The Schoolhouse Restaurant and Tavern in Sanger Rocks
Oct 27, 2015 10:56AM ● Published by Brandi Barnett
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Going Old SchoolNovember 2015
By Jordan Venema
Photos: Jacki Potorke
The School House Restaurant and Tavern is probably about the only place where you wouldn’t mind serving a detention. Granted, it’s been more than 50 years since the last homework assignment was handed out at Frankwood Elementary, but that hasn’t kept its current owners from dishing out a few culinary lessons of their own. We’re not talking home economics class here, but rather a new school in fine, seasonal dining: classic American dishes made with a twist.
The original Frankwood Elementary was built in 1890, just down the road from the 8,000-square-foot brick building that replaced it in 1921. But the final bell rang for Frankwood Elementary in 1958, after which the building was sold to a local couple that transformed the school into the successful western salon and steakhouse, Sherwood Inn.
Between its evolution from recess to Friday night dates, the building houses many memories for locals in the Sanger and Reedley area. But “after Sherwood closed, it sat empty for about nine years, and the building kind of deteriorated,” says Michelle Jackson, one of the co-owners and partners of the School House Restaurant.
That was when Kelly and Connie Brooks of Reedley purchased the property. “They had so many wonderful, nostalgic memories of when they used to date in high school, and this was their spot.” They knew they wanted to preserve the building, but beyond that, says Jackson, the Brookses hadn’t a clue what to do with it.
The building was purchased in 2010, but soon after, the Brookses approached Michelle and husband Ryan Jackson, who were then living in Napa, to discuss partnering to open a restaurant. The Brookses attended high school with Ryan’s parents, who farm in the Reedley area, and so knew his reputation as a fine-dining chef.
Ryan attended the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco before working as chef tournant at the Domain Chandon, and later as the executive chef at Napa Valley’s Brix Restaurant. “He comes from the ultra-refined, fine-dining cuisine,” explains Michelle, who was the special event director for the Silverado Vineyards in Yountville.
With a background in events and cuisine and wineries and restaurants, as well as Reedley roots, the Brookses thought the Jacksons seemed the perfect couple to start School House. “They were impressed with what we were doing,” says Michelle.
For the Jacksons, “the timing was great. We’ve got two young kids, cousins are down here in Reedley, and so we were ready. The timing was right,” says Michelle, “and we had the right project with this restaurant.”
The transition was pretty natural, despite a more than two-year renovation. “We remodeled to this rustic country elegance that it is today,” says Michelle, “with touches of the schoolhouse motif.”
They kept the layout of the old schoolhouse, with dining areas in rooms like the old auditorium, which still has its stage, bordered with the American and California flags. The decorations, though, are far from kitsch – vintage desks, old chalkboards. “Just small touches,” assures Michelle. “It’s not gimmicky.”
From the auditorium to the old school hallway with the original drinking fountain at its end, the restaurant has an air of nostalgia about it – the original brick, the wood floors. But other than the ingredients, there’s something incredibly fresh about the School House Restaurant and Tavern.
Michelle describes their approach as “refined tableside service with a relaxed yet friendly atmosphere.” Their culinary approach is “handcrafted seasonally fresh, house-made everyday cuisine with a contemporary twist.” In short, it’s Napa Valley service with a friendly approach.
But the real education at School House begins with the cuisine. Michelle says their kitchen environment can be intense, only because “my husband has very high expectations in the kitchen.” Their employees “come here because they want to learn.”
Handcrafted is how she describes their food – contemporary classic favorites, New American cuisine. Their signature entrée is meatloaf, which takes four days to make. “We make everything, from our soups, our sauces, our salad dressings, our ketchups and mayonnaise, our desserts – everything.”
“We hand-squeeze all of our juices for our signature cocktails,” she continues, “and we even make our own vegetable stock for our Bloody Mary mix.” School House grows its own vegetables and herbs on site, so Michelle means it when she says, “our culinary philosophy is locally sourced, house-made, seasonally fresh cuisine.”
Guests can wind down in the tavern in front of a flat screen TV, or they can make dinner reservations for the auditorium. Between the lunch menu, tavern menu and dinner menu, guests can order anything from pizzas and lamb sliders to pan-seared Mahi Mahi on a bed of lemon risotto.
School House also hosts live music every Friday night on the tavern stage – “that one day a week we encourage everyone to come dance a little” – and more of a singer-songwriter vibe during Sunday brunch.
School House puts a new face on a building with a lot of history. In the restaurant’s reception area hang many black-and-white class photos from Frankwood Elementary. “People stop and look every time they come, and they look at these photos, saying, there’s me, or there’s my uncle, or there’s my dad. It happens almost daily,” says Michelle. It’s just one of the many reminders here at School House Restaurant that though the name and fare have changed, school is still in session.
School House Restaurant and Tavern
1018 S. Frankwood, Sanger
(559) 787-3271 • www.schoolhousesanger.com
Hours: Wednesday-Saturday 11 am-9 pm;
Sunday 10 am-8pm