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Bodega's Casino a sure bet for surprisingly good cuisine

Blink and you might miss Bodega. This tiny little unincorporated town in western Sonoma County — a blip on Bodega Highway just six miles south of Bodega Bay — had a population of 220 in the 2010 Census.

Yet believe it or not, there is fine eating and drinking to be had at the Casino Bar & Grill (17000 Bodega Highway, Bodega, 707-876-3185) . A recent evening’s menu featured an appetizer of Bloomfield Farm lacinto kale salad with fried quail egg, prawns, smoked bacon and Village bakery rye toast, plus an entrée of wild rice-stuffed whole Cornish game hen roasted in lemon, garlic, and white wine.

You can’t miss Casino. It’s the largest building in the burg, a 135-year-old eating and drinking hall next to the 1859 Saint Teresa of Avila Church made famous by Alfred Hitchcock’s thriller, “The Birds.”

It’s not actually a casino, but a pool hall and tavern opened in 1939 by Nebo Casini, an entrepreneur who got clever with his family name to attract attention for his fledging business.

For whatever reason, local chefs adore it, and many cook there. Depending on who is in the kitchen, the menu changes daily.

“Sirloin steak sandwich with sautéed onions, red peppers, baby bellas, garlic and provolone, served with orecchiette salad, salt & pepper chips and sour pickle.” That’s one of the more expected dishes you’ll find at Casino, except that all the ingredients are organic, local, and from boutique purveyors. It’s so delicious that actual tears will come to your eyes.

“Flan with black Hawaiian sea salt.” This, from a dark, noisy pub where people drink beer on a dirt-framed patio, and watch sports at 2 p.m. on weekdays? “Haddock chowder, lardo, Tamworth bacon, Straus cream, leeks.”

If you’re still not convinced, try this recent Sunday feast on for taste:

  • Smoked tongue “pastrami” slider, turnip slaw
  • Crayfish velouté
  • Iceberg salad, bacon vinaigrette, blue cheese dressing
  • Crispy pork head croquette, green bean salad, sauce remoulade
  • Gumbo de Gibier, rabbit, quail, andouille
  • Chicory coffee pots d' crème and cinnamon doughnuts

While you’re listening to your stomach rumble, get ready to rub your eyes, too. The prices at Casino are reasonable, to say the least.