chef’s table

QUEST FOR HEALTH

The Argonaut in Coloma promotes the second gold rush.

WRITTEN BY JORDAN VENEMA
PHOTOS BY DEBBIE CUNNINGHAM

Argonaut2524
Brigette Faieta admires her nasturtium starts in the vintage greenhouse at Bee Love Farm.
These starts will eventually be edible flowers to be served on dishes at The Argonaut Farm to Fork Café

For all its virtues, farm to fork doesn’t necessarily equal sustainable, organic practices, but the owner of The Argonaut Farm to Fork Café is taking extra steps to make sure the business does.

In the small mining town of Coloma, where James Marshall first discovered gold, a small wooden building blends in with its historic, rustic surroundings. If it weren’t for the line out the door, an unobservant passerby might mistake it for a shed.

The Argonaut doesn’t date back to the Gold Rush, but Brigette Faieta, who grew up in Coloma, remembers visiting the shop for cookies and hand-squeezed lemonade when she was a child.

“I doubt it was organic then, but it’s organic now,” she says with a laugh.

When Faieta and her family purchased the café, they renamed it after those mythical adventurers who accompanied Jason in search of the Golden Fleece. They incorporate golden terminology into their menu, in such items as the Eureka Smoothie, but Faieta says there’s something better than gold in the ground in Coloma.

“There’s kind of an interesting history about the Gold Rush, and a lot of the settlers that were able to stay went into agriculture,” she says. “We’re now seeing that’s the real gold today: your health and wellness, eating locally and knowing where our food comes from.”

Argonaut0018 Edit Edit Edit Edit
The Argonaut Farm to Fork Café's menu board and counter, made by a local blacksmith.
Counter tops, reclaimed wood table tops, and signs all are made by local artists.
Baked goods and raw treats all are made in house

Back to the earth

In addition to the café, the Faieta family also owns and operates the Coloma Resort, which lies a stone’s throw across the river, and Bee Love Farm, about a football punt up the hill. The farm, which Faieta also manages, adds a step to the farm-to-fork circle. Not only does the farm provide seasonal organic food to the café, but it also takes back the café’s scraps and eggshells for compost. Call it farm to fork to farm.

“It helps create nutrient-dense soil in which we’re growing things that we bring back to the café,” Faieta says.

So that perfectly poached egg, which sits atop the café’s avocado toast and came from just up the road? Its shell goes right back into compost and toward future vegetables.

Argonaut2335
Seasonal farm salad made with Bee Love Farm greens, candied almonds,
blood oranges, apples, avocado, edible flowers,
and a house-made elderberry vinaigrette

Even when they’re farm to fork, restaurants are known for their waste, mostly because conservation isn’t economical. But for Faieta, creating that symbiotic relationship between farm and café to reduce waste comes from personal conviction.

“My passion is really about health,” explains Faieta, who received a bachelor’s degree in herbal science from Bastyr University and studied raw food at Ft. Bragg’s Living Light Culinary Center.

“The more we shorten that distance from food to your mouth, the more we’ll increase the amount of nutrients in your food,” she continues. “And we feel the difference.”

Argonaut0049
A relaxing spot near the pond at Bee Love Farm. The historic mining ditch and pond serves as a water source
for the farm and a teaching tool for children's programs to study ecosystems, biodiversity, and macro-invertebrates

Delicious difference

We can feel it, but also taste it. The Argonaut serves sandwiches and salads that in Los Angeles would cost double but contain half the goods. But Argonaut’s veggies come from just up the hill. And what can’t be harvested at Bee Love comes from neighbors, including goat cheese from Jollity Farm in Garden Valley and meats from Free Hand Farm in Placerville. Freshly baked bread is sourced from Auburn’s The Baker & the Cakemaker.

The Argonaut also specializes in wood-fired pizzas and a tuna-free Sunflower Seed “Tuna” Melt, made with the Argonaut’s special recipe. Dishes are garnished with edible flowers, and water is served with mint and rosemary from the farm.

Argonaut0061
Brigette Faieta's family home is located on the Bee Love Farm property.
The farm offers experiential workshops and classes on homesteading, beekeeping, and eco-science

In early spring, The Argonaut began serving prix fixe dinners on Friday and Saturday evenings by reservation. Each dinner includes a three-course spread of starter, entrée, and dessert at $49 per person. Though the menu changes, past dinners have included gratin of kohlrabi and spinach, wild-caught Alaskan salmon, and a coq au vin, an organic chicken simmered in The Argonaut’s locally harvested Mourvèdre wine and served with organic bacon, mushrooms, pearl onions, and sides of mashed potatoes and asparagus. Faieta says she expects to expand to a fixed menu for regular dinners during the summer months.

The expanded dinners were designed “to create an atmosphere where people could get to know their community,” she says.

It’s also about slowing down to appreciate both what’s at the dinner table and how it got there, which is symbolized by an olive tree growing at Bee Love Farm, which Faieta believes was planted during the early Gold Rush era.

“We harvested these olives for one of our dishes at dinner, and it took five weeks to wash and brine them,” she says.

Sure, it would be easier to purchase a jar of organic olives from the market, but it’s the time, care, and attention put into the process that matters.

“I think that’s the part that brings appreciation to food, and it’s one of the things we’re lacking as a culture right now,” Faieta says. “And it reminds you, this is what it takes to get food.”

It’s also a reminder that though the gold is gone from Coloma, its real wealth is still growing in the ground and there for our enjoyment.

Argonaut2351
House-made Argonaut tuna melt with a Eureka smoothie made from cacao, almond butter, almond milk, and bananas

Jordan Venema is a Sacramento-based writer, but his diverse appetite doesn’t know where to call home.

Resources

The Argonaut Farm to Fork Café
331 State Hwy. 49, Coloma • 530-626-7345 • Argonautcafe.com
Open 8 a.m. – 4 p.m. daily and 5:30 – 9 p.m. Fri. – Sat.

Recipes

Wild Harvest Berry Tonic Smoothie
(courtesy of Brigette Faieta, owner, The Argonaut Farm to Fork Café in Coloma. Serves 2)

Argonaut2497

2 cups frozen wild-harvested berries
1 cup nut milk (almond or coconut)
1 to 2 tablespoons local honey
1 handful wild-harvested edible “weeds” (plantain, dandelion greens, etc.)

Blend ingredients in high-powered blender until smooth. Enjoy with stainless-steel straw and positive, uplifting company.

Sunflower Seed “Tuna” Melt
(courtesy of Brigette Faieta, owner, The Argonaut Farm to Fork Café in Coloma. Serves 2)

Argonaut2351

Gluten-free bread
Organic Cheddar or vegan cheese
1 cup organic sunflower seeds
Juice from ½ organic lemon
1 tablespoon stone-ground Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon Vegenaise
2 tablespoons fresh dill, chopped
2 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped
Himalayan sea salt, to taste
1 stalk organic celery, finely chopped
½ Fuji apple, finely chopped
Coconut oil

Soak sunflower seeds in filtered or alkaline water at room temperature in airtight container for at least 24 hours. Dry seeds, then pulse in food processor with lemon juice, mustard, Vegenaise, dill, parsley, celery, apple, and sea salt. Place large scoop of mix between slices of gluten-free bread with cheese, then grill in cast-iron pan with coconut oil. Slice in half and enjoy with summer side salad and Wild Harvest Berry Tonic Smoothie.

SCROLL TO TOP