Next week marks the start of the Paso Robles Wine Festival, three days of tastings and winemaker seminars held throughout this rustic AVA. But for the gourmet crowd, the Central Coast AVA, located in the thick of San Luis Obispo County’s wine country, midway between San Francisco and L.A., has much more to offer than wines. A visit to Paso, as it’s known by the locals, can—and should—also mean checking out the local-foods scene. Here’s a quick rundown of some of the places to go for farm-fresh, locally sourced cuisine.
New chef Kelly Wangard at Paso Robles Inn & Steakhouse, a 100-acre property built in 1864, loves to tinker with seasonal, fresh products. Some of what she’s devised includes Santa Maria “sweet greens” (with Gorgonzola baklava, poached pear and honey rosemary vinaigrette) and pan-roasted Morro Bay halibut with Jardine Ranch almonds. The downtown, located pretty much across the street from Wangard’s restaurant, is filled with cute places like Two Little Birds Bakery—try the bite-sized red-velvet cupcakes; Artisan, which pours Paso Robles wines and serves locally grown foods, and Firefly, a gallery of curated works from around the U.S.
To experience life on a working farm, check into Holly Hock Farms in Templeton. Each of the two accommodations includes a breakfast sourced from the land—cage-free eggs, a plate of sliced tomatoes, and whatever’s being harvested from the 1.5-acre fruit and vegetable garden. There is also an orchard of peach and apple trees, and grape vines too.
Each Saturday, the Templeton Farmers Market transforms Templeton Community Park into a festive scene. Candlemakers, jewelry artists, and vegetable and fruit growers come together to celebrate the region’s bounty. Many chefs, including Chris Kobayashi, chef/owner of Artisan, source much of their menu from here, buying from growers they know and trust.
There are two places in the area to taste olive oils: We Olive, in downtown Paso Robles, and Pasolivo, on Vineyard Drive off 46 West and surrounded by wineries. We Olive allows you to taste through about 20 oils and vinegars. At Pasolivo, home to a family-owned and–operated producer of extra-virgin olive oil, you can sample the farm-fresh olive oils (including Meyer Lemon Olive Oil and Tangerine Olive Oil) at the tasting bar and view the press in back. The décor is French-chic with bright blues and yellows.
Drop by Halter Ranch Vineyard, both to taste though the winery’s portfolio and to sample pizza prepared (in a mobile wood-burning oven) by Paso pizza maestro Ciro Pasciuto. This sustainable winery also boasts a 1.5-acre heirloom vegetable garden (plus vegetable gardens for employees). Chickens are taken out to the vineyard to release nitrogen before returning to their solar-powered miniature truck.
At least two local farms offer tours of their facilities. The Abalone Farm, California’s oldest and the U.S.’s largest producer of California Red Abalone, conducts tours from May through September. Before traveling out to Cayucos, located an hour from Paso Robles, arrange the tour in advance. Green Acres Lavender Farm is a 4.5-acre farm in Atascadero, about a half hour from Paso Robles, and the county’s largest lavender distiller and grower. Lavender products, as well as one- and two-gallon lavender plants, are sold in its farm store. Although only 11 years old, this former turkey farm has over 12,000 lavender plants, primarily the Grosso variety. Visits are by appointment.