Monthly Archives: July 2013

Steppin’ Out – Farmer’s Delicatessen “Fresh European Specialties”

“I was born in a kitchen,” said Christine Ondrus-Lykos, chef and owner of Farmer’s Delicatessen, a business that prepares gourmet dishes and freezes them in convenient size portions for you to reheat at home. “It was a cultured kitchen where all kinds of different dishes were prepared, including Romanian, Hungarian and Italian.

“Our home was in a Jewish neighborhood in Queens, a borough of New York City, where I lived with my mother and my aunt, who were both Hungarian, and my grandmother, who was Romanian. I learned cooking and baking from the experts. I also had a Sicilian step-father, so I expanded my knowledge to include their food too.”

After several years traveling the world as a model, Ondrus-Lykos became an executive secretary in New York City. “Cooking was my passion and I really wanted to go to culinary school,” she added, “but it wasn’t working out that way.”

Later she moved to Los Angeles to work as a personal assistant.

“When the lady I was working for had a birthday, I made a cake for her and decorated it myself,” she continued. “She asked me where I ordered it and when I told her I made it, she was very surprised. From then on I made birthday cakes for everyone, and even a wedding cake.”

Following that she worked for a French pastry chef in Los Angeles for three months, before returning to New York City. There she met her husband who was from Greece. They worked in his brother’s pizzeria for three years, learning more and more about dough and breads. Then they moved to Greece.

“Greece was a culture shock at first,” continued Ondrus-Lykos., “but it was also an opportunity to learn even more about food. I had a lot of kitchen time and fixed a different meal every day for my husband, while also baking holiday breads and cookies for him, his friends and others.”

When the Greek economy collapsed she moved back to live near some friends in Wisconsin. There she honed her skills decorating cakes at a bakery.

“I moved to California about a years ago,” she continued. “because my mother lives in the Placerville area.

“Cooking and baking is my first love, so when I saw I could rent time in the commercial kitchen at Manzanita Kitchen and Events, I stopped by. I walked into the kitchen and it just felt right. Right then and there I decided to do what I loved.

“Life is all about having to eat, but I want people to enjoy what they eat. Also, food creates the opportunity for adventure.”

The menu at Farmer’s Delicatessen consists of authentic, table-ready, chef prepared gourmet dishes to be enjoyed at work, home or on the road. No MSG, all quality natural ingredients.

Her entrees, fully cooked and frozen, include Ragu Bolognese with Fettuccine, Lamb Meatballs with Red Wine Gravy, Keftethes (Greek Meatballs) and Csirke Paprikas (Hungarian Chicken Paprikash) with Egg Papardelle. Also available are Tzatziki (Greek Yogurt Dip), Vinetta (Romanian Eggplant Spread) and everyone’s favorite, Baklava.

Several weeks ago I had the opportunity to try few of her European specialities, like baklava (yes, I ate more than one), a very nice Romanian eggplant salad known as Vinetta and the very refreshing Greek cucumber-yogurt dip, Tzatziki. I  was impressed, but not as impressed as I was when I tried three of her entrees.

The entrees I tried included: Csirke Paprikas, Lamb Meatballs and the Ragu Bolognese. She also gave me heating instructions and even a tip or two on what to eat as a side dish. When in doubt, ask the chef.

Each entree weighs one pound and designed for two people, so I planned on trying them two ways, which, as I will point out later, didn’t work for the Ragu Bolognese.

I prepared the Hungarian chicken with egg papardelle and served it with a salad of thin sliced cucumber, sweet onions and tomatoes, in a sweet vinegar dressing, along with a nice, lighter red wine.

It was delicious, and I could taste all the flavors, the chicken, the spices and the perfectly cooked pasta. It paired well with both the side dish and wine and the combination was so good I tried it the same way for lunch the next day.

