West Marin, a short drive from the other side of the hill, captures the essnce of Marin–wide open landscapes dotted with farms, sunset views over Tomales Bay, and the easy-to-experience abundance of land and sea. Nick’s Cove, a local fixture since the 1930s, helps define the character of Marin in its one-of-a-kind way.
The Lure of Marshall
West Marin never seems out of reach. During the pandemic year of 2020, short car trips meant a day’s escape from home was doable, a journey of a reasonable length to get away from it all yet be home in time to get a decent night’s sleep. Perched on the eastern shore of Tomales Bay, Marshall beckoned, it’s siren song a familiar one to fans of West Marin. Here, there is abundant open space to feel alone while the narrow confines of Highway One insist that visitors stay together, moving along Tomales Bay in a single file line of cars.
„Out West,“ the vibe is more relaxed, the pace slower. It is likley your cell phone will not have reception anywhere in Marshall. And forget Google Maps. It doesn’t exist here. An old-fashioned paper map can be life-saving and if an advance plan is not called for, then flexibility to change plans on a dime is a must.
But no worries, mate. This is all part of the Marshall experience. Let Highway One be your guide and the salt-scented (sometimes cow pie-scented) air coming in from the Pacific, inform what you do in this small town that time has not forgotten but reather intentionally left behind. If the fog is whipping off the Bay, the feeling of isloation is further enhanced, giving the region an almost dreamlike quality. Admire the rolling hills and forget about life (and Covid) for a while. Focus instead on the bounty of Marin County.
Nick’s Cove and Cottages
As much as any other spot in Marshall, Nick’s Cove and Cottages on the northern end of Tomales Bay, speaks in the unique patois of West Marin. The restaurant and lodges that comprise the current property are named for Nick Kojich, who with his wife, Frances, moved to the area in the 1920s and set up a small seafood restaurant where Nick’s stands today. Individual buildings were transported to the site–the restaurant was once a herring curing facility and the cabins each have their own unique tale to tell–and a 12-point buck, which famously watches over the dining room, helps visitors cast an eye back in time to the lodge’s heritage as a stop-over for hunters and fishermen who valued Marshall then (as now) for it’s access to and abundance of food.
Perhaps no one on property understands the chracter of Nick’s as well as Dena Grunt, proprietor of Nick’s and part of the Highway One Hospitality ownership group that includes Nick’s. Onboard with the property since 2010, Grunt helped oversee the property’s renovation and expansion. That includes The Croft, an on-site farm and garden that produces much of the leafy greens, herbs, and eggs used in the restaurant. Anyone can stop by, grab a cup of coffee or a meal, and sit and watch the world go by from one of the Adirondack chairs in The Croft garden and patio.
Though many visitors choose to enjoy a peaceful overnightt at Nick’s, most who spend time here will eat at the restaurant to savor the cuisine of executive chef Kua Speer. A proponent of sourcing and eating local, Speer is a fan of Marshall’s seafood and shellfish. The menu is best known for long-running dishes like Oysters Nickerfeller and Nick’s Cove Paella but Speer adds his touch to dishes that range from Wild Arugula Cakes withi fresh fromage blanc to insanely fresh seasonal salads inspired by what comes through the front door from The Croft that morning. Many Covid pivots later, Nick’s is once again serving indoors and on the newly installed Waterfront Raw Bar where enjoying a cocktail and a plate of oysters is part oft he local DNA. No matter where you sit, counter service is the new normal.
Table with a View
The freshest news from Nick’s is not just the new garden manager, Kate Beilharz, but the new Nick’s cookbook, Table with a View: The History and Recipes of Nick’s Cove. A dream realized for Grunt, who sought for years to capture the spirit of Nick’s, the cookbook is a love letter to Nick’s, Grunt’s life’s work. Speer’s recipes are captured in each chapter and each section includes the story behind Nick’s success. Shout outs to local spiritsmakers, fisherman, the Coast Miwok, and others who influenced what is on the table are an important part of each chapter. Each chapter has an iconic Nick’s dish–Little Gem Lettuces with herb buttermilk dressing in Salads & Soups, Nick’s Cove Burger under Main Courses, Nick’s Bloody Mary under Cocktails–yet the book reads like an historical record, pulling the reader from 1931 through to today with grace and charm. And that updated–throwback feel is exactly what to expect from time spent in Marshall, at Nick’s or anywhere else.
How to Help
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Christina Mueller is a long-time Bay Area food writer. She hails from the East Coast and has spent way too much time in South America and Europe. She discovered her talent as a wordsmith in college and her love of all things epicurean in grad school. She has written for Condé Nast Contract Publishing, Sunset, and the Marin Independent Journal, among others. She volunteers with California State Parks and at her child’s school, and supports the Marin Audubon Society, PEN America, and Planned Parenthood. When she is not drinking wine by a fire, she is known to spend time with her extended family.