On a beautifully moody, rainy weekend this November, I trekked up to brand new Branches in the gorgeous farmland and vineyards of Ukiah that were aflame with red, orange and yellow leaves this time of year.
Branches is a chophouse/restaurant, bustling fireside pub, bakery and butcher all rolled into one large space. Unusual for these parts, it was already mobbed two weeks into opening and I am sure will continue to be.
The cocktail menu reads like a list of the usual pop culture fare with fruity, Stoli and Absolut vodka-type offerings, but tasting through a range of drinks I’d normally never order delivered unexpected balance. They got it right with more tart than sweet on the vodka cocktails, and despite horrid neon maraschino cherries in some, they used Luxardo cherries in their decent Manhattan.
A winner is the bright, crisp Elderflower Basil Martini ($10): Hendricks Gin, St. Germain elderflower, dry vermouth, fresh basil, lemon twist. The wine list heavies on California but you’ll find some Italian, French, Spanish, Australian, Oregon, and more, in the mix.
It’d be a great night with glasses of wine and a round of their generously-portioned appetizers (come to think of it, everything here comes in huge portions!)
A Philly Cheesesteak Spring Roll ($7.75) is a fun, lightly fried take on sushi with prime rib, cheese, onions, and roasted red pepper dip. My favorite may be the Mud Bug (crawfish) & Vegetable Fritters ($8.75), fried, hearty fritters with chipotle dip. Maybe it’s just my penchant for mud bugs, but this one satisfied.
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Smoked Wild Boar Chili (cup $4.50, bowl $6.75) was heartwarming on a chilly, Fall night, while horseradish cream, cheddar cheese, and onions on top made it decadent. No shock, another comforting, rich dish is their Mac n’ Cheese Gratin ($10.50) in a skillet with fire-roasted Anaheim chilies, aged white cheddar and asiago crust.
While the pasta I tasted didn’t overwhelm me (there’s a whole menu section of pastas), they are solid. I had more fun with gigantic entrees like Maple Bourbon BBQ Baby Back Ribs ($25.75). A row of ribs gleams across the massive plate with warm cheddar cheese cornbread shaped like a tall muffin, baked beans and a killer blue cheese slaw.
I’d never had a “black and blue” steak before but here I tried a steak charred on the outside, raw in the middle: Aged NY Steak (12 oz. $31) came with cabernet butter and two sides (plenty of hearty, classic options including baked potatoes or garlic broccoli). The char gave it a welcome grit, while the inside was tender and full of flavor. It may not have been the best steak ever but it was superior to some I’ve had in the city in recent months at$15-$30 more.
Branches is ideal for groups and families with an inviting atmosphere and convivial spirit. It’s going to (and should) do well in these parts as it stands out from local offerings. For those journeying up it’s a breakfast, lunch and dinner stop where you will literally feast and gorge for a fraction of what you’d pay in the city for this amount of food.