Monthly Archives: October 2012

Steppin’ Out – Shoestring: Placerville and Garden Valley

“Some people wanted champagne and caviar when they should have had beer and hot dogs.”
Dwight D. Eisenhower (1890-1969)


About 23 years ago I received a call from Rick Siegel, who owned the Shoestring on Broadway in Placerville, inviting me to lunch. I have been a permanent customer ever since. A few years later Rick sold this Shoestring to his sister, Debbie Harding, and opened a new Shoestring in Garden Valley.

After a few more years he retired and closed the Garden Valley Shoestring. Apparently missing the business and people, a couple of years ago he helped his daughter, Tamara Bergman, reopen it. At the same time, Harding’s daughter Brittany is following in her mother’s footsteps at the Placerville Shoestring.

Both Shoestring locations specialize in hot dogs, chili dogs, burgers, shakes and more, but their real product is smiles.

If you have ever seen someone, especially a new customer, take their first bite of a chili cheese dog or chili cheese fries, you will know what I mean. All their food is great, but those two items fill your mouth with happiness and bring a smile to your face.

To give you a little background and history, the first Shoestring was opened by Rick and Debbie’s father, Richard Siegel, in 1959. Its location was on Van Nuys Boulevard in the San Fernando Valley. “He opened it on a shoestring,” said Harding, “and that is where it got its name. We sold it when he passed away and then moved to El Dorado County, opening a new Shoestring here in 1989.”

Richard Siegel was introduced to the hot dog business by his cousin “Uncle Hugo.” Hugo Siegel had a large number of hot dog carts (some say as many as 350) in the Los Angeles area in the 1930’s and 40’s. He was the inspiration to Richard Walsh, who opened Cupid’s Hot Dogs, which is now franchised. On top of that, he even sold one of his carts to an enterprising young couple named Carl and Margaret Karcher, who paid for it by borrowing $311 on their car and adding $15 from their savings. They would go on to create the Carl’s Jr. restaurant empire.

Back to today’s Shoestrings. Their menus, which differ slightly from each other because they are quite independently run, are very large with no less than 30 kinds of burgers, from a simple hamburger to a double caliente cheese burger and even, for those with big appetites and strong hearts, a “4 X 4,” featuring four patties and four slices of cheese. They also have at least ten kinds of hot dogs (yes, all beef with a natural casing so you get the ‘snap’ when you bite them), including the by far favorite chili cheese dog. And, they make their own, beanless chili for the dogs, burgers and fries.

They serve four kinds of pastrami sandwiches (isn’t just pastrami and Swiss enough?), several chicken sandwiches and even salads. Then there are the fries: a small fry, big fry, box of fries, cheese fries, large and small chili fries and chili cheese fries, and even deluxe chili cheese fries with onions, jalapeños, sour cream and tomatoes.

I recommend that if  you want to order a chili cheese fries, bring a friend and ask for two forks, or get a small order.

There are also kids’ meals and specials that they test and add to the menu, or maybe not. And, I will bet they would make you anything you like, as long as they have the ingredients. They are very customer friendly.

To go with your meal they have sodas, shakes and freezes and soft-serve cones.

Well, I could go on and on, but I am making myself way too hungry and I just ate lunch, so I will tell you how to find them.

The Placerville Shoestring is located at 1320 Broadway and is open daily: from 10 until 8, Monday through Friday, from 11 until 8 on Saturday and from 11 until 7 on Sunday. You can reach them at 530-622-7125.

The Shoestring in Garden Valley is located at 4860 Black Oak Mine Road, is open from 11 until 8, Tuesday through Saturday, closed on Sunday and Monday, and can be reached at  530-333-2400.

Review – Wine and Salami Paring

I’ve been to a lot of different wine parings, but usually it is in the form of a wine dinner or wine and dish paring at a winery. However, paring wine and salami was new to me – very new – so, always looking for a new experience, I took the opportunity to try it last weekend. After all, the salami I am most familiar with comes in one style: a bit greasy with white mold on the outside. Boy did I learn something new.

