Have we forgotten the allure of the soft roll? Soft and buttery, top to bottom and side to side. Soft and flecked with salt on the outside. Soft as your softest pillow.

There are many reasons to return to the Guild House — it’s a great place to take your mother for starters —  and the fresh-baked rolls baked upstairs by the volunteer staff might rise to the top of the menu.

However, soft buttery rolls would only be a teaser, a delicious interlude halfway through lunch or a nice way to finish the meal after rolling through the applesauce cake for dessert.

“Yes, one more roll would be lovely, thank you,” you might say, we did say and Jason, a reporter at the paper, with whom I shared a meal, said almost five times.

Recently, Bobby Scrivner, a volunteer at the Guild House, asked if I would be a celebrity host for a lunch in January.

“We’d like to get the word out,” Scrivner said. “People think we’re just a private club. We’re open to everybody.”

Bobby mentioned that Monsignor Craig Harrison had hosted, perhaps sensing a potential competition between two brilliant luminaries in the local celebrity universe.

If anything, I was curious as to how many soft buttery rolls Monsignor polished off when he volunteered. There was no way I was going loafer-to-loafer with him in that arena. When you perform two weddings and four funerals a day, you’re a calorie-burning holy machine.

“Of course, I’ll do it,” I said, feeling a wave of guilt because I hadn’t been to the Guild House or supported the cause in years.

The “cause” is a good one. The Guild House raises money for the Henrietta Weill Memorial Child Guidance Clinic, a nonprofit that provides individual, family and group counseling services for children, adolescents and families in Kern County. If you live in this community, you’ve benefited from the good the clinic has done.

Located at the corner of 18th and F, the Guild House serve lunch five days a week for 10 months of the year (closing for the summer and reopening after Labor Day). Each year, it raises about $40,000 for the clinic, with more than $2 million since 1966.

Camaraderie is high amongst the mature, all volunteer, mostly female staff. Doing good, eating good and serving good.

“This is way fun. I love being here,” said Kim Clerou.

I did too, but that doesn’t mean I took a casual approach to hosting because I suspected Monsignor hadn’t.

“What do you think hosting involves?” asked Elizabeth, a woman with whom I work.

“Elizabeth, I am planning to put my arm around people and tell them that everything is going to be OK and it’s going to work out.”

While Monsignor might pray for you, I will be taking a nondenominational and admittedly fuzzier approach to my Guild House flock’s spiritual well-being.

It’s easy to forget how beautiful the Guild House is. Ray Barney, the current president, gave me a tour of the grand old Craftsman house built in 1909 by Charles Barlow, a prominent geologist who lived there with his family. It is resplendent with dark burnished woodwork, curved walls, beveled windows, glass made especially for the house by Gumps of San Francisco, a signed Tiffany carnival glass chandelier and original wall sconces.

Talk about a sense of place. The Guild House has that and a sense of time, a-way-back-when time. A time when people shook your hand, looked you in the eye and said, “You look like you could use a comfortable seat and a soft roll.”

Most of us would move there tomorrow. The house is warm, spacious and instantly will bring down out-of-whack blood pressure.

“Would you like a fresh roll?” said President Barney, when we toured the bakery upstairs, pulling a roll out of the warming pan.

Does an elephant have a trunk? I cradled the roll. It was light, it was warm, it was gone.

I’d go back just for the rolls if lunch also hadn't included clam chowder chocked with clams and laced with smoky bacon, macadamia-crusted tilapia baked with panko breadcrumbs and a spinach salad with apples, slivered almonds, cranberries and feta.

After giving a nondenominational blessing on my fellow diners, I ate lunch with newspaper friends Stef, Elizabeth and Jason — Jason of roll-eating fame. What a pleasure it was to be in a restaurant that was quiet and in which conversation was possible.

The food was delicious and cheap at $15.95, plus tax and gratuity. The cause is good and the rolls are epic.

Herb Benham is a columnist for the Bakersfield Californian and can be reached at hbenham@bakersfield.com or 661-395-7279.

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