By RICHARD PALOMA
Jamestown is known for its historic train and quaint Main Street reminiscent to pioneer times. In the heart of Main Street is the historic Willow Steakhouse and Saloon featuring appetizing American cuisine and a notable cheese fondue plus premium spirits, local wines and beers making it an ideal dining spot for couples, families or groups.
In its heyday, the Willow was one of the leading Tuolumne County hotels housing many dignitaries and wealthy businessmen who were instrumental in establishing Jamestown as a thriving township.
The Willow has been family owned since 1972 when Sean Mooney, who owned Mooney’s Irish Pub in San Francisco, bought the hotel, keeping the restaurant and bar area operating. An unfortunate late-1970s fire took down the closed upper level of the building that once served as the hotel that had lodged such notable figures as President William McKinley, Bat Masterson and Mrs. Robert E. Lee.
According to Siobhan (Mooney) Stevens, the restaurant’s general manager and daughter of Sean, local townsfolk appreciated the Willow so much, that they donated labor and materials to refurbish the building to where it now operates as a single-story restaurant and saloon.
Today the Willow is open every day at 11 a.m. through dinner, serving cuisine of top Choice Angus beef, poultry, fresh delivered fish and pasta dishes using ingredients from local farms when available.
Chef Roger Stevens has over 40 years of restaurant experience, mentoring in his late teens under Terry LaTorre of the well-known Villa d’Oro in Twain Harte.
“At 14 I was a dishwasher for Villa d’Oro and Terry took me aside and told me ‘you’re going to be a chef, stick around’,” Roger said. “I learned to make everything from scratch. Nothing was frozen – you had to make it. That’s also the way we do it here at Willow.”
After his career took off, Roger spent years as the lead chef at Diamond Jim’s in nearby Mi-Wuk Village. In 1994 when the Willow lost their chef, Siobhan convinced her brother who was operating the restaurant, to lure Roger to the Willow where he’s been preparing their fare since.
“It was an easy adaptation,” Roger said. “There are a lot of similarities to the menus.”
The Willow menu is complete with an abundance of entrée selections served with vegetables and a choice of baked potato, roasted red potatoes, garlic mashed potatoes or rice. A salad or soup addition is also offered.
Roger said the portions are generous.
“Extremely generous,” Siobhan chimed in.
To highlight the Willow menus, Roger has his signature dishes marked, which keeps happy diners returning.
The New York pepper steak is highly recommended.
Roger said the steak is rubbed with cracked pepper, charbroiled and seared, served with a brandy and cream sauce with sautéed mushrooms.
The Chicken Cordon Bleu is a boneless breast of chicken ‘pounded out,’ breaded and rolled with ham and Swiss cheese. The creation is then fried and oven baked and served with a special cream sauce.
“Multiple tasks are involved with that one,” Roger said. “There’s a special cream sauce that comes with it that customers always ask for extra.”
Prime rib is offered every night and is seasoned and slow roasted and served with an au jus.
On the menu there is an 8-ounce cut and a 12-ounce cut, but Roger said larger cuts are available to satisfy their customers.
“We do that with many of our steaks,” Siobhan said.
For a fish recommendation, Roger suggests diners try the Halibut Alaskan that is potato crusted and grilled, served with a lemon butter dill sauce on the side.
The Willow is also known for their baked spaghetti and meatballs that has Monterey Jack and Parmesan cheeses along with garlic, basil, oregano and a Marinara sauce.
The Willow Steakhouse and Saloon is a spot where diners can enjoy fine dining in a casual and romantic spot with history that spans well over a century.
The Willow Steakhouse and Saloon
18723 Main St.
Daily 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.