For years, “Marin’s Oldest Bar”, The William Tell House, was a favorite locals spot for a night of prime rib with the family — pretty much what it had been for the last 140 years or so — as a bar and restaurant (and sometimes hotel). Named for a Swiss folk hero who had a thing for apples and arrows, it’s the oldest continually-serving bar in the county, having opened originally in 1877. The place burned to the ground in 1920, but was quickly rebuilt.
The old clapboard house has changed hands only four times in the last century, so when the building came up for sale, San Francisco chef, caterer and restaurateur Ted Wilson got a call from friends in the area where he grew up. As co-founder of Oakland’s Metal and Match Catering, founder of food incubator, The Hall in SF and head of The Alice Collective, Wilson already had several plates spinning when he opened a limited-menu “pop-up” featuring “humble casual” food sourced from the farms, fields and beaches of the region.
Just get there before the day-trippers fill up the leave-a-drink chalkboard.
Since our initial visit in 2018, the menu has expanded to include a full menu of salads, burgers, and seafood specialties like cioppino. Much of the food is sourced from nearby farms. The current menu is here.
Seafood Chowder ($8/$15): Why is it that you can’t get a decent cup of chowder at the coast? Though we’ve had a handful of pretty good versions, the standard seems to be lumpy, floury, deeply uninspired chowders that make us want to cry. This is not one of those. A haul of Bolinas rock cod, Manila clams, mussels and Gulf Shrimp honor this creamy white chowder studded with homemade Applewood bacon and potatoes. Stunning.
Local cheese and charcuterie plate ($14): While we didn’t get the advertised blackberry-jalapeño preserves (quince paste was served instead) or caramelized vegetables, but the stars of this show are the local cheeses (Bleating Heart, Cowgirl Creamery) and the hard-to-find pink pearl apples, which have a rosy pink interior and sweet-tart flavor.
McFarland Springs Trout Dip ($10): One of the best local(ish) fishes, this tender pink fish is perfect as a creamy dip with house-seasoned potato chips.
William Tell Cobb ($15): Braised Petaluma chicken, fried egg, Pt. Reyes blue cheese, fried egg, garden tomatoes, avocado buttermilk dressing.
Cioppino ($26): Similar to the chowder, but with a spicy tomato broth.
Cocktails ($10-12): The William Tell includes Laird’s Apple Brandy, maple, black walnut bitters, Angostura bitters; the Black Betty is bourbon with lemon and seasonal jam; and your choice of thick or thin Bloody Marys with vodka, gin or mezcal.
26955 CA-1, Tomales, 707-879-2002, williamtellhouse.com. Open Friday through Sunday.