Appetizers
August 15, 2013
Sutter Buttes Brewing closes today for expansion plans

Today is the last day to hit up Sutter Buttes Brewing in Yuba City until October - the restaurant-brewery is expanding.

A new owner is in town. Joe Federico, who also owns the Happy Viking sports bar in Yuba City, is most notably adding a wood-fired pizza oven to change up the restaurant menu. After knocking down a couple of walls, the restaurant should squeeze in 25 to 30 more seats, according to brewmaster Mark Martin.

And in the brewery, Martin will add 20 barrel fermenters to expand production from 500 to 2,000 barrels per year. Expect some experimenting and more lagers, Martin said.

The restaurant aims to reopen Oct. 1. Hours may change with talks of adding Southern-style brunch on Sundays.

Sutter Buttes Brewing: 421 Center St, Yuba City, (530) 790-7999

August 7, 2013
South: Southern cuisine comes to Southside

south.jpgSouthern hospitality and fried chicken will be the highlights of South, a restaurant scheduled to open in Southside this September.

The menu is split in two: "Old School" classics, such as fried catfish with red beans and rice or barbequed tiger shrimp over cheesy grits, and "New School" dishes with a California flair, such as crispy pork belly salad with a pepper jelly vinaigrette or seared halibut alongside okra succotash.

More traditional dishes are inspired by what co-owner N'Gina Kavookjian used to eat growing up - her family has roots in Louisiana and Mississippi - while the contemporary plates are the work of chef Michael Wright, who previously worked at Kavookjian's now closed Granite Bay restaurant, Eight American Bistro.

"A lot of people don't think Southern food is really refined, but it is," said Kavookjian, who owns the place with her husband Ian. "The food I ate as a child was balanced, fresh and layered with flavor."

Served for lunch and dinner, the "Old School" dishes are usually in the $8 to $11 range and the "New School" dishes run from $10 to $20. There will be brunch too - including chicken and waffles and eggs benedict on biscuits - in the $8 to $15 range.

"We want people coming often, not just for special occasions," Kavookjian said. "It's important to be accessible to the people who live around us."

A filling plate of fried chicken will go for $13. It's Kavookjian's mom's recipe and probably South's specialty - Kavookjian tells tales of her family hiding stashes and fighting over it at parties.

While most ingredients will be purchased locally, a few - certain Southern brands of grits and secret spices - will be imported. The beer list will be local as well, and Kavookjian hopes to eventually roll out a craft cocktail menu.

South resides in the historic "Paris French Bakery" and later Sacramento Tofu Company building in Southside Park. Kavookjian said she's going for a laid-back atmosphere made cozy with pillows and curtains - it's supposed to feel more like a Southern home than a business.

The owners spent a year walking around Sacramento looking for an ideal neighborhood for their restaurant, and they landed on Southside.

"It has a true sense of community," Kavookjian said. "Everyone knows each other and takes care of each other."

South:1915 6th St. in Southside Park

PHOTO: Illustration by InForm Design

July 26, 2013
French potato chips are surprising -- goat cheese, anyone?

potatochips.JPGBee photograph by Randy Pench


A couple of lunch pals and I spent two hours inside the Cost Plus World Market on Howe Avenue earlier this month, and I wrote a "Counter Culture" column about our visit (July 12 Ticket section).

"We went (there) to discover some of its seasonal food items that could complement a backyard barbecue or picnic in the park," the column said.

Shortly after the column appeared, store manager Tom Hedtke phoned to say the market had just received a batch of uniquely flavored potato chips from France. "Too bad they weren't in stock when you wrote the story," he said.

In the interest of discovery, we returned and picked up five bags of the chips ($2.49 each) and held an informal taste test. The comments are below.

July 26, 2013
In California, Long John Silver's Big Catch is trans-fat free

Recently, the well-regarded but excitable Center for Science in the Public Interest labeled Long John Silver's new entree item "the nation's deadliest restaurant meal."

The chain's Big Catch is a large fillet of "sustainably harvested" haddock, hush puppies (balls of seasoned cornbread) and a side dish.

The consumer-advocacy group sponsored lab tests that showed the Big Catch contains "33 grams of trans fat ... (and) 19 grams of saturated fat ... and nearly 3,700 milligrams of sodium." The CSPI chose onion rings for its side dish, not the optional french fries, corn, green beans, rice or coleslaw.

The version of the Big Catch the CSPI had tested sure didn't originate in California. We know that because in January 2010 California became the first state to ban restaurants from preparing their offerings using "oil, margarine and shortening containing trans fat." Trans fat is another name for unsaturated fat containing trans-isomer fatty acid, which has been linked to the increased risk of coronary artery disease. A number of cities in a handful of states followed California's lead.

Bottom line: Diners in California can at least erase concerns over the CSPI's "33 grams of trans fat" finding.

As for actually eating the Big Catch: We thought the fish we tasted was way oversalted, but the steaming-hot fillet was moist and flaky, jacketed in a thin, crunchy coating. It's $4.99 while supplies last; www.ljsilvers.com.

July 24, 2013
Where to find fast-selling 'Lost Restaurants of Sacramento'

lostrestaurants.jpg People love lost restaurants - and the book devoted to this nostalgic topic.

Just released by American Palate, "Lost Restaurants of Sacramento and their Recipes" by Sacramento's Maryellen Burns and brother Keith Burns sold out quickly in some stores. The book and its recipes were featured in today's Food & Wine section in The Bee. (Read it at http://bit.ly/18DqIFK .)

"I just dropped off another 40 copies at Time Tested Books," said Maryellen on Wednesday afternoon. "They sold out in 45 minutes this morning."

Time Tested Books - located at 1114 21st St. in midtown Sacramento - had the most copies as of lunchtime today. Other local sources that still had "Lost Restaurants" in stock include Corti Brothers market (5810 Folsom Blvd., Sacramento), Beers Books (915 S St., Sacramento), J Crawford's Books (5301 Freeport Blvd., Sacramento) and the gift shop at the Crocker Museum.

The Barnes & Noble stores at Arden and Natomas also had a few left, Maryellen said.

Priced at $19.99, the paperback is also available online from Amazon.com.

July 24, 2013
From America's Cup to restaurant walkabout -- it's all good

We wanted to find some America's Cup madness, so headed to San Francisco for the weekend to check out the Summer of Racing in hopes of seeing multimillion-dollar catamarans with seven-story-tall masts zip around the bay. We did.

We also wanted to explore some restaurants and help you find your way to a few highly recommended tables next time you're in SF. Hey, you go to the city, you've got to eat, right?

village.JPGAs for the Cup: Essentially, there are only two craft competing in the Louis Vuitton challenger series (now through Aug. 30), the walk-up to the America's Cup race (Sept. 7-21). Italy's Team Luna Rossa is matched against Emirates Team New Zealand. Sweden's Artemis Racing hasn't had its craft on the water since it capsized in May; one crew member was killed in that accident. The winner of the Vuitton series will go head-to-head with Oracle Team USA for the America's Cup trophy.

This year's field is so narrow because so few global race syndicates could raise the millions to build the newly styled and controversial "wing-sailed multi-hull" craft. The entry fee alone was $100,000.

We spent many hours over two days at America's Cup Park at Pier 27/29, and America's Cup Village at Marina Green. Incredible world-class attractions await the curious. In a word: Go. Details and scheduled events and entertainment are at www.americascup.com.

Restaurant-wise, follow our lead and you won't be disappointed. Our first stop was the esoteric Nojo, specializing in reasonably priced Japanese yakatori (grilled food on skewers). In a city of 4,000 to 5,000 restaurants (for some reason, the exact figure is a mystery), this is a standout.

octopus.JPGOn our table: sea salt-flecked steamed edamame (soy beans in pods); sea urchin roe in noodle soup; octopus salad (pictured); crunchy heads-on prawns; grilled beef tongue and chicken on skewers; and poached peaches with sake-ginger granita.
Nojo: 231 Franklin St.; (415) 896-4587, www.nojo.com.

Yes, celebrity chef-cookbook author Martin Yan is an entertainer (we once saw him debone a whole chicken with a cleaver in 18 seconds), but he still can cook.

July 22, 2013
Arby's rolls back the price of its classic roast beef sandwich

On July 23, 1964, entrepreneurs Leroy and Forrest Raffel of Boardman, Ohio, turned their idea into a reality. That's when the first Arby's restaurant opened, following their concept of offering an alternative to the national fast-food burger restaurants popping up across the country. Their sandwich shops would serve "hot, freshly sliced roast beef sandwiches as fast as anyone could flip a burger."

That's how the Arby's national chain began. In celebration of its 49th anniversary, Arby's will sell its signature roast beef sandwich for the 1964 price of 64 cents, today only, while supplies last. Get the coupon at www.arbys.com.

July 21, 2013
Just the facts about night shifts and State Fair food

By Benjamin Mullin
bmullin@sacbee.com

There's a certain sort of person that enjoys eating food next to screaming children and the thunderous smell of animal dung. I'm not one of them.

So you can imagine my apprehension Sunday night when I threaded my way past a livestock pen and through a vortex of swirling lights to sample the food at the California State Fair. I was on break while working a night news shift, so what I wanted was comfort food I could order and eat in the space of five minutes.

Fortunately, the state fair has no shortage of comfort food, and finding it is like covering crime: All you have to do is look for smoke and trust your gut.

This particular night, I passed up on offerings such as Krispy Kreme burgers and catfish on a stick to try out an American standard: Philly cheesesteak. The server whipped it up within five minutes of my order and gave an impressive yell over the ruckus of the fair to let me know it was ready.

Taste-wise, the state fair did a good job acquitting itself with one of the most-loved dishes in the American canon. The cheese and meat was plentiful, the fries were abundant, the service was speedy and the staff was friendly. It was a good, if somewhat pricey, sandwich.

As I rushed back to the office, I realized I may have been a little uncharitable to the hasty majesty of fair food. Sure, the environment's a little chaotic, but, like news writing, the food's never boring and deeply satisfying.

July 17, 2013
First Impressions: Giant Orange offers burgers, shakes, fries

avocado fries.jpgSomeone with a sense of humor got carried away with music- and movie-title-oriented puns on the oversized and overwrought laminated menu at the new burgers-dogs-fries-shakes restaurant Giant Orange.

Such as "Chili-Chili Bang-Bang" for the open-face chili-smothered burger. "My Bleu Heaven" for the blue cheese burger. "Don't Go Bacon My Heart" for the bacon-topped burger.

Want more? "I Yam What I Yam" for sweet potato fries, "Lord of the Rings" for onion rings and "Dippity Do Dah" for dipping sauces. "Lettuce Entertain You" is the heading for salads.

Would you really say (out loud and in public) to the server standing at your table, order pad in hand, "I'll have the 'Yippee-I-O-Ki-Yay' burger?"

Neither would a lunch pal sitting next to me on a banquette in the impressively slick, retro-plush dining room, the walls decorated in '50s and '60s kitsch and memorabilia.

That burger turned out to be loaded with thick-cut bacon, grilled onions, cheddar cheese and barbecue sauce, with lettuce, tomato, red onion and pickle chips.

We also sampled the "burger of the month," topped with gobs of melted Swiss and cheddar and a really big green chile (along with the lettuce-tomato-onion-pickle template). Burgers are a tasty handful and range from $9 to $15.

We added Frickles, rather dense and salty battered-and-fried pickle spears ($5); curiously neutral but conceptually interesting "avocado fries" (pictured), panko-coated-and-fried avocado strips with chipotle-ranch and lime-sour cream dipping sauces ($6); and a pile of very good sweet potato fries ($5).

To wash it all down: Pulp Fiction fresh-squeezed orange juice ($3 and $4), a superb Orange Blossom Creamsicle shake ($6.50) and a Brain Freeze, "a cross between a root beer float and a milkshake," says the menu ($6).

A full "First Impressions" review of Giant Orange will appear in an upcoming Ticket section.

Giant Orange is at 1407 Howe Ave., Sacramento; (916) 564-6300, www.giantorange.com. Hours: 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Mondays-Saturdays.

July 17, 2013
Four plates of good fish 'n' chips swimming in a sea of so-so

tugboat.JPGThe angler's mantra is "Fish are where you find 'em." That's also true of exceptional fish 'n' chips, which swim in a small school in a sea of mostly so-so versions.

Our go-to's? We like the plates of haddock, cod and salmon at 36 Handles, served either battered and deep-fried or buttermilk-dipped, rolled in panko and pan-fried (1010 White Rock Road, El Dorado Hills; 916-941-3606, www.36handles.com).

We've also been known to knock back a plate of crispy fried wild Atlantic cod in beer-vodka batter, and skinny, hand-cut Kennebec fries (preceded by briny clam chowder) at Boxing Donkey (300 Lincoln St., Roseville; 916-797-3665, www.theboxingdonkey.com).

Whenever travel takes us to Marin County, we detour to Nick's Cove on Tomales Bay for excellent (though costly) deep-fried locally caught rockcod and more premium hand-cut Kennebec fries (23240 Highway 1, Marshall; 415-663-1033, www.nickscove.com).

BTW: Highly regarded Kennebec potatoes hold up well to frying (they don't get soggy) and are widely used to make chips.

Closer to home, a group of us recently sat on the breezy patio adjoining Tugboat Fish & Chips, diving into a fried-seafood feast. The place looks like a weathered wood vessel docked alongside busy Fair Oaks Boulevard in Carmichael. Though there are a half-dozen Tugboats around town, we favor this one.

Why? The cooks seem to know that deep-frying is an art. The oil must be clean and just hot enough, the batter thin and not oversalted. Cooking time is crucial, as are freshness, handling and consistency.

In this case, a crisp, non-oily, tempura-like coating encased fresh-tasting cod fillets and sweet prawns (pictured), pieces of flavorful calamari and assorted fresh veggies (including thick, crunchy onion rings). The french fries were an also-ran.

We could have done without the fishy, pre-breaded frozen oysters, chewy fried clam strips and the surprise dish - pork lumpia, a Filipino-Indonesian meat pastry similar to Chinese spring rolls. They can be terrific if you know a home cook who makes them from scratch.

And: Not all tartar sauces are created equal. Tugboat would be wise to upgrade its runny, sub-par version to match the quality of its fish and prawns. Which made us wonder: Is there any seafood restaurant in Sacramento that makes real tartar sauce from scratch? You know - dill pickle, onion, bell pepper, mayo. Not aioli. We'd love to know.

Caution: Watch your step on the patio. For some reason, the floor is on two levels, with a hard-to-see curb dividing them. We watched in shock as a woman tripped over it and crashed hard.

Tugboat is at 7601 Fair Oaks Blvd., Carmichael; (916) 944-4911.

July 16, 2013
A dozen foods we can do without? You make the call

gumbo.JPGSan Bruno-based Eat24 is up to its food tricks again at its blog site, Bacon Sriracha Unicorn Diaries.

Eat24 is an online service that partners with 20,000 restaurants in 1,000 U.S. cities. It specializes in matching diners with restaurants in their area that will deliver meals "to wherever you may be."

Its blog site has an amusing post titled "Top Foods We Wish Never Existed."

"The food world had a few members who you wish just didn't show up," says the blog, and goes on to name "12 culprits."

The catch is that each entry has an "exception." Take okra, for example. "Most people don't think okra actually tastes bad," the site says. "It's just that it likes to be all slimy and stringy."

That's followed by the exception - in this case gumbo, which uses okra as an ingredient (pictured). "Gumbo has been able to magically transform okra into something wonderful."

Other "bad foods" that can be made into good dishes include cilantro, liver and lima beans. Do you have your own list? Share it in "Comments" below.

For more, go to www.eat24.com.

July 13, 2013
Where to start in the world of 'weird' fair food?

By Anthony Siino
asiino@sacbee.com

Fair food falls into two camps: the impractical and the insane. No matter what, you're hoping that your dip into the foodie freak show doesn't murder your gut like it did your wallet. Here are some treats to try during your State Fair adventures:

Bacon-Covered, Chocolate-Dipped New York Cheesecake, $8.50: Bacon-cheesecake.jpegThis cake-on-a-stick is rife with crumbles of thin, salty bacon chunks under a thick shell of milk chocolate. First bite impresses with strong bacon overtones, but the saltiness soon overrides -- the bacon bits may as well have been peanuts. Don't buy if you can't share it with anyone. Find this treat at the Bacon Habit stand on the southeast end of the "Cool Zone," next to a Sacramento Bee stand.

Deep-Fried Moon Pie, $4: A classic banana-flavored Moon Pie, Fried-fair.jpegbattered, fried and buried in powdered sugar. Surprisingly delicious, like moist marshmallow banana bread but somewhat mundane treat. I demand more "weird" from my fair food, but don't let that sway you from trying it if it sounds appealing. I found this one at the Sweet Cheeks stand on the east end of the Coca-Cola Main Promenade, next to the Super Bungee attraction.

Fat Darrel, $9.75: Take a hoagie roll, slather it with mayo, lay a bed of lettuce, tomato and French fries, then slap on your steak or chicken fingers and top with three fried mozzarella sticks. An all-American bargain at any price, this beast was easily cut in two and shared. Find a fat darrel at the unnamed stand at the west entrance of the Coca-Cola Promenade.

A daily schedule of the Fair offers adventures beyond wild fair food.

July 12, 2013
Mimi's Cafe offering historic deal for Bastille Day

By Kurt Chirbas
kchirbas@sacbee.com

Mimi's Café will offer a historic (interpret that word literally) discount this Bastille Day. The restaurant chain will roll back five of its items--including its individual classic muffins, French onion soup, French dip sandwich, eggs benedict and pain perdu--to their 1978 prices for one day only, July 14.

Why 1978? That's the year that Mimi Café's opened, although this factoid doesn't explain the link between the promotion and the French National Holiday as well as you'd think. According to the chain's corporate website, Arthur J. Simmons (a U.S. admiral) founded the first Mimi's Café in Anaheim (a U.S. city).

Simmons was, however, stationed in France during World War II, and was inspired to launch the first café because of his memories of the county, particularly a French mademoiselle Mimi.

There are several locations in the Sacramento region where you can take this economic trip through time, including ones in Natomas, Arden Way, Elk Grove, Roseville and Folsom.

July 12, 2013
El Dorado County inmates' baking continues to win ribbons

By Kurt Chirbas
kchirbas@sacbee.com

Inmates at two El Dorado County jails continue to earn bragging rights for their superior culinary skills, even if they aren't then bragging about it.

JailFood.jpegThey won a total of 31 ribbons from the El Dorado County fair last month. It is the largest haul of awards yet for participants of a program that teaches cooking and baking in an attempt to reduce recidivism rates.

"For a lot of them, they have never won anything in their lives; they've never been recognized for anything," said Capt. Randy Peshon, of the El Dorado County Sheriff's Department.

The program, established in 2007 through a partnership between the El Dorado County Sherrif's Department and the Lake Tahoe Community College, has become a cornerstone of the county's response to AB 109, legislation that allows non-serious offenders to serve their sentence in county jails instead of state prisons.

There are two reasons why the program has been successful, said Peshon. It both gives inmates marketable skills and a sense of pride.

He described what inmates typically do with the ribbons won each June at the fair baking contests each June. "They are very, very proud, but they don't want to brag. They put their ribbons in their pockets ... and hope that you about ask about it. And then, when you say, 'Hey, it looks like you're one of the ribbon winners,' you can just see the pride on their faces."

Peshon added, "I can pretty positively say that very few inmates who have made it through the program come back to jail, and if they do, it is for a very short time."

His favorite baked goods made by inmates? "The cinnamon rolls are to die for."

