Monthly Archives: October 2015

Steppin’ Out – KFC

KFC_07232014_01For several weeks I have been thinking about trying fried chicken at different places and writing a comparison story. My friend Russ Salazar actually brought up the idea, but I was only lukewarm about it until I figured out it could be done as separate visits and not a compilation at the end.

The first stop, of course, was Kentucky Fried Chicken, now known as KFC. Why did they change it? I’m told it was because “fried” is a negative word in today’s healthy society and KFC is catchier.

We stopped by the KFC at 73 Main Street in Placerville about noon one day a couple of weeks ago just to give them a try.

They have a special on right now called a $5 Fill Up: Two pieces of fried chicken, larger mashed potatoes, biscuit, medium drink and a chocolate chip cookie for just $5.

Also on the $5 Fill-Up list are; three extra crispy tenders, larger mashed potatoes, biscuit, cookie, medium drink and dipping sauce; famous bowl, cookie and a medium drink; chicken breast (portion), larger mashed potatoes, biscuit, cookie and a medium drink or pot pie, cookie, and a medium drink.

I ordered the first one that comes with a drumstick and thigh (original recipe), while Russ ordered the pot pie, along with two extra sides, cole slaw and beans.

The chicken was almost exactly as I thought it would be. I really like the coating and the meat was tender and very tasty. The one thing that bothered me was the size of the pieces.

The drumstick was about three inches long and with a diameter about the size of a quarter. The thigh was large, but flat and had the thigh bone, but a lot more backbone. That was one small chicken.

The pot pie was excellent: full of meat and veggies, and with a very flaky crust. Both of us really enjoyed that. I think they have a special on the pot pie one day each week.

I like their cole slaw, but Russ really likes it. He said that if he was having something for dinner that needed cole slaw with it, he would stop at KFC and pick up a container rather than try to make it. “It’s always fresh and crunchy,” he said.

The beans were very good. “Better than any canned beans you can buy in the store,” Russ told me. (I wonder if they are canned?)
What can I say about their mashed potatoes? They always taste the same: slightly powdery, but, the flavor kind of grows on you. Their gravy always tastes the same. I have had better and I have had much worse. They do a good job.

Russ doesn’t like factory made chocolate chip cookies, so I got both of them. I have never had a chocolate chip cookie that I wouldn’t eat.

I like their biscuits. They are warm, taste good and pull apart easily. But, what is it that they serve with them? They are called Buttery Spread and Honey Sauce.

A young lady working there was kind enough to go back in the kitchen and check to see what is in their Buttery Spread. I heard the word soy, but don’t remember hearing the word butter. She loves it, she told me. It seems to work for people.

The Honey Sauce contains seven percent honey. The major ingredient is everyone’s favorite, high fructose corn syrup, followed by corn syrup, sugar and then honey.

Well, I shouldn’t nit-pick. The food at KFC is good and a lot of people eat there or pick up something to take home.

By the way, people try to imitate the taste and tenderness of KFC chicken at home. A number of cookbooks have what they claim is the KFC list of “11 herbs and spices,” but I have never found one that was exactly the same. Besides, their real secret is that they pressure fry their chicken (similar to broasting). Most home kitchens do not have the equipment to do that.

I probably don’t have to tell you what KFC serves. If it involves chicken, they have it.

The KFC we visited is open daily from 10:30 until 10 and can be reached at (530) 622-6664. For catering call (530) 542-1529

The KFC in Cameron Park is at 3959 Cameron Park Drive, is open Sunday-Friday from 11 until 10 and on Saturday from 10:30 until 10, and can be reached at (530)677-4626. For catering call the same number, (530) 542-1529.

By the way, Russ told me the reason that he likes KFC is because the menu is not fixed. If you want something different, they will figure out a price for you. I also like that about KFC.

Steppin’ Out – Chili Today, Hot Tamale

shoestring-santaRuss Salazar kept asking me why we didn’t go back to Shoestring, on Broadway in Placerville, and retry a Chili Dog (I prefer it with cheese, but he doesn’t. He says cheese doesn’t belong on chili). So, a couple of weeks ago he met me there just to have one.

We usually have two different sandwiches and have them cut in two, so we can share them and comment, so we looked over the menu.
He thought we should also try a pastrami, but I told him if we were going to do chili, we should try the Chili (Cheese) Tamale. He had never had one, and had recently been experimenting with tamales at his home, so he agreed.

