Because I knew Sunday's Sacramento Taco Ramble would be a protein-athon, I decided to even out my nutritional intake by spending Saturday gorging on carbs and fats up at Apple Hill. Mission accomplished, to say the least, although the bathroom scale seems to indicate that something went wrong...
Overall, I thought the place a little too touristy for me. The baked goods, with a couple of notable exceptions, seemed like somewhat clumsily mass produced food. The traffic on Saturday was terrible. The crowds and long lines at the orchard stands not only delays exploration but also aggravates. The apples were generally good, although I didn't see many uncommon varieties (but I guess I may just be spoiled by Berkeley Bowl). I'm glad I went and experienced it, but if I ever return it will only be on a weekday to see some of the smaller farms.
Awesome cider donuts. Definitely the highlight. My girlfriend, who grew up in Sacramento and went to Apple Hill many times as a kid but for some reason never ate the donuts before, felt cheated that she had missed out on them for all these years. Moist, hot, appley, yum. Extra points at Rainbow for their serving system: you order and pay at one window, then wait as your food is prepared fresh. At the other places we visited the same person who takes your order also fills it, resulting in less than fresh food and longer waits.
The apple pie here, however, was terrible. It tasted like paint thinner.
The cider was very good, and I liked that they had a fountain available for unlimited sampling.
Jack Russell Farm Brewery
Pretty good beers. We tried the IPA, Best Bitter, and Apple Cider, and all were good. The cider tasted very much of apple cider, unlike the pristine, candylike, almost artificial apple juice flavor of the larger brands. I don't think I'd ever order a pint of it, but it was good. Two annoyances though: they don't do flights on the weekend ("too busy") and they were serving beers in plastic cups. I later tried a scottish ale during lunch and enjoyed it too.
Famous for having the largest pies, in physical size and selection. About 20 different mixtures of apples plus other fruits, with several different crusts, are offered fresh and frozen. Slices are sold for about 6 different pies. The pies here (we tried an original apple and pumpkin/apple) were much better than Rainbow. The apple was barely sweet (a plus, for me) and the pumpkin was essentially a pumpkin pie with a few bits of apple thrown in. I know Stanley brought this up already, but what's with the shortening based crust? C'mon, it's dangerously unhealthy and tastes worse than butter. It's one of the main reasons why Apple Hill strikes me as more as a Tourist then a Chowhound destination -- the purveyors don't seem especially passionate about creating the tastiest pies they can.
Wine Country Deli
With the exception of the locally made bratworst in my sausage sandwich, everything here was poor. Don't eat there.
Famous for having the largest selection of apples. I recall seeing: Delicious (Red and Golden), Mac, Arkansas Black, Mutsu, Braebern, Winesap, Fuji, Gala. Samples of all were offered. I bought some Mac, Black, Mutsu, and Braebern, prices about $0.75 to $1.00 per lb. Cider here, which I could not find available for sampling without waiting in the extremely long line for food, is unpasteurized. I bought a half gallon. The flavor is that of MacIntosh and Delicious apples; I liked Rainbow's better (is their's pasteurized, I assumed it was but now I wonder?). Very, very crowded.
Donut was not fresh and seemed cakier than Rainbow. Nothing special at room temperature, came nowhere close to Rainbow's. Buttermilk pie was tasty, though the crust was gummy and seemingly undercooked (although maybe that was the style they were shooting for).
Poor wines. Didn't bother to keep notes, but recall trying the sauvignon blanc, riesling, barbera, mouvedre/syrah, and a couple zins. All were overripe, hot, and low in acid. They were also pouring 5 reserve wines for $8.50, but I was not impressed enough by the free tastes to take the plunge.
I did not visit this farm, but I read about them while eating lunch. It says they have homemade sausages, saurkraut, schnitzel, and other German specialties. Has anybody tried them? Are they any good?