The two-lane stretch of Horseshoe Bar Road that exits Highway 80 and meanders to the shaded Flower Farm Cafe is a rural respite from the roaring white noise of weekend traffic.
It gently twists through thick woods and past fields crowded with juicy ripe strawberries (and faded-wood stands selling the fruit), continues past grazing horses, sheep and cattle, and fronts cheerful-looking farms and a few surprisingly spectacular homes. Are those beehives in that field over there?
A malbec vineyard is on one side of Flower Farm’s parking lot, and a seeming oasis on the other. We found a flower-bordered path to an outdoor table under a trellis covered in grapevines, next to a little pond with a millwheel feature, and listened to the mellow tolls of huge wind chimes pushed by a chilly breeze. Time slowed and bucolism lulled us like a hammock. Children played on a bocce ball court and climbed on a near-life-size plastic cow that, thankfully, does not moo.
Earlier this month, the farm’s signature oak tree had to be cut down because a lightning bolt struck and killed it. Later we learned that Flower Farm was built in 1905 and now functions as a bed-and-breakfast, plant nursery, farm (three varieties of oranges, several of mandarins, Meyer lemons, peaches, vegetables, herbs), gift shop and year-round wedding destination, with the “I do’s” held in a converted barn.
One draw is its location – “in the middle of a working citrus orchard.” Others are the Easter egg hunt in the spring, the pumpkin patch in the fall, and the Christmas tree farm in December, along with other special events. Judging by the number of bicyclists milling about the day we visited, it’s a regular and often well-populated stop.
After relaxation at our outdoor table turned to restlessness, we figured we should go inside the cafe to order lunch, as it appeared no one would be coming out to greet us. We walked past tables of diners on a wooden deck and into the tight-quartered restaurant, where chalkboards announced daily specials: bacon mac ’n’ cheese with asparagus, bell pepper, portobello mushrooms and summer squash ($9), and a bagel with dill cream cheese, red onion, capers and smoked salmon ($7).
A display case held surprisingly few baked goods, not because of a morning rush, but because the case was so small. Also on offer were coffee drinks, mimosas, bloody Marys, cider, a long list of beers, and vinos from Casque Wines, which hosts a tasting room on the property.
The menu notes, “We feature produce directly from our garden and nearby Placer County farms on as many of our (dishes) as possible.” Lunch includes sandwiches and wraps, salads and flatbreads ($9 and $10). Full breakfast is also served.
The two children’s lunch items are a cheese sandwich, and a peanut butter and jelly, both with fruit and chips. That struck us as rather pedestrian, given the potentially educational environment and the chance to serve farm-centric kids dishes that are unexpected and fun, rather than rote.
We ordered and returned to our table, which soon was crowded with plates, bowls and iced tea in Ball jars. We loved the side of pink and red beets, but had trouble navigating the big, beautiful citrus salad. The feathery greens were too fragile to support the weight of the orange segments, mild feta, walnuts and dried cranberries heaped on top, so they gravitated to the bottom of the bowl to join the vinaigrette. Constant tossing helped.
“I was really looking forward to this bacon-lettuce-tomato sandwich, but the (toasted wheat) bread is so dense it’s overshadowing the ingredients,” said a lunch pal. “I can’t even taste the bacon.” The bread is artisanal and substantial, for sure, made by The Baker and the Cakemaker in Auburn.
Another lunch pal had a similar problem with the “farm fresh panino,” which was not the traditional Italian-style grilled sandwich at all, but an ordinary sandwich on “sourdough” bread that lacked any trace of sourdough tang. The “hand-sliced” turkey (from a commercial turkey roll), bacon, tomato, avocado and Swiss were pretty much lost between the slices of toasted bread. Though the Baker and the Cakemaker has a reputation, and its breads are delicious, perhaps Flower Farm’s sandwiches need more content to stand up to their surroundings. Just sayin’.
A colorful penne pasta salad showed up as a side dish, but we pushed it aside after a few bites.
Later, I talked with co-owner Annie Bowler (with husband John) on the phone, who indicated there is some transition going on. “Things have been hectic lately, but it’s all good. We’re in a little bit of a lull, (having) just sold out of our citrus, and we’re looking for someone to hire to help with the (farm-to-fork template),” she said.
The “beautiful” on-site farm stand is under different ownership and is no longer on the property (it’s complicated), but “we’re creating a new one that will be selling summer crops – tomatoes, cabbage, seven kinds of melons and all kinds of herbs,” said Annie Bowler.
We’re looking forward to it. Meanwhile, maybe we’ll make another trip to Flower Farm to sample its pork tacos and Cordon Bleu flatbread (honey, Dijon mustard, Swiss, Parmesan, ham, Mary’s chicken). Or maybe we’ll catch a gardening class, or some live music at Casque. If so, we won’t overlook a glass of the winery’s medal-winning 2012 cabernet sauvignon, which we hope will be another bright spot on the farm.
Flower Farm Cafe
Where: 4150 Auburn Folsom Road, Loomis
Hours: 7:30 a.m.-4 p.m. Wednesdays-Mondays
(for outdoor seating)
How much: $-$$
Information: 916-652-5661, www.flowerfarminn.com