Wine Bitten

Fresh, homemade Mexican Dishes

Mexican food is easy to find in Southern California, great Mexican food is a rare find.  It’s worth the drive to Julian to enjoy great Mexican dishes on the dog friendly patio overlooking Main St. at Carmen's Place.  Having worked up an appetite wandering the orchard, we headed to the Fajita Grill for fresh, substantial breakfasts with just the right amount of heat.  Some of the best tomatillo sauce I have had, with freshly made tortillas for my egg topped enchiladas, we enjoyed every bite.  I can’t recommend a dish, because every dish in our party of eight was delicious.  If the apples weren’t enough to get me to Julian, the Mexican food here would be.

 Maurice Wright, who owns the local Transit Vans Shuttle (760-518-3162) service, met us at the Fajita Grill (now Carmen's Place) and took us to J. Jenkins winery, our next and last stop.  Transit Vans offers many services, from airport transport, to wine tours, to pick up and drop offs for hiking the Pacific Crest Trail.  With a varied fleet, there is a van to match most group’s needs, small or large.  I’m looking forward to their hop on--hop off service for Ramona’s wineries.  Ramona has 24 tasting rooms, and Transit Vans will set up the tour you want, or you can hop on and off at will at six wineries ($25).  Given the windy mountain roads, if tasting at more than a couple wineries, it’s a great, comfortable, safe investment. 
Wine, Beer, & Tequila Tasting at the Casino 7 days a Week Perched high atop the mountain just down the road (head east toward Temecula), sits the Santa Ysabel Casino, run by the Iipay Nation of Santa Ysabel (nee the Santa Ysabel Band of Diegueno Mission Indians).  Iipay is native Indian for this tribe and means “the people.”  This tribe was the first in California and among the first five tribes nationally to recognize same-sex marriage.  The casino offers discounts to seniors and to gay pride card holders.The casino, which opened in 2007, is friendly, comfortable; almost cozy.  

Embracing the local talent, Santa Ysabel Casino offers 24 craft beers on draft, three quarters from local breweries.  You don’t have to go brewery to brewery, or winery to winery, to taste some local wine and beer.  Here too, you can taste 7 days a week.  Most of the featured wineries are only open weekends.  With beer, wine & tequila flights offered, you don’t have to over indulge to try several micro brews in one place.  Local wines from Warner Springs, Julian, and Ramona are available by the taste or glass using an automatic wine dispenser.  With over 70 tequilas to choose from, I suggest a flight; three to five tastes followed by the margarita of your choice.  Dine at the Orchard with a Panoramic View: 

​The Casino's Orchard restaurant offers a panoramic view across the valley, over Lake Henshaw, to Mt. Palomar. The menu has recently been revamped, and includes an array of dining, from burgers, to pizza, to surf & turf. All fresh, all surprisingly tasty. Oh, and you can gamble too. Lots of slots, table card games--all the opportunities of a giant casino rolled into a cozy spot.
Jeremy’s on the Hill, Farm to Table Gourmet Dining ​A four course gourmet lunch at Jeremy’s on the Hill began our twenty four hours in and around Julian.  Chef Jeremy Manly epitomizes farm to table fine dining, using local produce and meats, particularly’s local pork, which he transforms in his own charcuterie.  Try his dishes paired with local wines from Warner Springs (especially Hawk Watch Winery), Julian’s Menghini Winery, and Ramona’s Turtle Rock Ridge Winery.  Jeremy’s knows wine pairing, and exquisitely prepared farm fresh dishes match the tastes of just the right local wines.

