Carmel was founded nearly a century ago by a group who fiercely loved the area and envisioned it as a village in a forest by the sea. Today’s residents have fought fiercely to maintain the charm of this iconic place. To that end there are no numeric addresses. You’ve got to go to the post office to get your mail. The maximum building height is two stories. There’s no neon. No big box stores or hotels. No franchise food. Period. Take a deep breath and allow yourself to get “centered.” That’s the order of the day in Carmel.
I sat with Carrie Theis in the lobby of Hofsas House while she shared not only the history of Carmel, but of her Hofsas House hotel as well. Her husband Fred’s mom Donna and Donna’s husband Fred fell in love with the area in the late 1940s and moved there from LA. Donna oversaw the few cottages they bought. In 1957 they began construction of the hotel and decided to evoke the feeling of Bavaria. Each room has a unique theme. There’s nothing cookie cutter here. My room overlooked the Pacific ocean and was cozy, complete with a kitchenette and fireplace. There was also a bottle of Monterey County Chardonnay and two exquisite cheeses from The Cheese Shop.
Carmel is the epitome of a walking town. Hofsas House is just a couple of blocks away from the heart of downtown, so I set off exploring. Much to my delight, it was Farmers Market day. I sampled some apples and oranges, listened as a guitarist provided the perfect background music and purchased some Padrón peppers. I found The Cheese Shop and went in and sampled. The staff clearly know cheese and their passion shows. They also have a wide selection of wine and beer.
Right next door is the Wrath tasting room. I’ve enjoyed Wrath wines in the past, and Ruth didn’t do anything to sway my opinion. She poured a few Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs and I savored each one. Their wines are clearly made to exacting standards. The tasting room is light and airy. It was fun to visit with others while they enjoyed the wines, among them a couple honeymooners. I overheard people talking about lunch and heard several places that sounded promising. After much deliberation I opted for Dametra Cafe.
I was seated instantly even though it was full. It didn’t take long for me to figure why this is such a popular spot. It’s fun and noisy with a great menu and terrific staff. I started with a cup of New England clam chowder and a glass of Pinot Noir. I enjoyed Gyros as my entrée and was pleasantly surprised when a waiter and manager serenaded the room with a duet in the middle of the restaurant. I topped it off with a tasty baklava.
I spent the rest of the afternoon on a stroll through downtown, with visits to galleries, shops and a few more tasting rooms, most notably Galante, Dawn’s Dream and Manzoni. The sky was a deep blue and the temperature didn’t stray from the 70s. Heaven.
I took my time walking back to Hofsas House before I took the short drive to Monterey’s Cannery Row. Dinner was at the Whaling Station, famed for their steak. The restaurant overlooks Monterey Bay and features a spacious dining room and cozy bar. My server told me I needed to try the prime rib egg rolls and am I glad she did! Oh so tasty with shaved prime rib, caramelized onions and a three cheese blend. As I was in a steakhouse, it only made sense to order a bone-in rib eye. The Prime cut was cooked to perfection and served with potatoes and spinach.
My Carmel visit flew by in a flash. I’m thrilled I’ll be returning in a few short weeks. My heartfelt thanks to such gracious hosts.
Tom Plant launched WINEormous in 2009 and is a member of the International Food Wine and Travel Writers Association. Based in Temecula, California, he offers intimate winery tours for no more than seven people. Tour details and pricing are available at www.temecula-tours.com. Call now to book your Temecula Winery Tour at (951) 907-9701. Ask about special discounts.