July 9, 2013
T&R Taste of Texas sold out of 'cue in two hours on the 4th

rodney.JPGGot an excited call from Rodney Ray the day after The Bee published its special "Now We're Cookin'!" premium section on the Fourth of July.

Ray, pictured here, is the pitmaster at T&R Taste of Texas, and specializes in smoking ribs, tri-tip, pork shoulder, chicken and hot links over hickory, mesquite, applewood and pecan (3621 Broadway, Sacramento; 916-739-1669).

The premium section featured advice for home cooks from three restaurateurs who are expert at barbecue, plus guides to new barbecue-centric gear and where to get the best frozen treats.

One of the stories I wrote was Ray's response to the proposition: If he were to host a Fourth of July barbecue party in his backyard, what would it be like? The thought was that readers could get some informed tips from Ray and emulate parts of his plan.

So, what's up, Rodney?

"I wanted to tell you that the Fourth of July was a roaring success, the biggest day of the year for us," he said. "I prepared enough food for 200 people, which usually takes me all day to sell. But on Thursday I sold out in two hours."

How was that possible? "It was the perfect storm," he said. "The article in The Bee came out, it was hot that day and nobody wanted to barbecue, and we had our regular crowd come in. It was crazy. We had tons of big orders - five to 10 slabs of ribs per order, 10 pounds of tri-tip at a time..."

Like we keep saying, Sacramento is a 'cue kind of town.

July 5, 2013
Shoki owners close to signing lease for third location

I called Shoki Ramen House this morning after a reader told me via Twitter that the second location, on R Street, doesn't have air conditioning. Given the slew of days above 105F lately, I wanted to know how that could be possible.

They have AC, it turns out, though it doesn't work well and they're hoping to upgrade it. While chatting with Kathy Ueyama, whose husband, Yasushi, is the chef, I got a pretty god nugget of information -- they are "99.9 certain" they are about to open a third location. Until they sign the lease, I'll hold off on specifics, but it will be close to William Land Park, I'm told.

The concept will be dramatically different from the two excellent ramen houses. This one will focus on breakfast and lunch, and will feature a fusion of American and Japanese cooking styles. In other words, you might get scrambled eggs with hints of Japanese flavors and ingredients.

The new place will also try to source as much produce as possible from local organic farms, Kathy Ueyama told me. As for the AC at the Shoki on R Street, we'll keep you posted on how that goes. For now, fortunately, the really hot weather seems to have eased off a bit.

Blair Anthony Robertson is The Bee's restaurant critic. Follow him on Twitter, @blarob.

July 3, 2013
Beat Sacramento heat with free Jamba Juice smoothie


OrangeCarrotKarma65.jpgBy Kurt Chirbas
kchirbas@sacbee.com

Here's a tip for those looking for a cool way to escape the Sacramento heat: a new online promotion means you can get two Jamba Juice smoothies for the price one.

An online coupon, which offers a free smoothie when another of equal or lesser value is purchased, can be found on the restaurant chain's corporate site.

All you have to do is print out the coupon and present it at a participating location before Sunday (July 7) when the promotion expires.

(The coupon specifies that there is a limit of one coupon per person per visit.)

Here's a (much) abridged list of Sacramento Jamba Juice locations where you can redeem the coupon: 15th street and Broadway, Alhambra Boulevard., Gateway Oaks Drive, Arden Fair Mall and 65th street and Folsom.

July 3, 2013
'Candy-cot' pie is the seasonal treat at Karen's Bakery

piies.jpegKaren Holmes, owner of Karen's Bakery & Cafe, always has something good cooking in the oven.

Now and for the next three weeks or so (while the apricot supply lasts), it's the seasonal apricot pie ($25), weighing in at five pounds. Last time we tasted a slice, we wanted a second right away.

"We source the apricots - called 'candy-cots' - from a small farm in Modesto," said the master baker. "The farmer's father originally brought the seeds for the trees from the Middle East. I'm very certain that these apricots are on my last-meal menu."

Get the candy-cot pie at 705 Gold Lake Drive, Folsom; (916) 985-2665, www.karensbakery.com. The bakery is open 6 a.m.-4 p.m. Mondays-Fridays, and 7 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturdays.

July 1, 2013
Jim-Denny's Superburger makes the list of 50 best burgers

burger art.JPG"The definition of a perfect burger is open to opinion," understates the arbiters of all things food and drink at The Daily Meal.

That loaded line is part of the introduction to their "40 Best Burgers in America" list, compiled by their panel of experts nationwide. Take a look at www.thedailymeal.com/40-best-burgers-america.

The Daily Meal makes a habit of going out on a culinary limb. In recent months it has assembled national "best of" lists for food trucks, pork and beef ribs, coffee shops, sports bars - even the top 101 restaurants.

Not surprisingly, lots of California businesses have made the lists, including the latest. The Superburger at Sacramento's Jim-Denny's came in at No. 35 (816 12th St., 916-443-9655).

The judges said of the half-pound burger ($8.75):

"The bready, no-frills bun encloses a griddled patty, well-done but still at least a little juicy, dressed with mustard and mayo and layered with the usual tomato and lettuce."

At No. 7 is the half-pound Niman Ranch cheeseburger at chef Cindy Pawlcyn's Mustards Grill near St. Helena in the Napa Valley: "So big and juicy and tasty that it's hard to resist."

No. 9 is the cheeseburger at Gott's Roadside in San Francisco: "Thick and juicy. An icon."

No. 13 is the burger at Zuni Cafe in San Francisco: "The lunch-only grass-fed burger is ground in-house and comes on grilled rosemary focaccia slathered with aioli."

No. 16 is the house-specialty burger at the Father's Office in Los Angeles: "With caramelized onion, bacon, Gruyere and Maytag blue cheeses, and arugula."

Do you have a favorite burger? Tell everyone about it in "Comments," below.

June 26, 2013
Check out the Costco Food Court for a top dog deal

costco.JPGStopped by the Costco Food Court today for the best dog deal in town - a quarter-pound all-beef wiener or Polish dog with a 20-ounce drink for $1.63 with tax. You needn't be a shopping-club member to grab a bite there.

As we waited 10 minutes in line, we took note of the wall-mounted menu and found more bargains: churro, $1; chicken Caesar salad, $3.99; pizza slice, $1.99 ($9.95 for a whole 18-incher); cheese-and-bacon-stuffed chicken fingers, $2.99; hot turkey and provolone sandwich, $3.99; plus frozen treats, $1.35 to $1.65.

We got our dogs, dressed them with deli mustard and relish, filled our cups with raspberry iced tea, grabbed some napkins and found seats at a metal picnic table (which needs a good scrubbing).

Lunch there is like eating in an open-air aviary, with birds flitting here and there looking for crumbs. The dogs were hot, tasty and filling (they once were kosher), the tea was cold and refreshing. The price was right, made possible by high-volume sales and a limited menu of easily prepared items. So what's not to like?

Find the food court at 1600 Expo Parkway, (916) 563-7002; 10:30 a.m.-8:30 p.m. Mondays-Fridays; 9:30 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturdays; 10:30 a.m.-6 p.m. Sundays.

June 25, 2013
Pay attention, class -- here's how to make perfect pulled pork

pulledpork.JPGClass started at 4:30 p.m. last Sunday in the back patio area of BBQ Pro in Fair Oaks, and we were glad to be back in school.

The lesson: how to prepare and smoke a pork butt (shoulder) and magically turn it into a succulent heap of pulled pork. In this case, two pork butts had been injected with marinade, rubbed with spices and smoked over lump charcoal and hardwood for 18 hours before class started (pictured).

BBQ Pro co-owners and veteran pitmasters David and Jennifer Hill guided our class of eight through the steps, using a raw pork butt as the model. The Hills host monthly 'cue classes ($50) at their store, 10140 Fair Oaks Blvd., Fair Oaks; (916) 595-7444. Check the website www.bbqproonline.com for upcoming lessons.

BBQ Pro stocks "everything for the pitmaster," and is a dealership for the Big Green Egg, a high-fiber ceramic grill with many add-on accessories. Its design has roots in the "mushikamado" cooker, used for centuries in Japan.

David Hill made it clear: You don't have to cook on an Egg to learn new 'cue techniques in the class. True. My dinner pal and I took away a long list of tips and techniques; he cooks on a gas-fueled grill, I have a Weber charcoal grill.

We felt like we'd received an education. Here's a tip: After rubbing the roast with a spice blend, rub it again with turbinado sugar (such as Sugar in the Raw). The sugar will caramelize, adding color and flavor to the "bark" (the crust on the meat).

Before the butts were shredded and dinner began, the Hills demonstrated how to roast Anaheim and jalepeno peppers over open coals so that they blister and the skin peels off. The peppers were then dipped in garlic butter. Yow!

Jennifer Hill then showed the class how to assemble and grill mac 'n' cheese and peach-and-blackberry tart, and then whipped up a bowl of coleslaw.

Soon, the pork was shredded and dinner was served. All the students got good grades.

June 24, 2013
An inside source drops a dime on The Dime

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If you grow up and play your cards right -- and really geek out on writing Yelp reviews -- you, too, could be honored as a Yelp Elite. I happen to know a Yelp Elite -- and yes, he is a superior person in many ways. But I digress.

This individual recently attended an invitation-only event at The Dime, which is headed by Noah Zonca, the longtime frontman/chef at The Kitchen. The Dime is still a couple of weeks from opening, but this is the behind-the-activity that happens as they start to ramp things up and test the food and the service on foodies and friends.

Now we have our first glimpses of the food, which is going to be around $10. It's a great spot in the 1800 block of L Street and, if the quality of the cooking lives up to expectations, folks are going to be lining up around the block to eat here. The dirty little secret in the farm-to-fork movement is that the food is often really expensive at restaurants that tout this way of cooking and eating.

If Zonca and company can feed the masses for $10 a pop, The Dime could be the next big thing.

Here's what my source reported to me. They're his words and his photos.


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Heirloom Watermelon salad w/ fresh Perlini mozarella and poached wild prawns - Vietnamese fish sauce, peanuts, mint, Thai basil, cilantro and some other things. An extremely light and refreshing dish yet with a depth of complex flavors that complimented one another like a well-orchestrated symphony. My favorite dish of the night and one of the most creative takes on watermelon salad I've had.

June 21, 2013
We'll try the crostini with a trio of toppings, please

waterboy.JPGWe've been losing sleep lately, tossing and turning while trying to figure out the difference between crostini and bruschetta.

Plainly put, crostini ("little toasts") are thin slices of baguette, kissed with olive oil, sprinkled with pepper and salt, toasted and then topped with, well, just about anything - cheese, bell pepper, capers, salami, anchovy, shrimp, pate or any combination you can conjure.

Bruschetta ("to roast over coals") are larger slices of garlic-and-oil-rubbed bread, which are grilled (ideally) and traditionally topped with a drizzle of olive oil, sliced tomato and fresh basil. Restaurateurs don't stop there, though. You'll find bruschetta topped with everything from goat cheese to caramelized onion

Crostini don't get much better than the version we found at chef Rick Mahan's Waterboy restaurant last Tuesday (pictured). The merging of flavors and textures quickly led us to clear the plate, reminding us of a movie title now at theaters - "Now You See Me." In our case, it was "Now You Don't."

The six crostini were topped with three spreads - roasted eggplant, a tapenade of green and black olives, and white bean with sweet pepper. Pecorino cheese and olive oil nicely finished the dish.

Get it for $8 at Waterboy, 2000 Capitol Ave., Sacramento; (916) 498-9891, www.waterboyrestaurant.com.

P.S.: The menu is seasonal, so keep an eye out for an appetizer that comes and goes, described as "fish sticks" but so much more.

June 18, 2013
Zonca assembles kitchen team for soon-to-open The Dime

Noah Zonca, the former star chef at The Kitchen, is speeding toward opening his new restaurant on L Street, The Dime, by the Fourth of July weekend. Today, he announced the key players of his kitchen crew.

The head chef will be Juan Vaca, a longtime sous chef at Esquire Grille who most recently cooked at Mulvaney's, just around the corner on 19th Street.

"He's someone I trust immensely. He worked with me at The Kitchen," Zonca said.

Chef de cuisine is Ruben Perez.

"He's got the things you can't teach. He's got the drive, the heart and the passion for the industry," Zonca told me by phone.

And the sous chef is Brian "Chachi" Maydahl, an experienced cook who has worked at Shady Lady and de Vere's, among other places.

Zonca said and the team have been cooking and testing recipes the past three weeks and that the main menu is now set, with many of the dishes coming in at $10 or less. Zonca also hinted that this is the first of several Dimes.

"I want to put a team together that can split off and do their own restaurants," he said. "This restaurant is about value. It's about food chefs eat."

Zonca is now working on a breakfast/brunch menu. He expects to be serving brunch on Saturday, Sunday and Monday, with Monday being an "industry" meal for people in the restaurant business.

There has been some confusion about the actual name of this restaurant in the 1800 block of L Street. Some reports have had it as Capital Dime, while others have called it The Dime. Which is it? When I asked Zonca, he replied, "That's a good question," before being heard asking someone in the distance at the restaurant.

OK, it will be called The Dime. It rolls off the tongue better than Capital Dime, which is the name of the LLC (limited liabilty company).

We'll keep you posted as The Dime gets closer to opening. The concept sounds like a winner -- farm to fork fare at bargain prices.


Blair Anthony Robertson is The Bee's restaurant critic. Follow him on Twitter, @blarob.

June 17, 2013
Slocum House founder gets back in restaurant game

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Kerry Kassis opened Slocum House in Fair Oaks Village in May of 1986 and ran it for 23 years, taking it from an aspiring but underperforming restaurant to one of the great dining destinations in the region.

In 2009, in the throes of an economic downturn that hit fine dining especially hard, Kassis sold his beloved Slocum House. Though he was on the sidelines, Kassis' heart was still in the business. Slocum House struggled for 18 months under the new ownership and then closed, leaving a charming but aging building and an iconic patio - complete with feral chickens roaming the grounds - empty.

Now Kassis is back in the restaurant game, moving from the suburbs to Old Sacramento. Kassis recently made his purchase of Rio City Café and says he is excited about its prospects. The deal is expected to close by mid-July. Kassis' transaction comes at a fortuitous time - just weeks before the city learned it would retain the Sacramento Kings and would build a downtown arena.

Why did Kassis get back in the restaurant business?

June 14, 2013
Scoop or no scoop: Catching up with Noah Zonca

In the newspaper business, scoops are pretty darn important. Years ago, at the Detroit Free Press, where I wrote about crime and covered things like major murder trials, I would have hell to pay if the scrappy newspaper down the street, the Detroit News, had a story I had missed.

What, you may ask, does that have to do with food, restaurants and, in this case, a talented chef named Noah Zonca? Well, I thought I had a scoop - and missed it - regarding Zonca, once the headliner at the much-admired performance restaurant The Kitchen. Zonca quietly stepped down at The Kitchen at the beginning of 2013, headed out of town for a spell, and just as quietly returned to Sacramento.

When I was eating recently at The Rind, the new cheese bar in the 1800 block of L Street, someone named "Noah" was mentioned by the waiter as the person behind the papered-in windows next door at a restaurant to be called Dime. This would be in the site of the former L Wine Lounge, which closed two years ago amid legal disputes with the landlord. So I tracked down Zonca and asked about it. That was two weeks ago. Back then, Zonca told me he had a "silent interest" in Dime and would have to get permission from the main investor before releasing more information.

Fast forward to a couple of days ago and I was rather startled to read on Sactown Magazine's website that Zonca was opening a new restaurant called Dime. Say what? So I called Zonca again and wondered, "Have I been breathing in too many fumes? Or have you?"


June 12, 2013
Food truck fans, are these the 101 best trucks in the U.S.?

foodtrucks.JPGThe food truck phenomenon continues to expand, with more "chuck wagons" hitting the road very day.

Of course, Sacramento his its share of good ones. If you've attended any of the Sacto MoFo food truck festivals, you know what we're talking about. If not, plan on joining an expected crowd of 10,000 hungry folks who will line up at 40 trucks at the next festival, planned for July 21 at 8th and W streets.

Meanwhile, those arbiters of all things food and drink at The Daily Meal have checked out 450 food trucks in more than 40 cities nationwide to come up with its list of the 101 Best Food Trucks in America. Surprisingly, Sacramento did not make the cut.

"While including seven different types of fare, this year's list was still dominated by Asian fusion, burgers, sandwiches, grilled cheese and tacos," said a Daily Meal spokesman. "Pizza and lobster rolls were other predictable leaders, but there were some impressive chef-y menus, too."

Ruling the list is Los Angeles, with 16 food trucks, followed by San Francisco with 11 and New York with 10. Other California cities had one each (Santa Monica, Fresno, Anaheim, Oakland), along with one in Reno, Nev.

For the complete list, go to www.thedailymeal.com/101-best-food-trucks-america-2013?page=0,0.

June 11, 2013
Line up for 'cue and activities at Back to the Farm

bbq ribs.JPGGet out of the city and take a ride through the country this Saturday. Destination: the Back to the Farm barbecue and celebration on a peaceful 200-acre walnut grove.

What's happening? How about a feast of spareribs, pulled pork, burgers, hot dogs and homemade side dishes, and a pie-eating contest - good practice for Father's Day on Sunday.

Plus: orchard rides on a tractor and a Model-T Ford; displays of hot rods, classic cars, a 1921 firetruck, and vintage farm equipment and machinery; demonstrations and hands-on activities; and country crafts, farmers market and DJ music. Buy a bag of walnuts and give the mechanical "walnut cracker" a workout.

The good times will be 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Farm on Highway 20, Farmlan Road, Meridian. Information: (916) 933-4056, (916) 933-4107, www.benalishrine.org. Cost: $5 per "wheel." For instance, $20 per car, $10 per motorcycle. Back to the Farm will benefit the Ben Ali Shriners.

One way to get there: Highway 99 north toward Yuba City, then scenic Highway 20 west to Meridian, finding Farmlan Road when you arrive.

For the best scenic drive, the organizers suggest another route; see it on the Back to the Farm Facebook page.

June 7, 2013
Sacramento restaurant holds Esther Williams history

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The death Thursday of famous swimmer and movie star Esther Williams has left some fans nostalgic for the "Bathing Beauty"'s movies, but Sacramento residents can get a little closer to the Hollywood actress' legacy.

Around 1952, Williams and then-husband Ben Gage opened a western-themed restaurant, Trails, according to a 2010 Valley Community Newspapers story on the restaurant. Menu items included barbecue ribs, steaks, hamburgers and more. Trails had two locations in Sacramento, a restaurant on Fulton Avenue, which closed around 1965, and one location near 21st and Broadway, which still operates, serving some of the same recipes.

Williams and Gage, who lived in Hollywood and tried to run the restaurants from a distance, sold both Trails around 1954 to auto dealer Al Nahas and his wife, Myrle Nahas, the story said.

In 1979, the restaurant changed hands again. It is now owned and operated by Gin Wong, who declined comment Friday.

May 31, 2013
Beard Papa's cream puffs coming to Roseville
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Cream puff connoisseurs and sweet-toothed Sacramentans can soon try a new brand of pastry desserts.


Beard Papa's will open sometime between the summer and fall seasons in Westfield Galleria at Roseville. 


The puff provider touts the title "World's Best Cream Puffs," and has garnered a following at its San Francisco location, which has more than 2,000 check-ins on Facebook and about 850 reviews on Yelp.


Since opening its first store in 1999 in Osaka, Japan, Beard Papa's has grown to include locations in more than 15 countries, according to its website. 

