By RICHARD PALOMA
On a tree-lined street in a restored century old brick building with grapevines climbing its sides in the historic part of downtown is one of the most popular places to eat in Lodi. The Dancing Fox is a beautiful European style spot, offering excellent service, fascinating wines, delicious food and some distinctive beers.
The Dancing Fox is the creation of Gregg and Colleen Lewis, who opened the establishment in May of 2009.
Gregg is a grape grower and winemaker and Colleen is a baker; thus they pursued their passions making the Dancing Fox into a restaurant, bakery, winery, and most recently, because of their son Jared’s passion, a brewery with his craft beers on tap.
Gregg has grown grapes throughout the family’s nearby Clements property since 1984 and after years of selling those grapes to high-end Napa and Sonoma wineries, he decided to take the plunge and make wines of his own.
After getting great feedback, as well as winning some amateur wine competitions, Gregg decided it was time to open his own winery.
“I told him if he did that, I would quit my job and go to culinary school,” Colleen said.
Colleen followed through and attended and completed the San Francisco Baking Institute.
Originally wanting to open their dream of a bakery-winery in Clements, but seeing too many regulations in the rural area, the couple came across their building, which needed much work at the time, in 2007.
After sinking nearly a half-million dollars into the restoration, it was time to name their creation and Dancing Fox was decided upon. Gregg, a proclaimed story-teller, had told tales to their sons when they were younger about the foxes that would run through their property.
“I told the kids that they were ‘special foxes’ and they appeared to be dancing when they romped through the fields,” Gregg said. “That’s how we got the name.”
Brought in during the restoration was a Llopis wood-fired oven purchased in Spain that Colleen had used while educating herself in Italy.
“It’s the heart of our restaurant,” Colleen said.
The baked goods are naturally leavened from the yeast from their own Clements grapes as they process organic grain in the restaurant’s stone mill.
“We hand-make each sourdough loaf using organic flours and fresh quality ingredients, many of which are locally grown,” Colleen said “We use a long fermentation process to develop complex flavors. We then bake it in our famous Llopis wood- fired oven to ensure optimal texture.”
After two years of offering baked good and sandwiches along with wine from the winery, the Dancing Fox went to a full menu with a chef and wait staff. Now the restaurant/tasting room features fountains splashing amongst many plants and flowers, providing a comfortable and romantic place to enjoy breakfast, lunch and dinner as well as sample some very tasty Lodi wines.
Chef Alex Martinez has added to the menu bringing some family recipes with a Mexican flair to some of the dishes offered.
“I watched my mom throughout the years, and I use a lot of those creations in some of the brunch items,” Martinez said.
The Dancing Fox menu includes not only hot and cold sandwiches on a selection of house-made breads, but also burgers, sausage dishes and a variety of unique pizzas straight out of the Llopis wood- fired oven.
Martinez said all the sausage the restaurant is known for, classics such as wild boar and venison, are prepared on the premises, including them being seared in the wood fired oven.
“Even though the menu may appear simple, we do everything by scratch,” Colleen said. “I think that sets us apart.”
Assisting Martinez and Colleen in the kitchen are Italian sisters who prepare pasta dishes including a homemade lasagna and gnocchi.
According to Gregg, Dancing Fox Winery produces only 4000 cases of wine per vintage year, but of those cases, 21 varietals are offered.
“A wise man once told me you’ve got to have something for everybody,” Gregg said. “There are a lot of different palates out there.”
The wines have been successful and Dancing Fox’s Triskele – Celtic for ‘three’ – a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cab Franc, and Merlot not only won gold, but also ‘Best of Class’ at the California State Fair in 2013.
Gregg claims his Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve is “the best cab in Lodi.”
“Twenty-five years ago, Napa growers told me this area wasn’t a good area for Cab grapes,” Gregg said. “It just made me want to do it.”
The Red Zorro, a Spanish Blend, has won four gold medals at various competitions and the Petite Syrah won gold this year in Orange County.
“Tasty food, great wines and, good beer, it’s all here at the Dancing Fox,” the couple exclaimed.
The Dancing Fox
203 School Street
Lodi, CA 95240