From Brew to Fondue in Marin County

I am done with wine for a little while (Finger Lakes Wine Country is two weeks away), but I still managed to find some spirits to check out in California's Marin County.

My morning began at the beautiful Gerstle Park Inn in San Rafael.  This bed & breakfast  is extra special with touches like a breakfast menu, beautiful grounds (with a fruit orchard and croquet court) and two of the most dedicated owners I’ve seen – Jim and Judy Dowling.  I recommend taking a break next time you are in Northern California and booking a room, or staying in one of the private cottages on the property. (For a limited time, is offering $50 off on stays)

I couldn’t spend my stay just enjoying the Inn, but I did have some fun stuff planned for the rest of my California trip.  First up was Iron Springs Pub & Brewery where someone from my old Long Island, New York, neighborhood found his niche and it’s no longer a secret.  First, full disclosure… no beers were drank by me in the production of this article. For those of you that don’t frequent my column, I don't indulge in ale, but I made sure everything about Iron Springs was confirmed by actual beer drinkers!

Michael Altman, originally a trained chef, found his beer mojo in Portland and continued it in Boulder before settling with his wife in Fairfax, California.  This small community is filled with restaurants, but none are quite as known as Iron Springs.  In five years they have built a reputation  that has led their beer to bottling for places like Whole Foods.  They are also known throughout Marin County for the kegs they deliver in the “Ambrewlance.”

The Kent Lake Kolsh, bottled first by Altman, is by far the big seller here, but the JC Flyer I.P.A. (India Pale Ale) is a close second, followed by the Casey Jones Imperial.  As for favorites, I have it on good authority (which includes my brother) that the Epiphany Ale, an amber ale with aromas of citrus and floral, is a must try.  If the dozen homemade brews aren’t enough to get you to Iron Springs Pub & Brewery, I recommend the Pork Tacos with pineapple, which I definitely did try.

There was no imbibing for me in the evening either as I was embarking on a girls’ getaway with my nieces, who are well underage (10 and 12).  That wasn’t going to keep us from having fun, though, and we headed to my favorite restaurant, The Melting Pot.  This Larkspur location was different from any other I had ever been to.  It is a converted brick kiln, producing spectacular setting that Alea described as “a castle for a princess” and Moriah smiled in delight over (or was that the visions of chocolate dancing in her head).

The Melting Pot

The princesses and I enjoyed some Shirley Temples before dipping into the Wisconsin Trio cheese fondue and the Chicken in Coq au Vin.  For dessert – the best part of Melting Pot – it was the Flaming Turtle, milk chocolate with caramel and pecans, “flamed” with just a bit of rum. Before we left there was a tour of the restaurant, where we got to see more of the quaint tables in this circular building.

I spent the final day of my California adventure in Marin County with the family. After a bit of hiking at Phoenix Lake and a quick trip to Sausalito, we had dinner at Sol Food in San Rafael, a stopover of one of my favorite chefs, Guy Fieri, on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.  Now it’s back home for a few days of catching up – and low cal foods -- before my roadtrip.


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