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If you ever find yourself heading through central California on Highway 5 and in need of a meal, we have a place to recommend, a Basque restaurant in Los Banos called The Wool Growers Rest.

We were just looking for a quick lunch and didn’t really know what to expect. Well, walking into the place was like walking back in time 50 years. Dim light, no windows, just a big room dominated by two long communal tables that could seat about 40 people each. Natalie and I were seated at the end of one of the long tables. By way of introduction, the waitress placed in front of us a pitcher of water, some bread, and a small carafe of red wine. There were no menus.

She came back in a few minutes and said, “Today we have four choices: lamb chop, pork chop, tri-tip, or chicken.” After getting a recommendation from her, we ordered a lamb and pork split and an order of chicken, so that we could have a taste of almost everything.

The first thing that came out was a bowl of soup for us to share. Then came a plate of baked beans, and a bowl of salad. All of the food is served family style.

After that came a bowl of chicken and rice, and a good-sized serving dish of lamb stew. I flagged down the waitress. “I don’t think we ordered the lamb stew.”

“It’s OK,” she said, “It comes with it.” We looked at each other. Really? The lamb stew was delicious. The meat fell off the bone and I sucked out the marrow.

Only then came the main course. Natalie’s plate bore a full lamb chop and a full pork chop. I said to her, “Do you think you accidentally ordered two entrees?” Then I looked over at a neighboring party as the waitress said, “And here’s the lamb.” There were two chops on the plate. Natalie had indeed received a single split order. I was given half a chicken. Oh, and the entrees came with a share plate of fries.

Our eyes were popping out of our heads. How could we eat all of this food? I also thought. What did we get ourselves into? We had no idea how much it was all going to cost. And the place was cash only. I was glad I’d happened to have stopped by an ATM earlier.

While we were gorging ourselves, I joked to Natalie, ” I hope you’re saving room for dessert.” Sure enough, after the plates were all cleared our waitress sat a little cup of ice cream down in front of each of us.

We couldn’t believe just how epic the meal had been. When the check arrived, I gingerly turned it over to see what the damage had been, then looked at Natalie in disbelief. $32. We’d been served half a meat counter’s worth of food and it had cost $32.

It’s a great place. Quite an experience. If you go, make sure your appetite is in full effect.

The Wool Growers Rest

OK, I may be biased, but my fiance, Natalie, writes a great blog over at The West County Bramble. She’s been doing a much better job than I have posting about our day-to-day travels.

Here’s a link to her post about our stop in the little town of Chemainus, BC, on Vancouver Island, where we happened upon a First Nations (Canadian native peoples) ceremony as well as a very well done musical. Both were quite unexpected.

The town is full of murals. Below, Natalie sneaks into the scene of one of my favorites.

In the top photo, our boat, Carmana, lies just offshore in gorgeous twilight.

Link Trail: The West County Bramble > Chemainus, Vancouver Island, BC Read the rest of this entry »

Photo: Natalie Menacho

On the homeward leg of our Southwest Trip we made a quick stop in the Santa Ynez Mountains, which were pretty pleasant. We didn’t have time to hit the trails but if you’re looking for an interesting road in that area, my maps (and Google) show about 10 miles of dirt that run along the spine of the mountains northwest of Santa Barbara. The road is called West Camino Cielo (Forest Route 5N12). There’s also Arroyo Burro Road (Forest Route 5N20) directly north of Santa Barbara and east of Hwy. 154.

Towards the end of Gibraltar Road, before the reservoir, there’s a nice little swimming hole. See map for location. We weren’t the first ones to discover it. It’s a popular spot in the summer so unfortunately you’ll have to watch out for glass and bottle caps. Read the rest of this entry »