By Ellen Shick
Seasonality is the name of the game at Trading Post restaurant in Cloverdale, recent recipient of Slow Food’s Snail of Approval award. Managing partner, Erik Johnson, head chef Aaron Arabian and gardener, Ron Ferrato make a winning trifecta. They create and serve up dishes that capture the local bounty of Sonoma County in its many facets.
As any home gardener knows, when harvest time comes, there are always too many tomatoes to contend with or zucchini that grow out of control. Erik and Aaron handle the surplus by pickling or fermenting the surfeit coming out of the garden. Too many turnips? Make turnip kimchi. A plethora of peppers? Dry them and make chili powder. A regular item on the menu is the “pickled plate” offering 5-6 preserved items to sample.
Sweet red peppers drying in the sun. These will be used to make Trading Post’s signature chili powder.
The Snail of Approval award means that a restaurant adheres to the Slow Food credo to provide food that is “good, clean and fair.” The owners rely on local farmers and purveyors to provide the array of ingredients. Trading Post does an exemplary job in this category. For example, they source grass-fed, pasture raised meat from Marin Sun Farms which Aaron uses for his chorizo pasta. Mary’s Free Range Chicken earns a Step-5 on the Global Animal Partnership. This mean that Mary’s heirloom organic chickens live their entire lives on a pastured farm. Niman Ranch family farm supplies the beef. And finally, all the salmon is caught off the Marin coast and trout comes from Mt. Lassen Creek.
These local treasures inspire Erik and Aaron to bring the community a menu that is both delicious and humane. Trading Post’s ethos is a huge benefit to the environment.
Three facets to enjoy
Trading Post is greater than the sum of it parts, three to be exact.
First, the dining room. This spacious room blends simple chic and the rustic personality of Cloverdale. Rows of soft lighting drape from the high beamed ceiling. Two sliding barn doors create one large wall that opens to join the dining room to the Coffee Bar. Customers get close proximity to the chefs in the open floor plan. Enjoy dinner Wednesdays through Saturdays from 5:00 -9:00 pm.
Trading Post’s dining room is open, sunny and inviting.
Second, the Bread and Coffee Bar is now open Tuesday – Saturday morning and serves toasts and fair trade coffee at the beautiful wooden bar.
Sunday Brunch anyone?
Lastly, every Sunday from 9 am to 2 pm Trading Post morphs into a brunch spot complete with live music. Taking a drive to the wine country and listening to live music while noshing on eggs Benedict on house-made English muffins sounds like a perfect way to spend your Sunday. Other tasty treats include sourdough waffles, and a Croque Madame on Trading Post country loaf with sliced ham, Morney sauce and fried egg on top.
Join the Bread Club
Oh, and there’s more! Trading Post also offers a subscription bread club. On a weekly basis, it offers a selection of Aaron’s delicious artisan breads: baguette, Country Loaf, Wheat or Rye Pullman, or Fruit and Nut Loaf baked fresh, full of local goodies and baked with love. Members can get fresh bread once or twice per week. Click here to learn more.
Thank you, Aaron, for your delicious creations.
After I enjoyed the delicious tartine, Aaron and I sat down in the dining room to chat about Trading Post’s ethos and the benefits of life in Cloverdale. He told me that they all live close by and enjoy local activities and of course proximity to delicious farm-fresh foods and restaurants. I asked Aaron if the town is going to change and lose its rustic charm as high end, upscale restaurants become more common in Sonoma County. He said that’s the question on everyone’s mind, but he feels that Cloverdale will stay firmly rooted in its character.
Moreover, Eric and Aaron want Trading Post to be a neighborhood restaurant. They strive to find a balance between customers enjoying a special meal and a dinner that is affordable while at the same time using local ingredients, serving a meal that is sustainable, and paying the staff well. It’s a tricky balance, but they embrace the challenge, one loaf of bread at a time.
Erik, Aaron, and Ronnie make a perfect team. Each brings his own special expertise to the project.
Erik Johnson worked in San Francisco for years, namely at Farallon, then came up to the wine country and worked at Dry Creek Kitchen in Healdsburg. He later became Executive chef at J winery. The Snail Award and the ethos come from Erik’s leadership and vision.
Aaron, the new chef de cuisine defines himself as a career changer. After years of office work in San Francisco, the idea of becoming a chef began calling to him. He left his job, enrolled in San Francisco Culinary School and began working in pastry. As the term farm-to-table percolated into the culinary lexicon, Aaron realized he wanted to be close to where the food originates. Cloverdale seemed like the perfect location. Three years ago, when Trading Post opened, he applied and was hired as head baker. The close proximity to local farmers and meat and fish purveyors was exactly what Aaron’s soul needed.
While Trading Post’s dining room was underway, Aaron sold his freshly baked loaves from the kitchen’s window. With the help of Erik, other chefs and his own research and experience as a baker in San Francisco, Aaron has fermented his way into the hearts and stomachs of Cloverdale’s population and beyond.
Trading Post’s very own gardener
Ronnie’s Garden, run by Ron Ferrato supplies organic veggies and herbs for Trading Post’s menu.
Ron’s wildflower garden
Ron Ferrato, Trading Post’s gardener, rounds out the team. He loved gardening even as a kid. His green thumb stayed put, but took on a different role when he worked for Wired magazine in San Francisco in corporate catering. After he left the city for the quiet serene life in Cloverdale and started his garden and beekeeping, his friends noticed his talents and implored him to get in touch with Erik at Trading Post. Ron now provides fresh veggies and herbs. To continue honing his skills, Ron, works with master farmer and Snail of Approval recipient, Rebecca Bozzelli at Lantern Farm.
Aaron’s generosity is clearly apparent. He loves to share everything he knows and is thrilled when a customer asks a question about an item on the menu. There are no classified ingredients or well kept secrets.
On the contrary, Aaron took the time to share one of his favorite pickling recipes with us. Enjoy!
Pickled Watermelon Rind by Aaron Arabian
This is a southern classic and a great way to use a part of the watermelon most people throw away. It’s also very refreshing on a hot day. In fact if you slice it thinly enough you can eat it frozen – like little tangy crunchy popsicles! You can use any spices and herbs you want, but we really love the spiciness mixed with the floral, apple-like chamomile. Pay attention because this recipe is not like others you’ll find.
- One whole large watermelon. This recipe works great with yellow and orange varieties.
- 2 cups rice vinegar
- 1/4 cup organic sugar or agave (more if you want it sweeter)
- tsp salt
- tsp chili flakes
- 2 sprigs tarragon
- 3 bags chamomile tea
Slice the watermelon. Eat about half of the flesh and enjoy. Blend the rest until you have juice. Save the rinds, trim into 1 inch strips. Cut as much of the flesh away, leaving only thew white rind. With a peeler, remove the green skin. Pass the flesh through a strainer to remove the seeds. Measure out 2 cups; add water if your yield is under 2 cups.This watermelon juice will replace the water in normal pickling recipes and supply a more natural sweetness. Add the juice and everything else to a pot and bring to a simmer. The watermelon solids will collect at the top while it simmers. It will look like watermelon flavored seafoam. Remove with a slotted spoon or a small strainer so your liquid is clear.Pour over the rinds. Put in the refrigerator and allow to chill and age for a couple days. It will get better as time passes.
About Ellen Shick
Ellen Shick is a proud Slow Food member and is always on the lookout for ways to feed the world, one delicious meal at a time. Traveling through Italy has become a passion and life journey. Ellen’s blog An Italian Dish is her place to share travel adventures, recipes, photos, books, and stories about her love of Italy, the food and the people.