by adriana brogger
Valentine’s Day is this month. But I’m sure you already knew that. What you may not know about is a fabulous little secret I’m about to spill. It’s an awesome restaurant located in the Sierra foothills: Alchemy Market and Cafe in Murphys, California, the perfect place for a romantic Valentine’s Day dinner, or any day dinner. Alchemy Market and Cafe’s owner Jason Wright is a staunch ambassador for all things Calaveras County. After six years of owning and working in restaurants in Carmel, Jason and his co-owner sold their restaurant, and Jason and his wife decided to look at other options. They were familiar with the Murphys area from yearly camping trips and loved the area. Jason got a tip that Alchemy would be coming up for sale and, before he knew it, he and his wife were in business!
The restaurant was built from the ground up in 2000, and was originally intended as a wine bar and deli market. When Jason took over he wanted to do more; as a chef, he wanted to cook more, and so the restaurant began to offer more. Today, they have lunch, dinner, and dessert menus in addition to the deli and wine lists.
Jason’s wife Sandra handles the market, which currently is weekends only, offering a selection of local products, wines, gourmet specialty foods and cheese. They stock hundreds of beers from around the world; Jason knows a lot about beer and wine and is determined to share his knowledge with his patrons.
The delicious food appeals to both locals and tourists alike. Jason said, “This is not a destination-only restaurant.” He loves his neighbors and wants them to enjoy his business. Jason understands that locals are very important to Alchemy but also encourages those of us who don’t live in the area to drive to Murphy’s and see what it has to offer.
My photographer and I drove together on our visit to Alchemy, spending the hour and fifteen minute drive from Lodi to Murphys getting “in the mood” for the tasting by reviewing the menu online, reading the descriptions and anticipating the delicious items awaiting us.
Once we arrived we were thrilled to see some of the foods we talked about set before us, just waiting to be devoured, uh, sampled. One such item: the lovely, golden, crispy Sweet Potato Fries. YUM! The fries are dusted with chipotle and brown sugar, and served with a scallion-cilantro aioli. The mix of flavors was unexpected but so very tasty! In fact, that twist on familiarity is just what Jason intended when he created his menu. “The idea behind Alchemy is to take what I consider to be comfort foods, and give them a twist. I like to ramp things up one or two notches from what people are used to,” Jason said.
I make homemade mac and cheese more than I should, so I have a strong appreciation for it. However, since I love my recipe it’s not something I’d normally order out. Unless of course it’s CRAB Macaroni and Cheese! This totally changed the game plan and made me a very happy girl! It was scrumptious – beautiful rotini pasta with a creamy white cheddar and parmesan sauce, Dungeness crabmeat and parmesan gratinee. Can you say HEAVEN?
The Iron Skillet Mussels are another winning dish we tried. Cooked and served in a cast-iron skillet, the taste and presentation are spectacular. Sherry and butter really lock in amazing flavor on the mussels. One of Jason’s goals was to offer more seafood compared to other local restaurants, and being in the foothills isn’t a barrier with modern distribution. “I can get fish today by noon that was swimming in Hawaii yesterday morning.”
Next up was a glorious plate of Ultimate Meatloaf, looking more like a steak than a loaf, wrapped in bacon, and tasting just divine. Jason said ketchup is incorporated into the demiglaze sauce, paying homage to the tradition, but still keeping things fresh. I also experienced the best Brussels sprouts I have ever had. I love Brussels sprouts, but those I had at Alchemy were so good! Ever a pro, Jason even gave me cooking tips and his recipe; for even cooking, cut large sprouts in half, drizzle with olive oil, add a little garlic, sugar, salt and pepper, and bake at 400 degrees. My kids are grateful to not have to eat them boiled and plain now. Nothing can compare to having them at Alchemy, so I’ll be back for a second helping.
Murphys is an easy day trip or weekend getaway. According to Jason, it’s a thriving wine destination, with about 30 local wineries and close to 20 tasting rooms in a four block area. That means there is no need for cabs or driving, which can come in handy when enjoying alcoholic beverages. Come up on a Friday night, stay at a bed-and-breakfast for the weekend, and spend your days wine tasting or enjoying outdoor activities, which might include Big Trees State Park, cave exploring, skiing, and of course a rural county fair with a very cool frog jumping contest. If you’re more the type who appreciates a great community of local artists and musicians, they have that in Murphys too. And, of course…Murphys has Alchemy Market, a wonderful place to enjoy fresh and delicious food!