A book review by Kristina Sepetys
Table with a View: The History & Recipes of Nick’s Cove
By Dena Grunt
(Cameron Books, 2021)
As businesses start to reopen and people tiptoe out for perhaps the first time in a year, many will take the occasion to discover (or rediscover) gems in their own backyard. Places like Tomales Bay and the resource-rich, bucolic environs of Point Reyes, Inverness, Marshall, and Olema, are brimming with serene natural beauty and culinary wonders like artisan cheeses and breads, boutique wines, sustainably farmed meats, and, oh, yes, fresh oysters!
Among the many appealing destinations in this magical area of West Marin is a legacy business called Nick’s Cove. The roadside eatery overlooks Tomales Bay. Its long dock, which stretches out behind the restaurant, leads to a charming weathered, wood-shingled outbuilding at the very edge of the sparkling water. There are also cottages for anyone looking to spend the night.
The family-owned business first opened its doors in the 1930s, and although ownership has changed hands over the years, Nick’s Cove has continued to serve a similar feast drawn from the local sea and land ever since. Many of the herbs and vegetables currently used in the restaurant and bar are harvested from the current owner’s garden, which she calls the Croft.
That owner, Dena Grunt, has just published a cookbook sharing more than 60 recipes for dishes served at the restaurant. They come with descriptions and photographs detailing the history of the establishment.
Oysters are a big draw here, and not surprisingly, the book includes a variety of recipes for preparing them raw, barbecued, and sauced with piquant mignonettes. According to Grunt, some of the most popular items on the restaurant’s menu are crab Benedict, Dungeness crab mac and cheese, burgers, beer-battered fish and chips, chipotle fish tacos with pico de gallo and cilantro-lime aioli, and cioppino with five different kinds of seafood. Easy-to-follow recipes for all of these dishes can be found in the cookbook. We’ve included two of them below.
We spoke with Dena about her cookbook, her local suppliers, the garden, and her role carrying on the traditions of Nick’s Cove.
Q: What is your background with food and cooking?
Dena Grunt: While I have no formal training in culinary arts, my life-long love affair with food started at a very early age when I would spend summers with my grandparents and I would watch Julia Child, Yan Can Cook, and the Frugal Gourmet with my grandmother. I loved how they spoke of food, how they had fun with food, and how I could very easily follow a recipe and make something amazing. I worked in restaurants through college and further fell in love with food when I worked with Chef Bernadette who trained under Cindy Pawlcyn [Fog City Diner, Mustards Grill, Tra Vigne]. Watching how much she cared for her food, how it was prepared, how it tasted, how it was plated, instilled in me a love of perfecting the guest experience. I love cooking and entertaining and take pride in making a perfectly timed meal for my family and friends.
Q: What do you grow in the restaurant garden?
DG: Tomatillos for our shrimp cocktail and for the tomatillo salsa. Chard, for our warm chard salad with duck confit, and we grow beautiful lettuces, which can be found in our Croft salads and our crab Louis. We grow carrots, squash, tomatoes, fava beans, and lots of herbs for various cocktails, as well.
Q: Who runs the garden and kitchen?
DG: I am the big-picture person. I leave the details of what can be grown to our farmer, Kate. I leave it to her and chef to come up with the right combination of our farmer saying, “I can grow this; what can you make with it?” and chef giving her a wish list for the things he would like to make.
Q: What’s on the menu right now that makes use of your garden-grown spring fruits and vegetables?
DG: Radishes on our salads and crab cake set. We have chicory and spinach in our Croft salad. Soon, more vegetables will be finding their way onto the menu.
Q: What about other locally sourced ingredients?
DG: We use Stemple Creek beef and we have used Rossotti Ranch goat, as well as Devil’s Gulch Ranch rabbit. We use all the local cheeses from time to time, from Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese to Toluma Farms & Tomales Farmstead Creamery, Double 8 Dairy [Petaluma] buffalo mozzarella. We change them up for our cheese plates and cover all of the small, delicious local cheesemakers in our area. We have a fantastic local Sonoma Coast wine list, but the most physically local producer would be Heidrun Meadery [located at the southeast end of Tomales Bay].
Did you inherit any legacy recipes from former owners?
Dena Grunt: Yes, the barbecue sauce recipe. Mark Franz [previously owner with Pat Kuleto] made some minor changes and that is still the recipe we use today.
Here are two special dishes from the cookbook that are also served at the restaurant:
EVENTS & BRUNCHES
May 23, June 27, July 25, August 22, 11am–1pm: Intimate Cookbook Brunches at the Croft. Proprietor Dena Grunt and Chef Kua Speer will answer questions and tell stories about the making of the cookbook. Info here.
May 11, 7pm: Cookbook launch (on Zoom) with Point Reyes Books. Info here.
May 13, 6pm: Virtual Zoom event with Book Passage in Corte Madera. Info here.
May 19, 7pm: Virtual Zoom event with Copperfields Books in Petaluma Info here.
May 25, 7pm: Virtual Zoom event with Napa Bookmine. Info here.
June 4, 5–8pm: Free, in-person event at Nick’s Cove with Omnivore Books. Info here.