Monthly Archives: August 2013

Steppin’ Out – Two Cooks on Main

Remember the little hot dog place in downtown Placerville that changed hands a couple of times – the one right across the street from Robinson’s Pharmacy at 374 Main Street? Well, now it is called Two Cooks on Main and is serving up some great sandwiches and salads.

The “Two Cooks” and owners of the restaurant are Nina Van Sickle and Paula Flint, both familiar faces on Main Street. They both have extensive culinary experience and you probably know Van Sickle from Nina’s Courtyard Café and Flint from Feast of Dreams, the catering company that was one of the last businesses in the historic Herrick Building, which is now undergoing a complete restoration. According to Flint, “We know our way around a skillet and baking pan and are comfortable in a kitchen.”

The two have known each other for 20 plus years and opened Two Cooks on Main after researching “who is doing what” on Main Street and what the market would bear.

“Business in town is picking up,” said Flint, “and when this place, all 340 square feet of it, became available we took it.”

The day I dropped in Flint was doing the cooking and their friend Teresa Saker was taking care of the customers.

“So, what would you like to try?” said Flint. “I can make you some samples of a few of the favorite things, if you like.” I told her that was perfect and while she was putting together a sample of Chinese Chicken Salad, half a Cranberry Turkey sandwich and a small Roast Beef, Blue Cheese and Roasted Garlic Cloves sandwich we chatted.

“Since we opened we have discovered that everyone who worked on Main Street in the ‘90s, is still here,” said Flint. “It’s always old home week. Every day people we haven’t seen in quite a while come by, stick their head in the door and yell ‘Hello.’ I lot of them also remember Nina from her Courtyard Café days and ask if she is here.”

As she handed me my plate she said, “The Chinese chicken salad is a special recipe Nina got from her mother, so we call it Nancy’s Chinese chicken salad.

“For the cranberry turkey sandwich, we cook our own turkey and slice it. We also make the cranberry sauce and put it on squaw bread. It is one of the very favorite sandwiches.

“Right behind it in popularity is the roast beef sandwich I made you. We use rolls from the Sacramento Baking Co. because they are like ciabatta rolls, but more tender.

“The first two are so popular we once thought about being like one of those small New York restaurants with only the Chinese chicken salad and the cranberry turkey sandwich on the menu,” Flint added with a smile.

The Chinese chicken salad, made with roasted chicken, diced cabbage, scallions, noodles, almonds and sesame seeds in a seasoned rice wine vinegar dressing was the best of that kind of salad I have tried. I like cabbage in salad and it added a bit of crunch to go with all the flavors. The roast beef sandwich was excellent and the blue cheese, and especially the roll, really made it better.

The cranberry turkey sandwich was absolutely delicious. The homemade cranberry sauce was not overly sweet and gave the sandwich a slight crunch to go with the great flavor which was added to by the squaw bread.

While I was there, which was about an hour, 80-90 percent of the sandwiches ordered were the cranberry turkey. One lady who arrived in town on a tour bus with a group from southern California looked at the menu for just a few seconds and said, “I’ll take one of those. It looks delicious.”

“Our menu is mostly things we have done before,” continued Flint. “A lot of them are old favorites from the Courtyard Café.”

The menu includes seven “Scrumptious Salads, all served with a sliced baguette. Those include the Chinese chicken salad, a house salad, Half and Half (of those two), a classic Caesar, a Mandarin spinach salad, a Mediterranean salad, and the Two Cooks chef salad.

Signature sandwiches, all served with chips and a fruit garnish, include, in addition to the ones I already mentioned, the Olivida, Feta with Basil Pesto, Dilled Albacore salad, Two Cooks Vegie and Roast Beef and Tomato Chutney (I tried sample of the chutney. It was excellent).

There are also what they call Simpler Sandwiches, which include: Turkey, Ham or Beef and freshly made Egg Salad (you don’t find that many places). These sandwiches are available whole or half, or half with salad or soup (come Fall and Winter).  They also have kids sandwiches that come with a surprise.

To drink they have soda, water and freshly brewed iced tea.

For dessert or a snack they have freshly baked cookies (chocolate chip, oatmeal raisin and Snickerdoodle) along with several kinds of freshly baked muffins.

Coming soon (they’re shooting for October 1), breakfast items: quiche, scrambles, skillets and the like.

Their hours are Monday through Friday, 10 until 3 and on Saturday and Sunday, 11-3. For more information call 530-626-6546.

Two-thirds of this business is to go, but there are  a few tables inside and out, so it is a great place to sit and people watch.

