The winter was not kind to Idyllwild. But the summer holds great promise.
First, the misconception. There are roads open to the idyllic town of less than 4,000 residents from Highway 79 in Temecula and Highway 74 in Palm Desert. A Feb. 14 storm shut down Highway 243 in Banning and the west side of Highway 74 from Hemet for at least four months. If you need travel assistance or want to check on things to do, contact the Idyllwild Chamber of Commerce, 951-659-3259, or visit idyllwildchamber.com.
Once you make the climb to Idyllwild, your appetite can be satisfied at one of these five suggestions.
Café Aroma features Italian fusion cuisine with live music. When former owner Hubert Haulkin put the restaurant up for sale after the Cranston Fire, local restaurant owner Robert Garcia felt destined to buy it. His popular La Casita Mexican Restaurant is only a few hundred feet away. “I just couldn’t see Café Aroma closing it’s doors after all these years,” says Garcia. “It was a popular fixture in our community.” Garcia kept the same menu, and most of the kitchen and wait staff. “When something works well, you don’t change it.” Garcia added weekly specials and kept the live music and entertainment. For years, Café Aroma has been more than just a fine Italian restaurant, it was a gathering place for entertainment, including live bands, fine art shows, poetry readings, comedy sketches and even belly dancing. Although Garcia wishes he had a golf cart to jet from La Casita to Café Aroma, he is managing both restaurants just fine. “Lucky for me, Café Aroma manages itself,” says Garcia. The menu features Italian favorites such as pasta, steaks, and seafood. Some standouts include a scallop Caesar salad, and shrimp jalapeño pesto pasta.
Plant Food Supper Club Cafe
Plant Food Supper Club began in 2013 by owner/chef Kelly Johnston-Gibson, who hosted monthly themed menus, first in Los Angeles and then in Idyllwild at Strawberry Creek Plaza in 2016. The new restaurant location (formerly Oma’s) opened on Memorial Day in 2018. “We have a brand-new large kitchen designed specifically for us that allows us to do so much more,” says Johnston-Gibson via email. Even though the menu is strictly vegan, Johnston-Gibson says more people are adopting a plant-based diet that is the key to preventing and even reversing disease. About 85 percent of their customers are omnivores, with only a small percentage that are strictly vegan.
“Meat eaters come in as skeptics, and leave feeling transformed with the new view of how delicious a vegan meal can be,” says Johnston-Gibson. “It comes down to this: perfectly seasoned fresh and we’ll prepared food made with quality ingredients.” The Plant Food Supper Club Cafe is open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. There are a variety of vegan salads, sandwiches, burgers and bowls. Some standout items include tofu scramble tacos, roasted cauliflower, a roasted veggie tower, and shepherd’s pie. There’s a plentiful all-you-can-eat brunch buffet on Sundays from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Some items include fresh muffins, tofu scramble, tempeh bacon, sautéed portobello mushrooms, and roasted red skin potatoes. The perfect complement is a blood orange basil mimosa.
PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY PLAT FOOD SUPPER CLUB
Established in 1973, the Restaurant Gastrognome is a high-end new American restaurant, says Edmund Yang, a former executive chef for the Hyatt Regency in Vancouver, who has owned five restaurants before coming to Idyllwild. When he bought the Gnome (as locals call it) from Lanny Wagstaff in 2016, Yang kept the same menu because his 4,000 customers begged him not to change anything. He added a few new items to reflect his taste, including Beef Thai Pasta and Eggs Benedict Florentine. The restaurant also serves seafood, steaks, and pasta dishes, along with hearty favorites like Beef Wellington, roast duck, and rack of lamb. The Gnome also has a vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free menu by request. “Without wine, you cannot have a good meal,” says Yang. He expanded the wine list, which boasts mostly California wines including those from Idyllwild’s local winery, Middle Ridge, as well as those from Italy, Australia, and Chile. Seating options include the open and spacious dining room with a large wooden fireplace, the cozy cafe by the full-service bar, and the deck, which is open year-round, weather permitting.
PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY RESTAURANT GASTROGNOME
According to Bar Manager Ashlee Corona, Idyology has turned into a country bar and restaurant, with a rustic atmosphere and live bands that play into the wee hours on weekends. Nestled along the creek, Idyology has a long culinary history in Idyllwild, first as the Chart House and then later as the Creek House. Owner Kelli Cooper from Huntington Beach fell in love with the place that still uses the original Chart House table tops with maps. Now it includes country items such a longhorn skull over the stone fireplace. The menu features mostly beef, chicken, and vegetable dishes, with some items locally grown. Recommendations include armadillo eggs, fried pickles, and shepherds pie
PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY IDYOLOGY
“We have the best fried chicken,” says Corona. “It’s a little sweet.” Cocktails are Corona’s specialty, including some new ones called Ginger Basil Smash and Jalapeño Mint Margarita. They were inspired by her mother’s taste for spice. Idyology is also dog friendly with special dog bowls ($4.50 each) served on the lower deck.
Ferros Restaurant is an Italian restaurant named after the owner/chef, Frank Ferro. The restaurant keeps to authentic Italian cuisine, with menu items written in Italian. Frank has visited Italy many times, absorbing all the culinary details. “Frank worked really hard on getting everything right, even our bread recipe” says Taylor Ming, a server who has worked there four years. “People who have just visited Italy love our food.” The main menu includes a large variety of pasta, pizza, seafood, and steaks. Some unusual selections include raw oysters, carpaccio, and rabbit. All the pasta noodles are homemade with flour that comes from Italy. The pizza selections are baked in a large pizza oven that’s located on the back deck, a favorite summertime hangout. A few desserts include tiramisu, gelato, and a flourless hazelnut cake. Ferro seats about 150, with a cozy interior complete with a full bar and stool seating, an enclosed front deck that is open year-round, and even more seating upstairs. About 50 wines are on the menu, mostly from Italy. One Temecula wine by the bottle is named Ferros.
PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY FERRO
Spaghetti E Polpette featuring spaghetti, beef and pork meatballs, and marinara.