Steppin’ Out – Z-PIE, Gourmet Pot Pies

It has been some time since I enjoyed a pot pie from Z-PIE, which is located at 3182 Center Street in Placerville (across from City Hall).

I was supposed to meet Russ Salazar for lunch there a few weeks ago, but he thought I was going to arrive at noon and I thought he would be there at 1 p.m. He left about ten minutes before I arrived. Last week we synchronized our watches and both arrived at the same time.

Z-PIE has been around for a number of years, in fact, so long that it took me some time to find one of the early stories I wrote about them. The earliest one I found was in April of 2003 when they won the “Best of El Dorado” competition and they had been open for four and a half years then.

People still ask me, “What is a Z-Pie?”

Let me give you a little history on this unique dish.

“Single serving meat and vegetable pot pies are as common in Australia and New Zealand as are burgers are here,” the owners of Z-PIE told me a number of years ago.

People enjoy them on their trips there, but it wasn’t until the Coots families opened their original restaurant in 1988 that they were introduced to Placerville.

Originally there were only a couple of varieties of pies, but now many more, with those on the menu changing periodically.

There were about half a dozen on the menu the day Russ and I were there and we decided to order a couple and split them. Russ went for one of the standards, and the best seller, the Steak Cabernet pie, while I chose an interesting sounding Tomatillo Stew pie. Russ also ordered a small salad.

I thought about trying their bacon and potato soup, but decided to limit myself to the pie. I don’t know why. At lunch you can get a pie and soup or salad for only $10.

Russ’ nice looking mixed greens salad came first (we ended up splitting it) and then the pies arrived. They looked and smelled really good.
They used to have a tart bottom crust and a puff pastry top crust and, for a while were purchased elsewhere. Now they are again made on site (yes, you can watch) and both the top and bottom crusts are puff pastry.

If you are eating in, after baking they are removed from their pie pan and placed in a ceramic bowl that exactly fits them, which makes them easy to eat.

We split them (that was a bit difficult for two klutzes) and sampled both. The one I had tried before, the Steak Cabernet, had the same delicious aroma and taste I remembered. Russ commented, “You can smell that unique cabernet wine flavor,” and he is right.

I loved the Tomatillo Stew pie. It had a nice bite and a great flavor. Russ liked it, but thought it had a bit too much cumin in it. I could taste it, but I love that flavor. It is the interesting flavor found in all good chili.

We discovered both when we cut the pies to share and when we ate them that the crust appeared to be slightly tough. That would be expected in a pie designed to be taken home, as many people do. However, when a piece of the crust reached your mouth, it was heavenly. Russ commented that it just melted in your mouth.

We both really enjoyed the meal. It was a delicious nice break from the usual food we eat.

They have a number of pies, some seasonal, so here is a list of some of the pies they are serving right now: Steak Cabernet, Rosemary Lamb, Very Vegetable V, Tomatillo Stew, Chicken Mushroom and Southwest Chicken. They also have two dessert pies, The Berry and The Apple.

There are also several salads on the menu. Large salads include: Asian Shrimp Noodle, Thai Steak, Chicken Mango, California, Sesame Asian Pear and Spinach Garlic. Their smaller salads include: Organic House, Organic Spinach and Gorgonzola.

Oh yes, they also have soup by the cup or bowl. Ask your server about the soup of the day.

Z-PIE is so proud of their pies and salads that they list all of the ingredients on their menu. I really like that.

They also have some really great bottled soda, along with local beers and wine to enjoy with your meal.

Z-PIE is open daily from 11 until 9 (last seating at 8:30). For more information call (530) 621-2626. You can eat in or get pies to go, either heated or frozen for later use.

Oh, get a seat in the window by the street and count the cars that actually stop at the stop sign. I found the number was less than half. Therefore, be very careful when you cross the street.

Steppin’ Out – JackZ: Good Eats on the Move

I’m sure a lot of you are wondering about JackZ, the newly opened restaurant that is located about three miles east of Diamond Springs, at 1821 Pleasant Valley Road (the old Zachary Jacques location). It is a very unique restaurant serving fantastic food at very reasonable prices.
How do they do it? You order, find a table you like, and they bring you your food. It only takes two people to run a restaurant like that, which keeps the costs down.
Chef John Evans and his wife Lynnette are the owners with Chef John in the kitchen and Lynnette taking care of the front of the house. It is that simple.

I have known John and Lynnette for a dozen years starting when they took over the old Zachary Jacques. He is one of the top chefs in my book, who started in the restaurant business at 16 and, after gathering kitchen experience at several restaurants, graduated from Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Las Vegas, the culinary Mecca of the west.

Before writing this, Chef John insisted that I do three things: take a dinner to go to see if it arrived at my home in proper condition; bring a friend for lunch and have their “Two for $10″ special and, finally, have dinner at the restaurant. As he put it, “Have the whole experience.”