Steppin’ Out – Placerville Brewing Company

Some time ago my friend Russ Salazar and I went to the Placerville Brewing Company, which is located at 155 Placerville Drive (across from Raley’s), because their fish and chips were on his “Bucket List.” I had been there several times before and, like all those times, we were delighted with the food.

Last week I had the same desire he had, although I have a very different “Bucket List,” so we met there last Monday to chat about his recent trip to Chicago and try the food again.

Placerville Brewing Company is a cozy but spacious, family run and family friendly restaurant and brewpub. The present owners took it over about eight years ago and made a number of improvements, including additional parking and a great patio on the side of the restaurant. What I especially like is the fact that they have left room between the tables, so that when the restaurant is busy, which is very often, it doesn’t feel too crowded.

I started to order the fish and chips, but Salazar said, “Let’s try something different. I think the fish tacos look good.” So, he ordered the tacos (two to an order), one grilled and one deep fried in beer batter, asking, “Do they have cilantro on them?”

A significant number of people are allergic to cilantro, which is the leaf of the coriander plant. There are even a greater number of people who, because of genetics, think it tastes like soap. Unfortunately for them, cilantro is used in an increasing number of dishes and salads, including guacamole and most Tex-Mex dishes. So if you believe you have a problem with it, you should ask in advance.

Our delightful server said they would leave the cilantro off and then turned her smile to me. I ordered the Sourdough Patty melt, a one-third pound Angus beef patty with Swiss cheese, sauteed onions and Thousand Island dressing on grilled sourdough, and requested it be cut in two. It came with a choice of fries, pasta salad or ranch beans. Last time we tried the Parmesan fries, but this time stuck with the regular ones (fries also come with garlic and herb, Cheddar or blue cheese, and pepperjack).

Both of us, in spite of the wonderful beer they make, had iced tea with our lunch. Drinking at lunch makes me want to nap and I had things to do.

The tacos came with colorful red, blue and regular chips and an outstanding salsa. It had a nice bit of heat and a delicious smokey flavor.

Owner and brewmaster Steve Meylor told us that his chef, Erik Lara (formerly with Sequoia), puts the garlic, tomatoes and peppers in the smoker for a while before making it. Well, hats off to him for one of the best salsas ever.

I had the grilled fish taco and Salazar ate the deep fried one. Mine was very good and moist with lots of grilled cod. Salazar said his was good, but a bit dry. He recommend asking for a bit more sauce on it. We thought later that it may have been because they left off something that contained the cilantro.

We both (me especially) liked the patty melt, but because it is grilled, I really needed more than the one napkin they originally brought me.

The fries were nice and hot and I enjoyed them with several of the mustards that they provide (mustard, not ketchup, with fries is my favorite, although I often mix the two). Salazar liked the fries, but said he likes them a bit crisper. I am sure you could ask for that.

As I mentioned, we had the opportunity to share a few minutes with Steve Meylor. He was hooked on craft-brewing over 15 years ago when he earned a gold medal at the El Dorado County Fair for his first ever entry. Since then, he has brewed close to a thousand batches of beer, commercially.

Meylor is very proud of the partnership they have with Hill Country BBQ owner and authentic Texan, Allen Vickers. Several time a week Vickers fires up one of his top-of-the-line, Southern Pride smokers right there at the restaurant to make their delicious pulled pork, smoked sausage, tri-tip sandwiches, and fall-off-the-bone, barbecue baby back ribs.

The menu is several pages long and has lots of appetizers (try the wings), specialties, salads, soup, sandwiches and burgers, steaks, dinner plates and more. And you can get everything to eat in or take out.

Of course, they have a fantastic selection of delicious craft brews they make right there. In addition they also have soda, ice tea and local wine, among other things to drink. Remember, they are family friendly.

Placerville Brewing Company is open 11 a.m. until 9 p.m., every day but Tuesday and is located at 155 Placerville Drive. Call 530-295-9166 for more information.

Right now their webpage, www.placervillebrewingcompany.com, is being reworked, but until then you can visit them on Facebook.

Steppin’ Out – Mighty Tavern (Fair Oaks)

For over a decade I have been writing about Carolyn Kumpe, who is now the Head Chef at Mighty Tavern, a fantastic, family friendly restaurant located at 9634 Fair Oaks Blvd., in Fair Oaks, which at the southwest corner of Fair Oaks Blvd. and New York Ave., about four tenths of a mile west of Sunrise Blvd.

I wrote about her first when she had Charlotte’s Bake Shoppe in the town of El Dorado, then as a culinary instructor in Sacramento and then when she had Charlotte’s Bakery and Café in Diamond Springs.