To back up a bit, a couple of years ago I, quite by accident, ate a piece of salami at a local winetasting, while sipping on a pouring of Pino Grigio, a white wine often paired with seafood because of its acidity. Much to my surprise and delight, the wine immediately removed all of the fattiness, in the same way as tannins do, and the deeper flavors of the salami came through. With this experience I was anxious to try the pairings.

This paring event event took place last weekend in the shaded garden at Holly’s Hill Vineyards, an acclaimed winery that specializes in Rhône style wines and is located in the Pleasant Valley area of El Dorado County.

The parings were created by Carrie and Josh Bendick, co-winemakers at Holly’s Hill. Both of them have excellent palates and I was quite complementary of their choices.

Dedrick’s Cheese in Placerville, provided the seven kinds of salami, all of which came from Seattle’s Salumi Artisan Cured Meats, a business owned by the parents of celebrity chef Mario Batali. They are a small business, hand-creating their product for national restaurants, delis and specialty shops, such as Dedrick’s.

These are not your grocery store salamis, they are carefully made unique products with flavors you may never have imagined in cured meats. The wines, of course, were selected for paring from Holly’s Hill’s inventory of what I consider some of the finest wines in El Dorado County (I know, I am a bit of a Rhône fanatic).

The universal pairing principle is that wine and food can complement or contrast each other, as long as they do not mask each other’s unique flavor and characteristics. This is a difficult thing to do, but a trained person can accomplish it. However, we all have different palates and may not feel the same way about the paring as the parer. But then, it is fun and always a learning experience.

The first pairing was a salami called Agrumi, which is a relatively new product of theirs, cured with citrus and cardamom. It was paired with their 2010 Patriarche Blanc, a white blend of Roussanne, Grenache Blanc and Viognier. The crisp acidity of the wine did as expected and the palate was met with the bold flavor of the salami and cardamom, followed by a lemony finish.

Next came a salami known as Salumi Salami, which is their signature product. It is a mild salami with a touch of ginger and a slight tartness. The wine for the paring was their crisp 2011 El Dorado Viognier. Again the taste of the salami was enhanced and the slight bite of the ginger came out, but not so much that the wine lost its fruitiness.

The third paring was with their Oregano Salami, paired with the 2010 Grenache. As far as I am concerned there is no better wine for food paring than Grenache.

One of the most planted grapes in the world, Grenache is mostly used for blending, but by itself is a very underrated grape that produces a varietal that just seems to like to be sipped with most any food.

The wine and salami paired well, enhancing each other quite well and producing a wonderful, palate pleasing combination of flavors.

That was followed by a salami known as Finocchiona, which is flavored with cracked fennel, black pepper and a touch of curry. The wine selected for it was another of my favorites, their slightly earthy 2010 Mourvedre.

I always search for the anise or licorice flavor of fennel and fennel seeds, and I found it in this combination, although it was quite subtle. The peppercorns added a bit of heat, which was also pleasant and did not overpower the wine.

Hot Sopressata was the next salami. It is spicy salami made with garlic and has, in their words, a “slight bite.” With it we had the 2010 Petit Patriarche, a Mourvedre based red blend with Grenache and a touch of Syrah. It was a good combination, although the heat and spiciness of the salami, which I liked, might not appeal to all people. The wine handled it well, the tannins clearing the palate quite nicely.

The next to last pairing was their Smoked Paprika salami paired with 2008 Wylie-Fenaughty Syrah. This unique salami is cured with salt and flavored, as its name indicates, with smoke paprika

The Syrah grape naturally produces a wine with a bit of smokiness. That is one of its basic characteristics. It may also pick up some smokiness from the barrel in which it aged. A complementary paring of it with something smoky can produce fantastic, mouth-filling results, as it did in this case. This was my favorite of the parings.

The final paring involved a salami called Mole (mo-lay), which was flavored with chocolate, cinnamon, ancho and chipotle peppers. It was accompanied with a small piece of St. Agur cheese and a similar piece of dried Turkish apricot. Paired with it was their 2010 Patriarche, a Mourvedre based red blend with Syrah, Grenache Noir and Counoise.

