How many times have you driven through the tiny, unincorporated, landlocked town of Bodega, located six miles inland from the bay of the same name ? Chances are you've passed by its thoroughly unadorned Casino Bar and Grill without so much as a second glance?
On my radar a while now, I'd heard nothing but appetizing reports of this unpretentious watering hole's small menu farm and ocean fresh, local food offerings.
The glamper girlfriends have been and continue to be all over the map this summer. A birthday on a rare weeknight when we were all home in Sonoma County motivated a mini road-trip for a simple supper, way out west to Alfred Hitchcock's infamous bird land.
Photo — Lesley McCullaugh
Photo — Lesley McCullaugh
First thing I wanted to know is why this scruffy (from the outside) little drinking hall down the hill from Saint Theresa of Avila Church has long-time deemed itself "The Casino"? Gambling mecca of a Northern California town of 200, or really, more of a community gathering place?
It all started to make sense when I learned the 1939 pool hall and tavern's early owner, one Nebo Casini was simply having a little optimistic play on words.
The tavern was, in fact, built as Goodman's General Mercantile in 1874. Taxidermy galore adorns its redwood interior.
We ordered Padron peppers, flatbread and salads from chefs Holly and Tali's hand written daily menu and purchased a bottle of wine at the bar. The Casino's dining area is through double doors from the main tavern and leads out to a side patio for summer weekend overflow, barbecues and likely lots of oyster shucking.
Vases of fresh flowers picked from someone's backyard adorned scrubbed, wooden tables and an old piano. No one batted an eyelid at our figuring out the lay of the land in ordering and we were duly impressed with the freshness and tastiness of our pepper starter and big, white bowls of delicious seafood salads.
Different local chefs take on various days of the week to cook in the Casino's kitchen. It's all very casual, home-cooked dinner style, but much better than you'd expect to find at the few other remote bars around the county. I gather that there's become a west country cool cache for cooking on the roster in this unique little spot.
According to the Casino's website: "As history has it, he (Nebo) actually put some slot machines in the back room. In 1949, he sold the Casino to his brother Art Casini and his wife, Evelyn. For more than 70 years now, the bar has remained in the Casini family".
The Casino is currently operated by Greg and Elizabeth Schimpf, but Evelyn Casini herself still tends the bar on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, as she has for more than six decades....Over the years, the Casino has been the site of weddings, birthday parties, memorial celebrations, informal town meetings, and provided a warm haven during winter power outages".
Weekends and holidays are busiest times at the Casino, in part due to a free shuttle service from Bodega Bay ( 707-876-3185), seasonal menu and live music.
Our generous Seafood Cobb salads, topped with healthy portions of fresh, grilled salmon and jumbo shrimp, avo, sungolds and egg with housemade green goddess dressing were super tasty and great value at $15 a dish. Also on the menu was cauliflower with sausage, capers & manchego, zucchini with sungolds, basil, manchego, thin cut pork chop Milanese with arugula, sungolds and lemon and a chocolate pudding pie.
Thumbs up for the Casino. If you're going for the gambling, though, you're out of luck, except for a small electronic card machine I spotted on the far corner of the bar. A little, old lady had the monopoly on it by the looks of it — she looked very much at home.
The Casino is located at 17000 Bodega Highway.