March 26, 2003
funny in Kansas
Arts and Entertainment
by Dan Leone
I would be remiss in my duty as weekly journalism's foremost purveyor of three-part serieses if I didn't keep us up in Sonoma County for one more week just exactly long enough to let you know about Cotati's historic and charismatic old-timer, the Washoe House. And then next week I'll set you up for the returns to town next month of distinguished Cheap Eats luminaries Haywire Winterwire and Johnny "Jack" Poetry. And if only Satchell Paige the Pitcher would ephus-pitch himself on over from Thailand, that would drop another pretty little three-part series in my lap, wouldn't it? Which would be nice, 'cause I've already been remiss, if you look at the record. I've got catching up to do.
This one's going to be easy, because the Washoe House speaks for itself, literally which is to say, in writing, on the paper place mats at each table.
"I was born on a forgotten day in 1859," it says, "during the middle period of road-side hosteries [sic], when California enjoyed old fashioned pastimes, gold was freely spent, and a rugged West was still in its formative years." Blah, blah, blah. "I've meant warmth and supplies for many a stage coach filled with weary travelers." Blah, blah, blah. "General Ulysses S. Grant spoke from my balcony to a cheering crowd." Blah, blah. " ... Great quake of '06 ... " Blah.
No mention anywhere of any of my famous visits, once for a cheeseburger, once for fried chicken, once just to drink things (and things and things), and most recently, for fish-and-chips. No mention of the time last season, watching a 49ers game at the bar, when, in spasmodic involuntary appreciation of some graceful athleticism on the part of Terrell Owens, I knocked over six beers at one time, which ties me, I believe, with the late great Thomas Wynn, farmer, for the Washoe House record for Simultaneously Spilt Drinks Not Involving Gunplay.
These and other latter-day shenanigans notwithstanding, the Washoe House is justified in waxing romantical over the Washoe House's colorful history and charismaticness. Outside and in, the place oozes atmosphere.
If walls could talk ... Change the fucking wallpaper, they'd say. No, just kidding, I love the old flowery wallpaper in the dining room. But if floors could talk the one back there would undoubtedly complain about the dumb carpeting. There must be really nice old wood under there somewhere. And the fireplace, come to mention it, might have something to say about being all gassed in. Established 1859, Remodeled 1972 or whenever the hell people got the bright idea to close off fireplaces with gas heaters.
Other than that, though, the place is loaded with nice touches, real old photos, even older paintings, antique-ish hangings (including a banjo uke). There's an old piano in the corner. And I haven't even been upstairs yet, but there's a banquet room up there where I'd just love to hold a hootenanny.
All this in the middle of nowhere. I call it Cotati, but the intersection of Stony Point (which runs parallel to Highway 101 between Petaluma and Santa Rosa) and Roblar Road (where you turn to get to my house) is not exactly the business district of Sonoma County. It's half cow country, half chicken country, and half wine country. Trust me, the math works out, but to explain how would require pie charts, and I'm running out of space as it is.
So ... the food. It's all good, hearty, meaty, country cowboy fare. Steaks, burgers, buffalo steaks, buffalo burgers, prime rib, French dips. I got the fried chicken one time, but it wasn't very good. I'll tell you about the fish-and-chips, since that's what I had last night. For $8.75 ($7.75 for lunch) you get three strips of fish, nicely breaded and rightly fried, with a pile of thick-cut fries and a handful of canned green beans. Plus all the dinners start with bread and butter and a drenched-in-dressing iceberg salad with kidney beans. Oh, and biscuits. They're homemade and delicious, but too crumbly to butter so you have to hold the butter in one hand and the biscuit in the other and do like a shot and a beer.
No menu. You just have to pick what you want off of the chalkboard. There's one at the end of the bar and one in each of the dining rooms. Prices seem to hover between 7 and 15 bucks, depending whether it's the lunch or dinner board you're looking at. But it's a lot of food, either way. And it's a great place. Cozy. Homey. Don't know if it really is the "oldest roadhouse in the state," but until some other roadhouse taps me on the shoulder and argues otherwise ...