The lovely ladies at Shoestring cut them both in two, putting cheese on my half, and served them to us.

There was no disagreement between us. The bun on the Chili Dog was perfectly steamed, the dog had the taste and snap you look for and the chili, lots of it and delicious (I don’t count the napkins I use anymore).

As I mentioned, Russ had never tried the Chili Tamale and his first comment was, “That’s a good tamale.” He’s right, they use a very good, full-of-meat tamale and the chili (and cheese) really complements it.

Well, we thought it would be a good idea to compare at least the chili dog to another one and, after running a few places through our minds, we decided to try a place just down Broadway that has lots of different kinds of chili dogs, Wienerschnitzel.

Recently they have been pushing five new chili cheese dogs, so we figured it would be a great time to do a comparison.

We went there with the intention of ordering three and splitting them, but when Russ saw they are featuring grilled bratwurst as a Oktoberfest special, he decided we had to try one of those and just two chili dogs.

Along with the brat with kraut on a pretzel roll (an upgrade), we had to choose two chili dogs from the list which includes: several regular chili dogs, the Loaded Bacon Street Chili Cheese Dog, Buffalo Bacon Chili Cheese Dog, The Works Chili Cheese Dog, Triple Cheese Double Bacon Chili Dog and the Bacon Ranch Chili Cheese Dog.

20080708_wienerschnitzelWe decided on the Loaded Bacon Street Dog, which comes with chopped bacon, mustard, ketchup, mayo, and grilled onions and The Works Dog, which comes with mustard, sliced tomato and a pickle spear.

We upgraded these to their all beef dog (nice and solid, but skinless), but kept the regular bun.

We both started with the grilled brat. The pretzel roll was made for this sandwich: steamed, but still a little bit chewy with a great taste. Everything about it tasted good and Russ thought it was perfect finger food.

Our next adventure was The Works Dog.

I like their all beef dog and I just happen to also like mustard, sliced tomato and a pickle spear. Add a poppy seed bun, celery salt, relish and a sport pepper and you have a Chicago Dog, which is one of my favorites.

The dog was good, the bun was good, but it was not finger food. Messy, very messy. Fortunately they give you a knife and fork. Their chili is okay, a bit sweet, but okay.

The Loaded Bacon Street Dog was good. Anything is good with bacon on it. It too was messy, several napkins messy. The grilled onions were a nice touch, but you are not supposed to have ketchup on a hot dog if you are over 16 years of age, at least that is what I have been told. Mayo? The jury is still out on that one.

milkRuss orders milk most of the time we go on these eating adventures. Shoestring served it in a cup, Wienerschnitzel had those plastic, seven ounce bottles (why not 8 ounces? Maybe for the same reason that tuna comes in five ounce cans).

He told me that he “boycotts” restaurants that don’t serve milk, which was a surprise to me and worth putting in this column.

He went on to tell me that recently he stopped at a burger place on the other side of town and asked if they had milk. They said they made milkshakes, so they had milk. He ordered his burger, but then, a few minutes later they told him, no, you can’t get milk.

“I said to them ,” he told me, “this is a family restaurant, what do you have for kids to drink? Soda, was their answer. I just turned around an left, even though I had ordered.”

By the way, Wienerschnitzel no longer serves my favorite sandwich, Pastrami. Frank, the manager, told us the price of pastrami went up so much they stopped serving it.

Shoestring, at 1320 Broadway, is open daily from 11 a.m. until 7 p.m. They can be reached at (530) 622-7125.

Wienerschnitzel, at 1365 Broadway, is open daily from 10 a.m. until 10 p.m. (11 p.m. on Friday and Saturday). They can be reached at (530) 295-8255

Steppin’ Out – Hot Stuff

Taco-Bell-Dare-Devil-Loaded-GrillersAs you know, I am a fan of spicy food and will usually try anything once. However, I am not like those crazy folks on “Youtube” who are trying to prove something by eating a whole Ghost Pepper or even a Carolina Reaper. Few are successful and all suffer.

A couple of weeks ago my friend, Russ Salazar, and I had talked about a visit to a local burger place, but then I saw the commercial for Taco Bell’s new Dare Devil Loaded Grillers.

These are small grilled burritos that are filled with seasoned beef, red tortilla chips, nacho cheese, and one of three spicy sauces: Mild Chipotle, Hot Habanero, and Fiery Ghost Pepper.