I found that her knowledge of cooking and baking is unbelievable and she gives you facts so fast you can hardly write them all down. Unlike the rest of us, she seems to remember everything she ever learned.

Chef Kumpe has a simple philosophy about cooking: “Use simple recipes and great ingredients, keep it fresh and support local businesses.”  It seems to work because everything I tasted at Mighty Tavern was outstanding; no, even better than that.

“I was working as a chef for a winery,” she said, “when I received a call from a friend named Joan Reid Lapuyade. She and  her business partner, ex-husband Dennis Lapuyade [it’s a long story…] had owned César, the popular tapas restaurant in Berkeley. Joan said that La Boheme [the French restaurant which had been at this location for many years] had closed and wanted my opinion on opening a new restaurant here. I told her ‘Go for it.’ About two months ago, after about three months of cleaning and painting, Mighty Tavern opened.”

I arrived at Mighty Tavern in mid-afternoon and was sitting at the bar having a glass of water when Chef Kumpe came out of the kitchen, gave me a hug and said, “Want the tour?”

They have two dining rooms, one of which is ideal for private banquets, along with a nice patio dining area (Party Deck they call it). As we proceeded into the kitchen, Kumpe rapidly pointed out things and introduced me to people, including Sous Chef and “Master of Meat,”Jason Azevedo.

“We call him that,” said Kumpe, “because he also owns Testa Duro Salumi, producing delicious cured meats, smoked meats, pates and more. We’ll give you samples of some, but right now he is fixing you something special that you are going to like.”

As I sat back down at the bar, Chef Kumpe looked at my stack of small note papers and said, “I will get you one of my notebooks, you will need it.” She was right.

Sous Chef Azevedo then came out of the kitchen with my first sample, their Bar Burger, which is served during happy hour (four until six, Tuesday through Friday). It is a quarter pound patty of ground hanger steak on a bun with beer-cheese sauce and house bacon. “I freshly grind the meat,” said Azevedo.

Hanger steak is prized for its flavor and freshly ground, seared and cooked rare was so delicious I took small bites to make it last. It has a taste you will remember fondly… forever.

My next dish to sample was the refreshing Heirloom tomato salad with arugula, goat feta, salsa verde and a sprinkling of grey salt. It was fresh and cooling and had many contrasting flavors and textures I really enjoyed.

“We like to prepare balanced dishes with playful flavors like sweet, salt and fat,” said Kumpe, adding, “we also use the freshest ingredients and cook in rice bran oil.

“Those tomatoes came from the Waldorf School, just down the street, and the feta from the Sierra Nevada Cheese Co. We also get produce from Rudolf Steiner College, which is also nearby, and I take fruit and veggie scraps to feed my chickens at home. In turn they provide us with really fresh eggs.”

Then I was presented with a plate of pate with dried cherries, some paper thin slices of Lomo, Spanish style cured pork loin, and fromage blanc, accompanied by freshly baked bread and some small pickles.

“Everything is house made,” said Kumpe, “except for those pickles. But we do make most of our own pickles, and even catsup. We make everything we can,” adding, “Jason’s  Lomo is new on the menu and people love it.” Well, I loved everything.

A few minutes later Sous Chef Azevedo brought me a sample of one of their signature dishes, Fried Chicken confit with watermelon salad. If I understand correctly, the chicken is prepared and cooked a day before and then flash fried in oil to crisp it up. The chicken was delicious and the minty and refreshing watermelon salad contrasted beautifully with it.

Finally the desserts: Upside-down Key Lime pie and Triple chocolate pudding with whipped cream and a chocolate shortbread cookie, shaped as their logo, a rooster (ask about the story behind it). Like everything else, the flavor of these desserts was brilliant. A perfect ending for a meal.

When I told her how much I loved the desserts, Chef Kumpe, who when complemented on being an excellent chef during a recent interview said, “We have lots of excellent chefs here,” brought out their Pastry Chef, Amalia Quintanilla, to meet me. “She is from El Salvador and very talented as a baker and pastry chef,” said Kumpe. “We are delighted to have her as a part of our collaborative culinary team.”

They define their food as “Contemporary American Tavern Fare,” I define it as unique, delicious and worthy of a trip to try it. You can check out the menu at www.mightytavern.com

Mighty Tavern is open for lunch Tuesday-Friday 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. and for dinner Tuesday-Saturday, 5p.m.-9:30 p.m., and Sunday 5 p.m.-9 p.m. Closed Monday. Full bar and large local wine and beer list. Dress: very casual. For reservations call (916) 241-9444.

