story: Adam Mankoski photo: Kara Stewart
Dining At Dunsmuir's Cafe MaddalenaA window-side table at Dunsmuir’s Café Maddalena allows the perfect view of the North State’s changing seasons. Snow banks disappear, ice crystal-encrusted trees reveal green buds and wildflowers peek from thawing earth. Stand outside on Café Maddalena’s wrap-around porch, and the view through the distinctive paned windows mirrors the transformation happening outside Café Maddalena’s pine-paneled walls. Hearty squash soups and rich sauteed cabbage and turnips lose their place on the Café’s artistically presented plates to asparagus, fresh mint, artichokes and herbs once the weather is warm.
Brett and Nancy LaMott, owners of Café Maddalena since 2003, are well versed in opening and operating restaurants. Brett has launched seven other restaurants, worked for Ernie’s in San Francisco (the longest running five-star restaurant in the country) until it closed in 1995 and apprenticed with master French chefs. In 1997, the LaMotts left San Francisco to live and own a business in a smaller community. As Brett recalls, he turned 40 and said, “What do we really want to do?” So, they headed up I-5 and found that there was a market in the North State for fresh, innovative food.
Even with the right combination of experience, owning a business in a small town is a risk. The LaMotts did their homework. They visited local farmers markets to see if the availability of produce, meat and eggs could support a diverse a la carte menu. They were encouraged. Nancy recalls that the North State “looked like the right place” and that besides the availability of ingredients, Dunsmuir has a charm that she and Brett enjoy. “Dunsmuir has so many wonderful characteristics,” including the restaurant’s view of one of five railroad engine roundtables in the country. Café Maddalena is a partner in a renaissance of Dunsmuir’s historic Sacramento Avenue and a neighbor to several art galleries, cafes and shops.
The LaMotts’ first local endeavor was the Trinity Café in Mount Shasta. That was the North State’s introduction to Brett’s Moroccan, Algerian, Spanish and Southern French culinary influences. In addition to Mediterranean cuisine, Trinity Café’s menu featured an amalgam of international fare, including Jamaican in the summer and Polish and Ukranian food in the winter. Brett’s limited, one-week menus “changed on the weather or his whim.”
Brett’s menu at Café Maddalena continues the tradition of Mediterranean influences applied to local ingredients, to create what Brett describes as a true “authenticity of taste.” His pride is that his guests know they will experience something different. “What we see in the store does not reflect the range of food that is available. My job is to show the other stuff.” Local produce, meat and eggs are augmented with ingredients from Spain and Italy and pomegranates, figs, olives and herbs from the Café’s garden.
Selections from Café Maddalena’s recent menu include fried marcona almonds, stuffed dumplings in rich homemade chicken broth, chicken liver and pork pate, pizzas and flatbreads and entrees of sea bass, scallops, lamb chops and duck confit. However, for those with less adventurous palates, Brett always keeps a steak on the menu. Café Maddalena’s Mediterranean fare is complemented by a selective list of Sicilian, Sardinian, French and Spanish wines, as well as Alpen Cellars from Trinity County - wines that LaMott explains “taste much like European wines.”
The greatest compliment to the LaMotts is praise from Richard Reynolds, a staff member at both Trinity Café and Café Maddalena, who says, “No one has their vision and passion, and it shows.” Reynolds, a 36-year restaurant veteran and Dunsmuir native, returned from Hawaii and never imagined he would find a restaurant in this area, but enjoys the small-scale dining experience and the family atmosphere that Café Maddalena offers its staff and guests.
The LaMotts’ philosophy is quite simple: To make dining special with a combination of fresh, local ingredients, a warm, casual atmosphere and friendly service. They feel that the food and service should be as good as they are in San Francisco. In Dunsmuir at Café Maddalena, the food and service are as good, but Brett and Nancy can “have their place, look out at the trees and have fun.”