Monthly Archives: August 2016

Steppin’ Out – Umai Savory Hot Dogs, Sacramento

Umai ArdenAs I am sure you have figured out, I love checking out places that serve hot dogs and this place sounded unique enough to be worth a drive to Sacramento. They serve hot dogs that are a bit different, with toppings not found elsewhere, such as seaweed, bonito flakes, Yum Yum sauce and many more things.

In 1992 Loi Tran opened his first hot dog cart in San Jose, serving what he felt were the best hot dogs from around the world “without compromise.” In 2014 they opened a restaurant in Roseville, followed by Natomas and Arden. with more in progress.

According to their literature, they source only the best hot dogs, sausages, buns and ingredients. You can choose from over 27 of their signature flavors or create your own custom hot dog with all the toppings and sauces, any way you want – all made fresh to order.

Russ Salazar and I dropped in at the Arden location, which is located at 1310 Howe Avenue, just north of Hurley. We had a bit of trouble finding it, but finally…

Their menu is both on the wall and a brochure. We looked at the list and finally decided to try four and having them split in two. We selected: Bacon Cubano, Tokyo Signature, Seoul Storm and Shinjuku Shadow. Just the names seemed exciting.

We also ordered some of their House Fries, which were doused with their soy sauce and a creamy sriracha sauce.

This is their smallest restaurant, but we were able to find an empty table near the window. However, we had to level the table with a folded napkin, which the staff helped us do. I guess the floor is not flat.

The Bacon Cubano is a bacon wrapped chicken dog with Swiss cheese, dill pickle slices, red chili flakes, yellow mustard, mayonnaise, celery salt and pepper. It was very good, and probably our favorite. Everything seemed to just go together. Next time I would order it with an all beef dog.

The Tokyo Signature introduced us to some new tastes. It is an all beef hot dog with sauteed onions, roasted seaweed, teriyaki mayo, Umai teriyaki sauce and white sesame seeds. The hot dog itself was very good, but the roasted seaweed was a bit much. It was a bit too “fishy.”

Now to the Seoul Storm. It is a Polish sausage with kimchi, sriracha sauce, bulgogi sauce, green onions, along with white and black sesame seeds. It was very good, but the casing on the sausage was so tough it was difficult to chew. We were not the only customers that seemed to be having difficulty with the casings.

By the way, Bulgogi is a traditional Korean grilled beef dish with a sauce/marinade made with garlic, soy, rice wine, sesame oil, etc. Nothing unique except for the juice of an Asian pear.

Our final dog was the Shinjuku Shadow, which is a bratwurst with diced daikon, spicy Cheddar sauce, Umai teriyaki sauce, bonito flakes, green onions and furikake, which is a dry Japanese seasoning typically consisting of a mixture of dried and ground fish, sesame seeds, chopped seaweed, sugar and salt. It was a bit fishy and next time I would maybe leave off at least the bonito flakes. Unfortunately, like with the Polish sausage, the casing on the bratwurst was nearly unchewable. Sadly, that detracted from everything else.

Their menu, which varies a bit from location to location, also includes hot dogs with names like: California Bae, Shibuya Honey, Texas Roundhouse, Kyoto Fire, Buffalo Banger, Houston Honcho, Manhattan Pride, Blitzkrieg, Sonoran Swag, Honolulu Bang Bang, Chicago Chopper, Thai Thunder, Saigon Hustle, Mucho Magnificent, Umai X Truffle Dog, Kentucky Hot Brown, Nashville Brisket, and ones made with speciality sausages like the Philly Me Up, Sicilian Classico and Baco Maco (yes, Mac ‘N Cheese on it).

They also have several different vegetarian hot dogs, along with Hot Dog Sliders, Brisket Sliders and Musubi Sliders made with Spam on sweet Hawaiian rolls.

Not finished yet: Tori Wings, Poku Wings, a waffle dog, lots of kinds of fries, noodles and, for dessert, a Fried Banana Dog and Sugoi Waffles on a stick.

You can try their combinations or design your own. You can add or subtract what you like or don’t like to make your perfect dog.

I had quite a lengthy e-mail “conversation” with the home office about the casing on the bratwurst and Polish sausage. Although they had discontinued the natural casing on their all beef dogs some time ago because of customer comments (Russ and I figured that out with the first bite), they had no choice with these two. They are looking for a different supplier and checking their method of preparation.

It was an interesting meal, to say the least, and worth the trip. I would recommend the experience. The dogs run $5 and up.

