It took less than 10 minutes to stroll the length of downtown Main Street in the Amador County town of Plymouth on Saturday, and that covered both sides of the street.
We passed by the Pizza Factory in the historic mustard-colored Ross Building, from 1873. It was once the home of the down-home In Cahoots, which specialized in Santa Maria-style (open pit) barbecue, but closed in late 2009.
We peeked in the windows of the award-winning Taste, housed in quarters from 1914. Taste has been invited to prepare a dinner April 30 at the James Beard House in New York City, a major honor. If you can't attend, owners Mark and Tracey Berkner plan to serve a sneak-preview dinner at their place (www.restauranttaste.com).
We walked into the Plymouth Hotel (from 1882), paused at the long bar and wandered through the dining room, which serves "Italian American pub food."
The Dancing Bear restaurant opened there in 2009, then closed a year or so later. The 4,400-pound wood-burning pizza oven from Italy remains, but the Ole Hickory-brand smoker is missing from the spacious patio. It once turned out four-star ribs and tri-tip.
Across the street is the Amador Vintage Market, entering its ninth year. It's a smart stop for lunch or to pick up picnic supplies next time you're wine tasting in the area. Specially prepared box lunches, basket lunches and platters are available; order online or phone ahead.
Who shops there?
"We have locals during the week and tourists on weekends," said owner Beth Sogaard, whose 14-year-old catering business fed the opening of the market-deli. "Weekend wine tasters are the key to our success."
The market-deli is a homespun respite with the comfortable feel of a converted country store, in a building that went up in 1938. The menu shows hot and cold dishes (sandwiches, salads, soups, entrees; $4 to $8); look for daily specials. Gourmet goodies fill the shelves, from balsamic vinegar and artisanal popcorn to gooseberry jam and marinated mushrooms. A small bar serves espresso and wine.
"Ninety-nine percent of what (we sell) is made in-house, and we use a lot of local produce," Sogaard said.
We sampled a bunch of dishes, beginning with creamy and zingy roasted red pepper soup studded with succulent morsels of tender pork. Excellent and served steaming hot.
Curried chicken salad was a marvel of hand-shredded, brined-and-grilled breast with curry powder, orange juice, grapes, celery, parsley, almonds and mayo.
"Customers would riot if I took it off the menu," Sogaard said.
For the French dip, tender slices of roast beef joined sautéed mushrooms and caramelized onion on a crunchy rustic roll, helped with grinds of pepper and shakes of salt at the table.
The housemade jus was tasty, but thin.
Though the fontina-ham mini-quiche had fine flavor, it had been heated in a microwave oven, which turned the good-looking crust into soft dough.
A so-so crab cake didn't show its potential.
"There's nothing wrong with the ingredients," a lunch pal said. "It's just too squishy."
One don't-miss is the pairing of house-made flour tortilla chips and hummus. The well-seasoned Parmesan-tomato-basil-garlic chips are so popular they're shipped around the country. We used them to scoop globs of hummus, a tangy paste of garbanzo beans, tahini (ground sesame seed paste), cumin, cayenne, parsley and olive oil. Addictive.
Also, taste a free sample of potato chips dusted in Italian truffle salt. The new item is sold by the bag for $6. For $7.70, you can buy a smaller bag of those same chips dipped in chocolate by the Chocolate Lady in Sutter Creek. And not a single calorie or fat gram.
New owners for Amore
Nader Shirakh and and his wife, Fariba, recently sold their Amore Cafe in Gold River, one of our favorite go-to spots.
The new owners are husband-wife Abhishek and Nina Paul, who took over Jan. 21 after the Shirakhs trained them in the restaurant's operation.
"We will have exactly the same menu, but will add some Indian cuisine in a month or so," Abhishek Paul said. "Nina is the chef, and comes from a family of chefs. She has many family recipes for Indian food."
The Pauls relocated from India to Canada, where they ran a restaurant for eight years, and then moved to Sacramento two months ago.
The cuisine at Amore will remain primarily a fusion of Mediterranean, Italian, French and Persian, prepared from scratch. To ensure that continuation, Fariba Shirakh schooled the new owners on her cooking techniques and handed over the recipes.
Nader and Fariba Shirakh once ran the fine-dining house Amadeus on Fair Oaks Boulevard in Sacramento, then segued to the Amore Cafe about eight years ago.
"It was time to get out," Nader Shirakh said. "We want to travel. After that, I'm going to get tired of sitting at home, I'm so used to doing something."
Could that include returning to the restaurant business?
"You never know," he said. "We need to see where we are in a few months. I'm always open to opportunity."
The Shirakhs were gracious hosts who built a loyal clientele.
"(Some of) our customers cried when we told them the news," Nader Shirakh said. "We've had such a wonderful relationship with the community."
Amore Cafe is at 220 Gold Springs Court, Gold River; (916) 463-0011.
AMADOR VINTAGE MARKET
Where: 9393 Main St., Plymouth
Hours: 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Tuesdays-Sundays
Food: ★ ★ ★
Ambience: ★ ★ 1/2
How much: $-$$