Monday, August 25th, 2008
Food made with hate can leave a nasty taste in your mouth. Especially eggs, according to Joshua Norwitt of the recently opened Humble Pie in Penngrove.
It’s a sort of mantra that he and fiance Miriam Lee Donaldson (the chef) have repeated to themselves for the six weeks or so since opening the homestyle eatery attached to the Black Cat Bar. Food
made with love just goes down a whole lot better than food that isn’t.
He says the couple came up with the idea for Humble Pie while sitting in a diner in Southern California. “You could just tell the food there was made with hate. The chef was back there sweating and cursing,” he
told BiteClub. When their eggs arrived, the couple suddenly lost their appetite. “You could just taste the hate,” Josh said.
After working in restaurants up and down the coast (Josh is a Petaluma native and worked at Della Fattoria), they decided to take over the tiny kitchen at Penngrove’s famously eccentric bar when its chili-making owner recently retired. Armed with a handful of family recipes
and some serious sibling togetherness (his sister Brook McCann and her chef husband Dan are also helping out), they’re serving an opening menu of locally sourced comfort food with an emphasis on pie–from tater tot to banana cream.
Everything is made from scratch, from the ketchup and hand-formed tots to the wontons. It’s a labor of love that may end up too big a challenge for the small staff in the long-term,
but endearing nonetheless. The tot pie is a motherhood classic, done with shredded taters and cheese. Despite needing a bit more seasoning, it brings a huge smile of childhood familiarity. Fry Babies ($6) are homemade wontons stuffed with veggie cream cheese sitting in a pool
of smackingly good honey ginger sauce. They need a goosing in the
crispy department, but have solid potential. Also for starters, Blue Balls (local beef and pork stuffed with Point Reyes Blue cheese ($7) and prosciutto wrapped melon.
BiteClub fell in love with The Fungus Among Us ($12)
— two buttery baked polenta cakes slathered with shitake ragu and a
side of refreshing sesame draped greens. It’s dead-on delish. We caught
a whiff of the potato-topped Shepard’s Pie ($12), but McNibs was feeling carnivorous and dove into a Steak Sandie ($12) piled with rare tri-tip, horseradish cream and red onions. Also on the menu, the ZucCanoe — a zucchini stuffed with cheese, crumbs and herbs ($9) and Lasagne pie ($10).
Dessert is, not surprisingly, pie. Homemade banana cream was
the dessert of the night, though we caught a fleeting glimpse of peach.
Early birds get the pie, here. The wine list is compact, but the
kitchen has come up with some unique fruity beverages made with a mix
of wine, strawberries and champagne.
Sitting in the tiny candlelit restaurant feels a lot like sitting in someone’s dining room.
You can hear every joke in the kitchen. An old record player belts out
scratchy vinyl, the plates and tables are adorably mismatched and every
so often the chef steals a zucchini or two from the centerpieces for
her creations. You can’t help but love the folksy vibe.
The menu is set to change up frequently depending on the chef’s whims and what’s in the garden. Like
mom’s kitchen, not every dish is perfect, but all are made with a
reassuring amount of butter and love. You’ll be hard-pressed to leave
Humble Pie’s table hungry or unsatisfied.
10045 Main St., Penngrove, 707.664.8779. Open Wed. through Sunday 5pm
to late (12ish). Friday and Saturday, 5pm to 2am.
If you go:
Unlike mom’s kitchen, the restaurant is open late–until 2am on Friday
and Saturday. You can get the full menu at the Cat’s bar (including
tater tots if you ask nice), so you don’t have to miss a second of
whatever country-punk, banjo-playing, wig or lingerie show that happens
to be happening. (Which I say with nothing but love, cause the Cat
rocks my world on a regular basis). Bonus!