Puffs are made using French choux dough, a light pastry dough usually made of butter, water, flour and eggs. Puffs can be ordered in combinations of pastries and frostings, including milk, green tea, cookie crunch and almond eclair.
May 30, 2013
River Cats' Dan Dog strikes out in baseball's Food Fight

icecreamhelmet.jpg Sorry, Dan Dog; you got Nuked - and knuckled.

Four menu items - all from Triple A's International League - advanced to the finals of Minor League Baseball's first Food Fight.

In the nationwide battle of baseball chow, the River Cats' hot-dog shaped burger - dubbed the Dan Dog for club executive Dan Vistica - didn't make the cut to the Final Four.

Instead, the finalist for the "Scrumptious Sandwich" division is the Gwinnett (Ga.) Braves' Knucksie, an overloaded pulled pork sandwich and edible tribute to knuckballer Phil Niekro.

Best of the "Hogs and Dogs" was another big bite tribute: The Nuke Dog. This season, the Durham (N.C.) Bulls created the tastebud-burning Nuke Dog - named for fictional flamer thrower Nuke LaLoosh - as a 25th anniversary salute to the movie, "Bull Durham," starring Kevin Costner, Tim Robbins and Susan Sarandon.

Also making the Food Fight's Final Four: The Toledo (Ohio) Mud Hens' "Gut Busters" champion Fantastic Freeze Sundae, 15 scoops plus toppings served in a full-size Mud Hen batting helmet (shown here); and arguably the one healthy choice on this all-league menu - LeHigh Valley (Pa.) IronPigs' local favorite "Aw Shucks" roasted corn on a stick. It's brushed with butter, parmesan and Southwest spices.

Fans have until June 6 to pick a winner - and enter a sweepstakes to taste it in person. For rules and entries, click on http://www.milb.com/milb/fans/food_fight/y2013/index.jsp

May 28, 2013
Where are the best pork and beef ribs around the nation?

bbq ribs.JPGYou'd best know your pork and beef ribs before you compile a list of the best in the nation. The eat/dine editor at the "all things food and drink" online site The Daily Meal rounded up a panel of well-qualified 'cue lovers to decide who's boss.

"So what does make for a perfect rib, according to some of the country's leading experts?" asks Dan Myers at www.thedailymeal.com/americas-best-ribs. "Tenderness, sauce-to-meat ratio, smokiness and good charring."

Among the top 20 are two in California. Coming in at No. 9 is Phillips BBQ in Los Angeles. The judges wrote, "The smokiness and work-of-genius flavor combination (makes for) about as authentic a barbecue experience as you'll ever get."

Ranked No. 15 is Bludso's in Compton, near L.A. The judges say, "The recipes are a well-guarded secret, but the end result is world-class: smoky, sweet and requiring a little tug to get at."

Visit the website for more. Meanwhile, where do you go for your ribs fix?

May 20, 2013
Follow-up: The Rind to open Thursday (with details!)

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Turns out, Sara Arbabian did not succumb to foul play, is not pinned beneath a giant cheese wheel, does not have a cat that nested on her keyboard and, best of all, is not intentionally ducking the press.

After a bit of nudging, I finally caught up with a very affable Arbabian to hear about her plans for The Rind, a cheese bar featuring wine and beer pairings. To this observer, it's a great fit on a great block and her timing is excellent.

In fact, I think it's going to be such a big hit that Chris Hansen is going to buy it and try to move it to Seattle! (Then Mayor KJ will step in at the 11th hour, make a speech to the Cheese Board and all will be OK).

While wine and cheese pairings are well accepted, the whole idea of finding the right cheese with the right beer is an exciting and relatively unexplored concept for many folks, foodies included. Beyond that, craft beer is taking off locally and throughout many parts of the country, as more and more people are taking beer seriously and enjoying small-batch, quality-driven beer. There's certainly plenty to choose from. Watch for a future "The Beer Run" column in which Arbabian and I discuss how to enjoy cheese with beer.


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Arbabian is opening Thursday at 11 a.m. For now, The Rind will be open Thursday, Friday and Saturday from 11 a.m. to midnight and Sunday and Wednesday from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. It will be closed for staff training Mondays and Tuesdays, at least for the time being.

How will it work when you walk into The Rind? For one thing, the atmosphere will be relaxed. Visitors can select one of the designated cheese samplers, featuring three cheeses, or select their own cheeses to enjoy. The Rind is also going to feature artisan grilled cheese sandwiches and mac & cheese, all with top-quality cheeses and breads. At every step of the way, the staff will be on hand to provide details about the cheeses, answer questions and give suggestions for pairings. There will be 15-20 wines at first, some available by the glass, along with six beers on tap and 10 in bottles

This is a small operation. Arbabian's husband, Stephen Tatterson, will be helping out after he gets off from his day job. There will also be a couple of other employees starting out.

If you're interested in the fascinating world of cheese and are looking for a different kind of food and beverage experience, The Rind just might become a destination for you.

We'll have more on this new venture soon after it opens. Stay tuned.

The Rind is at 1801 L St., Sacramento.

(Photos courtesy of The Rind).

Blair Anthony Robertson is The Bee's restaurant critic. Follow him on Twitter, @blarob.



May 20, 2013
O, new little cheese place (with wine & beer) on L Street, call us, we really want to help spread the word that you're about to open, but, um, it would be helpful if you returned our calls

There is a new new cheese shop (with wine and beer) all set to open on one of the best blocks in midtown.

It's called The Rind.

It's at 1801 L Street.

It will have lots of cheese

And wine.

And beer.

And that's all we really know.

We've left voicemails. We've sent emails. We've done walk-bys. We've done everything but go all Dustin Hoffman from "The Graduate" when strolled past and spotted the owner and two others casually sipping wine while seated at the bar. Instead of banging on the glass, "Mrs. Cheese Person, why won't you return our emails and phone calls?" we decided better of it, dignity-wise, and opted to go to Ginger Elizabeth Chocolates for yet another amazing ice cream sandwich (with lemon ice cream).

Still, we wonder about The Rind. We'd like to know more about the concept, the cheeses, the grilled cheeses, the whole dream of opening a new business and forgoing silly things like phones and internets. We want to share these things with our readers.

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I contemplated the possibilities: They're ignoring us. Yes, this is a clever counter-intuitive marketing strategy to absolutely perplex everyone and generate some kind of viral reaction that winds up on CNN, sells lots and lots of cheese and leads to a book deal: "Telling People About Your New Business is Stupid.".

We contemplated foul play. Did a giant wheel of cave-aged Gruyere tumble off a shelf and pin the owner to the floor? Does the owner have a cat? A cat sat that likes to sit on computer keyboards and freeze up computers? And the owner has no idea someone is emailing her to ask this potentially exciting new venture?

And wish her luck?

And ask when we can stop by and taste some cheese (and beer and wine)?

We hear it's Thursday.

But that's all we really know.

Blair Anthony Robertson is The Bee's restaurant critic. Follow him on Twitter, @blarob.

RELATED: Which restaurants do the best at marketing and promoting?

May 15, 2013
River Cats' Dan Dog part of nationwide 'Food Fight'

dandog.jpg In this nationwide Food Fight, the Sacramento River Cats will try to swing for the fences with a bat-shaped burger.

The River Cats' Dan Dog - named for chief financial officer and executive vice president Dan Vistica - is the club's official entry in Minor League Baseball's 64-team "Food Fight."

Iconic concession items from each team's ballpark menu vie in a bracket-style format for the nation's best ballpark food.

In the "Scrumptious Sandwiches" regional, the Dan Dog competes against such heavy hitters as Fang's Venom Burger (from the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers), pitcher Phil Niekro's Knucksie pulled pork sandwich (from the Gwinnett, Ga., Braves) and Fried Bologna on a Kaiser roll (from the Buffalo, N.Y., Bisons).

The Dan Dog is actually a long burger, hand-molded to look like a hot dog. According to the River Cats' official entry, "Start with fresh-ground, locally sourced ground beef, and blend with sautéed onions, garlic and a unique combination of seasonings. ... Add cheddar cheese, grill to perfection, nestle into a sweet French roll and top with a spicy red relish."

Other categories in the bracket include Gut Busters, Hogs N Dogs (devoted to pork products and hot dogs) and Local Legends.

Voters also will automatically be entered into an online sweepstakes. Grand prize: Trip for four to the winning team's ballpark - and a chance to sample its signature dish.

The first round of voting started Wednesday and continues through May 29. The finals are May 30 through June 6.

Patrons can vote as often as they like. Tweets (and re-tweets) count, too. Follow @MiLB, tweet the hashtag #foodfight and include the name of the team or food item that gets your vote.

See all the entries at http://atmilb.com/12ASqLQ or www.milb.com/foodfight.

May 13, 2013
Mighty Kong Cafe closes its doors, but the bakery lives on

kong bar.JPGThe well-used meat smoker is still on the fenced-end back patio, but the signs on the windows and the locked front door of the Mighty Kong Cafe on Stockton Boulevard tell the story: "After three years of good food and service, it has come to an end." The official closing date was May 2, but we dropped by this morning anyway and knocked on the door. No answer.

Though the cafe is history, the bakery part of the operation is still turning out organic bran muffins in 23 flavors (including pineapple-coconut, ginger root, and banana-walnut). Order at (916) 231-3631 or www.mightykongmuffins.com.

The Mighty Kong Cafe was owned by King W. Smith, who turned a grass-roots idea into a business.

"Closing was a hard decision, but we weren't making any money," Smith said on the phone. "It turned into a breakfast place and we were down to being open only Thursday through Sunday. So now we'll stick with what we know best - the muffin business."

Will there ever be another cafe?

May 10, 2013
Davis Dishcrawl No. 2 coming up, this time for breakfast/brunch

kebab.JPGLast month, the Cupertino-based food tour company Dishcrawl led an evening mini-tour of four restaurants in Davis. If you don't already know, the town has one of the most diverse restaurant scenes around.

In a typical Dishcrawl scenario, each restaurant offered samples of three house-specialty dishes, from bites to small plates.

Eighteen curious foodies attended the tour, said Dishcrawl "ambassador" Julia Simpson. "It really was a social dining experience, with a lot of talking and laughing, and people exchanging phone numbers," she said.

The group visited Seasons, Cafe Mediterranee, Monticello and Village Pizza & Grill. Tastes included cauliflower au gratin; chicken shawarma over rice with hummus and spicy adjika sauce; roasted seasonal-vegetables soup with asparagus-cheese flatbread; kebabs; and fried calamari rolled in blue cornmeal.

Now there's a second Davis Dishcrawl planned, this one focused on breakfast-brunch. The identities of the host restaurants are a secret until just before the tour launches. Participants who sign up at www.dishcrawl.com/davis will be emailed the name and address of the first restaurant on the tour, 48 hours in advance; that will be the meet-up spot.

Get going at 10 a.m. May 25. Tickets are $45, but use the promotional code word for a 15 percent discount - it's "davis25."

April 24, 2013
Health woes force permanent closure of beloved Market Club

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By now, many of the regulars at the Market Club have begun to make peace with and mourn the bad news, that their beloved little out-of-the-way eatery was closed for good after decades of good food and service that made it seem like a second home.

Owner Jim Sakata suffered a heart attack in early April, shut the Market Club on an emergency basis and then never reopened. There was no farewell. No send-off. No party. No time to say goodbye and thanks for the memories.

Reached at his home, Sakata, 62, told me he suffered a heart attack within days of a health inspection report that forced the temporary closure of the restaurant. The inspector found rats droppings in a storage area. Sakata said he hired a crew to clean it up and take care of the problem, hoping to reopen soon.

"The next day, I just felt really lousy," he said. "I was home and got up to go to the bathroom and I just collapsed. I felt weak. There was a slight tightening in my chest. I'm fine now, but I don't think I can keep going the way I was going. I was working pretty much seven days a week. It was just me and my wife."

Started by Roy Tomita, the Market Club was beloved by many for the hearty cooking and the homey ambience. To a younger generation of foodies, the Market Club was the coolest little eating joint in town, with honest food and an impossibly cool location - tucked into a weathered old loading dock off 5th Street and Broadway. It served only breakfast and lunch, and it closed at 1 p.m.

Tomita sold the restaurant to Sakata about 18 years ago on the condition that everything stay the way it was - the same style, the same recipes, the same vibe, friendly and unassuming.

Sakata ran the place with his wife Mona, but really, they were married to the Market Club. It was their life. In bed by 8:30 p.m., up at 4 a.m. and open by 5:30 a.m. Customers had their favorite dishes, but the braised short ribs were the most famous, followed by the "broasted" chicken - chicken deep-fried under pressure so the skin was crispy and the meat tender and juicy. For breakfast, one of the late Tomita's old recipes - hamburger royal - was the most popular: ground beef, onions, oyster sauce and eggs over rice.

"After 18 years, we were getting a little tired," he said.

After the heart attack, Sakata and his wife, Mona, realized the restaurant was getting the best of them and it was time to move on. The Market Club never reopened. Sakata says the entire structure will eventually be torn down and new condominiums will be built at the site. The Market Club shared the complex with Produce Express, which sells to many of the area's best restaurants.

Asked if he had considered selling the restaurant, Sakata said, "I thought about it, but I think it would be cruel to sell it to some kid who dreamed of having his own restaurant. He would have to spend thousands of dollars to bring it up to code and ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) compliance. We never had any problems serving handicapped people, but were just flying under the radar as far as ADA compliance."

For now, Sakata is continuing to recover, resting at home. An 18 handicap golfer, he says he plans to spend more time on his game "and just enjoy life a little."

He also stressed that he wished he could have said so long to all of the regulars who made the Market Club such a beloved gem.

"I just want to thanks to all of our regular customers. Over the years, they've become friends. I know them by their names and what they order. It was just a very friendly place," he said.

Blair Anthony Robertson is The Bee's restaurant critic. Follow him on Twitter, @blarob.

April 17, 2013
Add one more 'cue joint to Sacramento's smokin' lineup

ribs.JPGOur town hungers for smokey barbecue, but there just don't seem to be enough joints to go around. Now 'cue lovers can add one more option.

Dickey's Barbecue Pit will open at 11 a.m. Thursday in the Park Place shopping center, 4630 Natomas Blvd., Sacramento (916-378-4122, www.dickeys.com). The first 100 customers through the door will get a free pulled pork sandwich. Another store is at 110 Laguna Blvd., Elk Grove (916-546-4400); it opened in March 2012. Children eat for free on Sundays at both sites.

Dickey's started about 70 years ago in Dallas; now there are nearly 300 franchise stores in 43 states.

"We've stayed true to our Texas roots," the website says. "All meats are seasoned and slow smoked on-site at each restaurant."

Though we've not eaten there, the menu looks good: brisket, ribs (maybe like the ones pictured here?) , pulled pork, Virginia ham and Polish sausage, with a dozen sides that include jalepeno beans, fried okra and potato casserole.

We'll be knocking down a spread of 'cue at the new store for an upcoming "Counter Culture" restaurant review column. Soon.

April 15, 2013
Fish are where you find 'em -- in this case, swordfish skewers

swordfish.JPGFor centuries, one of the most sought-after kings of the oceans has been the swordfish. Predictably, in recent decades the demand for its firm, flavorful flesh led to gross overfishing.

Thanks to 1998's national "Give Swordfish a Break" promotion and the subsequent conservation efforts led by the U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service, the swordfish stocks in the North Atlantic and the Pacific oceans reportedly are now stable.

Stocks continue to be stringently overseen to protect the resource, meaning that diners can eat swordfish from those fisheries without a lot of guilt. Still, swordfish overkill is a concern in the Mediterranean Sea and the Indian Ocean.

That said, one of the best seafood dishes we've found is the seared swordfish skewers with tzatziki sauce at Bistro 33 in Eldorado Hills (sourced from the North Atlanic and the Pacific).

Slightly charred on the outside, moist and succulent inside, the chunks of fish are made even better with dips into the garlicky yogurt-based sauce ($9.95). Get it at 4364 Town Center Blvd., Eldorado Hills; (916) 358-3733, www.edh.bistro33.com.

April 11, 2013
Drewski to open second and third brick-and-mortar eateries

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In January, we told you about a new brick and mortar café in Folsom for Andrew Blaskovich, the food truck impresario behind Drewski's Hot Rod Kitchen. Blaskovich also runs the kitchen at Republic, the popular bar on 15th Street.

But before he could even open that second location, Blaskovich has worked out plans for a third - he's getting the keys Saturday and will be ready to start building out a full-service restaurant at McClellan Office Park (formerly McClellan Air Force Base). This Drewski's will begin serving lunch only but could expand its hours if demand warrants. Both this place and the one in Folsom are slated to open sometime in June, Blaskovich said Thursday.

The restaurant at McClellan will be up to 5,000 square feet and will have a large patio. Blaskovich plans to have a beer and wine license.

While some might consider McClellan off the beaten path, Blaskovich says 15,000 people work on the sprawling property, which converted to mostly non-military use after the air force base closed in 2001 (the U.S. Coast Guard continues to use the airport there). The restaurant will be at 5504 Dudley Ave. Unlike the Republic, which is a partnership, these two other brick-and-mortar eateries are by Blaskovich as a solo businessman.

Blaskovich is also set to launch a second food truck - decked out with a state-of-the-art $80,000 kitchen.

Since he the debut of his first food truck two years ago, cashing out his 401K from a corporate job to get started, Blaskovich has built a large following and enjoyed plenty of success with a variety of creative grilled sandwiches. Some days, he says, he is triple-booked for catering jobs. The McClellan restaurant, which has a large walk-in refrigerator, will also serve as a staging area for the trucks and catering businesses. Parking the trucks on site, he said, will save $1,100 a month.

"In terms of growth, when all of the entities are running on full steam, we're going to have 50 to 60 employees. I'd eventually like to have 100 employees," Blaskovich said.

The Folsom café, located in an office complex, will serve mostly employees who work on the property.

Blaskovich, who turns 40 this month and has a daughter, Hailey, at UC Santa Barbara, will mark the 2-year anniversary of his food truck at a Second Saturday event outside Spanish Fly Hair Garage on J Street near 17th.

April 10, 2013
Tex Wasabi's gets instant makeover to a Johnny Garlic's

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Tex Wasabi's, which featured a bold menu created by celebrity chef Guy Fieri, closed its doors Sunday after six years in Sacramento. But fret not Fieri fans. The location is about to open as a Johnny Garlic's (there's already one in Roseville).

What's the difference, you ask? We wondered the same thing.

"It's totally different. It's going from barbecue sushi fusion to pizzas and pastas. It's a completely different menu," said Michael Daugherty, the general manger.

Daugherty actually answered the phone "Hello, Johnny Garlic's," which pretty much took care of the reason we were calling. A reader alerted me via Twitter that this transformation might be about to happen. It is slated as Johnny Garlic's on Thursday. The restaurant is at 2234 Arden Way, Sacramento.

As fans of the personable Fieri know, the TV host has plenty of love for Sacramento. He has highlighted several local eateries on his hit show "Diners, Drive-ins and Dives." And he took culinary classes at American River College.

In 2009, my colleague Allen Pierleoni, who writes "Counter Culture," discovered he liked quite a lot about the recently opened Johnny Garlic's in Roseville.

He wrote:

"The menu is long and creative, encompassing appetizers, soups and salads, sandwiches, grilled and specialty items (Cuban pork chop, mojito chicken), pasta and six pizzas. Prices range from $3.50 to $18.95.

