Monthly Archives: September 2013

Steppin’ Out – High Hill Ranch

High Hill RanchA week ago last Wednesday was one of those days that makes you absolutely love living in the Foothills of the Sierra Nevada: sunny and warm, but cool in the shade, with a bit of a breeze and the smell of Fall in the air. A perfect time to visit one of the Apple Hill growers, and why not visit the first one on the list, High Hill Ranch.

I have known members of the Visman family for a number of years. Together the extended family has several orchards and Christmas tree plantations.

High Hill Ranch is owned and operated by George and Jerry Visman, father and son. Over the past several years Jerry has been taking on more of the responsibility, but George is there every day, riding around in his golf cart making sure things are working properly.

George Visman was born in Placerville in 1929. After high school and some time in the U. S. Air Force, he returned to help his father, Carl, in their pear orchard, but he still found time to race motorcycles. In the early 1960s he purchased the Gatlin Ranch and renamed it High Hill Ranch.

The crop was mostly pears, but the pear blight put an end to them and he planted apples, which he sold from a fruit stand.

When the Apple Hill association was formed he became the first member and business has grown ever since.

I made an appointment to talk with Jerry Visman, but ran into George first, so I hopped into his golf cart and went searching for Jerry. “We grow about 12 varieties of apples in 12 acres of orchard” said George as we rode along. “Our mainstay is the Golden Delicious and we still have some older varieties like the Pippin and McIntosh.

“We also add new varieties as them come along. Some of them just don’t do well here, but do well at other local orchards, so we buy those from the best local growers, like Pat O’Halloran.”

We found Jerry and he and I decided to just walk around the place as he showed me what was going on. It was a busy Wednesday with several senior facility’s busses, and even a school bus, dropping off people.

“This is a great time of year to be here,” said Jerry, “and from the predictions, October looks like it is going to be a great month with beautiful weather.”

As we reached the front of the apple sales area, I noticed first lots of people sitting at the more than 150 picnic table enjoying the weather. There was also a large crowd around the bins filled with at least eight apple varieties, especially the Fuji bin. “The Fujis were picked about a half-hour ago,” said Jerry. “You won’t get fresh ones like those in the grocery store, and they will charge you more for what they have.

“We are all about apples,” Jerry continued, “we sell fresh apples, apple butter, baked and unbaked apple pie, several kinds of apple donuts, apple fritters, our special blend of apple juice, caramel apples and a lot more. We depend on the Golden Delicious for most of our products: it doesn’t break down in the pies, stays solid in the fritters and, because it has less natural wax, the caramel stays on the caramel apples.

“We also bring in other fruit and vegetables from local growers like winter and decorative squash and pumpkins for Halloween.”

We then stepped into the donut shop where he introduced me to Lorena, the “Donut Queen.” “She is in charge and everything they make is wonderful,” added Jerry, “but I should stay out of here because I know where they put the donuts that aren’t perfect and I eat them. Want one?”

The cider mill wasn’t in business that afternoon, but as we passed the apple coring and peeling machine it looked old, so I asked how old it was. “Only about 30 years,” answered Jerry, “the technology hasn’t changed in a century. We have a collection of some 300 old apple peelers and corers in our gift shop, It’s the biggest collection west of the Mississippi and a lot of them work the same way.”

Not all the craft stands are open on weekdays, but as we walked by them Jerry added, “We only allow them to sell handmade articles, no imported stuff. And, we have a long waiting list of crafters wanting to sell here.”

If you are hungry when you are there the Pie House serves burgers, nachos, hot dogs, salads, sandwiches, fries and pie, while the Chicken Kitchen serves their famous chicken dinners, sandwiches, wraps, salads, soup and more. On weekends they barbecue Swingle Meat’s “Kona” tri-tip and even serve tacos made the traditional Mexican way at their old apple wine tasting building.

And, if you are looking for something different, there are hay rides and their trout fishing pond.

As I was leaving Jerry said to me, “You know, I love to tell people this. I love my job. I get up in the morning, jump in a golf cart, drive about 300 yards and I am there. And I enjoy everything I do.”

