Table for two! – Dining prayers answered at Friar Tuck’s |

Table for two! – Dining prayers answered at Friar Tuck’s

Greg and Rona Cook and their Friar Tuck’s restaurant have been fixtures in Nevada City for so long that it’s hard to imagine there is anything we don’t know about their eclectic eatery.

But I was surprised to hear that Friar Tuck’s once was haunted by a ghost named Murph – at least until a fire in March 2002 destroyed the building that was the restaurant’s home since Dec. 26, 1973.

“Oh, yes. No joke. Too many people saw him, or evidence of him,” said Cook. “One time a chef became hysterical, saying plates had been smashed without being touched. Another time, a friend and I were chatting in a booth when napkin sets (silverware wrapped in napkins) flew off the table.”

Since Friar Tuck’s reopened in May 2003, more than a year after the fire, Murph has not been detected. Perhaps because he may not recognize the Cooks’ new place, with its custom chandeliers and other lighting, classic triple-arch carved bar, state-of-the-art sound system and spacious food preparation area.

“It’s sure different than when I opened this place with $5,000,” said Cook. “Half of downtown was boarded up – rent here was $300 a month. We had 4,000 feet of extensions cords and a burlap ceiling, which was in style at the time.”

Greg got into the restaurant business in Moscow, Idaho, where two universities – the University of Idaho and nearby Washington State – helped make The Winery, with its monastery theme, a popular dining spot.

“The staff wore monk robes, and I was called Friar Tuck, which is where this restaurant’s name came from,” said Cook.

When his father died, Cook (a Sacramento State grad) returned to Northern California to be closer to his family and found his new home in Nevada City. He also found and married Rona, a waitress and single mom of two, and they added a couple more kids to the family. (Brian, 35, is an electrical engineer in Sebastopol, and Amanda, 28, just received her medical degree from the University of Minnesota. The two children still at home work at the restaurant, 17-year-old Carissa as a hostess and 16-year-old Eddie as a busboy.)

Cook brought the monk robes and The Winery’s specialty – fondue – with him from Idaho. The robes lasted about six months, but fondue can still be found on the Friar Tuck’s menu. The cheese fondue is made with gruyere and emmentaler, with French bread cubes, mushrooms, apples and assorted veggies for dipping. Offered with the hot oil fondue are meatballs, sirloin cubes, prawns, scallops or chicken, with five dipping sauces: mushroom sherry, lemon cocktail horseradish, teriyaki, garlic butter and tartar sauce.

Meat is featured on the “Refectory” side of the menu: Corn-fed steaks from the Midwest, lamb from New Zealand, lobster tails from Australia, and prime rib slow-roasted in a special ceramic oven added since the fire.

There are daily specials, too – recently, there was fresh Hawaiian ahi (yellowfin tuna) and fresh, farm-raised catfish topped with rock shrimp.

If vegetarians are wondering what’s there for them, Cook said his chefs will prepare custom meatless dishes. Just ask the server about the “volcano tower” and get creative.

The dessert list includes favorites such as tiramisu and creme brulee, but if you’re in a group it would be hard to pass up the chocolate fondue (serving four to six for $16.50).

But one can’t talk about Friar’s Tuck’s without mentioning wine. Cook said he had one of the first wine bars in California (“Other restaurant owners said, ‘People won’t go for that.'”), and the tradition lives on. The wine list, which covers four pages, focuses on California vintages, and Cook said that to encourage diners to try different vineyards, “the more expensive the wine, the less markup we charge.”

The average price per bottle is about $8 over retail, and there is something for everyone in their large wine cellar. The long cabernet list ranges from a $24 1999 Sierra Vista from El Dorado County to a 1998 Caymus Special Select for $175. Among the nine daily offerings of wines by the glass recently ($7-8.50) were a Spy Valley sauvignon blanc and a Lava Cap merlot.

Cook has been known to sell a case of wine to a diner enraptured by a particular vintage. The restaurant has a wine club through which members can buy cases of hard-to-find wines, and Cook is thinking of reviving wine tastings.

Over 30 years and several expansions, Friar Tuck’s reputation had spread far beyond Nevada City, so the heartbreak of the 2002 fire was not the Cooks’ alone. They still shake their heads at the loss of a carved antique bar brought from Liverpool, England. And the insurance issue is still being hashed out in court.

But instead of mourning, the Cooks spent the year after the fire planning their restaurant’s rebirth. The new Friar Tuck’s is their pride and joy, but as Cook said, “We may own it, but it belongs to the town.”

At a glance

Friar Tuck’s

111 N. Pine St., Nevada City


Bar open at 4 p.m. daily. Dinner Sunday-Thursday, 5-9 p.m.; Friday-Saturday, 5-10 p.m.

All major credit cards accepted

$20-35, not including wine

Full bar; large wine list (nine by the glass daily)

Street and lot parking; separate bar and bar menu; large groups; children’s menu; vegetarian dishes by request.

Extra helpings

friend dropped off the takeout menu from India Oven, the new restaurant in the Pine Creek Center in Grass Valley. It includes vegetarian, chicken and lamb dishes prepared in curries or in the masala, vindaloo or paneer style. They’re open for dinner from 5 p.m. daily and lunch every day except Monday. … Young and Namyon Park have opened London Best Fish and Chips in the Grass Valley Shopping Center on McKnight Way near Kmart. Hours are 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday-Saturday … Ike and Adrienne Frazee are closing their Ike’s Quarter Cafe in Nevada City on Tuesdays to spend some more quality time with their growing family … Just up Commercial Street from Ike’s, tea lovers have good things to say about the new Mountain Tea House. … And happy 100th market to the Friday Night Market in Grass Valley, which features not only food booths but al fresco dining by downtown restaurants … .Have an area restaurant tip? Write or e-mail Rich Somerville at The Union, 464 Sutton Way, Grass Valley, CA 95945,

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