Well, not one to turn down a meal, the next day I stopped by and ordered their house speciality, a juicy, roasted half chicken, marinated in their citrus, garlic herb sauce and then roasted with fruit wood. For sides, it comes with two, I had Cole Slaw (Chinese style) and White Cheddar Mac.

It wasn’t very long before the meal was all wrapped up and handed to me, so I headed home, which, for the record, is only about 15 minutes away.

I opened the containers and, yes everything was hot (except the salad, of course) and had a wonderful aroma.

I separated a piece of the chicken and tried it. It was very moist and had an excellent flavor. Then I tried the White Cheddar Mac – heavenly.

I don’t eat a lot of “Mac & Cheese,” but I am a lover of Cheddar cheese. Their’s is decadent. I almost ate it all before going back to the rest of the dinner.

Between bites of the two I enjoyed the cole slaw. It was lightly dressed and nicely cleared the palate. All in all, a wonderful meal.

The next day I invited my friend, Russ Salazar, to meet me there for lunch, explaining to him that we were going to have their “Two for $10″ special.

The special lunch is a choice of any two sandwiches and two sides. Now, these aren’t just run of the mill sandwiches, they are very special.
Russ went for the Grilled Salmon sandwich, which consisted of grilled salmon, topped with grilled carrots, celery, red onion, green beans, cucumbers, lemon mayo and romaine.

I selected the So Cal Chicken sandwich, which contained chicken with red onion, mushrooms, cheese, romaine, avocado, tomato and garlic mayo.

I let Russ select the sides and he chose the Mac and Cole Slaw, like I had the night before.

We took seats in the main dining room and, shortly, our lunch arrived.

The sandwiches, both on house-baked buns, were great. The salmon was nicely grilled, but remained moist, as was the chicken. The choice of other ingredients in the sandwiches was perfect and enhanced the flavors, adding a bit of crunch.

Russ, like me, loved the sides which, like the sandwiches, we split. When I mentioned that I wasn’t going to eat the rest of my share of the Mac, he took it and said, “Before you change your mind,” as he finished it.

Lynnette came by our table to see if we liked the food – something she already knew from our smiles – and offered us some dessert. They have a great carrot cake, but we decided to try their own chocolate layer cake, which turned out to be a chocolate lover’s dream.

Russ asked if they had milk to go with the cake, and she said, “Of course” and got him a glass. He replied, “That gives you two extra points.”
I am surprised that the two of us finished that cake, but we did. It was so rich and chocolatey, a perfect ending for the meal. We left happy and full.

A couple of days later I called to thank them for the great lunch, and Chef John said I should complete my review and come by for dinner.

This time I ordered the Steak du Jour, which that evening was a Coulette cut, the cap from the top sirloin. For sides I had buttered green beans and summer squash.

I brought with me a bottle of wine I wanted to try, which Lynnette opened and then poured some into a glass for me.

Although they also have wine by the glass and bottle, they encourage you to bring a wine of your own to have with your meal. The corkage fee is only $1.99 – yes, less than two bucks.

The steak was cooked perfectly, quite tender for that cut and very full of flavor. The sides completed the meal very well. The beans were crisp and he had actually removed the seeds from the squash before cooking. Little things make a difference.

I decided to try the carrot cake, but only a little piece, I told them. It too was made by them and wonderful, wonderful. Much better than a typical carrot cake.

Their menu, which is still under construction (they solicit you comments on it) contains several salads, including a Salmon Caesar, Thai Chicken, Asian Seared Tuna and Ranch Steak salad. In addition to the two sandwiches I mentioned, they also have a Peking Chicken, Chicken Tex Mex and Bahn Mi sandwiches. I would love to list the ingredients of each, but you can find them on their webpage.

The “Fork & Knife” portion of the menu includes their chicken and the Steak du Jour, along with Braised Beef, Crispy Salmon and Seared Ahi Tuna. The list of sides includes the White Cheddar Mac, Cole Slaw and Green Beans Buttered I enjoyed, along with Mashed Potato, Potato Salad, and rice. They also have French Onion soup and, to finish your meal, other desserts along with the two cakes I enjoyed so much. And, ask about the specials of the day.

Kids meals? Yes. Macaroni & Cheese, Grilled Cheese with a side, Chicken with a side and Butter Noodles. And, they have milk, along with wine, coffee, tea, etc.

JackZ is open Tuesday through Saturday from 11:30 with the last seating at 8 p.m.

For more information call (530) 626-8045 or visit their webpage at www.zacharyjacques.com, where you will find their menu fully described.
About half of their business is to-go, as people on their way home stop to pick up food for dinner or just some side dishes to enjoy with what they plan on having, White Cheddar Mac is a very popular to-go side.

Oh, check out the metal sculpture they have. Chickens and other animals you will love.

