A piece of pork belly that tastes so sweet and addicting, it’s no wonder the appetizer is named after a legendary candy. Feeling heat beaming up through the floor tile, warming my bare feet. These are just two highlights from my recent overnight getaway from Santa Cruz to Carmel.
First, the lodging: I highly recommend Hofsas House Hotel, a Bavarian-inspired boutique inn. I stayed in a spacious, wonderful ocean-view room with a king bed, fireplace, and kitchenette. The room (#45) had quaint, pleasant furnishings and I was delightfully surprised at the size of the bathroom. The next morning, I toured several other guest rooms and they looked very comfortable. There are accommodations, even dog-friendly ones, ranging from a single-queen-bed room to cottages and a two-bedroom suite. Some of these are perfect for groups, whether it’s a couple families traveling together or a girls’ getaway. Hofsas House offers fun packages for family reunions and other group events, as well as a la carte selections like massages or local wine/cheese pairings.
The very reasonable room cost includes refreshing bath amenities like chamomile clove orange blossom bath gel, which I liked so much I tracked down where to buy a larger bottle for my own home. There is complimentary continental breakfast, too. You can eat this in the hotel lobby’s cozy sitting area, or take food back to your room or to an outdoor deck. Breakfast features French Roast coffee, yogurt, fruit, orange juice, and pastries from Paris Bakery in Monterey. These baked goods, which include yummy, buttery croissants, are delivered fresh every day.
Hofsas House is walking distance from lots of restaurants, cafes/bakeries, and wineries. It’s also close to a park, the beach, and many other attractions. The hotel features dry saunas and a heated pool, which I didn’t get the chance to try, and lots of easy off-street parking. Only a few rooms have that luxurious heated bathroom floor I mentioned, but owner/general manager Carrie Theis says that as she renovates various rooms, the plan is to add more of these.
After relaxing in the hotel room, we decided to get in the car and drive to Rio Grill for dinner. There were many great-sounding options within walking distance, but I had tried Rio for a delicious lunch a few months ago and was excited to taste Chef Cy Yontz’s Southwestern Cuisine-themed dinner creations.
We had the privilege of being waited on by manager Joe Valencia, a consummate host who regaled us with entertaining stories and food recommendations. Thank goodness we listened to his suggestions; the thought of not getting to try the “Candied Swine Jolly Rancheros” makes my heart ache. It was THAT good. It’s a very popular appetizer that Yontz makes with pork belly. He’s a talented man with a smoker; the restaurant’s most popular entree is house-smoked half chicken with chile butter (the meat has been rubbed with annatto oil, garlic, and herbs, and smoked for four hours). My favorite dish from dinner, that I ordered based on Joe’s suggestion, was duck breast with tortilla-squash chilaquiles, Oaxacan mole rojo, and duck confit tamale. Every bite was nuanced with layers of flavor; you won’t be disappointed if you order this entrée! It’s no wonder that Yontz’s accolades include getting the award for 2015 Monterey County Celebrated Chef of the Year from the American Culinary Federation Monterey County Chamber.
The next morning, I enjoyed talking to Carrie Theis and learning more about the hotel’s history. She is a very gracious host who cares deeply about her guests’ comfort. Hofsas House has been in Carrie’s family for more than 60 years, and it’s obviously more than a job to her. Her grandmother, Donna Hofsas, established Hofsas House in the early 1950’s; at the time it was just a few cottages. Donna completed the first expansion in 1957, adding 25 rooms and a pool. As a child, Carrie spent summers in Carmel and got to help her grandmother behind the hotel’s front desk. Her journey has come full circle, as she returned to Hofsas House a few years ago and realized it’s her true calling.
After a leisurely morning in Carmel, we decided to stop and get sandwiches to go so we’d have lunch taken care of upon our return to Santa Cruz. Carrie recommended 5th Ave. Deli, and now I’m heartily passing that recommendation on to you. The service was extra-friendly, and the menu had something for everyone. Next time I visit, I plan to buy a few things before taking a picnic to Point Lobos. Delectable highlights from this lunch included edamame salad, and sandwiches with curry chicken salad and teriyaki salmon.
I had a wonderful time in Carmel, and I definitely suggest you visit this relaxing and beautiful town soon—it’s full of great food, friendly people, and so much more!
For more information:
www.hofsashouse.com / 831-624-2745 / San Carlos St. between 3rd & 4th Ave., Carmel
www.riogrill.com / 831-625-5436 / The Crossroads, Highway 1 at Rio Rd., Carmel
www.5thavedeli.com / 831-625-2688 / 5th Ave. between San Carlos & Dolores, Carmel