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Wednesday, 25 December 2019 23:34

Winter Road Trips

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By Dan Clarke

Sure, most people think of traveling during sunny, summery weather. Nothing wrong with that, but what about all the rest of the year?

Getting away from the office for a while during the winter can be rewarding, too. A decade or two ago, some of us fell into what became a wintry tradition—at least for a few years.

My friends tend to be guys who enjoy a good time. Most of us enjoy food, whether preparing it or just consuming it. All of us enjoy an occasional drink.

Lod Beer Co doors Picmonkey

When we heard that there was a place that made great sausages for the holidays, several of us were intrigued. This was special fare for the Christmas season and included blueberry sausages and cranberry sausages. These were limited production items and if we didn’t get down to the Lockeford Meat Company soon, that year’s supply might be gone.

 We all lived in the Sacramento area. Lockeford was about 35 to 45 miles away from our homes—considerably further than a trip to the high-quality butcher shops at Corti Brothers or Taylor’s Market. And, at least to our knowledge, neither of those establishments had fresh, house-made blueberry and cranberry sausages.  A trip to Lockeford loomed.

Yes, we could have zipped down to Lockeford, bought some sausages and returned in a couple of hours, but why not make a day of it, we figured? Gary, Mike, Brendan and I were sufficiently self-employed to consider taking a day off for the excursion.

Lockeford itself is an unincorporated community of a little over 3,000 souls in eastern San Joaquin County. We didn’t figure that, other than the sausage-making operation, there was much to hold our interest there. But it was near to the ever-developing Lodi wine scene and not far from the Sacramento River Delta. Still not bright lights and big cities, but we reckoned we could find ways to amuse ourselves additional to the Christmas sausage caper.

Fortunately, we arrived before all the blueberry and cranberry sausages were gone and each of us extended his shopping trip to include a bagful of other sausages and prepared meats to take home, too. Eyeing all that meat could have provoked our late morning hunger. Mike suggested he knew of a place in Lodi that served a good hamburger. They also made their own beer, he said.  Well, why not? Less than 20 minutes later we were parked on School Street and walking in the front doors of the Lodi Beer Co. The surroundings were comfortable—maybe reminiscent of a slightly upscale, old-time saloon.  Several tap handles gave access to brews made on the premises. The bill of fare ran to staples of American pub grub—burgers, ribs, fries; all of it good, as were the beers.

Giustis bar PicmonkeySated, we realized that we could return to Sacramento and be there in time to get a little work done before end of the normal business day. But heading for the barn wasn’t anybody’s first choice if we could find another option.

We decided to just take a drive in the country. The day had started out sunny, but it was getting overcast. The temperature was dropping as the afternoon lengthened. This chilly, darkening day was beautiful if you chose to look at it that way. Ducks and geese flew above us and the occasional rooster pheasant could be seen bursting up from one field, crossing over to another and then setting his wings to glide into his next destination. And all of us had decided to play hooky for the balance of the day.

When we spotted a sign reading Giusti’s, Brendan suggested we stop. He said this might be prudent “just to let the tires cool a while.” My friend had been a rallye driver before emigrating from England and there might have been some merit in his suggestion, although our leisurely pace wasn’t likely to have been burning up the tires. The place did serve meals, but we were more in the mood to test their bottled beer selection. In the summer there might have been more urban visitors in the bar—boaters and maybe fishermen—but this day it was just us, the bartender and a couple of local farmers. it didn’t seem the sort of place that made blender drinks or any frou-frou stuff. There were a few signed photos of sports stars adorning the walls and a lot of hats pinned to the ceiling. Honest and unpretentious, Giusti’s was a pleasant one-beer interlude in our meander in the Delta. At least a couple of us were expected home for dinner, so the consensus was to begin our return trip to Sacramento.

Al the Wops front Picmonkey

We were heading north up the levee road that parallels the Sacramento River when we realized that we were nearing Walnut Grove. That meant we were almost to Locke, that tiny Chinese town that has been the home to Al the Wop’s since 1934. Not sure when the four of us would pass this way again, we decided to make a brief visit to this Delta landmark.

References to an abbreviated “Al’s Place” are seen more often now, but the establishment is still known by its original identity by all but newcomers and the politically-correct scolds. (My genuine, born-and-reared-in-Italy girlfriend of that era enjoyed a visit and took no offense.) This bar also serves food. Steaks are a popular choice and are accompanied by bread and peanut butter. Dollar bills are pinned all over the ceiling here. Of course, there are explanations of the quirks of joints like Giusti’s and Al the Wop’s, but they’re best left to the staff and/or owners of such places when you’re enjoying a drink at the bar. The sausage hunters, their bounty secured in the trunk of the car, enjoyed a final libation here in Locke on their return to Sacramento. The path home was on the levee above the river. The road is winding and many cars have left it and gone into the drink over the years. Perhaps it was good that we stopped twice after Lodi. We wouldn’t want to have a blowout due to an overheated tire.

And what did they accomplish on the day? Well, we got our quarry—the special Christmas sausages—plus a variety of everyday meats. We could have returned to the frenzy of our respective work-a-day worlds much earlier, but we had fun.

Little of our day’s activity would ever be written up in traditional guidebooks. But travel experiences can include much more than Disneyland visits, ski vacations at Tahoe and exclusive tastings at seldom-open-to-the-public Napa wineries. Sometimes you just need to hang out for a while. We did and bet that you might enjoy a similar day trip of your own.

Read 168 times Last modified on Thursday, 26 December 2019 11:39

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