Synergy in Julian:  Wine, Dine, Sleep, Wander

Minutes from the City:  the Mountain Awaits

The mountains east of San Diego are home to century old oak and apple trees.   The country leading up to Julian, the former gold mining town from the 1860’s now home to apple orchards, wineries, gourmet dining, and shopping, is the dry rolling
hills also seen in Paso Robles and Andalucía, Spain.  Just over an hour east of San Diego, the area is near Mt. Palomar, offering all four seasons to the Southern California traveler.  Cattle graze the meadows, heritage pigs nibble apple cores, wild turkeys run along the road, and the white outline of mule deer tails are glimpsed through the forest.  ​

There is much to do here, and the dining and wine tasting offer true farm to table experiences.  Gourmet dining at Jeremy’s on the Hill, incorporating locally grown produce and meat; craft draft brews and local wines at the Santa Ysabel Casino; U-pick apples at Peacefield Orchards that (if not picked) help feed the local pigs which end up on menus; fresh, spicy, tasty and filling Mexican food at the Fajita Grill; apple wine and apple pie in a glass at Jenkins Winery—just a smattering of what Julian has to offer.    

I joined a group of food, wine and travel writers in mid-August, and the days were warm, in the 80’s, but the nights cooled to the 50’s and low 60’s.  We ate, we drank, we gambled, we ate, we
drank, we slept, we picked, we ate, and we drank. 
Unless you work in some good hiking, this is not the place to diet.  There is plenty of good hiking around, but mostly on the weekends.

J Jenkins Winery, Apple Pie in a Glass and Pinot Noir Too  Apple wine, I figured it’d be sweet.  It can be, but J. Jenkin’s winery’s Dolcezzo, comprised of 15 types of apples, all estate grown, is closer to a dry, fruit forward Viognier with notes of pear.  This wine is both surprising and delicious.  The Sauvignon Blanc, also very tasty, is actually sweeter and fruitier than the Dolcezzo.  Jim Jenkins has added a Pinot Noir to his estate, and it is a labor of love.  Shaded by granite and quartz Volcan Mountain, these vines are carefully tended.  The Pinot Noir is fuller than a typical Oregon Pinot, in the burgundy style.  We tried the 2011, which is young and only recently bottled, and will benefit from a few more months rest.  The 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon is also young, with strong blackberry notes, and relatively dry.  Finally, the Prommier Apple Port is sweet, with hints of cinnamon, and truly, apple pie in a glass.  Hiking Volcan Mtn A block from J. Jenkins & Menghini Wineries, Volcan Mountain Preserve offers a great hike up the oak, sage, manzanita, and chaparral covered Volcan Mountain.  The beginning of the Crest to Coast trail system that will connect Julian’s mountains to the beaches of San Diego, there are 3.5 and 5 mile trail loop options.  The longer hike, to the summit, is only open on weekends.  Be sure to include the Five Oak trail in your hike (I recommend catching it on the return loop).  Panoramic views across the valley, over the vineyards and forests, only minutes from downtown Julian.  
Sleep in Comfort, Old Style with Modern Amenities Built in 1885, the 23 room Julian Lodge has the quaint feel of a B&B with a modern lodge’s amenities.  Half a block from Julian’s main street (which is, perhaps, 3 blocks long), the lodge provided a quiet, restful night’s sleep in a very comfortable bed and room.  Furnished with homey antiques and equipped with flat screen TV’s, WIFI, and handy coffee makers; I first chose air conditioning and then opened the windows to the cool night breeze.  The next morning, the popular continental breakfast had all the fixings, including fresh fruit and juices.  The lodge provides a welcome rest after a full day in the orchards, wineries, restaurants and shops in and around Julian. Yes Virginia, there are Apples in these Hills Back in the late 1800’s, about 6000 acres were planted as apple orchards.  A member of the rose family (as are plums, cherries, peaches, apricots, strawberries and almonds), and perhaps the earliest tree to be cultivated, apples continue to be a mainstay of Julian.  Local apples feed the pigs that make it to Jeremy’s on the Hill’s menu, make up apple pies (at least during their short season) for which Julian is famous, attract thousands to Julian’s annual Apple Days, a festival begun over 100 years ago, and make apple wine.

First published at @ Feb. 2013, revised August 17, 2014.

Its difficult to turn around in Julian without hitting an apple pie bakery.  Everywhere has great pies (in the off season, those are Washington apples, most likely).  I recommend Apple Alley for tasty pies with deceptively good crusts.  The first bite and you think, good crust, the second and on--there is something in that crust that just makes you come back and back.  

Apple Pie