For the lamb meat balls, instead of pasta, I cut thin zucchini strips, sauteed them and used them as a base. The package contained 12 meat balls and six with half the sauce made a perfect meal. Again I prepared a similar salad and had the same wine.

The meat balls were tender, moist and delicious and the gravy was delicate and full of flavor. Three of the remaining meat balls I had a day later by themselves (quite delicious alone) and for the third three I used zucchini strips again and a tomato and avocado salad. I can’t remember ever having meat balls and a gravy or sauce that tasted that good.

The next day I heated the Ragu Bolognese and rather than divide it in two, figured I would just eat half and put the other half away for later. I dusted it with a bit of grated Parmesan, fixed a small romaine salad and a toasted and buttered ciabatta roll, and sat down with a those and a glass of wine. When I got up from the table, all that was left was a sip of wine.

What did they use to say on that commercial? “I can’t believe I ate the whole thing.”  It was that fantastic – not heavy or overpowering like some pasta dishes can be – just full of flavor and delicious, demanding you take another bite. Next time I will divide it first and put the other half in the refrigerator before I start, or invite a friend over.

All of the European specialties from Farmer’s Delicatessen can be purchased by calling 530-748-9165. Not all items may be available at all times.

The entrees come frozen in microwavable containers (although removing them and heating them in the oven is probably better). They are made so well that they can be refrigerated and reheated again with no loss of quality or flavor that I can find.

It is nice to have someone else who knows food take the time to make the dishes so you can enjoy them when you want them. And they are not that expensive.

Oh, ask to be put on her newsletter list since she is beginning to sell at some of the local farmer’s markets, including El Dorado Hills on Sundays.

Community Profiles – Placerville, Part 3 (No Town and Then No Government)

wagons glass light 1865sm

First Gas Lights in Placerville, 1865.

The Placerville & Sacramento Valley Railroad had reached Shingle Springs in 1865 and planned to reach the City of Placerville a short time later.

Expecting to soon replace Shingle Springs a the major freight center for the mines in Nevada and the east, the Common Council of the City committed some $300,000 of bonds towards the cost of bringing the tracks into the City. For many reasons, some financial, but most political, the tracks had not been extended much beyond Shingle Springs by 1872.

By this time the Central Pacific Railroad tracks had crossed the Sierra Nevada and, as a result the freight traffic to the east – the same traffic that the City had expected would easily pay back the City’s commitment – took that easier route eastward, bypassing the City.

It had been two decades since the discovery of gold and times were not very good in Placerville. Most easy mining had played out and the City had serious financial problems. The City did not have the money to pay off the $300,000 in railroad bonds that had been issued. Because of this the bondholders filed suit and won. When the telegraphed news reached the Placerville Common Council, they took the easy way out. They all simply resigned, leaving no one in charge or responsible for the payment. The pages of the minute books of the Council of the City of Placerville are empty from that point into the 1900’s, when apparently, the whole problem had become forgotten history and the City Council thought it safe to return. In spite of all of this, the City survived. After all, it was now the County Seat and still had its people and their continuous pioneer spirit.
From the beginning, Placerville had served as a major business center for the miners, emigrants and settlers. The town had been built at the perfect location, the intersection of the main route between the northern and southern mines (Highway 49) and what was the major immigrant route and freight road over the Sierra Nevada (Highway 50). In good times the City prospered, in bad it was still able to survive.

There was a time when Placerville was a solid mass of houses and businesses, a time when the immigrant road through town was jammed end to end with both arriving pioneer families and freight wagons. a time when the earth yielded gold at the touch, a time when riches were counted in ounces not dollars. Many made their fortunes here, mostly as businessmen. Some, like Studebaker, Armour and Crocker, left the town for other locations where they would increase their wealth, but many, like Cary, Bee, Morey, Elstner and O’Donnell, remained to leave their name in the history of Placerville. By 1856, things began to slow down. Most miners had left for the large underground mines to the north and south and Placerville began to lose its radiant, youthful beauty. Then, disaster struck in the form of fire.