Oh, try the Mighty Burger. I didn’t, but will next time. Yes, it actually looks like the picture on their webpage.

Steppin’s Out – Rose’s Garden Café

A few weeks ago Rose’s Garden Café, which is located at 4916 Marshall Grade in Garden Valley (next to the real estate office), had a huge party celebrating their tenth anniversary. I wasn’t able to make the celebration, but a couple of Fridays ago Russ Salazar and I drove over there and were happily greeted by both John and Rose Anderson, the owners.

Rose’s is an old fashioned diner with all kinds of neat pictures and maps on the wall, a place to post your business card and even a group of regulars and families eating and enjoying themselves. And everyone who walks in is greeted by John, Rose and often other diners. When was the last time you were in a restaurant where people said, “Love you,” to the owners as they left?

As it was the last time I was there, the menu is on several large whiteboards, covering two walls, plus a movable specials board. Don’t bother asking for a menu to look at or take home, there isn’t one.

“We first started serving deli sandwiches, hot dogs and ice cream” John told me the last time I was there, “and things expanded as customers asked for something different, which we then named after them. The menu just evolved.”

The menu is huge and includes items such as Stephanie’s spicy Buffalo chicken sandwich, Ian’s jalapeño pepperjack burger, Margie’s chef’s salad, Johnny’s spicy chicken salad, Erin’s veggie sandwich, Bill’s BLT, Mr. Spencer I and Mr. Spencer II (pastrami and Swiss with lettuce ‘I,’ or coleslaw ‘II’). There is even a very popular “Grizzly burger” named for nearby Golden Sierra High School’s mascot. It is a burger with bacon, onions, barbecue sauce and all the trimmings ( I’m going to have one next time).

“Our burgers, sandwiches, and especially the French Dip, are the number one sellers,” said John, “and we get a lot of to-go orders for them, especially at lunch time.”

Years ago John and Rose worked for a company in Auburn. They were both laid off and started making their third generation (grandfather, father and son) Scottish shortbread which they sold to local businesses, including Mochas and More, which was at this location.

“One day we showed up with a delivery and there was a sign that they were closing,” said John. “Rose had some restaurant experience, so I looked at her and said, ‘What do you think?’ she said, ‘Let’s do it,’ so, ten years ago, we opened Rose’s Café.”

Since it was the first Friday of the month, it was Lumpia Day (Lumpia is a traditional Filipino dish similar to a spring roll). I had tried the Lumpia before, but never with the accompanying rice noodle dish called Pancit.

The lumpia came with two dipping sauces (sweet and sour and garlic-vinegar) and is a thin shell filled with chicken and vegetables. The rice noodles in Pancit were loaded with seasonal vegetables and both were wonderfully delicious. They even got a smile from Salazar.

“In the Philippines we serve Lumpia on special occasions and holidays,” said Rose. “We started serving them here every Friday, but it became too much. So now we only do them for dinner on the first Friday of the month. We usually sell out and should today because the Jeepers Jamboree is on and we have a reservation for 16 this evening.”

Our next sample dish was some of their marinated and grilled tri-tip that they use in their sandwiches. By itself it was quite tender and had a nice flavor. In a sandwich it would be even better.

Next we were given a piece of their outstanding battered fish and some fries to try. I had sampled this before and wanted Salazar’s opinion.

They use cod and it has a very thin batter, which keeps the fish moist and delicious. As I expected, both of us loved the fish and I liked the crinkle-cut fries they use. They are crisper than regular fries.

Fries are not on the top of Salazar’s list, so I snacked on his while he and John got into quite a lengthy conversation about everything.

John then decided we needed to share a cappuccino shake, made with real ice cream. While we were enjoying it, he decided we also needed a hot fudge sundae to top off the meal. Fortunately he understands the word “small,” because last time he gave me a large sundae.

Something I didn’t know before is that Rose’s Café has been involved with the high school’s Workability Program, where they send students to businesses to learn while working. “We have had about 40 students over the years.” said John, adding, “Everyone knows the first job sets a precedent and we are proud to be a part of the program.”

While we were there one of their former students, Dylan Albert, who is now a culinary arts student at American River College, was in the kitchen. “I like to come in and volunteer some time now and then just to learn,” said Albert, with a very excited look in his eyes. You can see he has what it takes and I am sure it won’t be long before Chef Dylan will make his debut in the restaurant business.

The food it great, the atmosphere is great, the people are great. What else can I say?

Rose’s Garden Café is open Tuesday through Friday from 10 a.m. until 8 p.m. and on Saturday from 10 a.m. until 3 p.m. Closes both Sunday and Monday. For more information call them at 530-333-9900.