"We ordered Key lime calamari (which came with halves of green Persian limes, not yellow West Indian limes, which are what Key limes are; $8.95); "Brick in the Wall" bird (named after Pink Floyd's 1979 album "The Wall"? we wondered; $9.95); sloppy Joe sliders ($9.50); Mediterranean pizza ($13.95); and a frozen slice of chocolate-heavy mint pie, hiding Junior Mints inside ice cream ($4.95).

"This was a fine spread, with bold flavors, interesting textures and fresh ingredients. The sliders were startlingly spicy, the sauced ground beef (on buttered potato rolls) topped with onion straws and accompanied by crisp, house-made garlic potato chips with rich onion dip on the side."

Let us know what you think about the transformation.

Blair Anthony Robertson is The Bee's restaurant critic. Follow him on Twitter, @blarob.

April 10, 2013
From a reader: Going above and beyond at Seasons 52


My morning started with a pleasant surprise by reading an email from a reader about an experience at Seasons 52. Usually, these kinds of emails are inspired by a major faux pas or outright mistreatment by someone at a restaurant. But this one is different. I asked the emailer, Pamela Peacock, for permission to share her story with readers of Appetizers. Let us know what you think in the comments section (unless, of course, you're going to blame Obama for the steak being overcooked). Happy anniversary, Pamela, to you and "Hubby."

She writes:

Hubby and I enjoyed an exceptional dinner at Seasons52 on April 8, 2013---our 41st wedding anniversary.

We had reservations (and did NOT mention it was our anniversary). As we were being seated Hubby realized there was food/substance on the seat and didn't sit; asked to have it cleaned. Hostess was EXTREMELY apologetic and immediately moved us to another table. We were fine---did not complain to anyone.

Appetizer (flatbread) suggested by server, Bryan was scrumptious. Shortly he introduced us to Tierra who then took over as server. Both she and Bryan were most attentive---explaining everything, told us about Seasons52, the menu. At the same time Tierra was "out of site" appropriately. I ordered the Piedmontese strip steak medium rare, explaining I like it PINK---Tierra agreed with me.

Our Greek and Spinach salads were delish. Entrees arrived. As I cut into my steak, I thought to myself it wasn't QUITE as pink as I prefer, but "fine." Tierra arrived back at our table to check on things. She looked at my steak---then at me and said "hmmm---is that steak too done?" I replied it would be "okay." She offered to return it and order another steak; I refused that offer, saying my steak would be "okay."


April 9, 2013
Biscuits, more biscuits and lots of recipes for biscuits

biscuits.JPGOver here we have the croissant and the scone. Over there are cornbread, soda bread and shortcake. Meandering around close by is the good 'ol Southern biscuit, a cultural icon.

Think of it: dark and crusty on the outside, tender and flaky and steaming in the middle. Add butter, honey and/or fruit preserves, or spice-heavy country sausage and skillet gravy. There are as many variations as there are home cooks, and we would gladly line up to sample all of them.

Unfortunately, we can't join the other 20,000 biscuit-lovers who will do something close to that at the International Biscuit Festival, May 16-18 in Knoxville, Tenn. But the Food Network and the Cooking Channel will be there - along with celebrity chef Alton Brown - strolling along Biscuit Boulevard, filming the action and tasting the goods.

This year's biscuit-partner is 47-year-old Southern Living magazine of Birmingham, Ala., a regional lifestyle publication devoted to food, travel, home and garden as represented in the culture of the South.

Its test kitchen will set up temporary shop at the fest, and its editors and cooks will help judge the biscuit bake-off. Bonus: The magazine curates a kitchenful of biscuit recipes at www.southernliving.com, along with recipes for other authentic Southern dishes.

Listen to Southern Living's editor, Lindsay Bierman: "We will never give up on our quest to discover or formulate the world's most perfect biscuit. It's one of our culture's simplest, most satisfying soul foods."

For more on the biscuit festival, visit www.biscuitfest.com. It was named the nation's No. 1 food festival by Livability.com, the arbiter of "America's best places to live and visit."

Meanwhile, we have some baking to do...

April 4, 2013
America's Best Coffee Shops include three in California

coffee.JPGA cuppa joe is so much more than just a drink. Preparing and sipping coffee is a comforting ritual that is either good for you or bad for you, depending on the science of the moment. But is there actually a coffee-lover who has given up the habit based on shaky data from sources that are suspect to begin with?

Now those arbiters of all things food at drink at www.thedailymeal.com have conferred with coffee roasters, coffeehouse owners, baristas (including U.S. barista champ Katie Carguilo) and coffee bloggers around the country to finalize their list of America's Best Coffee Shops.

The criteria for singling out the 33 winners included "quality of coffee, quality of food, customer service, atmosphere and the 'unique' factor."

The top choice is Ultimo Coffee in Philadelphia because "what you won't find there is an attitude," the Daily Meal editors write. "That's exactly what our panelists noted Ultimo so highly for in the customer service and atmosphere categories."

California showed three winners in the list - Lamill Coffee Boutique in Los Angeles (No. 6), Ritual Coffee Roasters in San Francisco (No. 8) and Verve Coffee Roasters in Santa Cruz (No. 22).

For the complete list, go to www.thedailymeal.com/americas-best-coffee-shops-slideshow.

BTW: What's your go-to coffee joint? Let us know in "Comments" below.

March 29, 2013
Fish taco hits the spot at Gordon Biersch Tavern at Galleria

taco.JPGAs mall food courts go, the one at the Galleria in Roseville is a cut above. The spacious (and always crowded) second-floor dining area offers a wide range of ethnic-oriented choices - American, Japanese, Italian, Mexican, Thai, Chinese.

We dropped by the Galleria the other day and serendipitously grabbed a bite at the Gordon Biersch Tavern, under an umbrella at a little table for two.

The server was efficient and courteous, and twice the manager stopped by to check on our well-being. Nice touches for a food-court restaurant, where a top priority is turning tables - though we never felt rushed.

The brief menu offers fish tacos, wings, roasted turkey sandwich, a cheeseburger, sliders and "signature garlic fries" ($2.50 to $10).

This being a brewery restaurant, there's plenty of German-style beer on tap. GB started in Palo Alto in 1988 and now has 36 fast-casual taverns across the nation, including Hawaii.

We found a winner with the fish taco (pictured). Blackened mahi joins pepper jack cheese, lettuce, mildly spicy remoulade (think aioli) and salsa in a crunchy blue-corn tortilla nestled inside a soft flour tortilla ($4.95); we added avocado for $1 more.

We hit the tacos with shots of Cholula hot sauce and took big bites. Wow! Were we on the Baja peninsula?

Get it 1151 Galleria Blvd., Roseville; (916) 772-2739, www.gordonbiersch.com.

March 27, 2013
Lunch at Waterboy, a chat with former teen idol Fabian Forte

fabian.JPGFabian Forte was in town for a few days, visiting with his son and daughter-in-law, Christian and Mercedes Forte, and with his two grandchildren. I joined Fabian and Christian for lunch at the estimable Waterboy, chef Rick Mahan's restaurant at 20th Street and Capitol Avenue in downtown.

You remember Fabian, right? He was one of the groomed-and-packaged teen idols of the late 1950s and 1960s to come out of Philadelphia, a star on "American Bandstand," the guy who rocked the worlds of hysterical teen girls.

"The singing sensation of the nation" had his share of hits ("Turn Me Loose," "Tiger") before signing a movie contract and moving to Los Angeles. His filmography is impressive - 30-plus movies, including "High Times" with Bing Crosby, "Mr. Hobbs Takes a Vacation" with Jimmy Stewart, "The Longest Day" with Henry Fonda, "North to Alaska" with John Wayne.

salmon.JPGFor the past 28 years, he and longtime pals and fellow teen idols Frankie Avalon and Bobby Rydell have toured their show, "Golden Boys," around the nation. Last summer they were in Reno for "Hot August Nights," but not this year.

"We used to do 90 shows a year," said Fabian, 70, digging into a gorgeous salmon fillet (pictured). "Now we play cemeteries - we don't have to worry about the sound system. No, really, we do 25 shows a year. It gets me out of the house."

"The house" is on 40 rural acres outside Philadelphia, shared with his wife, Andrea Patrick-Forte, 52, a former Miss Pennsylvania-USA.

"I've never been happier," Fabian said. "I ride my ATV and tractor and cut the grass. Where I grew up, there wasn't any grass.

"I'm looking forward to spring, when I can plant my garden - tomatoes, corn, you name it," he added. "I don't even water it and it grows. I just got a (gas-fueled) Weber grill and I'm waiting to get the searing thing going - lamb, fish, vegetables."

pasta.JPGChristian and Mercedes Forte own Fabian's Italian Bistro in Fair Oaks. On one wall is an iconic black-and-white photo of Fabian at 15, looking 25, in a suit and well-oiled hair, taken by famed portrait photographer Richard Avedon.

"We named the restaurant after my dad as (an homage) to our family and heritage," Christian Forte said, finishing a bowl of seafood-filled squid-ink pasta (also pictured).

Last summer, Fabian was among the guests of honor at the San Francisco Bohemian Club's exclusive retreat in the luxurious Bohemian Grove campground in Monte Rio. Its membership consists of megastars in the arts, politics, business and media.

"For years they asked me to go, but I told them I don't camp," Fabian said with a laugh, then went on for 15 minutes to say how incredible the experience was.

We declined dessert, but I had one last question. Who is Fabian's favorite singer?

"Bob Seeger," he said without hesitation. "He's a rocker whose songwriting speaks to me. When you see him perform live, you want to shoot yourself because you know you'll never do anything like that."

Fabian paid the bill and we left. Rock on.

March 27, 2013
Question for readers: Is this the new style of family dining?

Last night we visited a pretty decent neighborhood restaurant and bar. It's more casual than upscale, but it's a serious enough place that you would expect good behavior and manners from the customers.

That's pretty much what we found, though we spotted one family of four behaving in a way I just found bewildering. The parents were in their mid to late-40s. The kids were about 9 (a girl) and 6 or 7 (a boy). The parents ordered a couple of beers. Dad looked at his phone several times, reading something while mom sat there. But the kids, they both had full headphones on and had their own iPads. They were immersed in their own little worlds.

I couldn't tell what the girl was watching, but the boy was on Netflix and was watching a movie. The parents never looked at them and never said anything. The two kids never looked at the parents and never exchanged words.

While the behavior troubled me, it wasn't disruptive, and it certainly wasn't any of my business. But I wanted to bring it up here and get some feedback.

Is this normal? OK family time? Unacceptable? Have these parents simply given up and have come to rely on iPads to babysit so they can go out and enjoy a plate of pasta and a beer?

Families like this, right or wrong, are missing out on crucial experiences that can shape memories and strengthen relationships for all concerned. A night out at a restaurant is about sharing and connecting -- not only with one another but with the restaurant staff and maybe other customers. It's a public space, and we're supposed to behave differently in such settings.

Indeed, I can still remember dinners with the family -- the great ones, fun ones, botched ones, the ones where I had to get dressed up. They all mean plenty these days, and none of them happened while I was wearing headphones.

Trips to restaurants are also a learning experience for kids -- how to talk to strangers, how to order food, how to use good manners. These lessons sink in. They shape behavior and build character. When these kids are out on their own, will they even understand what it means to be in a public space and behave accordingly?

Let us know what you think.

March 26, 2013
Chando's iPhone app: Mexican street food meets high-tech

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When I heard that Chando's Tacos had launched a new iPhone app, it made me think of my favorite line from Lisandro "Chando" Madrigal when I reviewed his humble little place in February of 2011 - "We're high-tech Mexicans."

In fact, Madrigal was a successful employee in sales at Apple at the time he said that.

Since then, he left Apple to focus on Chando's, which has grown to two locations and a new custom-equipped 2013 model food truck (soon to hit the streets).

March 26, 2013
Relive St. Pat's day with corned beef (and pastrami) at Sam's

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St. Patrick's Day came and went, but we're still dreaming about that corned Wagyu beef brisket and tender cabbage we feasted on for three days.

Which led us to Sam's Hof Brau on Saturday, looking for a hand-carved corned beef sandwich with a bowl of fragrant jus on the side for dipping.

Standing in the cafeteria-style order line, the thought struck: How about a combo corned beef-pastrami "heavyweight" instead? The counterman thought that was a good idea, too.

We admired his artistry with a carving knife as he sliced pieces off the two seasoned briskets in a blur of metal and meat and stacked them on rye bread. Also tempting: Polish sausage, chicken pot pie, veal cutlet and stuffed bell peppers.

Tableside, horseradish and hot mustard became involved with the delicious brisket duo, and the dipping jus was just the right touch.

Get it for $6.69 at Sam's, 2500 El Camino Ave.; (916) 482-2175, www.thehofbrau.com.

How about some Sam's history:

March 22, 2013
Plenty of exposure means cleaned-out shelves for bakery

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Thursday was a big day for Pushkin's Bakery, the fledgling gluten-free/dairy-free bakery that opened on Valentine's Day. We featured the bakery in The Bee, complete with several photos and a story about the very likable young couple that opened the business, and an online photo slideshow.

Needless to say, the media exposure brought in plenty of new customers. Gluten-free eating is a growing business, not only for those with serious food allergies but for countless others looking for alternatives to wheat flour.

Co-owner Danny Turner said the article brought in many new customers - many with gluten-free needs.

"Most of our customers are young, but this was an older demographic and an established demographic, so it was great to see," he said.

Turner and his wife Olga, the baker, had heard that such an article would mean a busy day, so they baked twice as many items - and sold out by 5:30 p.m. They close at 7 p.m.

On the bakery's Facebook page, they wrote: "If you'd like to come by and just chit chat, come by. Otherwise, we're completely sold out of everything."

All of our customers were really happy for us," Danny Turner said.

If you missed the story, you can't miss it when you visit the bakery. The Turners offered a 15-percent discount to customers who brought in a copy of the paper - and they hung them on a wall in the shop.

Pushkin's Bakery is at 1820 29th St. (near S Street) in Sacramento.

Blair Anthony Robertson is The Bee's restaurant critic. Follow him on Twitter, @blarob.

March 21, 2013
Capitol Dawg's 'hot Italian' is gone, but Ruffhaus' brat is a go-to

bratwurst.JPGWe've sorely missed our go-to wurst since Capitol Dawg shut its doors at Capitol Avenue and 20th Street last November. Our favorite was the "hot Italian" - a juicy Italian sausage on a seeded roll topped with a heap of hot giardineria, the Italian relish of spicy pickled vegetables.

There are other wurst options, one of which serves our substitute go-to dog. Ruffhaus lists five wursts on its recently expanded menu. We've tasted them all, but keep going back to the crisp, complexly flavored bratwurst that we dress semi-Chicago-style. We get it on a seeded bun topped with sport peppers and neon-green relish, with house-made potato chips (about $7.50 for the package; pictured).

Now, about neon relish, which looks like it might glow in the dark: In the 1930s, a certain preservative was commonly put into pickle relish that made it neon-green. The chemical hasn't been used for decades, but because neon relish is a part of Chicago's food lore, many companies there use a mix of mint and artificial food coloring to replicate the bright-green hue. Call it tradition.

Ruffhaus sources neon relish, giardineria and sport peppers from the Puckered Pickle in Chicago (www.puckeredpickle.com). Ruffhaus is at 4366 Town Center Blvd., El Dorado Hills; (916) 941-3647, www.ruffhaushotdogco.com.

Other dog-centric options include:
Wienery, 715 56th St., Sacramento; (916) 455-0497, www.thewienerysacramento.com.
Wiener Works, 5207 Madison Ave., Sacramento; (916) 334-8711, www.weinerworksmadison.com.
Parker's, 1605 Douglas Blvd., Roseville; (916) 786-2202, www.parkershotdogs.com.
Hotdogger, 29 E St., Davis; (530) 753-6291, www.thehotdogger.com.
Burney's, 886 Lincoln Way, Auburn; (530) 887-1262.

March 19, 2013
The proof is in the chocolate bread pudding (with gelato)

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Though it sounds like a mundane dessert to the uninitiated, bread pudding can be a delight.

It's found in various world cusines and in seemingly every restaurant throughout the South. In its simplest form, it's stale bread softed with milk, bound with egg, spiced with mace or cinnamon, and sweetened with rum- or caramel-based sauce.

We discovered a chocolate-rich incarnation at Fabaian's Italian Bistro the other night. Resistance was futile.

Chef Tom Patterson combines Acme-brand challah (egg bread), heavy cream, eggs, sugar and cinnamon and bakes the base for 40 minutes at 450 degrees. Then he whips up cocolate sauce from Guittard chocolate - the brand used for See's candies - adds Guittard chocolate chips to it and pours it over the pudding. It's served warm with orange gelato from the Italian Ice Cream Co. in Folsom.

Get it while it lasts ($6.95) at 1755 Fair Oaks Blvd., Fair Oaks; (916) 536-9891, www.fabiansitalianbistro.

March 11, 2013
Too bad 'The Taste' can't visit Tuli Bistro, or vice versa

pizza.JPGAdam Pechal, chef and co-owner of Tuli Bistro and Restaurant Thir13en, had a good run on the ABC-TV cooking competition "The Taste" before he was shown the door on Feb. 26. His appearances were chronicled at www.sacbee.com/appetizers by my colleague, wine and food writer Chris Macias.

With that in mind, lunch pal Gloria Glyer and I walked over to Tuli to say hello. Gloria writes the weekly "Fundraisers" calendar for The Bee and is a former Dining Diva for Sacramento magazine.

Pechal wasn't in evidence, but we grabbed a patio table anyway and shared a "pollo caliente" sandwich and a Molinari salumi pizza (pictured).

The huge sandwich was tops - tender chicken breast, white cheddar, crispy onion, cabbage slaw and chipotle BBQ sauce on focaccia ($12). The accompanying skinny fries were smothered in terrific chili, chunky with succulent pork and al-dente beans, and gooey with melted cheese.

We think Tuli assembles one of the most well-balanced pizzas around, cooked in a wood-fired pizza oven that blisters the edges of the thin, chewy crust.
Ours was topped with Molinari-brand pepperoni, salami and hot coppa, rich sauce from fire-roasted tomatoes and just the right amount of mozzarella ($15).

Too bad Pechal couldn't have made those winners on "The Taste."
Tuli Bistro, 2031 S St., Sacramento; (916) 451-8854, www.tulibistro.com

March 4, 2013
Two J.R.'s Texas Bar-B-Que restaurants in Sacramento close

By Mark Glover
mglover@sacbee.com

Two of three J.R.'s Texas Bar-B-Que restaurants in Sacramento closed for good over the weekend.

According to a Facebook posting, the restaurants at 3445 El Camino Ave. and 232 Jibboom St. closed Saturday.

Another J.R.'s Texas Bar-B-Que restaurant at 180 Otto Circle in south Sacramento remains open.

On Saturday, the restaurant's Facebook page posted a message that said "it's a sad, sad day for us at JR's Bar-B-Que. We hope you will come see us at 180 Otto Circle. Thank you all for the great run."

A Feb. 28 post cited "the economy and the (rising cost) of doing business."

J.R.'s has been marking its 25th year in business.

March 4, 2013
The Great Burger Hunt strikes it rich in Placerille

burger.JPGOutstanding burgers are where you find 'em, in this case at Cascada Mexican restaurant in Placerville.

The thick, juicy half-pound patty is made from prime-rib meat and sits on a lightly toasted ciabatta roll that can handle the heft.

Ours was topped with avocado, bacon, pepper-jack cheese and sauteed mushrooms, with a mound of crisp, well-seasoned fries ($11.95). Best strategy: Cut the monster into halves.

