4 minute read
Local Eats: Cellar Door
Story by Lifestyle Staff | Photos by Topograph
Finding a flavorful twist on an old classic in downtown Visalia. Meet the new Cellar Door.
The "pandemic pivot" aptly describes how businesses adapted and stayed afloat during the ever-changing “new normal” brought on by the 2020 pandemic. Many businesses were challenged to find creative ways to serve their customers during the restrictions, including downtown Visalia’s music venue, Cellar Door. Co-owner Amy Dwelle shares that prior to the pandemic, they only served bar-style food. But once the pandemic hit and shows were halted, they quickly built a kitchen to serve the community in a broader capacity.
In 2018, Marc and Amy Dwelle, along with Ryan Sullivan, purchased the music venue from local educators Dan and Denise Littleton, who operated Cellar Door for over 13 years. Soon after the acquisition, they partnered with Tate Darwin to run the bar and food portion of the operation. Tate attended culinary school in New York, where he was a bartender before running the bar program at local spot Jack & Charlie’s. They also put plans in place to strengthen the music side of the business, ensuring it would be around for years to come. Little did they know (along with the rest of the world) that in a few short years, venues would be shuttered due to the pandemic.
Open for Business
Fast forward to today, and Cellar Door has quickly built a reputation for serving up some of the most flavorful food dishes around town, no matter the time of day. They open their doors from 7am-noon serving up lattes, bagels, and other specialty baked goods. From noon-2pm, they offer a rotating lunch menu with sandwich options including sausage and pepper or classic roast beef. But their dinner menu is where they really shine: a few of our favorites include a savory soup made with pumpkins and tacos made with tender chuck roast—both bursting with the kind of flavor that comes only after perfect braising and patient simmering (the soup cooks for seven full hours.) Their cocktails are made to an equally high standard, using freshly squeezed fruit and herbs. Executive Chef Tate shares, “We source our ingredients locally, always fresh, and aim to honor our farmers by using minimal ingredients to bring out the natural flavors of the food.”
When we reopened, we created a menu offering farm-to-table, food-centric, and tapas-style options with the purpose of sharing amongst each other.
The Cellar Door crew is most passionate about creating community and getting to know everyone who walks through the door. They also seek to establish an environment where people can relax and enjoy their meal without feeling rushed. Tate says, “When we reopened, we created a menu offering farm-to-table, food-centric, and tapas-style options with the purpose of sharing amongst each other.” He also explains that serving food until 10pm is an important element of offering quality options for families who want more than just fast food after their kids' late sports games or school events. Their message to “enjoy food” is encouraged beyond the restaurant through the small library of culinary- and libations-themed books they’ve acquired—some donated by customers who are now friends. Visitors can check out a book the old-fashioned way, using a library-style card in a sleeve, fastened inside the first pages.
A Family Affair
Describing themselves as a family-run operation is not an overstatement. Marc and Amy’s son Max supported operations at the start of the pandemic by learning the ins and outs of the kitchen from Tate. Amy shares proudly that he is now their sous-chef and has become an expert in his own right, calling out when recipes need to be adjusted or tweaked. Tate’s brother and sister-in-law, Chase and Brooke, bake all of the breakfast pastries.
When dining or enjoying an afternoon drink or nightcap at Cellar Door, you’ll find good tunes and made-to-order savory and seasonal dishes, in an eclectic and warm environment with some grit—just as one would expect from a well-worn and nostalgic building. However, behind the great food are people who are not only passionate about creating one-of-a-kind recipes for their community, but are equally invested in bringing people together to enjoy the food that features abundant produce from our own Central Valley.