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Zayante Road Retro

By Hillary Schalit

Trout and Error: The Trout Farm Inn's reputation owes more to its ambience than to its cuisine.

Always the heart of summertime action for San Lorenzo Valley locals and visitors, Trout Farm Inn keeps the old days alive

By Christina Waters

AS A KID, THE VERY WORDS "Trout Farm" had a special magic for me. One of the liveliest watering holes in the Valley--the San Lorenzo Valley, that is--the Trout Farm Inn oozed associations with adult activities, laughter, cocktails and long afternoons by the pool that turned into late evenings. My cousins and I used to swim in the pool that was added sometime after original owner Bill Fischer bought it. By the time Fischer and partner Bob Follmar made the purchase right after World War II, the Trout Farm already had hard traveled many miles of innuendo and history, including whisperings of bootlegging.

With its dark wood bar and dining room vistas of the casting pond and Zayante Creek below, the long-standing roadhouse just seemed part and parcel of the Zayante Road mystique, where eccentrics with colorful pasts would hide away in mountain splendor. This is all by way of explaining why my aunt and uncle--SLV natives--were the perfect companions for my recent Trout Farm excursion to see what new owners Renee Chamberlain and Susie Davis-Linscott were up to.

Well, it sure looks the same, we all agreed. The turquoise pool, now closed, still casts its spell of days gone by. Entering directly into the bar--where a full cast of regulars held animated sway--we were ushered into the long back dining area, its wall of windows overlooking the famous trout farm. Sleepy and pastoral, the vista appeared frozen in time.

One glance at the menu and we immediately spotted the new owners' strategy. Even if there were an army of old-timers who still craved their classic steaks, surf 'n' turf and chicken dishes, the menu now offered a complete lineup of Mexican dishes to attract a younger set, as well as their children. In fact, a plate of raw veggies, chips and salsa was produced just as we took our seats.

Casual and unpretentious, the restaurant never did stand much on ceremony. New dishes aside, most of the Trout Farm Inn--from our big-haired waitress who offered chicken cordon bleu as the evening special, to the regulars at the bar, several of whom my aunt knew quite well from "the old days"--remained firmly in another era. The '50s came to the Trout Farm and never went away.

Our fiesta platter ($7.95) arrived packed with slices of quesadilla, nachos con todo slathered with melted cheese (my uncle's eyes gleamed), bland guacamole, tasty stewed chicken in chile verde sauce, a few crunchy taquitos and a blazing hot salsa. We each murmured things like "Hmmm, that's pretty good" and looked forward to the next course.

No one goes hungry at the Trout Farm Inn, where--in place of a vegetable--your entree comes with soup and salad, potato or pilaf. Warm round rolls arrived, both sourdough and dark brown molasses-ey ones that we all loved. Then came tiny cups of soup that looked institutional but my relatives assured me--by eating every trace--was quite good. Heaping plates of salad involved crisp romaine lettuce topped with slices of red bell pepper, jicama and oranges dressed in a zippy salsa vinaigrette. Actually, this is a nifty little salad and, given the generous Mexican appetizer we'd all split, we might have stopped right there.

My uncle's thick cut of top sirloin steak ($12.95) was the perfect excuse for a glass of Shenandoah Merlot ($4). Giving it his highest praise--"It's just like Dago red"--my uncle enjoyed both wine and steak, which was chewy but delicious. My aunt--who'd gamely ordered the very moist, cheese-covered, batter-sautéed chicken special ($9.95)--preferred her baked potato with all the forbidden trimmings (though she did request all of the above to be safely corralled "on the side").

Of my "fresh rainbow trout" ($10.95), the less said the better. Moist inside its cornmeal coating, the fish utterly lacked flavor. Any flavor, of any sort. I looked down at the trout pond, where a lone sheep was munching greenery. I looked back at the trout on my plate. There seemed to be no connection.

The dessert that might have put a sweet ending to our experience wasn't available. "Well, we've only got ice cream or sherbet," we were told. My aunt threw me a piercing look. We went back to the house for some of the cheesecake she always stores for just such emergencies.

Trout Farm Inn

Address: 7701 E. Zayante Road, Felton
Phone: 335-4317
Hours: 11am­11pm daily
Cuisine: Mexican, American classics
Chef: Renee Chamberlain
Ambiance: Vintage mountain roadhouse/resort
Service: Helpful, friendly
Price: Inexpensive
Overall: * 1/2 Landmark hangout--go for cocktails

****Great, ***Excellent, **Good, *Okay

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From the September 12-18, 1996 issue of Metro Santa Cruz

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