Get it at 384 Main St.; (530) 344-7757, www.cascadaonmainstreet.com.

Tip: Sit at the bar for this meal; it's the best seat for people-watching and to overhear the inside chatter between the bartenders and the serviers.

March 1, 2013
Doughbot to strut its deep-fried stuff on 'Doughnut Masters'

doughnuts.JPGThe doughnut can be a work of art, as proven by a few doughnut shops around town - like Doughbot, whose motto is, "Resistance is futile." Its pastry expertise is on display from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. Wednesdays through Sundays. Get there early for such exotic flavors as chocolate-caramel-stout (for Sacrmento Beer Week) and peanut butter-jelly-blood orange.

Meanwhile, Sacramento-area doughnut cognoscenti aren't the only ones who think highly of Doughbot's pastries, created by husband-wife co-owners Bryan and Dannah Widener.

Late last year, the couple traveled far north and crossed the border to compete on a new half-hour show created by Food Network Canada. "Doughnut Masters" will star doughnut-makers from 30 American and 12 Canadian doughnut shops.

Each episode will feature three contestants who must make doughnuts from three "secret ingredients." Judges choose a winner, who walks away with $10,000. That's right - they're handing out 10 grand a week.

Though the taping is a done deal and the show is scheduled to premiere at 10 p.m. April 2 on Food Network Canada, the Wideners can't talk about how they fared or who the winners and losers were.

"Our contract states we can't talk to anybody about it, and (the producers) are really serious about that," Bryan Widener said on the phone today.

Fair enough - but let's hope Food Network USA picks up the show so we can see for ourselves. Meanwhile, check out some of the "Doughnut Masters" audition videos on YouTube. Sorry, but Doughbot's isn't among them.

Doughbot is at 2226 10th St., Sacramento; (916) 444-5157, www.doughbotdonuts.com.

February 27, 2013
Meet the pan roast, a sublime seafood bisque with some heat

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Among the 35 dining options at the century-old Grand Central Terminal in New York City is the iconic Oyster Bar & Restaurant, serving 30 kinds of oysters and 25 kinds of fish.

Also on its menu is an original dish so sublime that restaurants around the nation have adapted it as their own. That would be the pan roast, a highly prized meal in a bowl.

Typically, a pan roast is a bisque built around cream or half and half, butter, clam juice, white wine, Worcestershire sauce, lemon juice, Tabasco sauce and spices such as celery salt and paprika; sherry is sometimes added, as is garlic and sweet chili sauce. The broth is scalded and mixed with seafood, typically oysters, shrimp, clams, scallops, crab or lobster, or any combination.

For your next road trip, you should know that a great version is served at John's Oyster Bar at John Ascuaga's Nugget in Sparks; another is at the nearby Oyster Bar at the Atlantis in Reno.

Closer to home, we stopped at Powell's Steamer Co. & Pub in Placerville for a bowl of its oyster-shrimp pan roast (pictured). One delicious spoonful led to the next, one pack of oyster crackers was replaced with a second. Soon, lunch was history. We plan to do it again soon.

The combination pan roast is $18; shrimp-only and oysters-only roasts are $16 each. Powell's is at 25 Main St.; (530) 626-1091, www.powellssteamer.com.

February 21, 2013
Bouchon Bakery devotes love and time to its great croissants

Untitled.jpgWe scoff at Danish, laugh at Napoleons and don't waste a glance on doughnuts. For us, pastry doesn't get any better than the croissant, a shining star in the family of baked goods known as "viennoiseries." The word references the city of Vienna, Austria, where many such goodies originated.

The flaky, crescent-shaped puff of fleeting delight is a combination of layered yeast dough and butter, rolled, layered and folded - a baking technique called "laminating."

The croissant is not French in origin, but evolved from a Viennese pastry called "kipferl." In the 1830s, the Boulangerie Viennoise in Paris specialized in Austrian pastries, including kipferl, and it wasn't long before the French "borrowed" the template and gave it a twist -- literally and figuratively. And a darn fine job they did.

Inevitably, the art of croissant-making was sullied by the fast-food mindset when frozen, premade croissants went on the wholesale market in the 1970s, making it possible for any store with an oven to sell dumbed-down, insulting versions of the baker's pride.

Good thing for us the Bouchon Bakery exists in Yountville in the Napa Valley. The bakers there make croissants from scratch. It's a process that requires 48 hours of loving care from the bakery's pastry team and bread team, from the time the dough is mixed till the croissants are sold at the counter. That's according to assistant head baker Erik Bursteiner.

We dropped by the bakery last Tuesday and were shocked to find no line outside the door, as there is usually. We walked inside to a blast of wonderful aromas from fresh-baked pastries and breads, and freshly brewed coffee. We were tempted to tell the counter person, "Two of everything, please!" but settled for a box of croissants and a large dark-roast.

We returned to the parking lot, used the trunk of the car as a table, and ate half the stash. You can, too. In fact, you should.

Bouchon Bakery is at 6528 Washington St., Yountville; (707) 944-2253, www.bouchonbakery.com.

February 20, 2013
Visitors & Convention Bureau launches farm-to-fork website

The Sacramento Convention & Visitors Bureau has launched a "farm-to-fork" food- and dining-centric website, www.farmtoforkcapital.com, which will include agricultural news and information on upcoming festivals.

"It's a work-in-progress, a shell that we will be filling in," said bureau spokesman Mike Testa.

The bureau has hired former Bee staff writer Ed Murrieta to write restaurant reviews for the site, reports today's edition of the media blog www.jimromenesko.com.

"'Culinary Concierge' is closer to what I'll actually do," Murrieta says on Romenesko. "My job is to find and showcase the best (restaurant) food and beverages in the Sacramento region. I'm interested in whether the food is good ... and (in finding) good value for the money."

To read a question-and-answer interview with Murrieta, visit the Romenesko site.

February 13, 2013
Cottage of Sweets stuffs 600 candies into 300 square feet

IMG_0073.JPGFor visitors to Carmel-by-the-Sea, it's always a case of "so much food, so little time." Well and good, but take a break from winetasting and expensive bistro dinners to enjoy some casual treats at the always-crowded Cottage of Sweets.

The 300-square-foot cottage sells 600 types of candies, from Turkish delight to peanut butter cups. The big draws, though, are the licorice and the homemade fudge.

The most popular fudge flavor is sea salt-caramel, said manger Karen Bateham on the phone today. "It outsells the other fudges three to one."

Dozens of kinds of licorice are on offer, 10 of which are salted - a common touch in European countries. Many of the licorices are domestic, but most are imported from Australia, England, Finland, Germany, Holland, Italy, Switzerland and Sweden.

What's the most unusual type? "Dutch licorice ship ropes," Bateham said. "They look like little pieces of rope and are dusted with an extreme salt coating."

The cottage was built in 1922 and became the Cottage of Sweets in 1959. Its current owners, Lanny and Linda Rose, took over in 1980.

The cottage was fashioned after the 20 or so "fairytale" cottages built by architect and Carmel resident Hugh Comstock in the 1920s. The style is characterized by crooked lines, swooping roofs, turrets, alcoves and stone chimneys that appear to be on the brink of tumbling down. They help epitomize the town.

If you can't get to Carmel any time soon, you can order candies online at www.cottageofsweets.com. The store is on Ocean Avenue between Lincoln and Monte Verde; (831) 624-517.

One last thing: Why can't people resist candy? I asked Bateham.

"Why would they want to?" she replied.

Good point.

February 12, 2013
Want life of pie? Marie Callender's offers whole pie sale

pies.jpg In time for Valentine's Day sweethearts, President's Day get-togethers or Oscar night parties (think Life of Pie), Marie Callender's offers its Whole Pie To Go Sale.

Through Feb. 28, more than 30 varieties of pie are priced at $7.99 plus tin deposit. Cherry pie - a natural for President's Day - is available along with apple, banana cream, berry, blueberry, cherry, coconut cream, French apple, lemon meringue, peach, pumpkin and many other favorites.

For a full list, visit www.mariecallenders.com. Excluded are cheesecakes, seasonal fresh fruit and promotional pies.

February 5, 2013
In Amador County, the place for goodies is the Vintage Market

IMG_0138.JPGSeems like more Sacramentans are dialing in to the growing winetasting scene in the foothills of Amador County. When it comes to tasting reds, our go-to wineries are Borjon, Cooper and Deaver. For more wineries to visit, go to the Amador Vintners Associations home page, www.amadorwine.com.

How about some goodies to go along on that winery tour? The homespun Amador Vintage Market in Plymouth is a smart stop for picnic supplies, sandwiches and salads (the curried chicken is tops). Specially prepared box lunches, basket lunches and platters are available.

"We get a lot of tourists on weekends," said market-deli owner Beth Sogaard. "Weekend winetasters are the key to our success. Ninety-nine percent of what (we sell) is made in-house, and we use a lot of local produce."

One don't-miss dish is the pairing of flour tortilla chips ($4.95 a bag) and hummus ($2.95 a container), both made in-house.

The well-seasoned Parmesan-tomato-basil-garlic chips (pictured ) are so popular they're shipped around the country. They're light, crisp and loaded with flavor. We used them to scoop up globs of hummus, a tangy paste of garbanzo beans, tahini (ground sesame seed paste), cumin, cayenne, parsley and olive oil. Somebody stop us!

The Amador Vintage Market is at 9393 Main St.; (209) 245-3663, www.amadorvintagemarket.com.

January 31, 2013
Ultimate smoked meatloaf sandwich is right here in town

IMG_0131.JPGLunch pal Neal Hagen was back in town after a business trip to Tennessee, and was talking about some of the meals he'd had there. "Fried chicken, fried catfish, fried okra - fried everything," he said.

The chat turned to the subject of meatloaf. "I don't know anybody who doesn't love meatloaf," he said. "But you never find consistent meatloaf at restaurants. Even the meatloaf at the same restaurant will vary from visit to visit, so I have to question their contents. The trick is to find a restaurant that intentionally makes the same meatloaf day after day."

I know of such a place, I told him, and they serve meatloaf every day. Well, then, he said...

That's how we found ourselves standing in line at Roxie Deli at 11:15 this morning, while the countermen assembled our sandwiches: house-smoked meatloaf on chewy ciabatta rolls with melted cheddar and provolone cheeses, horseradish, mayonnaise, tomato, onion and crisp jalepeno coins. They're built in three sizes (big, bigger and biggest) for three prices - $7.56, $9.52 and $15.06, after tax.

Here's how Roxie co-owner Chris Tannous (with wife Amy) makes the meatloaf: "I mix 80-20 ground chuck with eggs and my secret rub, then form (the loaves) in pans and put them in the smoker. It's not your mother's meatloaf."

What's in the secret spice mix? I was joking, right?

Neal and I sat in the sunshine at a small table next to the massive smoker, which burns oak and fruitwood. Wisps of fragrant smoke wafted by now and then.

We unwrapped the sandwiches, admired their artistry and began demolishing them. The melange of tastes and textures is a template for all other meatloaf sandwiches to follow.

"Gee, whiz!" Neal exclaimed. "You can smell the flavors before you even take a bite. Most meatloaves are dry, but this is moist and delicious."

Chris Tannous came outside and opened the smoker to rearrange fragrant, mahogany-dark briskets, which are smoked for 16 hours. Then he opened a top compartment and showed us the pans of meatloaf.

"I put these in at 5:30 this morning, and I'll take them out at about 5 this afternoon," he said.

Any specials coming up? "We'll smoke brisket, ribs, tri-tip and Buffalo wings for Superbowl Sunday," he said. "Get here early."

We chewed the last bites of the sandwiches and wadded up the last of the napkins.

"Sitting outside of a little grocery store, next to a smoker in a parking lot, eating a meal like this..." Neal said. "Only in America."

Neal should know - he's traveled the world. Ironically, the best meatloaf sandwich he's ever had has been right here all along.


Roxie Deli, 3340 C St., Sacramento; (916) 443-5402, www.roxiedeli.com

January 30, 2013
How to build your own Snackadium for Super Bowl Sunday

23520_SnackadiumAngle2r_1.jpg Who's counting calories? The Snackadium scores!

Pillsbury's creative staff came up with this striking 7- by 10-foot centerpiece for its display at Saturday's Taste of the NFL "Party with a Purpose" in New Orleans as part of Super Bowl weekend.

The crowd-size Snackadium uses eight dozen Italian super sub sandwiches (made with Pillsbury's refrigerated crusty French loaf bread dough) for the walls. The cookie sheet field is coated with a layer of guacamole, striped with sour cream yardlines. The red and gold end zones are chunky salsa and cheese dip.

Created out of disposable aluminum pans cut to size, the stands are filled with an assortment of Pillsbury favorites: Mini Crescent Dogs, Pepperoni Pizza Slices, Bacon-Cheeseburger Calzones, Bacon-Cheddar Pinwheels, Crescent Pizza Pockets, Totino's Pizza Rolls Snacks, Bugles, Green Giant Veggie Chips, Pillsbury Baguette Chips and Chex Mix.

It's the extra touches that make this foodie project stand out. Cherry tomatoes and black olives became players' helmets. Atop breadstick posts, the "pennants" are cone-shaped Bugle snacks and sliced fruit roll-up snacks.

Pillsbury has detailed instructions for how to build your own Snackadium, down-sized for smaller gatherings. Some of the variations include a "retractable" bacon dome with beer-can blimp and a veggie version with broccoli and baby carrots in the stands.

See for yourself at www.pillsbury.com/snackadium.

January 29, 2013
IHOP celebrates National Pancake Day with free pancakes

ihop.jpg Here's a deal to flip over: Free pancakes!

Next Tuesday, International House of Pancakes will celebrate National Pancake Day by offering a free short stack of buttermilk pancakes to all customers. The free pancakes will be available at all participating IHOPs from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Feb. 5.

In return, patrons may make voluntary donations to Children's Miracle Network Hospitals, the event's official charity, and its program at UC Davis Children's Hospital.

Last year, IHOP hosted a similar National Pancake Day party and served about 4 million free pancakes. If added together, all those "short stacks" would be nearly 16 miles tall. During the 2012 event, customers donated more than $3 million to children's charities.

IHOP hopes to reach that goal again next Tuesday. Local participating IHOPs are located at 2941 Advantage Lane in Sacramento, 2525 Iron Point Road in Folsom, and 2035 Arden Way in Sacramento

To find a participating IHOP near you or to learn more, click on www.ihoppancakeday.com.

January 29, 2013
Amore Cafe-Bakery changes hands, but food will stay the same

amore.JPGNader Shirakh phoned to say he and wife Fariba have sold their Amore Cafe, Bakery and Espresso Bar in Gold River, one of our favorite go-to's.

The new owners are husband-wife Abhishek and Nina Paul, who took over Jan. 21 after the Shirakhs trained them in the restaurant's operation.

"We will have exactly the same menu, but will add some Indian cuisine in a month or so," Abhishek Paul said. "Nina is the chef, and comes from a family of chefs. She has many family recipes for Indian food."

The Pauls relocated from India to Canada, where they ran a restaurant for eight years, and then moved to Sacramento two months ago.

The cuisine at Amore will remain primarily a fusion of Mediterranean, Italian, French and Persian, prepared from scratch. To ensure that continuation, Fariba Shirakh schooled the new owners on her cooking techniques and handed over the recipes.

Nader and Fariba Shirakh once ran the fine-dining house Amadeus on Fair Oaks Boulevard, then segued to Amore Cafe about eight years ago.

"It was time to get out," Nader Shirakh said. "We want to travel around the country and we might go to Europe. After that, I'm going to get tired of sitting at home, I'm so used to doing something."

Could that include returning to the restaurant business? "You never know," he said. "We need to see where we are in a few months. I'm always open to opportunity. I never close my eyes on it."

The Shirakhs were gracious hosts who built a loyal clientele. "(Some of) our customers cried when we told them the news," Nader Shirakh said. "We've had such a wonderful relationship with the community. It has been the most beautiful experience in our lives."

Amore Cafe is at 220 Gold Springs Court, Gold River; (916) 463-0011.

January 23, 2013
Celebrate National Pie Day with slice of specials

redvelvet.jpgHere's an All-American foodie holiday: Happy National Pie Day! Today celebrates all things pie, the favorite dessert of millions.

Specifically, apple pie is the pick of an estimated 36 million Americans, according to the American Pie Council. The board offers a wealth of recipes, pie-making tips and ways to celebrate via its website, www.piecouncil.org.

Marie Callender's, a restaurant chain synonymous with pie, marks National Pie Day with specials. Its Perfect Pie Trio features chicken pot pie ($9.99) or Shepherd's pie ($11.99), accompanied by Caesar salad and a slice of (what else?) pie for dessert. (Cheesecakes, seasonal fresh fruit pies and promotional pies not included.)

If you miss Pie Day, don't worry. The offer is good through March 28.

Marie Callender's also has a new pie: Red Velvet Dream Pie. It's vanilla cream with layers of red velvet cake, topped by cream cheese icing. It's a good match for two holidays: National Pie Day and Valentine's Day.

The Red Velvet Dream Pie is $13.99 plus tin, available through Feb. 28. For locations, click on www.mariecallenders.com.

January 22, 2013
Espanol restaurant closed? Nope, it's 90 years old and thriving


Let's spike this rumor before it spreads: No, the venerable old-school Espanol restaurant in east Sacramento has not closed its doors.

"This is our 90th year in business and things are going well," said Perry Luigi this morning. He co-owns the restaurant with family members. "We've held our menu prices for at least years and still serve family-style dinners."

The cause of the confusion: El Dorado Savings vacated the space next door to the Espanol to move across the street, into the Sav-Mart shopping center. Temporarily occupying the empty building is Liberty Tax, which will camp there through tax season. For those driving by on Folsom Boulevard, it may look like the Espanol has closed.

The Espanol opened in the 1920s and calls itself "the Italian restaurant with a Spanish name." It began life as a Basque restaurant created to accommodate the Spanish sheepherders who lodged in boardinghouse quarters above it, at 11th and J streets. Today, the minestrone soup is brought to the table in a blue tureen with a ladle, a remnant of the Espanol's heritage of serving meals "Basque-style" or "family-style."

The Espanol changed hands and relocated in 1952 to Third and I streets in the Commercial Hotel, then to Folsom Boulevard in 1965, its present site.

Certainly, the Espanol is out of the hip farm-to-fork mainstream. It's more of a relic of a bygone era, but its clientele is famously loyal.

"The menu and the staff haven't changed much in years," Luigi said. "We're a straightforward, no-gimmick restaurant. We do what we do, and we do it well."

The Espanol is at 5723 Folsom Blvd., Sacramento; (916) 457-1936.

January 16, 2013
Randy Paragary's Cafe Bernardo will open in Pavilions

Randy Paragary.jpg The speculation is over. After sitting vacant since July 2011, the Market at Pavilions has a new tenant.

That would be Sacramento restaurateur Randy Paragary (pictured), who has signed a lease and plans to renovate the space and open a Cafe Bernardo in the 4,000 square-foot space by June.

The new Cafe Bernardo will be the fifth in the Paragary Restaurant Group, which also operates Paragary's Bar & Oven, Esquire Grill, Spataro and Centro, as well as three bars.

The Cafe Bernardo concept is described on the company's website, www.paragarys.com as "relaxed casual" and "inspired by the European tradition of cafe dining."

Calls to Paragary and his restaurant-group offices were not returned.

The specialty-foods Market at Pavilions closed its doors July 1, 2011, after filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy from its creditors in April 2011.

Until 2008, the Market had been owned by food-and-wine expert David Berkley for 25 years and was called David Berkley Fine Wines & Specialty Foods.

