This edition of Full Belly Files was originally emailed to subscribers on April 1, 2022. To receive Matt Kettmann’s food newsletter in your inbox each Friday, sign up at

El Capitan always impresses at every angle, even without gourmet eats nearby. | Credit: Matt Kettmann

Big trees and bigger cliffs. That was the gist of my family’s recent spring break excursion into the well-populated wilds of Sequoia and Yosemite, where I hadn’t been for about 30 years.

The trip was prompted by a unique combination of Omicron-powered reticence — over booking plane flights back in January when we briefly considered reviving our canceled March 2020 adventure to Spain — and elementary school access, in that all families of 4th-graders get free National Park passes. We didn’t want to worry about COVID for two months if we opted for Europe, so instead we decided to do a California road trip, which had a much better chance of not being waylaid by viral surges or, as events further unfolded, war.

Credit: Matt Kettmann

We rented homes in Three Rivers to explore Sequoia and Wawona to hit Yosemite. Jaw-dropping nature and geology would be our prey — not the food and drink targets that so often fuel my excursions, even those I take with my wife and kids. Of course, we packed plenty of good eats to prepare and great bottles to pop, and we even managed to bag some epicurean excitement along the way.

Here were those food and drink highlights, check out my Instagram story from our entire trip here:

  • Fish and chips at Firestone Walker Brewing Company in Paso Robles. We’ve stopped there many times, but I always forget how excellent these are. (David Walker, of course, is a Brit, so they better be good.) Luckily, my son, Mason, did not forget, and I was reminded of their expert crispness when I cleaned up his leftovers after finishing off my pimento cheese dip.
  • A can of Firestone’s new Hopnosis on the bank of the north fork of the Kaweah River, which rushed past our Three Rivers rental.
  • Mason’s beautifully stacked turkey burger on that rental’s riverside deck. It’s a handsome burger prepared by a handsome chap who finally cracked a smile for the shot.
Mason shows off his stacked burger. | Credit: Matt Kettmann
  • Wines and beers from the book of Freedom Beverage, the North Carolina importer/distributor that Laura Booras, the longtime GM of Riverbench, is leaving town to take over from her dad. Highlights included a crisp white blend from the North Macedonian producer Tikveš, a barbera d’alba by Daniele Conterno, and a Napa cab by DuMOL.
  • A sampler of four beers and a hard seltzer from Three Rivers Brewing, where homebrewers were having a get-together and a pupusa truck was serving Salvadoran cuisine to a mix of Sunday church goers and motorcycle riders. We also talked about coffee and brewing with the proprietor of Kaweah Coffee Roasters, who runs a shop next door.
  • Last but not least, a massive, pre-marinated tri-tip from the owner of the Pine Tree Market in Wawona, which we grilled on our deck beneath the pine trees just a half-block away.
Three Rivers Brewing is a buzzing spot on the way to Sequoia National Park. | Credit: Matt Kettmann

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Events Keep Coming

Lagerville was a blast in 2019, and people are even more excited for its post-pandemic return to Figueroa Mountain in Buellton on April 9. Credit: Courtesy

If your inbox is anything like mine, it looks like the culinary events world is back in nearly full swing, with wine dinners, beer festivals, and other gatherings growing in number every week. Here are a few on my radar:

Further down the road, the California Wine Festival, one of the largest food & drink events anywhere, is scheduled to descend on the Santa Barbara waterfront on July 15-16. Tickets run from $40 to $180.

From Our Table

Dalan Moreno | Credit: Daniel Dreifuss (file)
  • And in case you missed the March 24 paper, I wrote a feature about Santa Barbara–raised, Napa-trained Chef Ryan Fancher of Ox + Anchor in the Hotel S.L.O. Check that out here.

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