Restaurant Reviews

Steppin’ Out – The Breakroom, Shingle Springs

In my 31 plus years of writing a restaurant column, I have rarely been surprised when I visited a restaurant. But that is exactly what happened about two weeks ago when my friend, Russ Salazar, and I visited The Breakroom in Shingle Springs. It is located at 4131 South Shingle Road, #7, in Shingle Springs Plaza, the buildings in front of the Shingle Springs Post Office.

From what I had read in their advertisements, it sounded like a sports bar or something similar to one: pool tables, arcade, dart boards, beer, wine and food. But I was wrong.

Because the front of the building faces south, all the windows are covered with a reflective, tinted plastic. Thus, when you arrive, you cannot see inside (but you can see outside from inside). When you open the door what you see is a well lit, very clean family friendly restaurant. The three pool tables, dart boards and arcade are also well lit and clean, but separated from the main dining area by low partitions.

My contact there was named Britney. She greeted us and then introduced us to the owner, a very lovely lady named Audrey Pearce. She would graciously take time to talk with us during our meal.

Although it was early afternoon, there were still a number of people eating, but there was plenty of room and we found a nice table as a smiling server brought us menus and then talked to us about the different dishes.

While she was getting us our drinks, we looked over the menu. I mentioned to Russ that a friend working in the restaurant business had said to me that this is her “Go to place” when she is eating out and that the burgers are great.

After our usual discussion, we decided on The Billiard Burger, which comes with house made ranch spread, spring mix, tomato, bacon, crispy fried onions, cheddar cheese, and drizzled with barbecue sauce. We also ordered Cool Kids Club, made with smoked turkey breast and country style ham topped with applewood smoked bacon, romaine lettuce, sliced tomatoes, red onion, dill pickles and creamy Havarti cheese with chipotle aioli on sourdough. Sandwiches come with fries, so we asked for both regular fries and seasoned fries.

Then we saw the Mac ‘n’ Cheese Cassoulet, made with cavatappi pasta smothered in a rich four cheese sauce topped with herbed bread crumbs and Parmesan cheese and baked to order. That we had to try. And, yes, it was fantastic! The baking gave it a cheese crust that we fought over.

When the rest of our food arrived we first tried the burger. The one-third pound patty was moist and its artisan bun was thin like we like them. Russ noted that it held together and nothing fell out when you bit into it. Overall, it was excellent.

The Cool Kids Club was full of goodies and likewise delicious. The toasted sourdough and chipotle aioli really made the sandwich. Russ thought it had too much meat in it, then Audrey told us that they had actually reduced the amount of meat to get a better balance.

The regular fries were okay, but the seasoned fries were fantastic and even better when dipped in one of their eight dipping sauces. My favorites were the Inferno Buffalo, Ghost Pepper Ranch and Garlic Aioli. Yes, they also have Ranch, Bleu Cheese and regular Buffalo if you are not into hot.

On their menu are a whole list of Starters, including Wings Your Way, Bacon Cheese Fries Beer Cheese Dip and Pretzels, Chips & Salsa and a Basket O’ fries or onion rings.

The something Special list includes that great Mac ‘N’ Cheese, Fish ‘N’ Chips, Strips ‘N’ Chips and Pulled Pork Sliders.

Their Salads include a Buffalo Chicken, Cobb, House, “Hail Caesar,” Apple Balsamic and one called The Billiard: Spring mix topped with Cheddar and Monterey jack cheese, bacon, tomatoes and crispy fried onions, tossed in house made ranch and drizzled with barbecue sauce.

They also have a Daily Housemade Soup and very popular Turkey Chili, loaded with spicy seasoned turkey, beans, corn, green chiles, and topped with a dollop of sour cream, shredded cheese and corn chips.

They serve nine fantastic hand-pressed burgers, all with unique names and different ingredients. You can try them with chipotle coleslaw, grilled pineapple rings, sauteed mushrooms, bleu cheese and more. For our vegetarian friends, a black bean burger.

Their seven different sandwiches include the French Dip, Grilled Chicken,”Straight Up” B.L.T., Pesto Chicken Panini, Cubano Panini, the Club we tried and an Adult Grilled Cheese.

Not hungry for a sandwich? Try their tacos, made with carnitas or fish.

You and your kids are going to love the Kids (10 and under) Menu: “I don’t know” Chicken Bites, “I don’t care” Grilled Cheese, “I’m not hungry” Mac ‘n’ Cheese and “Whatever” Cheeseburger. All of the kids items are served with fries or seasonal fruit & their choice of milk, chocolate milk, apple juice or a kids soda.

