Up On The Rooftop
Elderwood Restaurant at the Darling Hotel, Visalia…
Perched atop the Darling Hotel, Elderwood displays sweeping views of the Sierra Nevada Mountains and the quaint downtown as the first rooftop restaurant in Visalia.
What started as the iconic annex to the County Courthouse in 1935 eventually became the dilapidated concrete Social Services building, and in 2020 it transformed into a boutique hotel with a vibrant rooftop restaurant and lounge.
Wanting a name that embodies the deep contrast of the valley’s landscape, the five local owners looked to Elderwood, a small farming community north of Woodlake known for its citrus, dairy and olives.
“The juxtaposition of The Darling and Elderwood is so symbolic. It’s where we can bring in the foods and flavors from the rural areas to offer the guests and travelers of The Darling in the city,” says partner Matt Ainley. The elaborate art deco vibes of the hotel collide with exposed concrete and natural colored woods on the rooftop for a stunning, yet unpretentious ambiance.
Food and Beverage Director Jonathan Anderson says the initial vision for the restaurant was family-style meals with different options and shareable portions. But because of the intimate venue space and smaller kitchen, the team felt a full-sized restaurant wasn’t possible. Instead they entertained the idea of a lounge with light appetizers, but eventually landed on their full dinner menu.
“We have to evolve to what the culture is saying and what the customer base is wanting,” Anderson says. “And people wanted a nice place for dinner. We offer several fish dishes, a filet and a New York. We completely underestimated what we thought we could do in this kitchen,” Anderson says.
As with all businesses, opening amidst a pandemic has thrown the owners and management a major curveball. “We still have a bigger vision for the menu,” Ainley says. “Our plan is to have very seasonal rotating menus, rotating craft cocktails with great food, but not uppity-snobby where you’re not quite sure what you’re eating. It looks great and it’s clean, but it’s still down to earth, which fits us in Visalia a little better.”
The intent was to be completely local with ingredients, but COVID and sanitation processes have made it difficult. “We want it more local, and hopefully as restrictions are lifted we can do just that,” Anderson says.
Sitting on the rooftop changes your perspective of Visalia. Anderson’s goal is not just to make great food, but also to elevate the entire experience. “We want to bring back excellence in customer service, where customers truly feel cared for so they can experience something wonderful. This restaurant should change your perspective on the entire dining experience.”
Bar Director Bryan Muirhead creates unique cocktails with his own spin, adding another level to the overall feel of Elderwood. With rose petals and rose-shaped ice cubes, these drinks have earned their reputation. “Daisy Buchanan and The Darling drinks are flying off the shelves. Everyone loves them,” Anderson says. “The Daisy was one of the original drinks Bryan created.”
Once a run-down courthouse, locals are claiming this restaurant as their new favorite with praises like, “Elderwood is a great addition to our little town and we can’t wait to be back. Not to mention the view and experience! If you’re in Visalia, come get a table. You won’t regret it.”
The rooftop is open for breakfast and dinner by reservation only. They hope to move toward walk-ins soon. In the meantime, Anderson’s biggest tip for getting a reservation is downloading the Resy app.
While the meaning of the Elderwood name was born out of a collective vision from five partners, it holds additional meaning for the Ainley brothers.
“With my dad passing away days before we opened, it felt pretty fitting, that where he grew up and where he was from is part of the name. Our family is full of ranchers, cowboys and salt of the earth kind of people. But they could walk into any nice restaurant and enjoy a well-cooked steak. We’ve created that very thing here at Elderwood where the working class meets the city; blue collar meets white collar.
“It really is about the ambiance, the environment and the energy for the valley,” Ainley adds. “It’s about good food and drink, but it’s really about the whole package.”
Inspired by local, seasonal ingredients that highlight what Central California has to offer, Elderwood is where rural meets the city and where the food meets the table.
The Elderwood • 210 N. Court St. Rooftop, Visalia
(559) 713-2114 • www.elderwoodvisalia.com
Photos Courtesy of Elderwood Restaurant