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12700 Meiss Road, Sloughhouse
The hamlet of Sloughhouse is known for its sweet summer corn, but now its main attraction is once again the Sloughhouse Inn restaurant.
The venerable building, situated just off the Jackson Highway, went up as an inn and stagecoach stop in 1850, catering to travelers for more than a century. The place burned down and was rebuilt more than once, but looks fit as a country fiddle today. It has traditionally been the focal point of the small community. A plaque out front commemorates it as a registered historic landmark.
The restaurant closed in 2006, and new owners George and Leah Lee reopened the space in February. Once again, it's a magnet for locals and a welcome stop for day-trippers on the way to the foothills wine country or the nearby Davis Ranch Farmers Market. It's a respite that's "more family style than fine dining," said George Lee.
Menu: There's some crossover between the lunch and dinner menus; both have been shortened and simplified from the confusing, overambitious messes they once were. The deep fryer still plays a big role in the appetizers department, and you'll find pork tenderloin, smoked brisket and steaks. Also: sandwiches, two pastas, salmon and fish 'n' chips.
The best dish on our table was the house-smoked brisket sandwich with crisp fries, followed by the chewy flatiron steak topped with pistachio-infused butter, and fettuccine and prawns in silken chardonnay sauce.
The steaming-hot deep-fried zucchini sticks were cut too big ("We're fixing that," George Lee said on the phone later), and the dry cornbread ("We're fixing that, too") improved with smears of delicious cinnamon-infused butter.
Price point: Dinner starters range from $6 (house salad) to spicy chicken wings ($9.50); entrees start at $10 (half-pound Angus burger) and go up to $28 (rib-eye steak).
A good bet for a lunch starter is fried pickle chips ($7), followed by the popular California chicken sandwich ($12) or flank steak ($22).
Look for lunch and dinner specials, such as smoked pork ribs with potato salad and beans ($20), and smoked quarter-chicken with beans and fries ($12).
Ambience: Plenty of old wood, faded brick and homey knickknacks give the dining rooms and bar a historic roadhouse vibe. On the sound system: Johnny Cash, Patsy Cline, Hank Williams and Tammy Wynette.
Drinks: A lot of locals belly up to the newly built wood bar for happy hour, 2:30 to 6 p.m., when appetizers are $5 and well drinks are $3.50. The house-special cocktail is the Sloughhouse Scarlet, winner of a drink-recipe contest on Facebook. It's vodka with cranberry and citrus juices.
The short wine list shows mostly local reds and whites – for instance, a 2010 Calabria zinfandel from Fiddletown and a Bogle 2011 chardonnay from Clarksburg – though three Spanish vinos show up at the party.
Service: Our server was efficient, helpful, friendly and professional – a 180- degree turn from the scene in the early 2000s, when the distracted staff couldn't be bothered to answer simple questions.
Special features: Vintage black-and-white photos displayed on the walls show visitors what the area looked like in decades past. Plans are afoot for Saturday breakfast and Sunday brunch.
First impression: The Sloughhouse Inn will be a work in progress for awhile, but it's quickly making improvements. The "we're in the country" feel is part of the charm, as is the notion of being in touch with local history. The drive out there is worthwhile, partly because of the bucolic valley scenery on the way.
Try it if: You want big portions of straightforward dishes in rustic surroundings.
Forget it if: You're in the mood for upscale dining, or you dread driving two-lane Highway 16 after dark.
Call The Bee's Allen Pierleoni, (916) 321-1128.