Steppin’ Out – Brick Oven Pub

Brick Oven Pub“There are five elements: earth, air, fire, water and garlic.”
Louis Diat (1885-1957)

 

It had been over a year since I had stopped by the Brick Oven Pub, which is located at 2875 Ray Lawyer Drive in Placerville, in the same shopping center with Minuteman Press and Riebes/Napa Auto Parts. So, last week I went there to spend some time talking with Ken Fay, who with his wife Karrie, have owned and operated the business for four years.

Ken is always fun to talk with. If you ask him a question about the restaurant business, he knows the answer. He also loves odd facts and knows the answers to a lot of miscellaneous questions, which is probably why their every Thursday at 7 p.m., Pub Trivia Night is so popular. I always leave there knowing a little more about something than when I went in.

“We just revamped the menu,” he told me. “We added a kids section and a number of things that we were serving, but hadn’t been put on the menu. Most of those were speciality pizzas that had been suggested by customers and staff.”

I should add here that the Brick Oven Pub is family owned and very family friendly. The first thing you come to when you enter is a large, relatively quiet dining area, before you get to the beer bar and the back room with the large screen TV.

“Our pizzas are the biggest seller,” continued Ken. “The Rubicon and Bandito, seem to top the list, but you can build you own small, medium or large pizza using a choice of sauces, cheeses and toppings.

“Our sandwiches are popular too, and we bake our own bread using only four ingredients, flour, water yeast and salt. Tony, who you probably remember, isn’t working here anymore, but we use his bread recipes.

“The top selling sandwiches are the French Dip and our half-pound burgers. We have also recently introduced wraps for people who don’t want so much bread.

“Our customers really love the Chicken Bacon Wrap [seasoned chicken, bacon, cheese, lettuce, tomato and garlic sauce]. We use the best thick cut bacon and it is applewood smoked. There is no reason to skimp on any of our ingredients and we don’t.

“I mentioned about customers designing pizza, and I should add that they also recommend dishes,” he continued. “One of them recently asked why we didn’t take the chicken strips we had on our menu and make them into Parmesan chicken strips. We took the advice and did, by adding Provolone and Parmesan cheeses. They are very popular.”

The menu at the Brick Oven Pub, starts with build-your-own pizza, breads and calzones, all from the brick oven. The basic ones come with three toppings and they have quite a long list to choose from, such as meats like salami, ham, bacon, pepperoni, Italian sausage and roasted chicken, or vegetables such as mushrooms, black olives, fresh garlic, spinach, artichoke hearts, sun dried tomatoes, pineapple, red onions, jalapenos and more. Of course, you can add additional toppings to your heart’s content.

They also several different burgers, hot and cold speciality sandwiches, again, made on their own bread, like barbecued turkey, roast beef or chicken, pesto chicken, French dip, pastrami, a pastrami Reuben, sausage, a meatball sub and more. “If we have the ingredients, we will make a custom sandwich for you,” added Ken.

Also, some of the sandwiches are available as a half sandwich combination with soup or salad.

Speaking of salads, you can choose from the chef, pesto chicken, BLT Caesar, Caesar, house, potato and macaroni. And they have several dressings from which to choose.

They also have quite a list of appetizers, pasta, a number of side dishes and even a chocolate brownie with ice cream for dessert.

To accompany your food they have 29 beers on tap plus hard cider and bottled beers, local wines, soda, coffee iced tea and more.

So, you might wonder, what did I try and how was it. I have tried their pizza before and really liked it, so this time I tried the Chicken Bacon Wrap, which, like all sandwiches, came with potato chips. When it arrived I picked it up and I am guessing it weighed at least three quarters of a pound. I like the idea of replacing bread with a flour tortilla, since the flavors of the ingredients become the primary taste, not the bread.

It was fresh and delicious and, taking time to do so, I finished it all. A couple of side salads and that to split, would be a nice meal for two.