High Hill Ranch is open from 8 a.m. until 6 p.m., every day from Labor Day to Christmas Eve. The rest of the year it is available for rent for weddings and events. For more information call (530) 644-1973 or visit www.highhillranch1.net.

Oh, it is dog friendly, but they ask you to pick up after your pet.

Steppin’ Out – Schlotzsky’s

logo_schlotzskysLast week my friend Russ Salazar and I decided to go to Schlotzsky’s, which is located at 3023 Forni Road (behind the Arco station where Del Taco used to be) in Placerville.

He was a little late, so while I sat at an outside table waiting for him I checked out their signs. I would call them “Bunz and Punz,” since everyone of them utilizes the “Z” or “SKY” from their name to be intentionally funny.

For instance, the one on the door says, “No Shirtsky, no Shoesky, no Schlotzsky” and their logo says, “Every Bite Lotz Better.” There are many of them, similar to these, all over the store if you look for them.

To give you a bit of history on Schlotzsky’s, in 1971 a small shop on South Congress Avenue in Austin, Texas was home to a single, one-of-a-kind sandwich. The menu was succinct: one delectable sandwich composed of a unique combination of premium meats, cheeses, and marinated black olives served on hot Schlotzsky’s sourdough bread. From humble origins, The “Original” has created a passionate customer following.

Now over 40 years later, Schlotzsky’s is an international franchise restaurant chain with locations in 35 states and four foreign countries.

When Salazar arrived he looked at the picture of one sandwich and said, “I really want to try the bread on the sandwich. It looks great.”

We went inside to order our sandwiches. After mumbling a bit, we decided to try the “Original” and an interesting one from their “Angus Round-Up,” limited time menu, the Chipotle Guaca-Beefsky.

The “Original” is made with lean smoked ham, Genoa and cotto salamis, and melted cheddar, mozzarella, and Parmesan cheeses layered with black olives, red onion, lettuce, tomato, mustard and their signature dressing on their toasted Sourdough bun.  The Chipotle Guaca-Beefsky is made from shaved Angus roast beef, pepper-jack cheese, lettuce and red onion, with chipotle pesto and guacamole on their toasted jalapeño cheese bun.

They come cut in half, so we divided them between us and started eating. From the first bite, they were both full of flavor, delicious and excellent, and the Chipotle Guaca-Beefsky had a bit of nice spiciness.

Although Schlotzsky’s uses the highest quality ingredients to make what they believe is the world’s best sandwich, I think the primary reason for their delicious taste is the bread. It is made fresh throughout the day at every one of their 350 stores. They call their bread “The Best Bunz in Town” for a reason.

I would describe their bread as being similar to a ciabatta bun, but more tender inside and with a nice thin crust. By itself it is airy and delicious. Whomever it was who said, “The bread makes the sandwich, the crust makes the pizza,” was right.

We decided that we should go back as soon as possible and try their Angus Pastrami & Swiss, along with another sandwich we haven’t picked yet.

The “Original” sandwich is still the mainstay of Schlotzsky’s, but now you can also enjoy fresh baked bread, delicious hot sandwiches, specialty pizzas, toasted wraps, freshly tossed salads, gourmet soups, and more.

The menu starts with their “Serious Sandwiches,” including The “Original,” Smoked Turkey Breast, Turkey Bacon Club, Angus Roast Beef & Cheese and Fiesta Chicken, Chicken Breast, Fresh Veggie, Turkey & Guacamole, Albuquerque Turkey, Homestyle Tuna, Texas Schlotzsky’s, Chipotle Chicken and more. Sandwiches are available as a small, medium or large and can be combined into a meal with chips and a fountain drink.

Pizzas include Pepperoni and Double Cheese, BBQ Chicken & Jalapeño, Combination Special, Fresh Veggie and others.

Their “Lotz Better” Fresh Salads, which look beautiful in the pictures, include Cranberry, Apple, Pecan & Chicken, Hearts of Romaine Chicken Caesar, Turkey Avocado Cobb, Turkey Chef and Garden.

They also have kids meals, sell Cinnabon cinnamon buns and do catering.