For more information go to their webpage at umaihotdogs.com. Lots of pictures and a complete list of toppings, along with their locations.
As a Japanese chef would say, “douzo meshiagare” or have a nice meal.

Steppin’ Out – Way Back Bakery, Town of El Dorado

way backAlisa Smith, the owner of Way Back Bakery, is one busy lady, so I had to make an appointment to talk with her. That impressed me.

Her bakery, which is located a 6211 Pleasant Valley Road, Unit C, in the town of El Dorado, is about three doors west of Poor Reds, in the back. Yes, it is way in the back.

You go through the gateway, A Good Read Bookstore is on your right, jog right at Evelyn’s Closet, then jog left, enjoy the various and eclectic decorations as you continue into the coolness of the shade trees, onto the porch of the bakery and through the door into paradise.

Alisa is a “local,” having gone through our school system and graduating from Ponderosa High School. She has been in this business for four years, the first one operating it under its previous name of “Sugar Lillie Bakery.”

“I had the opportunity to run the bakery for a year before I purchased it and then changed the name,” she told me. “I wanted to make sure I didn’t just risk my family’s savings before I took the jump.

“I had been a stay at home mom for 16 years and was the cake baker for all of my extended family. I had talked about being a baker and one day my daughter said to me, ‘Why not do it?’ so I did. Other than raising my family it is the best thing I have ever done.

“I enrolled at Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Sacramento, graduated and here I am. I found I had a gift for baking.

“I might add,” she continued, “that all my pastry chefs are graduates of Le Cordon Bleu.”

Alisa added breads to the menu of pastries, cookies and desserts that had been featured, but wedding cakes are still her speciality.

“We are the preferred wedding cake vendor for both Wedgewood at the Sequoia Mansion and at David Girard Vineyards.” she said, “and we do four to six wedding cakes a week.”

After a tour of the kitchen where three young ladies were hard at work, baking, icing and kneading dough, Alisa walked me by the cases stocked with beautiful looking scones, cookies, cinnamon rolls, puff pastries, cannolis and more. Then she asked the magic question: “What would you like to try?”

I know you are thinking: sweets, chocolate, gooey goodies, but no. I asked to sample a scone and some of her breads. I love the sweets, but I am very particular about other baked goods, like scones and breads. For 30 years I have been judging those at our County Fair and I am very picky in that area. Besides, I must watch my waistline I tell people.

Alisa brought me what she thought I would like: a rosemary lemon scone with a lavender glaze, slice of Kara’s Bread and two pieces of Italian stuffed French bread.

The scone was just as I like them: a bit dry and crumbly like cornbread, but not fall-apart. It also tasted delightful. The lavender glaze added a lot to it.

Kara’s bread was invented by one of her previous employees, who graciously allows her to continue making it. It is sourdough wheat, so it was a bit heavy, like real bread should be. Mixed in it are cranberries and pecans and then, before baking, it is rolled in shelled pumpkin seeds. It had a beautiful texture and beautiful taste. I took the rest of the small loaf home and toasted a thick slice the next day. Heavenly.

The Italian stuffed French bread is just what it says. They take a freshly baked French baguette, slice it lengthwise and insert salami, garlic cream cheese and pepperoncinis. Salty and tangy with the smoothness of the cream cheese on delicious bread. Well, what was left over was dinner that night. I’m surprised it made it that long without being nibbled away. Oh, they also make a Greek version of that sandwich.

A quick list of the baked goods they make includes the breads (including rosemary Focaccia), many flavors of English scones, muffins with fresh fruit in them, puff pastry (including a personal size quiche), fruit Danish, peanut butter, cranberry oatmeal and chocolate chip cookies (the only use Swiss dark chocolate), cinnamon rolls, brownies (fudgey – I sampled them), lemon bars and tarts, macaroons, cannolis and more. They even make a New Zealand Pavlova, which is a baked meringue bottom with whipped cream and fresh fruit on top.

That, ladies and gentlemen, is just a hint of what they make and they must be doing it right. In the past three years their walk-in business has doubled and they have tripled their overall production.

Speaking of fresh fruit, they use the best, sourcing it from local farmers and farms.

Alisa, who is really a people person, as you will find out when you visit there, credits a lot of her success to her employees. “They are vested in the business,” she said. “I have no problem at all leaving them here alone to run things. I am very lucky to have such a good group.”

Way Back Bakery is open Monday through Friday from 7 until 3 and on Saturday from 8 until 3. For more information call (530) 626-1900 or visit their webpage at www.waybackbakery.com.

Some of their products are also available at the Placerville Farmer’s Market which is held at the Bell Tower on Wednesday evenings from 4 p.m. until dusk, June through September.

