202 Stage Road
Pescadero, CA 94060
As a self-proclaimed foodie, I have to admit, there is something uniquely satisfying about the small town find. When you find a hole in the wall in a large city, you’re ecstatic, but at the same point, not surprised. After all, in a city of any size, you expect there to be excellent food. For this city dweller, when you venture into a town of 2000 people and find excellent food, it recalls the expeditions of Columbus; Drake; Cook; Cabot; Marco Polo.
Duarte’s Tavern, just off of the scenic Highway 1/Pacific Coast Highway, makes you feel like you’ve found one of those places. Of course, it isnt some hole in the wall location at all. But a very well known spot on a busy highway between San Francisco and Santa Cruz – a place was I told to stop in for pie.
Replete with tumbleweeds, Pescadero is a short drive south of San Francisco. When we pulled up, we passed some equally intriguing locations. A mexican restaurant in the gas station. A bakery. Next time, I’ll have more stomach room for adventure. For now, it was all about pie.
The building is split into two – a tavern side, and a restaurant side. There was a long wait to be seated on the restaurant side, but seeing as we were two adults, they mentioned we could be seated immediately in the bar. We took them up on that offer.
The bartender came over immediately, and grabbed our drink orders and provided some useful advice. Throughout our meal, he was friendly, jovial, and efficient. This was the practiced hand of a man who was used to serving an entire bar at once, and keeping everyone entertained at the same time. On his recommendation, we ordered some artichoke soup, and a serving of pie.
First thing plonked down in front of us was a fresh, warm loaf of sourdough bread. San Francisco is globally known as the sourdough capital, so I expected some great bread based on the proximity. Now, not everyone is a fan of sourdough (my dining companion was not), and while i’ll admit it does not go with everything, it does go great with butter, and creamy soups. This loaf of SD was no exception – it had great flavour, with crunchy, toothsome, sour bites. Did i mention it was warm? And with butter, tasty!
While I had heard about Duartes as a destination for excellent pie, the bartender insisted that they were famous for their cream of artichoke soup. What he delivered was a steaming bowl of creamy…artichoke. I guess I wasnt sure what to expect. The flavour was subtle. Very subtle. The cream did a good job of deliverying the woody, fresh flavour of the artichoke. And did an even better job of being soaked up by the bread. This was an excellent artichoke soup, but probably not my preferred kind of soup. A little too thick. And not enough flavour. But i’ll admit it’s a tough balance. Im not sure acidity, nor seasoning, would have fixed it. I probably would’ve crisped some pancetta and served it with some chive oil. Might balance it out a bit, but who knows. Im no expert by any means.
But what i came here for, was the pie. We ordered the Olallieberry pie – something i’d never heard of before. But i love berries, and i was told it was similar to a cross between a saskatoon and a blackberry. Thanks to the power of wikipedia, apparently, an Olallieberry is a cross between a logan berry and a youngberry – which is a blackberry/raspberry cross mixed with a blackberry/dewberry cross. It is grown primarily in a small patch (roughly 100 acres of producing land) in Northern California, and has a short growing season – roughly from mid-June to mid-July.
What an Olallieberry is to me is awesome. It was a great blend of tart and sweet. And a perfect filling for a pie.
Verdict? Great flaky crust. Wonderful combination of sweet and tart. The proffered vanilla ice cream should’ve been accepted, as it would’ve been a great accompaniment. But seeing as I had already eaten lunch, and this was strictly a snack, I was near the end of my rope in terms of prime belly real estate.
Overall, there isn’t much more to say. The pie at Duarte’s really is good. The famous artichoke soup, well, if you’re into very subtle flavours, might just be your style. The town of Pescadero looks like an interesting place to visit – sort of a yuppie tourist visits the country kind of town. And the drive to get there really is some spectacular coastline. So the next time you’re driving the #1 from San Francisco to Santa Cruz, take a left at the beach with the kite surfers, and head the few miles down the way to Pescadero, and Duarte’s. There’s a lot of different pies to try.