Steppin’ Out – Tortilla Flats Cantina, Placerville

Last Saturday Russ Salazar and I met at Tortilla Flats Cantina, which is at 564 Main Street in Placerville. It was a “last minute idea,” since I needed something to write about and the miserable weather for the previous week had kind of kept me in.

Russ, as you know, is my Mexican food expert, having grown up in a household where that was the rule.

In my household the only thing we ate that came anywhere close to Mexican was occasional tamales and a great dish my grandmother made, Tamale Pie. That dish, which was full of black olives, was always our choice for pot luck dinners.

We had decided to eat earlier than our normal 1 p.m. and both of us arrived at the restaurant a few minutes before 11:30 a.m., which is their opening time.

Surprisingly, there were a number of other people waiting, like us, checking the time.

In a few minutes they opened the door, greeted us and graciously seated Russ and I in what I would call the main dining room. Other people were seated in he room where the bar is located, but they weren’t using the dining room in the back. The whole place has a very nice, and very clean, dining atmosphere.

The room with the bar seemed to be the most popular as it filled up with singles, couples and families while we were eating. We were joined in the main dining room by several diners during the same time. The restaurant appears to be very popular.

Our silverware, wrapped in colorful bandanas, which were our napkins (very clever) were on the table and very soon our server brought us complementary chips and their house salsa.

Neither of us had been there since the latest owners took over about a year ago, and had no idea what to expect as we opened the menu.

I remembered my favorite dish for many years at the old Tortilla Flats, had been their machaca burrito, which they filled with shredded beef and what Russ called delicious “fat, sloppy tacos.” There was also the crispy, cheese covered flour tortilla that they brought to each table when you first sat down and I will never forget all the pinatas hanging from the ceiling.

Well, for good or bad, all those things are no longer, but you can order the crispy, cheese covered flour tortilla from the appetizers menu and they do offer a “Tortilla Flats Original Foot Long Beef Taco” which, for some reason, neither of us recalled.

The new menu was obviously foreign to us, as we had not seen it before, and we needed some time to figure out what we would order.
We immediately noticed that they now serve Nieman Ranch beef and both free-range chicken and pork. We also noticed that the dishes are now a bit pricy.

As you know, both of us are Mexican food fans and lean towards the hotter and spicier dishes, usually served at taquerias. Unfortunately, most people prefer blander food and many restaurants tend to serve that.

We finally settled on me ordering a Pork Chile Verde plate, with red chile rice and black beans (vegetarian) and Russ ordering their “Three Item combination,” with refried pinto beans and their green poblano rice. He had two tacos and a tostada. The tacos were carnitas (pork) and fish, the tostada was pulled chicken.

Since we planned on sharing everything, we asked if they would cut the tacos and tostada in two so we could share them, but they said we would have to do it (if you have ever tried to cut a crisp taco, you know why).

While waiting for our food to arrive, we munched on their chips and salsa. I liked both, as did Russ. The chips were paper thin and fresh tasting, while the salsa had a nice bite to it.

When our food arrived, the presentation was very nice and my plate was very hot, I was warned. Having once actually blistered my hand on a plate of Mexican food at another local, but now out of business, restaurant, I took their advice.

My large portion of chile verde was very tender and flavorful, we both agreed, and both the rice and beans were good. However, the rice and beans were a bit bland and required the addition of some of their salsa and, in the case of the beans, a bit of salt.

Russ’ refried beans were good, as was the green rice, but I felt they were also a bit bland. For both of us, the tacos and tostada were somewhat disappointing.

The carnitas taco came in a regular folded crispy corn shell with lettuce and tomato. It was not very big and needed an addition of some of their house salsa to get more flavor.

The fish taco was, according to the menu, beer battered rock cod. It came in a soft corn tortilla with cabbage and a sauce. It was a very small portion of fish, but it did have good flavor, we agreed.

The chicken tostada, which came on a small, flat, crispy tortilla as expected, contained beans and chicken, along with lettuce and tomato. It too was bland and kind of boring.

Overall the food was good, but, in both of our opinions, somewhat overpriced compared to our usual taqueria fare.

The menu is large and, in addition to what we have mentioned, they have many more items on their menu, including nachos, taquitos, fajitas, burritos, a chile relleno, salads, soups, desserts and more, including an interesting, half-pound El Rockero Burger. They also have a full bar.

Weekdays, from 11:30 until 2 they feature Lunch Specials, “Ten items for $10.” There are burritos, burrito bowls, tacos, tostadas, enchiladas, salads and more to choose from.

Weekdays from 3 until 6 they feature a Happy Hour, with good prices on appetizers, beer, margaritas, Sangria and house wines. On

Wednesday, there are half price on bottles of wine all night long.

Their hours are, Monday through Thursday from 11:30 until 8 and until 9 on Friday and Saturday. For more information call (530) 295-9408 or visit their webpage at www.tortillaflatscantina.com.