Cc,c,c,c,cold. I stand out in the slush and snow, trying to decide if I can afford this place, a joint for sophisticates, by the looks of it, even way up here in the mountains near Julian. Hey! Wasn’t this that Hungarian place, Gúlyás Csarda? “Goulash Place.” Looks like they’re history.
Oh, what da heck. I crunch through the snow and whip through the door before an icicle drips down my neck. The restaurant’s in a kind of ranch house. I go over to where a group huddles around a make-believe-log fire and sit down at a table with some classy, flashy chairs upholstered in greenish material. Carpet’s greeny too. Most of the big room’s tables have yellow cloths and yellow napkins. There’s a black upright piano and a tall black rack for wine bottles. But mostly it’s painted cream. Even the brick walls. Heavy curtains keep the cold world at bay. Paintings dotted around the walls look like — who’s that French impressionist guy? Paul Cézanne, right? Kinda dabbed in countrysides of red earth and sparse green bushes and dry mountains? These could be his. Actually, they’re painted by a local artist, K. Roberts. Really good.
I fret over the cost, but I’m inside now. For starters, they have interesting starters. Garden salad with candied walnuts, Julian pears, bleu cheese, and homemade bleu dressing, “7.5.” Wassat? The weight? Oh, right. The price. They’re pricing dishes just as they do in every cool Gaslamp place I can’t afford. Then there’s a lobster bisque with sherry, uh, 9, and seasonal things like grilled asparagus wrapped with prosciutto and aioli, also 9. Hmm... In the end, I order the last of the starters, a warm Brie cheese platter with strawberries, walnuts, grapes, “and local apples.” Seven bucks.
“And for main?” asks the waitress, Sheryll.
I suddenly think of the flapping banner I spotted outside, wrapped around a tiny old 1930s beer wagon parked in the snow. “Best Back Country Burgers,” the banner shouted. So even though they have interesting main courses, such as “one half-order pork schnitzel with eggs, spinach, carrots, and caper sauce, 10” or “mussels in white wine and saffron cream sauce with European green salad, tossed in a white wine vinaigrette, 14.9,” I concentrate on the burgers. I see a “gloopy bacon cheeseburger with cheddar, bacon, greens, and grilled onions” for $10.95. They have vegan ($8.95) and turkey burgers ($9.95), and one more, a “Haight-Ashbury mushroom burger with Swiss cheese, ’shrooms, and psychedelic mustard sauce ($10.95).”
That could be fun. Sheryll brings a warmed plate with a hot baguette and butter. I tell her I’ll go for the Haight-Ashbury and then have at the bread. I’m scooping out wads of butter when the Brie plate arrives. It’s a warm, oozing, half-melted segment of cheese, with fruit and nuts scattered ’round. Good, but it doesn’t blow me away.
The burger does. Maybe something psychedelic’s in the mustard sauce? Okay, probably not. But it sure adds tang to the beautifully sloppy wad of meat steaming under it and the melted Swiss, with mushrooms trying to ride that whole pile.
Get talking with a gal and two guys at the table next door. The woman, Shirley, turns out to be a kids’ book writer. She is having the gloopy bacon cheeseburger, and damn, it looks good. Her friend Mike’s eating a savory crépe with chicken and mushrooms, and Frank’s downing a Monte Cristo sandwich, a turkey, ham, and Swiss cheese sandwich dipped in batter, then grilled — they don’t fry ’em here — plus honey-mustard and raspberry preserves. Lord. Wicked. And original.
“The kid here who runs this place, Jeremy — and he is a kid — is a phenomenon,” Frank says. “He’s 21!”
“The kid,” Jeremy, comes out just after they’ve gone. “I called your burger Haight-Ashbury,” he says, “because I trained right around the corner from there, at the culinary school in San Francisco. The Cordon Bleu course. I love that town.”
But when his parents, who run the Angel’s Landing Inn here in Julian, saw this location come up for rent, they kinda volunteered him to create the menus and run the place. “It fitted,” he says. “I’d just finished up there.”
“Jeremy is incredible,” Sheryll says. “He has made this the freshest, best restaurant in town.”
So I guess if Jeremy says he has the best apple crumb pie, I ought to listen up. It’s 5 more bucks. I must have spent $20 already. But I’ve got to say, it’s worth every crumb. It comes on a big white plate with a dollop of vanilla ice cream and a single blackberry on top. It’s cracklingly crumbly outside, wet and swirly inside, rich with the tang of brandy-caramel sauce. Jeremy says his mom “baked this yesterday.”
Back out on the sunlit sparkling white fields of Wynola, I think about the 30 bucks I’ve dropped. So how come I don’t feel bad? How come I just want to throw snowballs?
The Place: Jeremy’s On the Hill, 4354 Highway 78, Wynola (three miles from Julian), 760-765-1587
Type of Food: American
Prices: Garden salad with candied walnuts, Julian pears, bleu cheese, $7.50; lobster bisque with sherry, $9; grilled asparagus, prosciutto, aioli, $9; mussels in white wine and saffron cream sauce with European green salad, tossed in a white-wine vinaigrette, $14.95; “gloopy” bacon cheeseburger with cheddar, bacon, greens, and grilled onions, $10.95; vegan burger, $8.95; turkey burger, $9.95; Haight-Ashbury mushroom burger with Swiss cheese, mushrooms, mustard sauce, $10.95; pork schnitzel with eggs, spinach, carrots, caper sauce, $9.70; apple crumb pie with ice cream, brandy-caramel sauce, $5
Hours: 11:00 a.m.–8:30 p.m. Monday, Tuesday, Thursday; till 9:00 p.m., Friday–Saturday; 8:00 a.m.–8:00 p.m., Sunday; closed Wednesdays
Bus: Northeast Rural Bus 891 (Not advisable. Buses only travel Friday afternoon, one way to Julian. No way back till following Friday morning. For info, call Rural Bus, 619-442-8414.)
Nearest Bus Stop: outside restaurant