June 26, 2006
Chatter on Chatterbox cafe

Spent the weekend in Sutter Creek, the prettiest and most cultured of the old Mother Lode gold camps, except for maybe Nevada City, Sonora or Murphys. It wasn’t appreciably cooler than Sacramento, but it was calmer.

Any stay in Sutter Creek has to include a stop at the Chatterbox Cafe, which goes back to 1946, predating the version long featured on “A Prairie Home Companion.”

So it was that the Chatterbox was my destination at the end of an early-morning stroll, which, incidentally, took me along a portion of the Highway 49 bypass being built just west of the community. Due to be completed this fall – but don’t count on it, from the looks of the work that remains, including an impressive span across the stream Sutter Creek – the bypass almost certainly will mean the town will be even calmer.

At any rate, imagine my disappointment at finding the Chatterbox not only closed but up for sale. Where in the world are the community’s codgers meeting for morning coffee these days?

(Want to get into the restaurant business? The Chatterbox will cost you $60,000, plus another $2,595 per month in rent. While the deal doesn’t include the building that houses the cafe, it does include the restaurant’s recipes, including those for the cinnamon rolls and the “gold-miner hash-brown potatoes,” says Karen Griffin, an agent with Prudential Real Estate in Jackson.)

As I walked away from the Chatterbox in consternation I picked up on some pretty good guitar music and followed it to the Amador Farmers Market, just getting under way in a parking lot along Eureka Street, a few paces east of Main Street.

Brazilian jazz guitarist Felipe Ferraz was the musician welcoming shoppers to the market. Local architect Susan Bragstad was across from Ferraz, offering samples of her latest Amador Olive Oil, while nearby Kate Treat was setting out baskets of olallieberries so perfectly formed they looked like they could have come out of a factory with strict quality-control standards.

Matt Andrae of Andrae’s Bakery & Cheese Shop in nearby Amador City had just set up a marquee under which an assistant was selling his breads, scones, cookies, Basque cakes and apricot gateaus. One of the gateaus, bright and rich, laced with marzipan and dappled with thick slices of apricot, made me forget all about my disappointment at not being able to have a cinnamon roll at the Chatterbox Cafe.

Not far from Andrae’s tent, the market’s director, Michelle Grondin, was helping contestants line up the treats they were entering in the market’s first berry bakeoff. There was a rhubarb, olallieberry and blueberry almond tart, a blueberry coffee cake, a blueberry tea bread, a lime berry tart, and a strawberry rhubarb pie, among others.

The winner was Judi Parkinson’s summer berry pudding with rum whipped cream, which raises the question: Can a pudding that isn’t baked win a bakeoff? In Sutter Creek.

Remember that when next month’s peach bakeoff rolls around. (The Amador Farmers Market continues 8-11 a.m. Saturdays through October.)

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