Mendocino County: A Visit to Philo

  • Melissa Vogt

  • 28 Dec 2016 | Travel

Sure, the wine industry brings visitors like myself to Anderson Valley, but growing grapes and making wine is not all that Anderson Valley is about. If you have ever visited Philo—located in the heart of Anderson Valley—then you know that the region is also home to apple and pear orchards, as well as other agricultural crops, which are sold in quaint farm stands up and down Highway 128. When visiting the area, you can't miss a stop at Gowan's Oak Tree farm stand for some freshly-pressed, unfiltered apple cider; you can also take home some fresh produce and tasty dried apples that they dry right there at the farm stand. This a small, family-owned farm that has been around since the 1900s. The farm stand came about in the 1950s and has been offering a bit of old-school charm ever since. When driving up Highway 128, you won't miss Gowan's Oak Tree farm stand, because the iconic oak tree at the edge of the highway marks it prominently.
Gowan's Oak Tree farm stand—don't miss the delicious to-go apple cider! (left) | The Pig @ Floodgate property, home of The Bewildered Pig restaurant. (right)

In the "town" of Philo, there isn't much else—a post office, a market and a few old homes that dot the local landscape. Still in Philo, though about a ten minute-drive north of "town," is a wonderful new addition to the Mendocino County food scene. The Bewildered Pig restaurant opened its doors on January 21, 2015. I came across this place in my research on Mendocino County prior to visiting and made sure to make a dinner reservation for the Friday night I was going to be in town. As luck would have it, they were featuring a special winemaker's dinner, which featured a four-course meal paired alongside four wines from Anderson Valley producer Signal Ridge.

Owner Daniel Townsend and Chef Janelle Weaver—yet another power-house couple in the culinary world—have crafted an outstanding menu that truly represents Mendocino County. The food is incredible—a beacon of light in an otherwise rather drab offering of cuisine in the infinitesimal towns of Boonvile, Philo and Navarro. My favorite dish of the night had to be the Guthrie Farms Chicken Breast Boudin served with white chanterelle gravy, white and golden chanterelles, fingerling potatoes and roasted chicken jus. The chicken is sourced from a local farm and is a heritage breed raised free range. The dish is made by preparing the meat, pureeing it, adding herbs and then poaching it slowly. The result is heavenly—an utterly autumnal mouthful of warm, hearty, flavorful food. The chanterelle gravy—of which the chanterelles were foraged locally—is mouth-wateringly good, smothering the dish in its creamy richness, while still allowing the herb flavors of the tender chicken and the delicate gold and white chanterelles to shine. If home could have a taste, it would be this meal—so warm, inviting and comforting on the cold autumn night.

What's more is that Townsend and Weaver have more to come. They are excited about building up the property to a veritable village for wine and food lovers. There are plans to add an on-site garden and a picnic area, as well as offer movie nights and bring in musical acts for entertainment. Mark my words: We are all going to be hearing a lot more about The Bewildered Big and the goings on at the edge of Philo at The Pig @ Floodgate property.
A lesson in the forested, fungi-dotted terroir of Anderson Valley.

Beyond Gowan's Oak Tree and The Bewildered Pig, the next best thing to do outside of wine tasting in Philo is take a hike in Hendy Woods State Park. Full of old-growth Redwood trees, taking a hike in Hendy Woods State Park is like sticking your nose into a glass of Anderson Valley Pinot Noir and deeply inhaling. The smell of wet forest floor, Redwood duff, moss and forest fungus emanate all around you, and suddenly it becomes abundantly clear why those Anderson Valley Pinots possess such earthy aromatics. It was a true lesson in terroir. And later than night, when we dined at The Bewildered Pig, the foraged mushroom-inspired menu proved once again just how connected food, wine and the earth are in Anderson Valley.

More articles from this author