Ranch & Coast Magazine

March 2024

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L ESS THAN AN HOUR DRIVE NORTH of downtown San Diego, we duck off the I-15 freeway into historic Old Town Temecula. e main drag is: Dusty. Rustic. Anachronistic. Driving down gridlocked Old Town Front Street, we pass throwback-named eateries like e Gambling Cowboy and Small Barn. My wife and I stop at the Swing Inn Cafe & BBQ, a local landmark since 1927, when Temecula was a working cattle town inhabited by real-deal cowboys. e Swing Inn was purchased in 2023 by Dean Norris. e actor played lawman Hank Schrader, brother-in-law to drug kingpin Walter White (Bryan Cranston), in the hit series Breaking Bad. Norris is a grounded, gregarious soul, often found working in the restaurant. He poses for customer selfies dozens of times a day. And he courteously agrees to meet right after flying back from New York City, where he's playing a recurring character in Law & Order. Two decades ago, Norris was living in Los Angeles and working at Baja Studios in Mexico. During one commute, he stopped in Temecula. It didn't take Norris and his wife, Bridget, long to decide this was the quiet, traditional town where they should buy a house and raise a family. "I like small towns," he says. "Not cities like L.A. or New York that impose themselves on you or your family. We wanted our kids to go to local schools and have this experience." Norris' two decades as a resident helped assuage locals that he'd be a trustworthy steward of the Swing Inn. By popular demand, he kept liver and onions on the menu. Norris also bought a customized set of smokers for brisket entrees and added dinner hours. He's got his sights set on two more Old Town plots: the next-door building (formerly Rancho Fruit Market) where he's planning an upscale bar/restaurant, and a nearby house he envisions as a high- end Italian eatery. I half-seriously ask Norris if he'll run for sheriff. He laughs. He's busy acting, growing a restaurant empire, and selling Schraderbräu, a real lager that's also a Breaking Bad reference. Temecula Valley is a hotbed of post-COVID expansion. Named by the native Luiseño Indians then interpreted through Spanish settlers, Temecula translates into English as "where the sun breaks through the mist." e population has broken through the 100,000 barrier. Temecula Wine Country (nestled between coast and mountains) is now home to 47 wineries spread across 33,000 acres. e New Inn is our home base for a three-day visit. It's small and posh, with five villas done in all-white decor. Centrally located atop a hill within the valley, e New Inn wins me over with vaulted ceilings, amply-sized bathrooms, and room service breakfast baskets filled with pastries, juices, and yogurt served in hinge-top glass bottles. With 47 to choose from, we can only drop in on a few wineries. Wiens Cellars, for example, recently changed ownership, but maintains a 2,000-name membership club and wisely kept on veteran staff who support a healthy mail-order business. e grand new experiment in town is Europa Village Wineries & Resort. When the vision is completed, Europa Village will be three side-by-side destinations set in Old-World recreations of Spanish (Bolero), French (C'est la Vie), and Italian (Vienza) villages. Don't miss the tapas-inspired menu by executive chef Hany Ali at Bolero Restaurante. >> @ranchandcoast RANCH & COAST MAGAZINE MARCH 2024 85 Actor Dean Norris, who purchased Swing Inn Cafe & BBQ last year The New Inn

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