In July 2008, Berkley sold his store to Greg Rhategan and investor Raymond Matteson. Rhategan was a specialty-foods and wine purveyor and restaurateur from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and was the face of the Market.

The Market's landlord - and now Paragary's - was the Costa Mesa-based retail-property company Donahue Schriber, which owns Pavilions.

At the time of the Market's closure, Donahue Schriber marketing director Audrey Yokota said the company was ready to move on. "We want to find a replacement (for the Market)," she said then. "Our leasing agents are talking with a number of players and prospects."

One well-known restaurateur whose name kept coming up as a possible new tenant was Randall Selland, whose Selland Group owns the Sacramento fine-dining restaurants Ella and The Kitchen.

Shortly before opening a second Selland's Market Cafe in Eldorado Hills Town Center in January 2012 (the original cafe is on H Street in east Sacramento), he said he was exploring additional expansion opportunities. One of them was the empty Market at Pavilions.

"There's a possibility we will open something there and still keep our (H Street) location," he said at the time. "We've been talking to Donahue Schriber about that space for a long time."

Obviously, that didn't happen.

January 7, 2013
On the verge of closing, J.R.'s Texas Bar-B-Que gets a reprieve

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Shortly after local TV stations reported Friday that J.R. Rothenberger's three iconic J.R.'s Texas Bar-B-Que restaurants would be closing their doors within five days "because of a slumping economy," crowds of loyal customers showed up to help save the day.

The new bottom line: "I'm still here and in the game," the outspoken 'cue master told me earlier today.

Rothenberger got a reprieve in the form of a $20,000 personal loan "from a friend" and will continue to deliver hard-to-find smoked brisket, deeply flavored pork and beef ribs, pork shoulder, chicken, turkey and hot links. "The Lord has worked this out," he said. "I'm cool."

January 4, 2013
Sacramento is a burger kind of town, so what's your favorite?

IMG_0055.JPGConsider the hamburger, in concept a simple meal. The reality is something else.

We've made a national obsession out of a sandwich that originated as beef tartare in the Baltic province of Russia. In the 1800s, the story goes, German sailors brought back the strange dish to Hamburg, a seaport town, where somebody was inspired to roll up a handful, flatten it and cook it. The burger as we know it debuted at the St. Louis Louisiana Purchase Exposition of 1904.

Our town is blessed with hamburgers. Big burgers, little burgers (sliders), Wagyu beef burgers, hand-formed burgers, fully loaded burgers, half-pound burgers, steakhouse burgers (think Morton's, Land Ocean and Chops) and even a burger made from ground Niman Ranch shortrib meat. That one is at Maranello in Fair Oaks, and is topped with manchego cheese, Little Gem lettuce, tomato confit, onion straws and a "dijonnaise" of house-made mayonnaise and Dijon mustard, with a side of skinny twice-cooked fries (916-241-9365, www.maranellorestaurant.com).

Raley Field was packed with burger-lovers last September, when Elk Grove website designer Rodney Blackwell (www.burgerjunkies.com) organized the inaugural Sacramento Burger Battle. Fifteen restaurants flipped their best offerings in a sizzling judged throwdown. When the smoke cleared, the winner was the Chef's Table of Rocklin (916-771-5656, www.chefdavidstable.com).

For a great burger at a bargain price, our vote goes to the prime-beef burger with fries (pictured) served during Ruth's Chris steakhouse's happy hour, dubbed "Sizzle, Swizzle & Swirl." The thick, juicy burger normally goes for $13.50, but it's yours for $7 from 4 to 7 p.m. weekdays, in the bar area.

Where: In the Pavilions center on Fair Oaks Boulevard near Howe Avenue, (916) 286-2702; and in Roseville in the Galleria center on Galleria Boulevard, (916) 780-6910. Visit www.ruthschris.com.

So, what's your favorite burger and/or burger deal? Share your picks in "Comments" below.


December 28, 2012
Cowtown Eats lists hottest happy hour spots of 2012

cowtown.jpg

Courtesy of Cowtown Eats, the local website that focuses on happy hour and dining-related news, we are able to glean some valuable information about the hottest places for grabbing a drink after work. The website compiled its list of the most popular happy hour destinations based on page views at www.cowtowneats.com

Who knows if copious page views translates into an enjoyable experience at a bar, but some of the joints on the list are certainly worthwhile. Of course, this is not intended to be a comprehensive list. For that, you can go to the website and zero in on the places that suit your style. Do you like watching cage fighters smash each other in the face while eating mouthwatering food by Drewski's? The Republic is your address. Do you want to pretend you can shoot pool while nursing a Michelob Light? Check out the Blue Cue. Quality food at bargain prices in a bustling midtown mainstay? Paesanos.

Says Darrel Ng, founder of Cowtown Eats: "New restaurants like Republic Bar & Grill and Firestone Public House have made a splash by offering a great happy hour, and people are noticing. "Cowtown Eats provides a service to these people who are looking for detailed happy hour information at restaurants and bars near where they live and work."

I keep up with Cowtown Eats and, if you're into the restaurant and bar scene, so should you. He'll also steer you (no pun intended) toward the latest and best happy hour deals. You'll find that no other site locally is as thorough and reliable on this topic. Check him out on Twitter, @Cowtowneats.


1.BJ's Restaurant & Brewhouse (Last Year's Rank: 11)
2.Republic Bar & Grill (Last Year: Unranked)
3.Firestone Public House (Last Year: Unranked)
4.Lucca (Last Year's Rank: 7)
5.Burgers & Brew (Last Year's Rank: 1)
6.Chicago Fire (Last Year's Rank: 3)
7.Pizza Rock (Last Year's Rank: 13)
8.Blue Cue (Last Year: Unranked)
9.Blackbird Kitchen & Bar (Last Year: Unranked)
10. Paesanos (Last Year's Rank: 6)
11. McCormick and Schmick's (Last Year's Rank: 2)
12. Ruth's Chris Steakhouse - Roseville (Last Year: Unranked)
13. Dive Bar (Last Year's Rank: 14)
14. Chicago Fire - Folsom (Palladio)
15. Capitol Garage (Last Year's Rank: 4)

Blair Anthony Robertson is The Bee's restaurant critic. Follow him on Twitter, @blarob.

December 24, 2012
A little holiday cheer about Casa Garden and the giving spirit

Casa garden.jpg

Three weeks ago, I wrote a piece extolling the many virtues of Casa Garden, the restaurant that serves as a fund-raiser for the Sacramento Children's Home. The servers and most of the kitchen help are volunteers, and the tips all go to the Children's Home. It's a feel-good lunch spot throughout the year, but especially during the holiday season.

After my review, I received a nice letter from Marlene Oehler, who serves as vice president-public relations for the Los Ninos Service League. Marlene was kind enough to share an anecdote.

She writes: "A Davis couple read the article; had never heard of the Sacramento Children's Home ; or Casa Garden Restaurant; booked lunch on Dec. 5, and shared nothing but compliments on the quality of food and service. They left a $50 tip on the table, plus 'We'll be back' as they departed. What more could we ask for?"

December 18, 2012
Everyone was a winner at the Holiday Cooking Throwdown

IMAG0680.jpg
In the holiday-season rush, the significance of simple but satisfying family traditions too often is overlooked.

Such as: For the fifth year running, I was asked to judge the annual Holiday Cooking Throwdown in the Folsom home of a very active family.

The tradition began in 2008 with cookies, and over the years moved to appetizers, bruschetta and cupcakes. This year, the "contestants" brought their cooking skills to the dish at hand - pies.

The family members ranged in age from 6 to 66 and formed two-person teams. They took the contest seriously, but mixed good humor and lots of laughter with their competitive spirits. (Two neighbors were absent this year, having committed to a performance of "The Nutcracker").

When the flour had settled, the table was laden with a raspberry mini-tart, tamale pie with jalapeno, cheese pie with raspberry-blackberry sauce, cream-filled chocolate-mint mini-pies, and a fruit pie topped with a big chunk of chocolate (pictured).

Though I used a point-based system to rank the entries (one to five each for presentation, taste, texture and creativity), as the judge I reminded the competitors that every entry was a winner.

The contest was fun and the family bonded over the creation and cooking of their eclectic pies. The whole experience was just plain...well, nice for everyone.

The point: Take a moment to reflect on your own holiday-season family cooking traditions, and share them in "Comments" below.

December 17, 2012
Oh Kupros, stop putting things in writing

Putting odd, awkward and uninformed information in print is not a new endeavor when it comes to the ownership at Kupros Bistro, though the midtown restaurant and pub has reached a new low in its latest effort. If building up a clientele has as much to do with goodwill as it does good cooking, this is an incredible blunder - foolish, unfair, offensive.

Chris Macias' earlier posting here about an oh-so-awkward missive on Facebook regarding a personnel issue, reminds me of an email I received from Kupros after my review in 2011. I had complained that the food was bland and that little on the menu showed any personality or daring. I also lamented that the opening chef, John Gurnee, who made a splash with his edgy menu choices and his excellent cooking skills, had been sent packing. I received an email from Kupros taking me to task for calling and speaking with the manager when he was busy, prior to the review. How unfair of me. Well, I called Temple Coffee today to chat with owner Sean Kohmescher, who, it turns out was busy. Know what he said? "Hey, can I call you back in 45 minutes?" How did he come up with that one?

December 12, 2012
OneSpeed's focaccia-gate update: We blew it on that one

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Following up on yesterday's post about OneSpeed, its missing bread and a carb-crazed customer who was not amused, I received a nice email from owner/chef Rick Mahan, who made no excuses for the missing bread.

His email, which I will excerpt below, also reveals a few things about the business and about why OneSpeed is packed every day it is open. Whether this customer was right to complain -- and most of you think she needed to take a deep breath and shut up a little -- is not really the point from the restaurant's persepective. It wants to serve customers and make them happy. This kind of attitude is not for everyone. Successful people in the service industry, however, seem to have the gene hard-wired into their DNA. Me? You? Wouldn't it be more fun to tell her to take a hike?

Here's what Mahan told me:

"Just got home and saw your post. We blew it on that one for one reason -- nobody working the floor that day responded properly. I got to work that a.m. and discovered my Sunday batch of focaccia dough (Tuesday's bread) was not made -- hence, no focaccia for guests on Tuesday. Was not much to do but let customers know that we did not -- and would not -- have focaccia for that day. Obviously,we did not do a good job of getting the point across. I've spoken to the staff and hopefully they'll do it better should the situation present itself in the future. At the very least they should have been given something bread-like."

Mahan went on to explain that OneSpeed does not, in fact, offer free bread to diners. There is a small charge. Some people ask for bread with their soup or salad, and the servers serve some at no cost. Mahan also agreed with his manager's response to the unhappy customer, as did I.

Then Mahan added: "We should have handled it better. I'd have gone to T.J.s (Trader Joe's) no problem whatsoever if that would have made em' happy.Trying to impress that on my workers."

Again, it doesn't matter if the woman was right or wrong (and a little frantic about it all). If you don't have Mahan's solve-the-problem/serve-the-customer mindset, you probably shouldn't be in the restaurant business. If you agree with his approach, it might be an appropriate show of support to stop by OneSpeed and order some focaccia. That is, if you can get a table. They know what they're doing over there. OneSpeed is at 4818 Folsom Blvd., Sacramento.

Blair Anthony Robertson is The Bee's restaurant critic. Follow him on Twitter, @blarob.

RELATED:
Ask the expert: Was it cool of me to go nuts when OneSpeed ran out of bread?

December 12, 2012
Carl's Jr. invite: Sorry, but I have to wash my hair that day

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I get all kinds of glamorous invitations sent to me, but never have I had the chance to become a board-certified Carl's Jr. biscuit baker. Too bad I can't make it. Going behind the scenes at a fast-food joint just doesn't do it for me, I'm afraid.

To be fair, I lived in the Deep South for several years and can attest to how good the biscuits were at Hardee's. In the days when I thought I could eat anything without putting on weight or jacking my heart, I used to order a bacon and cheese biscuit at Hardee's for breakfast. If you enjoy big, fluffy biscuits, Carl's Jr. is bringing them to CA in January.

Here's my invite from Carl's Jr. (which also owns Hardee's):

Hi Blair,

I wanted to get in touch on behalf of my client Carl's Jr. to see if you would be interested in joining us for a special behind-the-scenes opportunity at one of our Sacramento-area restaurants in the beginning of January.

Carl's Jr. is in the process of a significant new product rollout for the brand, amping up its breakfast offerings by bringing its sister chain Hardee's signature Made From Scratch Biscuits - which have for decades been a beloved item in the South and Midwest that Hardee's is known for - to our restaurants in the West. We're currently in the process of equipping 80 Sacramento-area restaurants to be able to make the biscuits from scratch each day, and will be celebrating the launch of biscuits in Sacramento on 1/9 with Free Biscuit Day. Guests will be able to receive a free Sausage Biscuit at Carl's Jr. during breakfast hours.

If you're not familiar with the fandom around these back east, the buttermilk biscuits have a reputation because they're made from scratch by Hardee's bakers who come into each restaurant early every single morning to measure and mix up the dough by hand, roll and cut them out by hand, and bake and test them to strict standards. They are never pre-made nor frozen.

If you are available to join us at one of our local restaurants the first/second week of January, we'd like to show you this process firsthand. And ask you to roll up your sleeves and work with our bakers to make the morning's biscuits. In fact, you'll be Hardee's Biscuit Certified by the end of the morning. When we introduced biscuits in Orange County, CA, OC Register writer Nancy Luna joined us for a biscuit training and created a video of the process - you can get a sense of what the training entails here: http://www.ocregister.com/articles/carl-323118-biscuits-fast.html

If you're interested in joining us and/or getting some content for your site, let me know and we can work out a date that suits your schedule.

Closer to Free Biscuit Day, we'll also have a release with all of the info and hi-res photos.

We hope you can join us!

Blair Anthony Robertson is The Bee's restaurant critic. Follow him on Twitter, @blarob.

November 28, 2012
Oscar's Very Mexican Food moving to W. Sac during rebuild

Big changes are coming next week for Noradino Salas, operator of Oscar's Very Mexican Food at 3061 Freeport Blvd., in Sacramento.

The Freeport site will close after the last meal is served on Sunday. Two days later, the process of tearing down the building and starting on a new one begins.

Salas said he hopes to reopen the new building in four to six months, depending on how weather affects construction.

Next Wednesday, Salas will open a new Oscar's Very Mexican Food site at 1350 Harbor Blvd. in West Sacramento. Nearly a dozen employees who work at the Freeport site will simply move to the Harbor Boulevard restaurant.

By midyear 2013, Salas said he will be overseeing two eateries.

November 21, 2012
Masullo's growing fame a mixed blessing: No dough for you!

Sometimes when a restaurant is mentioned positively in The Bee, it can bring in plenty of new business -- and a good bit of chaos.

I spotted this on Masullo's Facebook page:

"Our apologies for not having enough dough. The Bee ran an article naming us best pizza in town and we sold more at lunch today than all dayTuesday a week ago. We have a three day ferment for our dough and we can not just make more at the drop of a hat. We are sorry for the trouble it may cause to customers, but believe us we would like to have it to sell to you."

As you can see, you cannot rush a great crust. If you want to try truly great pizza in the Neapolitan style, get there early today.

Masullo is at 2711 Riverside Blvd., Sacramento.

Update: I caught up with owner Robert Masullo when his restaurant opened for lunch and asked him about the surge in traffic. The servers are happy -- they're making good, honest money. The cooks are busy. And no, the dough cannot be rushed. Masullo has experienced a one-two punch of acclaim from The Bee this year. Prior to topping the best pizza list, it was featured in a full review, where I gave it four stars.

"We saw back in the summer a real huge bump for a couple of months," Masullo told me Wednesday. For the last four weeks, we've been quieter by a long shot. Monday, it picked right back up and it almost doubled from a typical Monday."

Some customers come in and wonder why they can't jump whip up a new batch of dough. It doesn't work that way.

"Part of the reason why what we're turning out is as good as it is, is we don't take a short cut," Masullo said. "I'd rather make it as good as we can, even if that means we have to tell people we're out of dough."

Blair Anthony Robertson is The Bee's restaurant critic. Follow him on Twitter, @blarob.

RELATED COVERAGE
Dining review: Masullo up with the best pizza -- anywhere
Pizza: Bee's critic lists his area favorites

November 20, 2012
Capitol Dawg goes out with a bark...and may return

DSCF0655.jpgIt's been a madhouse at Capitol Avenue and 20th Street in Midtown since Friday. That's when word got out that Mike Brown is closing his popular Midtown restaurant, Capitol Dawg, after lunch today. It opened in March 2008.

"I've been trying everything, but we're just not bringing people through the door," Brown told me Friday. "We've never cut quality or service, but we can't seem to turn the corner economically."

On Saturday and again on Monday, a line of 500-plus hot-dog lovers and well-wishers crowded out of the restaurant, stretched along the sidewalk and snaked down an alley. The wait to place an order both days was 60 to 90 minutes, and that was in on-again, off-again rain between 11 a.m. and 3:30 p.m.

This morning, a line of expectant patrons waited patiently for the Capitol Dawg crew to start serving, and by 12:30 p.m. it looked like a safe bet that the Saturday and Monday scenarios would be repeated.

November 16, 2012
Capitol Dawg will close its doors after lunch on Tuesday

20120531_PK_HOT DOG_0627.jpgThe ever-energetic Mike Brown phoned two hours ago to break the bad news: His popular Midtown restaurant Capitol Dawg will close its doors after lunch on Tuesday.

"I've been trying everything, but we're just not bringing people through the door. We've never cut quality or service, but we can't seem to turn the corner economically," Brown said.

"This hasn't come on suddenly, it's been brewing for a long time. It's been a struggle to keep the doors open and (make) a reasonable profit. (Blame it on) rising food costs combined with years of a struggling economy - including state worker furloughs - and our location."

Capitol Dawg is near the intersection of Capitol Avenue and 20th Street in Sacramento, where a concentration of restaurants compete for diners' dollars. Nearby are Jack's Urban Eats, Waterboy, Mulvaney's B&L, Chipotle Mexican Grill, Rubicon Brewing Company, Paesanos and Zocalo.

November 16, 2012
A high-end Ho Ho lives on as Hostess and the Twinkie crumble

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For those of us who grew up on Twinkies, Ding Dongs and Ho Hos (and lived to tell about it), today's news that Hostess will liquidate its assets comes as a bittersweet blow. It's quite possibly the end of an era for these icons of mass-produced sweet treats.

Beyond that, there is the loss of most of the 18,500 jobs at plants around the country, including one in Sacramento.

Twinkies aren't dead yet - someone could buy the rights and rejuvenate the brand - but they're on the ropes.

For those looking for some consolation or simply want to have something chocolaty and sweet to stomach this jolt of grief, all is not lost. The highly regarded Karen's Bakery Café in Old Folsom has been making a gourmet version of the Ho Ho for years.

I called owner Karen Holmes this morning to ask about her high-end interpretation of this mass-market treat. Turns out, she, too, is mourning the demise of Hostess.

November 12, 2012
What are the nation's best sports bars? Try this list

The Daily Meal, which reports on all things food and drink at www.thedailymeal.com, is toasting its list of "America's Best Sports Bars."

Coming in at No. 9 is the only entry from California - Pete's Tavern in San Francisco (128 King St.; 415-817-5040, www.petestavernsf.com).