The hotness of peppers is measured in Scoville Heat Units (SHU), which are a function of its capsaicin (the stuff in pepper spray and arthritis creams) concentration. The scale is named after its creator, American pharmacist Wilbur Scoville, and it presently ranges from zero for the bell pepper to over two million, two hundred thousand, a record which is presently held by the aforementioned Carolina Reaper.
The test is done using a specific amount of pepper, extracting the capsaicin and then diluting it until a group of people can no longer detect the heat. People argue that it is too subjective, but that is the test we go by.

The Chipotle is a smoked Jalapeño and that pepper falls between 1,000 and 8,000 SHU. The Habanero is more than a bit higher at 100,000 to 350,000 SHU. The Ghost Pepper, well it can be almost as hot as the Carolina Reaper, showing up on the scale between 855,000 and over two million SHU.

Russ and I met at the Taco Bell on Broadway in Placerville and, since they were only a dollar each, ordered two of each variety. Then we decided that since we were going to do more tasting that day, six of them were a bit too many to eat. We divided one of each and I took the other three home and shared them with my one of my neighbors, who also likes hot food. I wasn’t surprised that we all had almost exactly the same opinion.

Before we eat, Russ always points out that it is the crust that makes the pizza and the bread that makes the sandwich. That day he added that it is the tortilla that makes the burrito. “They have to be grilled,” he told me. “If they aren’t, they are too soft and tasteless.” Out of the blue he then added, “I fall for the food ads, but most of the time the product doesn’t live up to my expectations.” In this case, apparently they did.

The Chipotle griller had a good taste and left your mouth nicely warm. The Habanero griller was a bit disappointing. The Habanero pepper has a good flavor, but you couldn’t taste it. As to the heat, it was there, but not that strong. The Ghost Pepper griller was good, but more than a bit sneaky. It started out mild and then the back of your mouth began to warm up significantly. Peppers from Asia have a tendency to initially hold off and then do that.

The Grillers are really good and actually kind of fun, but if you don’t like hot food at all, I would stay away from them. Oh, they look all red and hot inside, but the color comes from the red tortilla chips, not the peppers.

Since we were only a short walk from McDonald’s, we had added to our list that day trying their new Premium Buttermilk Crispy Chicken Deluxe Sandwich. Russ decided that one sandwich (on top of the Grillers) wasn’t enough, so he insisted we try their Jalapeño McDouble, which we both had tried before.

mcDonalds buttermilk chicThe artisan (an overused word) bun/roll on the chicken sandwich was very nice, we both agreed on that. Russ thought the sandwich was okay at best and I found that like a lot of buttermilk battered food it tasted a bit like baking soda, kind of an off-putting taste.

The Jalapeño McDouble cheeseburger, was just that, a McDouble with added Jalapeños. What I like about it is that in addition to the somewhat tamed Jalapeños, they have added Jalapeño chips, which appear to be deep fried slices of Jalapeño. They add a bit of good tasting crunchiness to the sandwich. Not bad for two bucks.

jalapeno doubleSince I still have more room to write, the day before we did this test, I drove to my daughter’s in Carmichael to deliver some stuff, pick up more and visit a couple of thrift stores and Smart & Final.

Since we no longer have a Burger King in our area, we stopped by one while out shopping so I could try their heavily advertised Chicken Fries. We asked if we could have a mixed order of the regular and the spicy, but I think that confused them. So, I ordered the spicy ones, along with (manufactured) onion rings and two drinks from the dollar menu.

Chicken friesThere are nine chicken fries in an order (maybe that is why half and half confused them) and they were actually pretty good but not really that spicy.

 

Since I still have more room, about a month ago Russ and I went to Smashburger in Folsom and tried the Windy City burger, a “juicy, smashed-to-order burger that’s made with fresh, never frozen 100% Certified Angus Beef, topped with layers of melted cheddar cheese, haystack onions, lettuce, tomato, and Gulden’s spicy mustard on a hand-cut pretzel roll.

smashburger-windy-city

The burger was very good, but what really stood out was the pretzel roll. I love pretzel rolls, but they can be a bit tough. Theirs was excellent and really made the sandwich.

Steppin’ Out – Euro Bistro, Placerville

Jagerschnitzel

Jagerschnitzel with Spaetzle

Every now and then a new restaurant goes unnoticed by me for a month or two, and then I spot it. That happened with this one, the Euro Bistro, which is located at 545 Main Street in Placerville, next to Town Hall and The Bagel Works.