Stop by and pick something delicious from their wide selection of goodies, and if you are at the bakery, get a cup of dark roast coffee and sit outside in the shady patio. You won’t want to leave.

Oh, ask about the playhouse and how they got the name Way Back Bakery.

Steppin’ Out – Deb’s Frosty (and Mexican food), Diamond Springs

Debs FrostyIt is really kind of hard to describe this “cornerstone” of Diamond Springs which is located at 460 Pleasant Valley Road ( also Main St. and Highway 49).

I first went there in the 1970s when Elaida Smith owned and operated it. She was an interesting person who some called the “Mayor of Diamond Springs.” Some people loved her and some people were afraid of her, but all in all, she made great burgers.

The new operators have changed the menu to add a lot of Mexican food, so my friend Russ Salazar, my Mexican food expert, and I, decided to get Deb’s a try.

The restaurant is a bit “quaint” on the outside (think fifties) and very eclectic, but clean inside. Apparently years ago it had been a drive-in, and the covered parking stalls are still there.

The menu is only on several boards on the wall, since they are in the process of changing it. So it takes a bit of time to read everything.

Russ wanted to try a tamale, with no sauce, and a bowl of their menudo. I wanted to try a chile relleno combination plate, but strangely, Russ is not wild about what I consider the test of a Mexican restaurant. So, I ended up ordering a cheeseburger and chili dog in order to get a better sample of their overall menu.

The tamale was the first thing to arrive, followed immediately by the small bowl of menudo. The tamale was full of shredded beef with a thin corn masa outside. It would have been better sauced, but it was still very, very good.

The menudo? Well, it is not high on my food list. In fact, it is one of very few things that I really don’t like. I’ve had it several times and it varied from sort of okay to “no, I won’t eat that.” The broth can be good, but I just can’t get by the boiled tripe.

Russ thought it was good, but not on his list of the 10 best. I gave it a try, but it is not on my 10 best list either, even with the added lime, onions and oregano. Millions of people in the world love it, just not me.

The cheeseburger was very good. It was exactly like one you might make at home. It had everything you would put on it yourself, including leaf lettuce and amazingly ripe tomato. The burger patty was a bit well done, but they had grilled the bun, a nice thing. We both enjoyed it.
The chili dog was very interesting. I had been told it took up a whole plate. They weren’t kidding.

The dog itself had been grilled, a nice touch, placed on the grilled bun and then covered with what must have been two cups of chili beans. It too was just like you might make at home.

It tasted good, but a bit bland, so I went through their extensive collection of hot sauces to find one to pep it up.

While we were eating, a number of people, young and old, came in and appeared to enjoy their food very much. Most of them had burgers and fries. It is a very popular place.

I don’t really know where to start with the menu: burgers, cheese burgers, bacon burger Deb’s burger, pastrami burger, chili burger, garden burger, barbecue bacon burger, chicken strips and fish and chips. Regular fries, curly fries, crisscut fries, fried zucchini and fried mushrooms.
Under sandwiches: hot pastrami, pastrami Reuben, patty melt, grilled turkey, roast beef melt, grilled cheese, grilled ham and cheese, chicken, French dip, bbq beef and a BLT.

It continues: taco salad, steak salad, green salad, crispy chicken salad, Big dog, Diamond dog, Polish dog, chili dog, corn dog, Lil dog, chili cheese fries, nachos supreme and onion rings.

Their Mexican food includes: burritos, small and large, chile relleno, tamale, enchiladas, tacos and tortas. The enchiladas come with chicken, cheese or ground beef and the tortas, tacos and burritos can be made with carnitas, carne azada, birria (Mexican stew), chicken, ground beef, al pastor (grilled, a Mexican adaptation of a mid-Eastern dish), chorizo, lengua (tongue) or pezcado (fish).

Add to this soft drinks, iced tea, coffee, hot chocolate, milk, floats and a dozen or more flavors of shakes, malts and sundaes. Oh, also cones in several sizes and, yes, a banana split.

They are a bit flexible with their hours, but they told me: Monday through Saturday from 10 until 7 and on Sunday from 8:30 until 7.

For more information you can call them at (530) 621-3327.

They feature a car show once a month and it is a great place for a bite while wandering through the Diamond Springs Sunday Flea Market, which is right next door (they also add breakfast burritos and donuts on Sunday for the crowd).

Great sign in their window “We have the right to refuse service to anyone. Please be respectful and come in fully clothed. Thank you.”

Guys, before you get excited, it is shirtless men they are talking about. Sorry.