Join their “Bun & Fun e-club” and get a coupon emailed to you. We both did.

The Placerville Schlotzsky’s is open daily from 10 a.m. until 10 p.m. and can be reached at (530) 621-3025.

By the way, Schlotzsky’s is very involved in working with JDRF (formally Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation) to fund essential research toward curing Type 1 diabetes.

Steppin’ Out – Manzanita Kitchen & Events

Chef Kimberly Medici in the kitchen

Chef Kimberly Medici in the kitchen

A couple of months ago I attended the standing-room-only ribbon cutting and grand opening of a very unique, beautifully furnished and badly needed business in El Dorado county, Manzanita Kitchen & Events.

It is a 3300 square food event space (130 seated, 262 standing) and kitchen, located at 4232 Fowler Lane, Suite 101, behind the Diamond Springs Post office, and perfect for receptions and parties, meetings, mixers, wine dinners, luncheons, performances and more.

Because it is a full facility with a commercial kitchen, you can get gourmet food prepared for your event by Table Nectar, Manzanita’s in-house, full service caterer that prides itself in using the freshest, most flavorful seasonal and locally-sourced ingredients available.

The well equipped, 1200 square foot, licensed commercial kitchen is also available for hourly or monthly use and ideal for catering, retail packaged products, canning, farm stand products, classes, family meal preparation, food carts and other businesses needing this kind of facility. It is perfect place for a start-up food business to learn, advance and grow, without an investment in their own, very expensive, commercial kitchen.

Back to the grand opening event, it was a bit of everything and showcased the new facility nicely, especially since it was beautifully enhanced with walls of wonderful art by Paul Cockrell, Francis Kenney and Leah Delmer.

Four local wineries, Mellowood Vineyard, Fitzpatrick Winery, Findleton Winery and Chateau Davell, were there pouring wines to match the appetizers that were being prepared for the guests by Table Nectar and other business using the facilities. Also available were samples of a very interesting, locally produced effervescent fermentation of sweetened tea called Down Dog Kombucha.

El Tamelero – The Tamale Man, had several kinds of delicious tamales to sample, including vegetarian, beef, chicken and chili-cheese, while Farmer’s Delicatessen – Fresh European Specialities, served several dishes, including samples of a delicious 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. South Fork Farm, from the Gold Hill area, supplied fresh produce for Table Nectar, the in-house caterer.

Table Nectar really outdid themselves with appetizers, and had several servers wandering through the crowd with full trays (but not for long) of Meyer lemon-herbed chicken skewers, Caribbean-spiced chicken skewers, coconut corn medallions, snap pea gazpacho, beef Marsala sliders (with pickled watermelon radish), endive leaves filled with shaved fennel, strawberry and lemon ricotta, along with balsamic beef crostini, braised chard crostini and sun dried tomato crostini.

Adding a wonderful touch to the ambiance was Rita & Soul, who provided live music.

Also available to the guests were brochures and, in some cases, representatives from businesses such as Slow Food, Gold Country Chapter; Mama Earth Farm in Somerset and Harmony Hill Farm, which is located between Mt. Aukum and Fiddletown.

Manzanita Kitchen & Events is family owned and operated by Placerville native, Kimberly Medici, and her husband Andy Tannehill. It is supported by their family, crew and larger community of farmers, winemakers, independent producers, food lovers and artists of all manner.

Their mission is simple and very straightforward: “We are dedicated to creating relationships with our clients and community that help to grow local businesses, nourish our families and honor the environment.”

Call 530-344-7613 for a free tour and consultation, or check out their website for more information on how you can rent this great venue for your next event, party or celebration, or use the kitchen in your business. Their website is www.manzanitadiamondsprings.com.

Steppin’ Out – The Hindquarter House

Hindquarter House“My doctor told me to stop having intimate dinners for four; unless there are three other people.”
Orson Welles

The Hindquarter House, a restaurant with a bar in the town of Pilot Hill, has been around for some time. About three years ago Lesa Dalthorp took it over and has made it a very special place for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

One of the secrets to their success is that they have their own garden and herb garden, and buy as much as they can fresh from local farmers. That, along with the care she and her son, Josh, take in the kitchen in both food preparation and presentation, makes this a very special restaurant to visit.