The Brick Oven Pub is open for lunch and dinner from 11 a.m. “until the last person leaves,” seven days a week.

Monday is Family Night with buy one, get one for half price (on menu items of equal or lesser value) after 5 p.m., Wednesday is Happy Hour all day, and you won’t want to miss Thursday’s Trivia Night, with prizes, starting at 7 or Karaoke on Saturdays from 7 until 11. On Fridays, after 8 p.m., you can get pitchers for half price unless they have live music.

For more information give them a call at 530-622-7420. You call also visit their webpage at www.brickovenpub.com.

Steppin’ Out – Cuppa Coffee & More!

“Come for Coffee, Stay For More!” is what it says on the top of the menu at Cuppa Coffee & More!, a delightful coffee shop located at 442 Main Street in downtown Placerville.

Jill Barnes is the sole owner of this business and she has been doing well with it for the past two years. Recently she has added a catering business (ask for a menu).

“We bake and cook everything on site,” she proudly told me. “My chef, Melissa Arcona, is wonderful, and not only can she come up with great things for our customers or a fantastic meal for a wedding or other event for up to 200 people, she is a master at paring food and wine. In fact, she has a wine dinner coming up.”

While I was looking at all of the delicious goodies in the display cases, Barnes offered me a peanut butter and M&Ms cookie. “You will like this,” she said, “and it is gluten free,” adding, “ we have a lot of gluten free items, including cookies, cupcakes and frittatas and we get high marks for them from customers.” It was good, and especially with a cup of freshly brewed Vanellis coffee, which they also sell as beans to take home.

To go with your cup of coffee or coffee drink you can also get scones, muffins (she rotates between bran, carrot cake, raspberry orange, blueberry and an “All American” which contains bananas, chocolate espresso and bacon), other kinds of cookies and biscotti.

For a light meal you can try their deep dish ham and cheese or Florentine quiche (the best sellers), fajita seasoned chicken, black bean and refried bean tortilla wraps, shepherd’s pie, a special teriyaki chicken rice bowl, salads, fruit cups and something I have to try, a 49er Dog, which is a Polish sausage wrapped in a light pretzel crust. They only have soup during the cold months, but all year you can get their famous chili and cornbread.

“When our Cornish pasty supplier started selling through a bakery, Melissa took it on herself to make our own pasties,” said Barnes. “She makes them in four varieties, which sell out rapidly: beef and potato, chicken and potato, pork verde and veggie.

For a sweet treat they have brownies, lemon bars and much more, again, all made there.

To spice up your meal or to take home they also have two kinds of pepper sauce that they make: Habanero Hot and Sweet Mild. I tried them both. The Habanero is hot, but it has a good flavor and the Sweet Mild is just warm enough and delicious.

To go with your light meal they also serve local beer and wine and can ship wine for you.

“Since this location was a bakery for a while, people still come in looking for a bakery,” continued Barnes. “I tell them we do have baked goods, but we are really a coffee shop with wonderful food and light meals. And, because we are a coffee shop, we need to be open seven days a week so the locals know we are open and can come here to hang out.

“Our business depends upon our local customers and many of them are in here several times a week. But we also get a lot of tourists. We sometimes think we are a small tourist visitors center.

“Some people think that it is Lake Tahoe that brings tourists to Placerville, but if you talk with the tourists themselves you find out it is not Lake Tahoe, but the gold and our history.

“We talk to a lot of tourists and I try to get them to write something in my memory book. One person wrote a whole page in Russian that I cannot read. But they did put smiley faces at the bottom, so I am sure it is good.”

Cuppa Coffee & More! is open from 7 until 5, Monday through Friday, 8 until 5 on Saturday and from 10 until 4 on Sunday. Monday through Saturday they serve $1 coffee until 9 a.m.

For more information, stop by or call (530) 626-9600 or visit cuppacoffeandmore.com.