I called Jake the bartender.
"It's kind of busy right now, so don't ask too many questions," he said.
How many TV sets are in the bar?
"One...two...three...14."
What are the most popular menu items?
"Chicken cutlet (served Tuesdays), it's like chicken picatta. And the buffalo chicken salad and bacon-wrapped hot dog are pretty popular, too."

Rounding out the list, in descending order:
Walk-On's, New Orleans
Red Star, Brooklyn
The Four's, Boston
State, Chicago
Duffy's, Fort Lauderdale
Chappell's, Kansas City, MO.
Stats, Atlanta
Chickie's and Pete's, Philadelphia
Nemo's, Detroit
Lagasse's Stadium, Las Vegas
Auto Battery, Seattle
Jerome Bettis' Grill 36, Pittsburgh
Phoenix Landing, Boston
Sam's, Nashville
Eskimo Joe's, Stillwater, Okla.
Frankie's, Dallas

November 1, 2012
36 Handles pub looks at a Dec. 1 opener in El Dorado Hills

When it opened in September 2011, diners lined up at Kinnee O'Reilly's Irish-themed restaurant-bar in the Montano center in El Dorado Hills (1000 White Rock Road).

With good reason. The place was spacious and expertly decorated, the fare was very good, and the bartenders knew the correct ritual of filling a pint glass with Guinness. I wrote in a review, "The illusion of being in a real Irish pub is startling."

But tastes are fickle and the restaurant business is brutal, and the place closed a few months ago.

Now news comes from veteran restaurateur Richard Righton that he will open a pub-restaurant in that space, his third venture. It will be called 36 Handles, with a target date of Dec. 1 ("Fingers crossed," he said). As the name implies, 36 beers (and a few wines) will be available on tap, along with a full bar specializing in classic cocktails such as the Manhattan and the Old Fashoned.

October 30, 2012
Rubicon brewery celebrating 25th anniversary this week

By Mark Glover
mglover@sacbee.com

Sacramento's Rubicon Brewing Co. will turn 25 on Friday, and the brewery is celebrating with special festivities all this week.

On Friday, Rubicon will release a special-edition, single-malt, single-hop India Pale Ale. Rubicon is at at 2004 Capitol Ave.

"We have planned this week of parties and fun to thank our loyal customers that have supported us during the last 25 years," said Rubicon owner Glynn Phillips.

See more details at www.rubiconbrewing.com.

Call The Bee's Mark Glover, (916) 321-1184.

October 26, 2012
Foodies and jazz fans converge at Sampino's on Fridays

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If you're looking for a charming place for lunch on Fridays, take a look at what's going on at Sampino's Towne Foods at 16th and F Streets. It's a bit of a hideaway, tucked away in a strip mall that could use an upgrade, but it has emerged as something of a Mecca for foodies and admirers of Old World Italian casual cuisine.

On the small patio out front, lunch-goers are treated to the sounds of two longtime local jazz musicians, Darius Babazadeh on tenor saxophone and David O'Keefe on bass.

Sampino's has been featuring the music on Fridays from 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. for the past few months. The duo clearly has a following in the city. I ate there with a friend last Friday and didn't want to leave.

"We started that and people started flooding through the doors on Friday," said proprietor Michael Sampino. "We're meeting new people. They come to listen and they try the food. Then we see them again."


October 24, 2012
Summer may be over, but 'cue season is still cookin'

If you just couldn't get your fill this summer of smokey, juicy, St. Louis-style pork ribs - the cut used by professional cookers at the huge annual Best in the West Nugget Rib Cook-off - come on down to east Sacramento.

The fourth annual Albie Ribbin' BBQ Cook-off to benefit the Albie Aware Breast Cancer Foundation is planned from noon to 6 p.m. Saturday at the Hilltop Tavern, 4757 Folsom Blvd.; (916) 456-2843.

Twenty "Q teams" from area restaurants and sports bars will compete for trophies and braggin' rights. 'Cue judging will be handled by professionals from the Western States BBQ Association.

A $20 buy-in ($12 for children) gets lunch (noon to 3 p.m.), entry in a raffle, a silent auction and music from the Sacramento party band the Q-Balls (2 to 5 p.m.).

For more information: (916) 927-1592, www.albieaware.org.

October 22, 2012
Ultimate Clubhouse Sandwich throwdown had some winners

Hundreds of people sipped wine and beer and tasted a variety of club sandwiches at Saturday's fifth annual Ultimate Clubhouse Sandwich Contest & Fall Food Faire, held at the Scottish Rite Masonic Center in Sacramento.

After munching their way through traditional and nontraditional versions of the classic sandwich, and discussing contents and techniques with the chefs representing their restaurants, five judges made their decisions. It went this way:

October 17, 2012
Planters puts a twist on peanut butter with Energy Mix blends

HJA_9351.JPGYes, peanut butter sticks to the roof of your mouth and gives you "peanut breath," but it conjures childhood memories and is a staple in kitchen cupboards for most of us. It's so popular that more than half the peanuts harvested in the U.S. end up in jars as creamy or crunchy.

Trivia: It's generally agreed that the first commercial-brand peanut butter was Skippy, packaged in 1922 by a company in Alameda, Ca.

Now, adding a twist to the many peanut butters on supermarket shelves is the iconic snack-food conglomerate Planters, owned by Kraft Foods.

In an intriguing peanut-butter mini-makeover, its three NUT-rition ("nutrition," get it?) Energy Mix peanut butters are chocked with (mostly) good things ($3.49 to $3.99 per 12-ounce jar).

Our panel of expert food-tasters (read: always hungry) sampled the trio - Cinnamon Raisin Granola Nut, Berry Nut and Banana Granola Nut. Note that the "berries" in the Berry Nut flavor are cranberries, and the "nuts" in all three are crushed peanuts. Though the peanut butters are marketed to adults, we see no reason why children wouldn't like them.

Here's what our peanut butter-lovers had to say, starting with yours truly:

October 16, 2012
Can you take on the 5-1/2-pound sandwich at Harrah's?

.2012 Tahoe F&W chef and sandwich.jpg The recent Lake Tahoe Food and Wine Festival at Harrah's and Harveys in Stateline at South Lake Tahoe was over the top in a good way. The three-day party featured food-and-wine pairings, multi-course dinners, cooking demonstrations and costumed showgirls moving to a Latin beat.

One feature was an eating competition, judged by the Food Network's "Chopped" champion, New Orleans firefighter Michael Gowland.

The two-man eating team from the Tahoe Douglas Fire Department in Nevada beat out the South Lake Tahoe Fire Department team, donating the $500 prize to the 52 Foundation to benefit the families of fallen firefighters. Meanwhile, Harrah's-Harveys donated $2,000 to the Carson Valley Food Closet.

But what were those Godzilla-size sandwiches the four burly firemen on stage were so valiantly trying to finish in the 30-minute time frame?

Turns out the contest fare was the Dominator, on the menu of Harrah's American River Cafe from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily.

We asked executive chef Brad Budd about its contents.

October 9, 2012
Thai Paradise expands, along with Christina Mendonsa's Corner

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One of our dining go-to's is Thai Paradise in Folsom, especially for its succulent, garlicky lemongrass chicken, which appears on the daily-specials whiteboard.

Other diners like the restaurant, too, as evidenced by the out-the-door lines on Friday and Saturday nights. Its loyal clientele includes News10 news anchor Christina Mendonsa. There's even a corner table dedicated to her, complete with a publicity photo. It's known as Christina's Corner, partially pictured here.

"I walked in (when it was first set up) and was unbelievably flattered," Mendonsa said Monday. "That was so sweet of them!"

More about that in minute, but first the news:

September 25, 2012
Firehouse Subs chain has plans for Sacramento area

By Mark Glover
mglover@sacbee.com

Jacksonville, Fla.-based restaurant chain Firehouse Subs says it plans to open 75 restaurants throughout Northern California over the next 10 years.

It will target the Sacramento area as well as the Bay Area and Central Valley, with a potential for 2,000 new jobs.

The company, founded by a pair of firefighter brothers, said it plans to open the region's first Firehouse Subs in Fremont early next year. The chain has 534 locations nationwide.

Firehouse restaurants feature authentic firefighter decor celebrating local firefighting history and the founding family's 200 years of firefighting service.

Call The Bee's Mark Glover, (916) 321-1184.

September 14, 2012
Jack's Urban Eats opens in Roseville center on Monday

EK JACK'S KITCHEN.JPGSacramento-based Jack's Urban Eats, the "California-style cafeteria" chain, will open its new restaurant Monday in the Fountains at Roseville shopping complex.

The new Jack's, the eighth locally, has 2,800 square feet of space and will feature year-round patio dining.

Owners said the menu will be consistent with other Jack's locations, but there may be some local or seasonal variations.

Jack's has another Roseville restaurant on Sierra College Boulevard and also operates in Sacramento, Gold River and Folsom. It also has a restaurant at the Sacramento International Airport.

Fountains at Roseville is owned by Peter P. Bollinger Investment Co. and managed by its Inter-Cal Real Estate Corp. affiliate.

PHOTO: Cashier Katie McBrien works the lunch rush at Jack's Urban Eats on 20th Street in Sacramento. The Sacramento Bee 2005 file photo.

September 13, 2012
Rancho Cordova Chili's has special events for St. Jude

Chili's restaurant at 3199 Zinfandel Drive in Rancho Cordova is hosting events through Sept. 27 to benefit St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, the Memphis-based center for treatment of pediatric cancer and other catastrophic childhood illnesses.

The events include: "Tip a Cop," with 10 Rancho Cordova law enforcement officers waiting tables and accepting donations from 5 to 7 p.m. Wednesday; a "Plant a Seed for St. Jude" donation program from 4 to 6 p.m. Sept. 22; and "Donate Profits Day" on Sept. 24, when 100 percent of restaurant net profits will be donated to the St. Jude hospital.

General donations also can be made by restaurant customers participating in the "color a pepper" campaign.

August 9, 2012
Pour House to open Friday

A few weeks back, "Appetizers" gave readers a sneak peek of Pour House. This spot at 19th and Q streets is the former location of Whiskey Wild, and features one of the area's more novel bar concepts. Some of the booths come with tap handles for beer and whiskey, so you can get a drink without leaving your seat. Meanwhile, the food program is being run by the folks behind Coast to Coast Sandwiches, the popular local food truck.

Pour House is now all ready to go, and its grand opening is set for 11 a.m. Friday. Along with its in-booth beer and whiskey taps, look for one of the area's more extensive bourbon and whiskey selections. The food will include an expanded version of Coast to Coast's menu, including smoked tri-tip and pulled pork.

For more information, visit Pour House's Facebook page.

August 6, 2012
Some things ARE impossible: a glass of wine with a dog at the Weatherstone

Abbey I.JPG

During my many visits to restaurants, I occasionally run up against befuddling rules related to the establishment's liquor license. Sometimes, for instance you can have wine inside but not out, on the patio but not at the tables along the sidewalk. Liquor ads in the windows? Sometimes yes, sometimes no. What's the rule? Depends who's asking.

Perhaps the strangest "rule" I have seen so far is the one at Old Soul at the Weatherstone on 21st Street. I "discovered" it, to my chagrin, while out for a stroll through midtown with one of our three dogs. We were having a peaceful walk. We met other dogs. We had a staring contest with the cat in the window at Richard L Press Fine and Scholarly Books. We greeted children, frightened squirrels, sniffed things here and there. After awhile, I was craving a bite to eat and a glass of wine - and I wanted to hang out with Abbey, who loves coffee shops and just about everybody and everything except fireworks.

Turns out, you can visit Old Soul at the Weatherstone and enjoy a bite to eat or a coffee with your dog. You can certainly enjoy a glass of wine there. But you can't bring your dog AND enjoy a glass of wine. It's impossible, thanks to two government agencies and their restrictions, which may or may not make sense.

All I wanted to do was hang out, relax, taste a very nice petite syrah, try to catch up on my New Yorker subscription and watch the world go by as I clawed my way through a Zadie Smith short story.

August 2, 2012
A few thoughts on extraordinary ice cream at Ginger Elizabeth

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Just the other day, I tasted one of the greatest ice creams I've ever had. The flavor? Lemon custard with Graham crackers and blueberry jam, $9 for a pint at Ginger Elizabeth Chocolates (1801 L St. #61, Sacramento).

In the past, I've praised many things about this small midtown business -- the macarons, the hand-crafted chocolates, and the incredible ice cream sandwiches. And I've told you about the proprietor, Ginger Elizabeth Hahn, who has been named one of the top 10 chocolatiers in the country by "Dessert Professional Magazine."

There's more. Ginger Elizabeth ice creams are extraordinary -- and this particular flavor exceeded my lofty expectations. I contacted Hahn to chat about this ice cream and get her thoughts on creating flavor.


July 31, 2012
Request from a reader: Trying to track down Belgian-style fries

Greg, a reader pining away for some especially good French fries, writes:

"Where in the Sacramento area can I buy good twice-cooked or double-fried French fries? These are sometimes called Belgian Fries or Flemish Fries. I can't find good examples anywhere in the area. I used to get them from A&W on Madison & Date sometime before they closed. Also, I may have got them unintentionally from the new Squeeze Inn in West Sac when they first opened. The line was out the door and I think they probably pre-cooked some fries in preparation for the large crowds. Then as the orders came in, they cooked the fries a second time to finish cooking them and presto - Belgian-style fries.

"If you would give me a few recommendations on where I might find good Belgian-style French fries in the Sacramento area, I'd really appreciate it."

July 11, 2012
Red Robin chain adds two 'ghost pepper' burgers to its menu

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As Sacramento swelters under a heat wave, things could be hotter. For instance, the heat in the hybrid "naga bhut jolokia" chile pepper - known as the ghost pepper - has been ranked at 855,000 "heat units" on the Scoville capsaicin-measuring scale. That's about 300 times hotter than a jalapeño.

So use caution next time you grab a burger at Red Robin. It recently became the first national restaurant chain to add ghost peppers to the menus of its 460 units, though the brutal heat level has been mellowed.

The Fiery Ghost burger (pictured) is topped with ghost pepper sauce, cut-and-fried jalapeños and pepper jack cheese. The Cry Baby burger is loaded with crisp onion straws tossed in Sriracha dry seasoning, onions sauteed in Cholula hot sauce, pepper jack cheese and ghost pepper catsup. They're $7.99 each, with limitless steak fries. The burgers will be available through August.

To locate Red Robin restaurants, go to www.redrobin.com.

July 9, 2012
Tako Korean BBQ to open Friday, with a marriage of cuisines

The last time I talked with Alex Won and his business partner, Yoon Hee Cho, was in 2006. The occasion was a "Counter Culture" review of their Folsom Boulevard 'cue joint, Yunece 61 Smoked Barbecue & Grill.

On its menu, crispy spring rolls, taquitos and teriyaki salmon met hickory-smoked pork and beef ribs, tri-tip and hot links. An intriguing blend of cuisines, a curiosity at the time. The food was tops, and the restaurant had a good run before its not-so-good location finally did it in.

Now Won and Cho have re-teamed to create Tako Korean BBQ, opening Friday at the intersection of Alhambra Boulevard and T Street.

It will be housed in an architecturally stunning, long-abandoned Richfield gas station, an Art Deco-Moderne historic landmark that opened in 1936. The inside has been refurbished, of course, and a large patio has been added. The outside of the building has been cleaned up and - wisely - pretty much preserved. The restaurant's retro logo is a salute to the classic American gas stations of decades gone by, Won said.

The menu will show the type of fare that helped launch the red-hot food-truck movement that originated in Los Angeles and spread throughout California.

"The concept is Korean barbecue meets Mexican-style foods like tortillas and burritos," Won said on the phone today. "(The specialty) will be Korean beef short ribs served in tacos, burritos and rice bowls."

Beer and wine? "Our license is coming," Won said.

July 6, 2012
The Habit Burger Grill to open outlet in Folsom

By Mark Glover
mglover@sacbee.com

Irvine-based The Habit Burger Grill will open its seventh Sacramento area outlet Wednesday at 1115 E. Bidwell St. in Folsom.

The Folsom restaurant is hosting pre-opening charity events on Sunday and Monday.

From noon to 2 p.m. Sunday, The Habit will be open and donate all proceeds to the Muscular Dystrophy Association. Reopening from 5 to 7 p.m. that day, proceeds will go to the California Restaurant Association Educational Foundation's Pro-Start program.

July 5, 2012
Pot and pans -- a restaurant gets busted for peddling cannabis-enriched baked goods

Back in March, I noticed a new restaurant had opened on El Camino Avenue in the space occupied for years by the beloved Palomino Room (and later, a Chinese food buffet). What's more, this new place, The Farmer's Daughter, seemed like it might be one of those enlightened farm-to-table kind of places. It was farm-to-table all right - more, it turns out, than we could have imagined.

We lined up a visit with the intention of writing a "First Impressions" piece, but we were almost immediately taken aback. My girlfriend noticed the guy who greeted us had a roach clip thingy hanging from his cap. No big deal. Maybe this is what the kids call a fashion accessory these days.

We looked around the room. Weird décor, odd vibe. Then we got the news. There was a "snafu" in the kitchen and the food offerings would be limited. Was this a poor choice of words by the manager? Or was it a code word? I was oblivious.

I called the overall concept of the place "dazed and confused." I guess I could have asked, "What were these people smoking? Check out the story The Bee's Anita Creamer wrote yesterday. The Sheriff's Department just busted the joint and recovered 80 pounds of marijuana. Good thing I didn't order a brownie. According to a Sheriff's spokesman, desserts could be fortified with medical-grade cannabis.

The sandwiches and soup I sampled were decent. I haven't seen the entire report from the Sheriff, but I'm going to assume that these meager offerings weren't fortified with anything more than mustard or mayo.


June 29, 2012
Good Dogs partners 'put the dog before the cart'

Can we get enough hot dogs?

If the answer is "no" - and it is - then Good Dogs owners Michael Floyd and Tyrone Norman are in for the wurst ride of their lives.

About three weeks ago, the business partners transitioned from selling wurst at two hot dog carts in Midtown, to opening a brick-and-mortar Good Dogs store at 8166 14th Ave. in Sacramento.

The menu goes beyond hot dogs, hot links and Polish dogs to include nachos, five kinds of fries, and sandwiches. Call (916) 642-0126, or visit more socially at www.facebook.com/GoodDogsCatering.

June 21, 2012
Chick-fil-A to open in Folsom, giving away 10,000 sandwiches

Matt Crane has been a Chick-fil-A guy most of his life. Now he's about to become a franchise operator in Folsom, making his store the 50th in California.

"It feels amazing. The (company's signature) chicken sandwich is my favorite thing to eat," he said.

Crane's store will have its grand opening at 6:30 a.m. June 28, followed by a ribbon-cutting ceremony at 9 a.m. The first 100 adults in line at the new restaurant will win free Chick-fil-A sandwiches for a year. Queue up at 2679 E. Bidwell St., at the outer edge of the Home Depot parking lot.

Meanwhile, Crane wants to introduce Chick-fil-A to Folsom. Today, for instance, he and his team will distribute 2,000 chicken sandwiches to police departments, fire stations, city hall and area businesses.

The public is invited for samplings Friday, when 4,000 sandwiches will be give away from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. in the parking lot of Orchard Supply Hardware, 905 E. Bidwell St.; (916) 984-7020.

On Saturday, another 4,000 chicken sandwiches will be handed out from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at iFit Golf, 2395 Iron Point Road, in the Folsom Gateway center, next to REI (916-983-3660).

Crane moved to El Dorado Hills three months ago from Atlanta, where he worked as a grand-opening supervisor at Chick-fil-A corporate headquarters.