Euro Bistro specializes in something different, food from Central Europe and especially the Czech Republic, and it is good, really good.
The owners are a delightful couple (I hope I get the spelling right) Zuzana and Zdenek Bartek and, yes, they are from the Czech Republic. They had a restaurant by this same name in the Bay Area for about 10 years and, before coming to Placerville, Zdenek worked as a chef at Hearst Castle.

To back up for a minute, if you don’t recall your history, in 1993 the country of Czechoslovakia, following the “Velvet Revolution” of 1989 and the Russian occupiers leaving, was peacefully divided into the Czech Republic and Slovakia.

The capital of the Czech Republic is Prague, sometimes called the “Paris of the East,” and the country is well known for its long history, ornate castles, native beers and food.

A group of friends and I spent way too little time in the Czech Republic about 20 years ago. On our drive from Budapest, Hungary, to Prague, we stopped for lunch at a restaurant called Marta’s Café which was in a large house in a small Czech town named Podivin. The food was wonderful and, because of this, I wanted to try the food at Euro Bistro to see how it compared.

My friend Russ Salazar and I dropped in for lunch one day last week and were greeted by a very nice lady named Dagmar, who was also from the Czech Republic and turned out to be a cousin of the owners.

When I saw Jagerschnitzel (also spelled Jaegerschnitzel), a breaded pork (or chicken) filet served with a mushroom cream sauce and spaetzle (a kind of soft egg noodle often pushed through a colander into boiling water) on the menu, I remembered fondly that is what I had that day at Marta’s. So I ordered it.

Russ chose one of the most common dishes found in that area of Europe, Beef Goulash, which came in a classic paprika sauce with dumplings on the side. He wanted to compare it to goulash he had tried elsewhere.

With our meal we also received bread, butter and a delicious salad made with fresh baby greens (including spinach), tomato slices, thin carrot slices, cucumber slices and olives. “This looks so good I’m even going to eat the spinach that I don’t like,” Russ told me.

When our entrees arrive, they were picture perfect. As is our normal routine, we divided them between us so we could both enjoy everything, and that we did.

The breaded pork loin was crunchy on the outside, moist and delicious inside, and it was not greasy. Both it and the spaetzle were complemented by the flavorful mushroom gravy.

Russ’ goulash was equally delicious and the beef was fall-apart good. Russ remarked that the slices of dumpling were perfect for sopping up all of the delicious gravy.

It was enough to satisfy a good appetite, but we still ended up ordering a serving of their house Apple Strudel with a scoop of ice cream. The strudel was full of shredded apple (not too sweet) and had a wonderful flaky crust. “I’m nor really a dessert person, but this is a lot better than Cos…’s,” Russ commented.

The menu at Euro Bistro begins with “Starters,” like potato pancakes, fried cauliflower, fried cheese, fried mushrooms, Spanakopita and salmon potato pancakes. Those are followed by several delicious sounding salads and soup (it was too hot for soup the day we were there).
It continues with a list of “Small Plates” that are available until 4 p.m. The list includes Chicken Gyro, sausage, spinach crepe, Chicken Paprikash crepe, Bohemian potato pancake and a sausage plate.

The “Czech Specialities” (lunch portions available until 4 p.m.) come with bread and butter and soup or a small salad. These dishes include Schnitzel, Jagerschnitzel, Goulash, Chicken Paprikash, Roasted Pork, Roasted Duck, Svickova (tender beef seasoned and marinaded in vegetables that are then pureed into a savory sauce) and a sausage platter.

For dessert, if you have room, you can choose from their Apple Strudel, Sweet Crepes, Fruit and Custard Strudel and a Chocolate Roladen.

If you want to add something, they serve lots of sides to go with your meal, like: dumplings, Spaetzle, fries, potato salad, cooked sauerkraut, red cabbage and even avocado. On top of that, every day they add several special dishes to the menu.

To go with your meal they have the normal sodas, etc., and three Czech beers on tap: Pilsner Urquell, Staropramen and Krusovice.
Euro Bistro is located at 545 Main Street in Placerville, and is open from 11:30 until 9, Tuesday through Sunday. Closed Monday. For more information give them a call at (530) 306-6670.

As a side note, when I stopped back to talk with Zuzana, the lady who delivers the mail walked in, and as she was leaving, stopped and said, “This place really smells good. I’m going to have to come back for dinner.”

Me too. Next time with more people so we can share more dishes.