It takes approximately five seconds to drive through the hamlet of Bodega — the town, not the Bay. There is no stoplight, but the posted speed limit of 25 miles per hour makes for a steady glow of brake lights as beach-goers and dairy trucks make their way somewhere else.
It also takes approximately five seconds to give a mostly-incorrect retelling of the town’s claim-to-fame as backdrop for Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds. And though it’s true that the haunting spires of Saint Teresa of Avila church and the Potter School figured into the 1962 thriller most of the good stuff (like the fire) was filmed on a Hollywood set and no where near Bodega.
Enthralled by the story, however, you may ask about the funny old building with the neon sign leaning out into the road about two seconds into town. Chances are you’ll get a blank look and be told the building is a casino. The glowing neon 7-Up sign on the building says, “Casino”, as anyone can see. But that too would be incorrect.
“Casino” is actually Casino Bar and Grill. It’s a locals spot with creaky wooden floors, windows you can’t see into from the street, pool tables and a jukebox. It’s the kind of place you’d feel pretty silly asking for a glass of chardonnay, but if you did, they’d fix you right up. The crew from the Birds, so the story goes, used to hang out there and Hitchcock himself once ate there. Two stuffed bird “extras” still hang out above the bar.
“I drove by probably hundreds of times and never went in,” said the grill’s new nighttime chef. You may remember Malicki from his days at Cafe Saint Rose, which closed several years ago. In the interim, the creative Wine Country chef has worked at The French Garden, as a caterer and in briefly in Benicia.
Acting as executive chef, griddle cook, waitstaff and busser, Malicki dreams up a new list of dishes each night that usually includes a couple of appetizers, an entree or two and dessert. Using mostly local, seasonal ingredients, he does his Mark thing. On the night we visited, that was a menu that included Dates with Manchego, Pistachios and Serrano ham; Griddled Brussels Sprouts with bacon and Goat Cheese Toast; Potato and Fennel Soup with Creme Fraiche, Oxtail Stuffed Piquillo Peppers, Fish Tacos, Caesar Salad and Flourless Chocolate Cake.
So how does a Malicki’s menu go over with the locals?
“Never judge a book by it’s cover is what I’ve learned,” said Malicki. “I’ve learned that it’s impossible to sell fish to fishermen, though.” Game goes over well, as does meatloaf. The other stuff he just tries out, like roast shoulder of pork with pig ear mushrooms, bbq pork shortribs or goat milk caramel flan. Few things are over $12, with most in the $6-$8 range. Our dinner cost $50 total.
In a town with this much history, its yet to be seen whether Malicki will stand the test of time at this rural outpost, or if this is merely brake light in his culinary career. Either way, this Bodega way station is worth more than a five second glance on your way somewhere else. Just watch out for the birds.
Malicki is currently in the kitchen Thursday through Tuesday night and has recently extended the dining hours until 11pm. Casino Bar and Grill, 17000 Bodega Hwy, Bodega, 876-3185. Children are welcome until 10pm.