Fresh in the Old Town
Food and beer in Temecula Valley, California
By Raquel Dylan
It’s not often that the three of us get together in one place.
I met Christine and Sandy during college ten years ago. Despite our differences—and maybe because of them—we’ve been close friends since, keeping in touch even when thousands of miles separated us.
This time it was my turn to host a get-together. Rather than revisit the same places I’ve already seen time and again, I wanted to explore a new place with them. I had heard from several friends that Temecula Valley, California was worth a visit, and an easy one-hour drive northeast from my home in San Diego.
So, on a beautiful Saturday morning, I picked up my two best friends from the airport and set off toward Temecula. Time passed quickly as we caught up on each other’s lives and reminisced about past adventures. It wasn’t long before we found ourselves driving down Old Town’s Front Street and passing under a large metal entryway with cutouts of iconic cowboy scenes.
Savoring the moment
A quick Google search for brunch spots yielded E.A.T. Marketplace, which had a neat industrial vibe, with its exposed ventilation ducts, concrete floors and an assortment of metal and wood plank furnishings. The brunch menu enlightened us on the meaning of the acronym, Extraordinary Artisan Table, and did an excellent job of making our stomachs rumble. As its name suggests, the selection was extraordinary.
Sandy ordered the Scotties Brooklyn Girl; a breakfast sandwich layered with egg, aged ham-mortadella, fontina cheese, and pesto mayo between a toasty ciabatta. The yolk was beautifully dark—evidence of the organic-fed chickens that graciously supplied their eggs.
Christine opted for the Vegan Huevos, which was made with plant-based chorizo, black bean purée, avocado, tomato and prickly pear, drizzled with a vegan crema, with a warm corn tortilla.
Meanwhile, the Mario Pizza was calling my name. A breakfast masterpiece, it was piled high with mortadella, fontina cheese, pesto, an organic egg and—what else?—bacon!
Fully satiated, we meandered among the rustic buildings lining Front Street, checking out all the interesting shops, and gathering trinkets for various friends and family.
By mid-afternoon, we had worked up our appetite again, so we popped into 1909 for some refreshments.
Much different from E.A.T., 1909 had a saloon type vibe, which fits nicely with Old Town’s rustic western-era feel. The food, however, was decidedly not what you’d imagine saloon fare to be. Far beyond peanuts and pretzels, the menu was a fascinating mix of down-home cooking with a sophisticated culinary twist.
We shared the blue corn Kobe corn dogs and homemade chicharrónes. If you’ve never had pork rinds, I suggest your first taste be at 1909, because they were incredible. The corn dogs were a delicious surprise as well, featuring six little skewered Kobe beef balls, battered in blue corn meal, and served with a spicy mustard sauce.
Despite Temecula Valley’s reputation for being wine country, I was impressed by the great selection of beer—both at 1909 as well as many of the other restaurants we had passed during our meanderings. To complement our appetizer picks, we chose a beer flight featuring a few SoCal brewery crafts including the very-easy-to-drink Cali Creamin’ Vanilla Cream Ale from Mother Earth Brew Co., and Aftershock Brewing Co.’s 1909 Irish Red, which was a delicious, toasty ale crafted specifically for this restaurant.
Upon learning that we were tourists, our waitress asked if we planned to go to Baily’s Old Town Temecula for the outdoor concert. We needed only to share a glance: Yes, indeed.
Baily’s—housed in a historic corner building with a clock facing Old Town Front Street—appeared to be a nightlife hotspot for Old Town Temecula. Fully-renovated, the spacious restaurant and banquet areas transformed on the weekends into a bi-level nightclub. And from May to October, Baily’s hosts a free outdoor live music concert series every Friday and Saturday night.
We sat at a table in Baily’s interior courtyard, which was lit up with charming street lamps and featured a stage where several musicians were tuning their instruments. Big Truth was playing that night. A high-energy band, they played everything from classic dance favorites like Love Shack to modern hits, like Bruno Mars’ Uptown Funk.
The band began to play as our drinks came; Christine’s Lost Coast Brewery Downtown Brown Ale, Sandy’s Ballast Point Pineapple Sculpin IPA, and my Ironfire Vicious Disposition (an imperial porter with local avocado honey).
“To 10 years of friendship!” Christine said as we clinked our glasses together.
With good food and great beer in our systems, we decided to call it a night and headed for the Pechanga Resort & Casino. A short Uber ride later, we arrived at a beautiful modern hotel and casino complex lit with warm yellow and turquoise lighting.
As we made our way to the room, we noted that no expense was spared on designing and furnishing the resort and casino, as evidenced by the beautiful glass mosaic column that dominated the casino floor.
None of us gambles much, but amidst the cacophony of the slot machines and the excited energy of the other gamblers, we decided to try our luck. As Sandy pulled the lever, we all held our breath, half-expecting to see her win the jackpot. When two cherries, a bell, a star, and a seven lined up, we shared a laugh and headed to bed.
Full and happy
The next morning we made our last stop The Gambling Cowboy.
The homey selection of breakfast items was exactly what we needed. I never bypass a chance at biscuits and gravy, so it took me mere seconds to single out the Homemade Skillet Biscuit & Sausage Sage Gravy. Sandy took slightly more time to decide on the Cowboy Breakfast Burrito, which was heartily filled with prime rib, potatoes, scrambled eggs, and cheddar and pepper jack cheeses. Bypassing most of the more “meaty” breakfast choices, Christine was delighted with the spinach, mushroom and feta scramble.
Our bellies filled, we headed back toward San Diego. Fully satisfied by the town’s low-key vibe combined with its fun and interesting food scene and nightlife, we agreed that any future Southern California get-togethers would have to include a trip to Temecula Valley.