Green Eats at Ike’s Quarter Cafe in Nevada City

by Jeff Pelline | Sierra Food Wine Art

LOCALS CALL THE NORTH BERKELEY neighborhood where Alice Waters opened Chez Panisse in 1971 the “gourmet ghetto” because of its high concentration of restaurants that serve locally grown, organic food.

In the Sierra foothills, the charming town of Nevada City is gaining fame for its own style of fresh, organic cuisine, with food that is grown at farms in the surrounding foothills. It is delivered daily to restaurants that are within walking distance of one another.

The restaurants in the city’s historic district that are renowned for their farmfresh cuisine include New Moon Café, Citronée Bistro and Ike’s Quarter Café. A pub-style restaurant called Matteo’s Public just opened, serving comfort food from local growers.

A trip to the south of France in the ‘60s inspired Waters’ cooking style. For Ike and Adrienne Frazee, the thirtysomething owners of Ike’s Quarter Cafe, it was a trip to New Orleans—on their honeymoon, no less. They’ve returned there more times since.

“New Orleans cuisine is one of the only tried-and-true American creations,” says Ike, who went to cooking school at the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco and has been a speaker at the Eco-Farm conference, a longtime national gathering to promote safe and healthful food production.

Ike sums up his cuisine like this: “Serve organic locally grown foods made from scratch that you can feel good about eating.”
Menu items include New Orleans classics such as Jambalaya, including a vegetarian version; gumbo, blackened catfish and muffuletta (pronounced
“muff-uh-LOT-uh”) sandwich, which includes green olive caper dressing, ham, salami and mozzerella cheeze on a homemade bun.

Another classic is a po’ boy made of cornmeal crusted oysters from Drake’s Bay Oyster Farms north of San Francisco, known for sustainable, environmentally friendly farming.

But as Ike points out, his menu provides “something for everyone.” His burgers are famous. They are made from naturally raised beef from local purveyors such as Nevada County Free Range Beef, fresh tomatoes from River Hill Farms near Nevada City and home-made buns with organic grains from Grass Valley Grains.

“This summer, darn near 100 percent of our vegetables will be local,” says Ike. A growing number of restaurants and kitchens in the area serve locally grown food besides Ike’s and New Moon. They include Diego’s, Summer Thymes Bakery & Deli, and the BriarPatch Deli, as well as
California Organics and In the Kitchen Cooking Classes in Nevada City.

ORGANIC FOOD BOOMING

Despite the recession, the organic food business continues to boom, as consumers become more conscious where their food comes from. U.S. sales of organic food and beverages have grown from $1 billion in 1990 to an estimated $23 billion last year, according to the Organic Trade Association in Massachusetts.

At Ike’s, the farm fresh food is served inside a historic building, as well as outdoors on a new deck. The handsome deck is built of recycled wood, from a coastal forest supposedly planted by California’s most famous conversationist John Muir. Ike’s landlord, LaVonne Mullin, has been eager to expand and upgrade the restaurant.

The sustainable theme is practiced throughout Ike’s: Leftovers are collected by a compost guy who feeds the scraps to farm animals, and the used cooking grease is collected by a biodiesel producer. To-go containers and cutlery are biodegradable and recyclable.

Ike’s restaurant is certified by the Green Restaurant Association for its sustainable practices.

The mom-and-pop restaurant has grown to a staff of 13 people since it opened in 2001, but the restaurant is still run family style. Ike cooks part-time, Adrienne sometimes waits tables, and the couple’s 9-year-old son Jezra helps his dad makes cornbread and biscuits on weekends. The couple also has two younger daughters.

The restaurant’s staff is an eclectic bunch: The longtime dishwasher was a pastor. “God sent him to work for us,” jokes Adrienne.

Ike’s dream is to take the entire staff on a “field trip” to New Orleans, as he puts it, showing them famed restaurants such as Antoin’s, Arnaud’s and Commander’s Palace, where chefs Paul Prudhomme and Emeril Lagasse launched their careers.

Ike’s favorite phrase comes from Prudhomme, and he hopes it sums up his talents: “When the taste changes with every bite and the last bite is as good as the first, that’s cajun and that’s Louisiana cooking.”

The good times roll at Ike’s

by Dixie Redfern | The Union Newspaper

Ike Frazee calls the food at his Nevada City Cajun restaurant “Gumbo Pot Cuisine,” but his piercing blue eyes convey a passion that goes well beyond the catchy label.

Ike’s Quarter Cafe is a bit of organic culinary heaven, wedged into a corner lot at Commercial and York streets with indoor dining and a sunny, dog-friendly patio.

What’s remarkable is that Frazee, 35, who started his restaurant career as a dishwasher, juggles more balls on a daily basis than most of us could ever imagine.

He’s married to Adrienne, his business partner for eight years. Ike cooks while Adrienne handles the books and “front of the house” chores.

Their first child, Jezra, was born seven years ago as they were preparing to open Ike’s. Their second child, Piper, is now 4 years old and the baby, Violet, is almost 2.

If that seems like enough to deal with, consider that Ike cooks everything from scratch, his menu is fully organic, and he tries to use locally grown produce and grass-fed beef exclusively. Making five types of bread a day from scratch is no easy feat.

“It’s what I call real food,” Ike Frazee says. “Once you eat something like clean, real meat, you can’t go back. Even our pancakes are freshly made – nothing comes from a bag or box.”

So here’s Ike, with a wife and three children and a kitchen with six burners that’s not exactly spacious – cooking up a storm.

Kirsten Pierer, a 7-year Nevada County resident, had praise for Ike’s on a recent afternoon as she sat in the cozy dining room.

“I love the food and I love the fact it’s organic,” Pierer said. “The specials, the homemade bread, the leisure atmosphere. They’re very real people. The food tastes like it’s made with love. The atmosphere and the organic food is nourishing to me,” Pierer added.

And there’s another reason everything tastes so good.

“In the summer about 75 percent of our vegetables come from within 30 miles,” Frazee said. In the summer months, the tomatoes on your hamburger might be from the Frazee garden in North San Juan, where the family lives on 20 acres.

Ike’s menu is extensive, with pages of breakfast items ranging from the Cajun sausages to his signature flapjacks and more. Lunch and dinner offer entrees such as pecan-crusted catfish, rice and beans, gumbo and all manner of tasty sauces.

At one time the Frazees were vegan. Though the family is not vegan any more, a vegetarian alternative exists for every meat item on the menu. Ever heard of vegetarian bacon?

Ike and Adrienne went to Louisiana on their honeymoon and have been back a handful of times. He chose to open a restaurant featuring Cajun food because of its diversity.

“It’s a true gumbo pot of cuisine,” Frazee said. “Influences of Spanish, Creole, French, African-American – it’s so varied.”

As a professional chef, he knows there is a definite art to cooking. He graduated from Nevada Union High School and graduated in ’92 from the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco. He’s worked with Peter Selaya and helped his chef-friend open the adjacent New Moon Cafe.

When it was time to name the restaurant, Ike decided on Ike’s Quarter Cafe for several reasons.

“The restaurant is themed after the French Quarter; we’re located in the Chinese Quarter, we’re on a quarter of a lot and in the beginning everything was priced to the quarter,” Frazee said.

Special thanks

Ike says he’s extremely thankful to the following businesses:

Nevada County Recycles, Nevada County Grass-fed Beef, Loma Rica Farm, Riverhill Farm, Backbraken Acres and Mountain Bounty Farm