“Windfall” owner Robert Henderson and I were invited to sample a few things. When we showed up, we found out we were going to be treated to an unexpected three hour gourmet banquet.

Dalthorp told us she wanted us to try several dishes that they were testing for the new menu that comes out next week, as she started us off with a nice Caesar salad, made with a delicious, house made dressing. That was followed by some of the best New England style clam chowder I have eaten (on the east, west and southern coasts of our great country): full of clams and deliciously creamy.

Henderson remarked to me that the potatoes, which didn’t overpower the taste of the clams, were perfect in texture. Dalthorp said they bake them somewhat before slicing them up for the chowder.

With the first dishes we were also served an Alpenglow-Blackberry spritzer that really woke up the palate.

The next dish was grilled shrimp kabobs with pineapple chunks and peppers. They came with a fresh peach-mango margarita and, for dipping, their spicy adobo sauce.

I’m a hot food freak, but wow, that was spicy…but very good. By the way, the fresh peach, mango margarita paired wonderfully with it (and cooled it a bit).

We were next served their barbecued babyback ribs with their own, very, very good barbecue sauce (the kind that gives no heartburn). The ribs were very meaty and perfectly done, as the meat pulled off the bone with a gentle tug. This, by the way, is where we decided it might be a good idea to pack up some of the food for later.

The next course was Bistro Chicken which was lightly seasoned and beautifully served in an herb infused white wine sauce and accompanied by garlic Parmesan mashed potatoes, spinach and more. Everything on the plate was delicious, especially the spinach of which I ate all.

Henderson took most of this dish home to share, and said to me after he tried it, “This is what I would call elegant home cooking!”

Next (only two more courses) was a ribeye steak with a zinfandel reduction demiglace, potato croquettes and flash fried, fresh vegetables.

The steak was medium-rare and tender and the flavorful demiglace did not overpower it. The potato croquettes were unique and delicious and the vegetables were still crisp, yet tender and full of flavor. With it we were served a glass of Boeger Barbera, which complemented the dish wonderfully.

The final dish was what they call Monkey Pie. It is a vanilla wafer crust with a hard coating of chocolate, then covered with bananas and vanilla pudding and topped with whipped cream. With it we were served their version of a yummy chocolate-strawberry martini.

It was a great and delicious ending for a great meal, a meal during which I used at least nine napkins and one handy wipe. For dinner that evening…I ate nothing.

The menu at the Hindquarter house is several pages long and in summary, includes for breakfast, an enormous variety of omelets, scrambles and something they call “belly busters,” along with a special section of under $5 items.

For lunch there are lots of starters or appetizers, their famous half-pound burgers, including a real buffalo burger, several kinds of great sandwiches (they cure and smoke their own corned beef and pastrami) and a Caesar or Steak and Bleu cheese salad, both of which can be served as a wrap.

For dinner, which is served from 5 p.m. on, you can enjoy steaks, the great babyback ribs, chicken dishes and pasta dishes, along with soup and their fresh salad bar that is cleverly kept in an old bathtub. And, on Friday and Saturday, prime rib and a “Fresh from the Sea” special.

I asked about the top selling dishes and was told they are chicken fried steak and biscuits and gravy at breakfast, the French dip sandwich (made with prime rib) and the jalapeno and Black and Bleu burgers at lunch. At dinner, it is steaks and their delicious babyback ribs, which often sell out, so get there early.

Oh, ask about their “Release the Kracken.” special meal for competitive eaters.

To accompany your meal, they have a full bar, emphasizing local beers and wines, along with coffee, tea, milk, soft drinks and more.

Their menu changes by the season and availability of ingredients. Call first to be sure they have what you want.

The Hindquarter House is located at 4400 Highway 49 in Pilot Hill (next to the post office) and is open Friday through Monday from 7 a.m. until 9 p.m., serving breakfast, lunch and dinner and Tuesday through Thursday from 11:30 until 9, serving just lunch and dinner. For more information call (530) 885-8058.