Chocolate and heat both go well with a rich red wine such as the Patriarche and the paring was very good.

As I was turning in my glass, Carrie Bendick told me that they had tried another wine with the Mole, their 2009 Petite Sirah, and that I should also try it.

Petite Sirah is not one of my favorite wines and is often overpowering when paired with food. Their’s was not and I really liked the pairing with just the salami, less the cheese and apricot, even better than with the Patriarche.

Holly’s Hill Vineyards is located at 3680 Leisure Lane, off Pleasant Valley Road, in the Pleasant Valley area. The tasting room is open daily from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. and can be reached at 530-344-0227. You can also visit them online at

Dedrick’s Cheese is located at 312 Main Street, Suite 105 in Placerville. There you will find 300-400 different kinds of seasonal cheese, along with bread, crackers, deli items  and more, including the tasted salamis. The hours are Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. until 6 p.m, Saturday from 9 a.m. until 6 p.m. and on Sunday from 11 a.m. until 6 p.m. They also have cheeses in many of the local winery’s deli cases. For more information call 530-344-8282 or visit them online at

Community Profiles – Garden Valley

Black Oak Mine - 1932

Black Oak Mine – 1932

During the early days of mining in California, it was very common to name communities after a person, a landmark, a local group of Native Americans or often even a hometown or state important to a group of settlers. But one town in El Dorado County is unique, its name coming about as a result of a dinner in celebration of the independence of the United States of America.

It was only natural that the early gold miners would start exploring the ravines that drained into the American River near Coloma. They knew the gold found there was being washed into the river from other places and, who knows, one of these many ravines might be the source of all of the riches, the often sought after “Mother Lode.”

In late 1848 several miners started exploring northward from Coloma, along Johntown Creek near a place known as Stony Point. There they found good quantities of gold and by 1850 a permanent mining camp had been established, a camp that included a saw mill being operated by some gentlemen named McConnell and Cody.
When the fourth of July came around that year, the miners were invited to a vegetable dinner in celebration of the day, hosted by the owners of the saw mill. They had planted a large vegetable garden the previous year and wanted to share their abundant crop with the others. Needless to say, this was a welcome change from the quite boring, “beans and something they shot,” normal diet of the miners, and nearly everyone must have attended.

After dinner the conversation turned to the fact that their town had no name and that it should be given one. With the delicious meal still on their minds, it was voted to name the place Garden Valley – a name that still remains to this day.

Community Profiles – Fair Play

Fair Play Store c. 1900

Fair Play Store c. 1900

Not much was written about Fair Play and the surrounding communities during the early days of California. It was not because there was nothing going on in the southern part of El Dorado County during that time, but because most of the world’s attention was focused on the feverish mining activities nearer Placerville, Coloma and Sacramento, where the population was larger, the roads were better, communication was easier and, of course, where the newspapers were published. Because of this, we have only bits and pieces of information on the little, but very important towns like Fair Play.

The settlement of Fair Play and the many other communities in the area was a result of the discovery of gold in and along many of the nearby streams. This occurred only a few years after the first discovery of gold in Coloma as newly arriving miners found the good claims taken and set out to search for new, undiscovered deposits of gold. As in most other communities founded by miners, the gold soon gave out and many of the miners left to search for new deposits. But the region around Fair Play had attributes that much of the rest of the county lacked – like large stands of timber and deep, well drained, fertile soils. So, as time progressed the population remained fairly stable, the departing miners soon being replaced by farmers, ranchers and lumbermen.

The original settlement of Fair Play is attributed to two gentlemen, Charles Staples and N. Sisson, who arrived there around 1853. The story goes that some time after that the two apparently fell into a disagreement that grew into what must have been a not-too-gentlemanly fight. The fight ended when some of the other newly arrived residents appealed to them to “play fair.” Thus, we’re told, the town became known as Fair Play. Some time later, the name was shortened to one word – Fairplay – mostly for the convenience of various government agencies. But, that would change.