"I've worked for Chick-fil-A since I was 15. The corporate job was an avenue to becoming an owner," he said.

The Folsom outlet joins sister Chick-fil-A stores in Sacramento, Roseville and Elk Grove. The chain has 1,635 units in 38 states and Washington, D.C., numbers that must make the U.S. Poultry & Egg Association very happy.

Information: www.chick-fil-a.com.

June 19, 2012
Stroll, sip and sup at sixth annual Tahoe City Wine Walk

It seems that every town in Northern California has a "signature event." Lucky for us. Tahoe City's is the annual Wine Walk, the sixth one. It will run from noon to 4 p.m. Saturday.

The Sierra town, on the west shore of Lake Tahoe, will welcome visitors with wine-tasting at 30 locations in downtown, accompanied by food samplings from area restaurants. Stroll, sip and sup while bands play their music at three venues.

Buy tickets at www.tahoecitywinewalk.com, $35 in advance, $45 the day of. The Wine Walk is part of Tahoe City's annual Solstice Festival, which concludes Sunday (www.visittahoecity.com).

Bonus: As you plan your summer trips to Lake Tahoe, keep the North Lake Tahoe Summerlong Music Series in mind. You can catch free outdoor concerts, and ticketed festivals and headliner events at sites around the lake. For a detailed schedule, go to www.tahoehighnotes.com.

June 14, 2012
Sugar and Spice closes retail shop to focus on wholesale, catering

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Carissa Jones makes beautiful desserts - creative, delicious, little works of art. Whimsical, classical and everything in between. Cookies, tarts, cakes and more.

So it came as a tremendous jolt to many of her admirers when she placed a sign in the door last Tuesday with the unsavory news: the retail component of her bakery, Sugar and Spice Specialty Desserts, was no more.

storefront.JPGYes, the charm of walking into this little storefront bakery, sizing up each and every delectable offering on display, chatting with the owner and then picking out something just right - that special experience has come to an end.

I finally caught up with Jones by telephone to find out what happened.

June 13, 2012
Natural Foods Co-op to host Mexican-themed Sunday Supper

The Sacramento Natural Foods Co-op is often innovative and always interesting. Let's see... cooking classes, stocks of hard-to-find food items, by-the-cup coffee that's better and cheaper than the joe sold at the chains. Plus, world-class produce, imported honeys and nut butters, and incredible cherry and apple turnovers.

Now it's preparing to host the family-style Sunday Supper, featuring a menu by chef-teacher Dionisio Esperas, owner of A Healthy Kitchen catering company.

Please pass the citrus- and herb-accented grilled chicken, frijoles de olla (stewed pinto beans), cilantro rice, calabacitas (squash sauteed with onion and spices), salad with avocado dressing, and Mexican chocolate brownies with strawberry-cinnamon compote.

Eat well for $30 at 5 p.m. June 24 at the co-op, 1900 Alhambra Blvd., Sacramento; (916) 868-6399, www.sacfoodcoop.com. The dinner will benefit the Soil Born Farms Urban Agriculture Project.

June 11, 2012
Six food trucks co-starred in Capitol Concours d'Elegance

The day was warm, the cars were cool and the food was plentiful at Sunday's 18th annual Capitol Concours d'Elegance. More than 130 automobiles were displayed along a long stretch of Capitol Mall in an extravaganza of what essentially were metal sculptures on wheels.

As hundreds of car buffs and the simply curious inspected pristine cars at the juried event - from Ferraris and Corvettes to rarities such as as a 1940 Pontiac Woodie Wagon and a 1939 Graham Sharknose - the hungry and thirsty crowded around six Sacramento food trucks, whose fare also was judged.

Lined up beneath a row of shade trees were Coast to Coast, Wicked Wich, Drewski's Hot Rod Kitchen, Heavenly Dog, Fuzion Eatz and Willie's. Each truck operator was asked to offer his/her signature dish for judging. Not their most popular dish, but the single item best representative of their cooking philosophy and skills.

The judges and winning food trucks were:

June 8, 2012
Food, music and more at Elk Grove Chili Festival

Food Deadline Chili.jpgBowls of steaming chili in June? Sure, why not. The versatile stew (with or without meat) is so popular year-round that 10,000 chili-lovers are expected to attend the Old Town Elk Grove Chili Festival, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday.

Join the merry-makers along Elk Grove Boulevard, from Second Avenue to Derr Street. Line up for chili tastings, chili cook-off, food court, beer garden and wine bar, entertainment, children's activities, arts and crafts, and more. Information: www.oldtownelkgrovefoundation.org.

As for chili itself: Its origins are muddled, but many food historians agree that it did not originate in Mexico and is rarely seen there today. Chili as we know it now likely originated in 1800s San Antonio, Texas. Because of the heat from chili peppers as an ingredient, it was called "the devil's stew."

June 7, 2012
In-N-Out Burger opens new Sacramento restaurant

By Mark Glover
mglover@sacbee.com

A new In-N-Out Burger outlet opened today at 2001 Alta Arden Expressway in Sacramento.

The restaurant bordering Arden Fair mall is expected to employ about 50. The outlet is the site of the former Romano's Macaroni Grill.

Hours are 10:30 a.m. to 1 a.m. Sunday-Thursday and 10:30 a.m. to 1:30 a.m. Friday and Saturday.

Irvine-based In-N-Out Burger opened its first restaurant in Baldwin Park in 1948. It oversees more nearly 300 outlets today, most of those in California.

June 5, 2012
End of an era II: Ford's side of the break-up with Taylor's

Yesterday we told you about the end of the 20-year relationship between two beloved local institutions that do things the old-fashioned way: Taylor's Market and Ford's Hamburgers. Because Ford's is closed Mondays, we didn't catch up with owner Peter Paul Vereschzagin until this morning to get his side of things.

Taylor's, which has supplied beef to Ford's for two decades, was not happy with the way the relationship ended and recently took to Facebook to wish the restaurant luck and say they "hope they are able maintain the same level of quality while using a corporate source for their beef." Some saw the comment as bitter or snide.

June 4, 2012
End of an era: Taylor's Market and Ford's Hamburgers part ways

OK, maybe it came off as a bit of a dig when the much-admired and locally owned Taylor's Market posted a brief note on Facebook, informing its fans that it would no longer be the supplier to locally owned Ford's Hamburgers just up the street.

It went like this: "We are sad to announce that after 25 years our business relationship with Ford's Hamburgers has ended. We wish the owners well and hope they are able maintain the same level of quality while using a corporate source for their beef."

The last sentence was obviously provocative. Some saw it as snide. I didn't mind it a bit. I'm a big fan of Taylor's. For me and many others, it's pretty much the perfect grocery store, from the old-fashioned meat counter staffed by skilled butchers (including owner Danny Johnson), great cheese selection, excellent sandwiches and a small selection of wine and beer in which there are no subpar choices. I like the size, too - who wants to wander up and down vast aisles looking for stuff? I'm in and out of Taylor's in 10 minutes.

So I called Danny Johnson (he and wife Kathy own Taylor's) to ask about the Ford's dust-up, sensing there was more to the story (Ford's is closed on Mondays, so we'll follow up soon with that side).


June 1, 2012
Chando's Tacos expanding reach with second location

chandos-to-open-second-taqueria.jpg

Chando's Tacos is one of the great little success stories on the local food scene. The food is excellent, the people are friendly and Chando himself is one smart and charismatic restaurateur.

As reported in today's Bee, Chando's is about to grow. It already expanded from its tiny flagship location at 863 Arden Way to include a mobile food truck. Now Chando (AKA Lisandro Madrigal) has secured a second location at the corner of Fruitridge and Power Inn roads.

He has been looking for months, focusing on areas that would expand the brand without taking customers from the original and still wildly popular location.

May 31, 2012
Will Sacramento hot dog joint sell world's most expensive dog?

Will Capitol Dawg owner Mike Brown sell the world's most expensive hot dog today at his Midtown eatery?

A Guinness World Records adjudicator will be at the restaurant this afternoon to determine whether a Capitol Dawg customer actually purchases Brown's California Capitol City Dawg for $145.49.

(A third of its sales will benefit Shriners Hospitals for Children.)

May 31, 2012
Line up for 'cue at Back to the Farm

Give you and yours a break from your backyard grilling ritual and head out to the country for the Back to the Farm barbecue and celebration. It will be on a bucolic 200-acre walnut farm.

You'll find smokin' ribs, chicken, burgers and wurst, with side dishes - and you won't have to cook. Plus, live entertainment, a farmers market and a pie-eating contest. When was the last time you saw tractor and farm equipment exhibits and demonstrations?

Take Highway 99 north toward Yuba City, then scenic Highway 20 west to Meridian, finding Farmlan Road when you arrive.

The good times will be 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday. Information: (916) 355-4056, www.benalishrine.org. Back to the Farm will benefit Ben Ali Shriners.

May 16, 2012
Masullo Pizza gets national recognition from a pizza legend

MAJ MASULLO.jpgPizza aficionados can be a rather obsessive lot, searching out the best of the best pizzas and making lists of their favorites. That's all well and good, but it might mean even more when the man at the top of many of those lists comes up with a list of his own.

In this case, that man is Chris Bianco, owner of Pizzeria Bianco in Phoenix, Ariz., and his list includes Sacramento's own Masullo Pizza (2711 Riverside Blvd., Sacramento). On Eater.com, the nationally known and highly regarded food website, Bianco prefaces his list by noting he is in London, has just turned 50 and is "thinking about places I'd love to be eating at tonight if I were somewhere in the U.S."

May 15, 2012
Cafe Bernardo opens with an outdoor patio and longer menu

Most restaurants have signature dishes. If Sacramento has a signature restaurateur, it's the pioneering Randy Paragary.

The "corporate menu" of the Paragary Restaurant Group includes Paragary's Bar & Oven, Esquire Grill, Centro Cocina Mexicana and Spataro. Add to the list four Cafe Bernardos, the newest one opening a couple of weeks ago downtown along the K Street mall. It's serving breakfast, lunch and dinner 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. weekdays, 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. weekends. Its menus offer more choices than its three siblings' menus.

The new cafe is inside the converted former site of Paragary's Cosmo Cafe. It closed in December because it didn't "resonate" with the cabaret crowd that frequents the neighboring bars and nightclubs, Paragary said in December.

April 30, 2012
Fabian's Italian Bistro opens Sunday brunch with a new menu

DSCF0396.jpgIt's the season for Sunday brunch on outdoor patios, so we stopped by Fabian's Italian Bistro yesterday to cruise the new menu items.

Last year, the restaurant debuted its brunch with a menu devised by husband-wife owners Christian and Mercedes Forte, and chef Tom Patterson. The three consulted again this year and made some interesting tweaks.

New to the lineup are a farmers market omelet (fresh veggies and goat cheese), applewood-smoked salmon (cooked in a smoker in back of the restaurant), frittata Bolognese (scrambled eggs with meat sauce), and seared flatiron steak 'n' eggs (with tomato arugula butter).

Hmmm. Wait a minute, what's this? A "breakfast burger," described this way: "Hand-formed Angus patty, soft fried egg, applewood-smoked bacon, spicy aioli, tomato jam (on a) bun (with) sliced fries" ($8.95).

Ours soon arrived, looking great on the plate (pictured here). The sandwich was well-balanced, the beef juicy, the bacon smoky, the tomato jam and aioli adding nice dashes of sweet 'n' heat flavors. The hand-cut russet potatoes were creamy and addictive, thanks to the sweet 'n' salty seasoning.

For more brunch destinations, look for Blair Anthony Robertson's round-up of Mother's Day brunch destinations, coming Sunday in the Bee's A&E section.

Meanwhile, Fabian's Sunday brunch is 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at 11755 Fair Oaks Blvd. in the Almond Orchard center, Fair Oaks; (916) 536-9891, www.fabiansitalianbistro.com.

April 27, 2012
Spring in the city: a list of spots for eating and drinking outdoors

I'm sitting outside Old Soul in the alley. The sun is out. There's a breeze. It's not too hot or too cold - at least not yet. Spring is in the air and there's nothing more pleasant than the weather during this stretch before it really starts to heat up.

Which leads me to a recent email inquiry from a reader asking if I could suggest a good place for outdoor dining. I couldn't possibly narrow it down to one.

So what follows is my impromptu list of favorite outdoor spots for eating and/or enjoying a coffee, complete with my bias in favor of dog-friendly locales. If you don't like dogs, then I cannot help you. If you have a favorite that's not on my list, let us know about it.

There are two ways to look at outdoor seating. It can either be in a location that connects you with the energy on the street, or it can be a tucked away patio that gives you a respite from the hustle and bustle of the world. Shade is important, too, and it becomes more important the closer we get to July and those temperatures near 100F.

April 13, 2012
Sac Burger Battle: the competition should be intense

Thumbnail image for burgerbattle.jpgI don't know how they're going to do this, but it should be fun trying. The folks behind "Sacramento Burger Battle" are planning an event for September in which they will invite the many restaurants with excellent burgers to put forth their best entries.

Then a panel of judges will somehow pick the best one. It should be brutal. As we have pointed out many times, Sacramento has some great burgers -- and the list keeps growing. My recent contender for best burger is Restaurant Thir13en. Then I start thinking about all the others -- Hawks, Mulvaney's, Formoli's, Juno's, The Eatery, Willie's, Scott's Burger Shack -- and start to wonder: can anyone eat all of these at a competition and stay alive long enough to declare a winner?

One way or another, I suppose we'll have our answer in September. Sounds like a great idea, a fun event, a good cause (charity) and good publicity for the Sacramento food scene. To keep up with details as they become available, including a specific date and venue, go here.

Blair Anthony Robertson is The Bee's restaurant critic. Follow him on Twitter, @blarob.

April 11, 2012
Chevys Fresh Mex chain is searching for its past success

Kickin Bueno Margarita.JPGThe 62-unit Chevys Fresh Mex restaurant chain has made some changes to its operation, trying to return to its roots in search of the elusive ingredients that made it such a hit in bygone years.

Its pilot program of reinvention was announced in February - new menus, extended happy hours, updated music playlists, exhibition prep kitchens, even new uniforms for the staff.

We'll be having lunch at a Chevys soon, for a review in the "Counter Culture" column in an upcoming Friday Ticket section.

Meanwhile, with tax deadline looming, a few specials will be happening during "Taste of Tax Relief" weekend:

April 6, 2012
Surely, there's Kool-Aid somewhere on the "secret menu"


File this under, "I shouldn't be telling you this, but..."

Here's yet another piece worshiping at the altar that is In-N-Out Burger, perhaps the most beloved fast food chain going.

I'm in the minority on this one, meaning I just don't get it. But give credit where credit is due: In-N-Out does several things right. It pays its employees well. It uses fresh iceberg lettuce and tomatoes, both of which are practically tasteless. Best of all, it has this "secret menu" that no one knows about but you. At least that's the way it feels.

You stop in and let loose a blast about "animal style," 3x3, extra toasted, and the fries well-done (which will not make them less dreadful), you feel good about yourself, you wolf down the greatest burger in the world and you're on your way. That scenario is repeated tens of thousands of times daily at all 268 In-N-Out outlets. The 3x3, for those who aren't privy to such secrets, refers to the numbers of patties and cheese, i.e. three patties and three slices of cheese. Lo and behold, you can actually order a 4x4.

Huffington Post's correspondent in this case informs us there are even more secrets. Who leaks this kind of information to the masses? Hmm. Mustard grilled? Amazing. Why isn't this in the pages of "Larousse Gastronomique"? There's no mention of Kool-Aid on the secret menu, but plenty of people are drinking it.

Study up and impress your friends. Here's a secret tip: Try not to look at the photos, which make the food look less than appealing. Me? I shouldn't be telling you this, but... I'm going to keep eating great burgers from local restaurants that do things the right way: Juno's, Formoli's, The Eatery and, my most recent great-burger discovery, Thir13en.

Blair Anthony Robertson is The Bee's restaurant critic. Follow him on Twitter, @blarob.

April 5, 2012
What's on the Raley Field menu for the River Cats' season?

AA RIVERCATS3.JPGLast Triple A baseball season, the 700,000 hungry fans who flocked to Raley Field to watch the Sacramento River Cats were abuzz over a novelty item that wouldn't be out of place at the state fair. It was a bacon cheeseburger wedged between two glazed doughnuts (pictured; photograph by Andy Alfaro). Yikes!

That item is back this year, along with other returning favorites and a few new dishes, said executive chef Ryan Curry of Ovations Food Services, the concessions vendor.

Returning will be the chicken strip basket with fries, Ceasar salad, tostadas salad, tri-tip sandwich, pork ribs, garlic fries and the iconic Dinger Dog, to name a few.

Ovations switched from Alpine-brand dogs and sausages (bratwurst, hot link, Polish) to the Wienerschnitzel brand. Gone is Straw Hat pizza, replaced by Round Table.

April 3, 2012
The Eatery to unveil its new burger creation today


The Eatery, that cool and casual restaurant in West Sacramento, is at it again -- it already has an excellent burger, but it's going over the top with this new creation. Sounds incredible, from the meat (a blend of cuts ground in house) to the aioli (with peanut butter). A portion of sales today goes to charity.

Here's how they're describing it on Facebook. (I don't know this "Burger Junkies" guy who is referenced, though I have interacted with him on Twitter. He clearly A) loves burgers and B) has no plans to live past 40.):

March 26, 2012
Rodent problem temporarily closed Lemon Grass Grill, La Bou

There seems to be some confusion, judging from recent phone and e-mail inquiries, and a certain amount of speculative rumor circulating within the local foodie community.

Preview: This story has a happy ending. Bottom line: No, the health department did not close owner Mai Pham's iconic Lemon Grass restaurant on Munroe Street in Sacramento due to evidence of rodent infestation.

But, for that reason, it did temporarily close Pham's Lemon Grass Asian Grill & Noodle Bar, and owner Trong Nguyen's La Bou Bakery & Cafe. The two restaurants share facilities inside a building along Howe Avenue in Sacramento

March 19, 2012
Fabian's Italian Bistro brings back its Sunday brunch

brunch.jpg Between monthly wine-tastings on the last Wednesday of each month, and daily specials concocted by chef Tom Patterson (fried spinach, seasoned polenta fries), something's always going on at Fabian's Italian Bistro.

Now husband-wife owners Christian and Mercedes Forte are reopening their restaurant's outdoor patio for Sunday brunch (10 a.m. to 2 p.m.), beginning this coming Sunday.

Last year, we loved the eggs Benedict Florentine (pictured), house-made Italian sausage link, and cinnamon custard-soaked brioche French toast.

Those dishes will return, along with a breakfast burger, house-smoked salmon, frittata Bolognese and seared flat iron steak with eggs, plus an expanded children's menu. Begin with a Bellini (Prosecco with peach puree) and end with one (or more) of eight desserts.

Also new: Dinner will now be served 4 to 9 p.m. Sundays. In exchange, the restaurant will be closed Mondays.

Fabian's is at 11755 Fair Oaks Blvd. in the Almond Orchard center, Fair Oaks; (916) 536-9891, www.fabiansitalianbistro.com.

March 16, 2012
Billy Zoellin prepping to open his own restaurant


AA GOLDEN BEAR4.jpgBilly Zoellin's creative takes on simple cuisine while he was the chef at the Golden Bear attracted national attention and won him many new fans on the local food scene.

After a topsy-turvy year, Zoellin is getting ready to open his own place - a breakfast, lunch and espresso spot on 21st Street he's calling Bacon & Butter.

"It's really exciting. I've got a great opportunity," said the chef.



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