I’d been hankering to drive by Whispering Winds Ranch in Creston, where I lived in the early 1980s. I learned to cook fish in a dishwasher and barbeque Rocky Mountain Oysters (which has nothing to do with bivalve mollusks) in this house. The 160-acre ranch was widely known for its thoroughbred racing stock. One day, actor Robert Mitchum showed up with a brown-bag lunch asking to see Lucky Gray, a prominent stud.
In the early 1870s, settlers were drawn to the Creston area by its fertile farmlands and wild oats said to have reached a horse’s withers. Thetown was founded in 1885 on a 15,685-acre Rancho Huerhuero Mexican land grant, named after one of the early developers, a wheat farmer named Calvin J. Cressy.
Back then, Creston was home to three saloons, two restaurants, a couple of livery stables, two laundries, a pair of blacksmith shops, a hotel, a bakery, post office, church, and school. Locals called the jail a “calaboose”. According to a history book, it confined “people who get filled up on the corner with lightning water to such a degree that they make things howl.” Driving east on Hwy. 41, I hoped Creston had retained its unconventional charm.
The Longbranch Saloon has been serving up grub and pouring libations since the 1930s. It’s changed hands through the years and been closed for long stretches. A sheet of hard plastic protects the original wooden bar. Pennies, silver dollars, and horseshoes have been set into the wood. Cracks in the plastic back up stories about customers dancing on the bar.
Current owners Brian and Christine Pritt brought Executive Chef Pandee Pearson onto their team. Pandee packs an impressive résumé, which includes opening two restaurants for Wolfgang Puck. I wondered if my all-time favorite Ortega Chili Burger was still on the menu. Yep. Though it’s now served on an airy brioche bun with hand-cut fries.
The sauce is to die for: Mayo based with cayenne, paprika, and chipotle. Add bacon, avocado, fried egg for a buck each. Vegetarian broccolini burgers are available on request.
The restaurant is definitely a locals’ joint, the kind of place where neighbors gather to trade stories and speculate on rainfall.
An old-timer told me about Allgood Custom Leather, across the street in the historic Creston and Company building. Matt and Meagan Allgood own the store. Meagan’s family operated a general mercantile in the same building from the early 1900s into the 1940s.
Matt Allgood is the go-to guy for all things leather: custom saddles, chaps, belts, knife belts, and other handcrafted leather items. I was enthralled by bootjacks, hand-woven rawhide scarf slides, collectible spurs and bits, and saddle blankets made of alpaca hair sourced from a nearby farm. There’s always a fresh pot of coffee on the old-style wood-burning stove and a bottle of Bailey’s Irish Cream if you’d like to add a sweet shot.
The headquarters of Central Coast Trailrides is a bit out of town on O’Donovan Road. Husband and wife Brian and Crystal Hallett guide various types of horseback experiences year round, ranging from 60-minutes to half-day rides.
“We usually work out a loop,” says Brian. “So there’s no backtracking.” Born and raised on the Central Coast, he doubles as a photographer and naturalist, sharing tidbits about native flora and fauna. Elevation changes offer 360-degree views of lush vineyards, and working farms and ranches. Saddlebags are provided for storing bottled water, phone, camera, or homemade cookies from Creston Market. Following the ride, complimentary wine tasting vouchers are offered to either Cass Winery in Paso Robles or Ancient Peaks in Santa Margarita.
Crestonwinetrail.com lists nearby boutique wine tasting rooms, all producing under 3,000 cases. Chat with winery owners or winemakers while sampling award-winning wines: Bordeaux, Rhone, Burgundian and Italian styles. On the Creston Wine Trail, B&E Vineyard pays homage to the region’s cowboy heritage. In 1952, Doc Elliot (the “E” in B & E) began raising and racing quarter horses, crossing the finish line to pick up several world championships. In 1969, Jerry and Patricia Bello (the “B”) joined the operation, expanding alfalfa and oat hay farming.
The vineyards themselves started small, 25 acres of Cabernet Sauvignon. Later, 25 acres of Merlot and 8 acres of other reds, mostly used for blending. In 1994, the two families began making their own wines, but didn’t sell them for another eight years. Reds are aged in French Oak between 20 and 30 months before bottling. Silver-medal awards include 2012 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon and 2013 Reserve Merlot.
B & E Vineyards shares their tasting room with Olivas de Oro, meaning “gold olives”. Owners Frank and Marti Menacho bought a 160-acre old-growth orchard in Oroville, CA in the 1990s. In 2007, Frank fired up a flatbed truck and moved 2,000 of the century-old trees to Creston. There I learned not all Extra Virgin Olive Oil is created equal. Apparently, making real extra virgin olive oil is both difficult and expensive. Olivas oil is certified “Extra Virgin” by California Olive Oil Council.
Note: Beware of curves when driving country back roads. They can appear suddenly, especially if ogling grazing alpaca, pigmy goats, longhorn cattle, vibrant fall leaves. There are places to pull over to take photos. Just be cautious.