Waffling in Rio Dell
Pull up to the Root 101 Nursery (770 Wildwood Ave., Rio Dell) and instead of soil you may smell waffles. Tucked in the corner of the shop is the Wildwood Waffles counter, behind which steams a trio of busy waffle irons.
Puffed, crisp and moist inside, the waffles come straight off the cast iron and folded around a bevy of fillings you may need time to consider. The Blackout ($5) is a good start, slathered with cream cheese and blackberry jam from Mad River Farms. A flurry of powdered sugar finishes it off but the finished product is not terribly sweet and exactly as melty as you hope. For another $2, toss on bacon strips and hit all the food groups.
Those struggling with the desire for chicken and waffles and the need to hit the road can order up the SoHum ($10), a hefty handful of breaded chicken (not deep fried but still tender, savory and, hey, organic) with maple syrup and powdered sugar. It's tempting to throw bacon at this one, too, but a dollop of tangy jalapeño jelly, also from Mad River Farms, is the pro move.
Toni's is fancy now
Toni's has had work done. In the weeks you spent driving past its empty parking lot, afraid the closure of the one spot in Arcata that was always open might be forever, the truck stop swapped out its humble decor for glass, stainless steel and enough barn wood to make an actual barn.
On a pre-Thanksgiving visit to Toni's 24-hour Restaurant (1901 Heindon Road), there was a bit of a pile-up at the counter, where customers in line to order and pick up heavy pans of berry cobbler backed up into folks coming in the door. Credit cards are now accepted so if cash on hand was the only thing that was holding you back from the comically long list of shake flavors, beware.
But she's still the same old girl on the inside, serving heaping plates of legit truck stop/carhop classics. That means those three little words that make one's heart flutter: breakfast all day. The linguiça cheese omelet ($10.49) is a thin blanket of egg draped over fried, spool-sized hunks of the smoky, red Portuguese sausage. The hash browns on the side are pressed flat and crispier than you can ever achieve at home so let go of that goal and enjoy.
The chicken fried steak ($11.99) is homemade, the beef pounded with a tenderizer just shy of turning to sausage, coated and fried to a salty, peppery crust and doused in creamy, lumpy sausage gravy. Not a bad idea to order it with buttery, thin sheet of scrambled eggs cooked on the flat-top grill, those hash browns and a cut biscuit that's more cakey than flaky, like a savory scone.
There on the top shelf of the fancy new dessert case are the cupcakes ($2.38). Smaller and prettier than the big plastic-wrapped ones that first hooked us, they remain just as tasty. Fluffy chocolate and vanilla buttercreams top classic devil's food and give good nostalgia. The cookies and cream one — both in cake and frosting — hits that Oreo craving but is strictly for the sweetest of teeth.
Meant to brie
Artful charcuterie boards spilling over with brie and fruit are the ephemeral mandalas of the food world. Brie and berry jam show up together on fancy grilled cheese and burger menus all the time. And you can't shimmy a buckwheat crepe out of a pan without someone tossing a slab of brie onto it. So why has it taken so long for brie to show up in my pancakes? I speak here in terms of both the breadth of history and my own flapjack-consuming career, which is long and storied.
At Wildflower Café (1604 G St., Arcata), you can order brie and blueberry pancakes and join in my forehead slapping ($10.50). The yellow cakes, bubbly and browned, have hunks of brie, rind and all, folded into the batter with whole blueberries. Of course, there are savory, melted bits working their rich charm against the berries and the syrup — real maple, bless them — and here and there at the edges are dark, crispy sun flares of cheese that have made contact with the griddle. Picking them off and dragging them through the pooling syrup may be what you've been missing all this time.
Share your Hum Plate tips with Jennifer Fumiko Cahill, arts and features editor at the Journal. Reach her at 442-1400, extension 320, or Jennifer@northcoastjournal.com. Follow her on Twitter @JFumikoCahill.