Cayucos.

When the Linn’s started offering dinner, they hired a second chef, Sean Segler, whom they said was cooking our dinner that night. Segler sent out a

PHOTO BY STEVE E. MILLER
  • PHOTO BY STEVE E. MILLER
tasty appetizer of grilled lamb with lavender risotto and lemon confit. I loved the seasoned charred lamb and the risotto perfectly complemented it. They expertly paired it with a Halter Ranch Syrah from Paso Robles. Their wine list is small but well chosen, and quite reasonably priced.

For our dinner we chose the specials: Hearst Ranch grass-fed top sirloin, more like a small roast beef than a steak but perfectly cooked, with house-made pasta pouches stuffed with ricotta, mozzarella, and parmesan in a mild marinara sauce, and asparagus; and fresh salmon with asparagus and saute;ed fresh vegetables. The salmon was offered with mashed potatoes but when we asked if the chef would switch it to a saute; of mixed vegetables they were accommodating and provided a me;lange of saute;ed al dente veggies.

As full as I was, the fact that I could eat nearly all of that dessert surprised me (I skip it 99 percent of the time). That’s how good it was, but I forced myself to share a couple of bites with Dan. Although the Linn family has earned respect for their outstanding sweets, I know you’ll find everything, sweet or savory, worth taking the drive. They, better than most, understand the philosophy behind buying locally and growing locally, because they’ve been doing it since 1977. No matter how full you think you are, find room for dessert—one glance, and you’ll find it hard resist their decadent treats.


You can reach New Times’ Cuisine columnist at khardesty@newtimesslo.com

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