Fall hours at The Breakroom are Tuesday – Thursday: 11 a.m. – 9 p.m. and on Friday and Saturday until 10 p.m. On Sunday and Monday they are closed for private events.

For more information call them at (530) 763-6761 or visit them online at, where you will find their whole menu and an interesting story on the owner.


They have an event room that seats 45+ and has a large TV for presentations along with free WiFi. It is great for birthdays, business meetings and more. Catering menu available.

Or, if you like, right now you can rent the whole facility on Sunday or Monday when they are closed.

Stop by, you will be glad you did. We were.

Steppin’ Out – Papa Gianni’s Ristorante, Cameron Park

I hadn’t realized it, but it had been years since I visited family owned, Papa Gianni’s Ristorante at 3450 Palmer Drive, Suite 1, in Cameron Park (opposite end of the shopping center from Bel Air).

This is a real, actual family run business that has been open for over 26 years specializing in traditional dishes based on recipes from Southern Italy. Each entrée is freshly prepared and made to order.

I think they were relatively new at the time I first dropped in for a meal. Everything I had then was delicious and this experience was the same, if not better.

We ended up having lunch there because Russ Salazar and I were trying to figure out a different place to visit one Tuesday. I think it was when Russ said that we hadn’t really had Italian food in some time and Papa Gianni’s came up. Fortunately, they were open on Tuesday and served lunch.

We walked in and were greeted by a lovely, smiling lady named Melissa who told us to sit anywhere we wished. It was late into lunchtime and, although there were a number of diners still finishing, we found a table set for two (cloth napkins, by the way) and in a short time Melissa reappeared, this time with menus, wine list and water.

Russ wanted to try a pasta dish and, after a discussion of several, picked simply spaghetti with meatball, served in a meat sauce. I, on the other hand, noticed they had a hot meatball and a hot sausage sandwich, both served on sourdough rolls.

For a few minutes I even thought about their cold Italian Submarine, filled with Soppressata, copocollo, mortadella, salami, pepperoni and provolone. However, I went for the sausage sandwich, made with their homemade Italian sausage and topped with marinara sauce and sautéed bell peppers (an added must for this sandwich).

Russ asked if they served milk (his restaurant test) and since they did, ordered it. I thought about a glass of wine, but stuck with water.

In a few minutes some garlic bread was brought to our table to tide us over until the food arrived. It was great and had a thick coating of Parmesan cheese. In all my years of cooking, I have never been able to make garlic bread as good as that I find at Italian restaurants.

The first item to arrive was my sausage sandwich, and it looked really good. The sausage was sliced in two and filled the sourdough roll. The first, and each succeeding bite was heavenly. It had just the right amount of everything in it. I offered Russ his half of the sandwich, but he wanted to start with the spaghetti, which arrived a minute or so later.

In the middle of the plate, on top of a large amount of well sauced al dente spaghetti, was one huge meatball. Russ cut it in two (it was still big when cut) and slid half of it, along with a helping of spaghetti and some of the very meaty sauce onto his plate. I stopped eating my sandwich and did the same.

I don’t cook a lot of spaghetti at home, usually going for angel hair or rottini if I do pasta, but this was excellent and the sauce and meatball were likewise great.

I used some of the sandwich roll to pick up the excess sauce. Russ was really into the garlic bread and did the same with it. He even got our server to bring some more so he wouldn’t run out.

Yes, Russ did get to the sausage sandwich and liked it, especially with the peppers in it, but for sure the spaghetti was his favorite. It is amazing that something so simple can be so delicious.

The lunch menu, served only Tuesday thru Friday from 11:00 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., includes the following pastas: Spaghetti Marinara, Spaghetti with Meatball, Fettuccini Alfredo, and Ravioli. The Al Forno (oven baked dishes) include Lasagna, Manicotti and Eggplant Parmigiana.
Hot sandwiches include the homemade Meatball and Sausage I mentioned, along with Chicken Parmigiana. For cold sandwiches you can choose from the Italian Submarine and a Caprese.

The menu ends with a Mini Cheese Pizza made with your choice from quite a list of toppings.

The dinner menu is huge and too big to print here. You can read it, and their large local and Italian wine list, on their webpage at

In addition to my previously mentioned lunch hours, for dinner they are open Tuesday through Thursday from 5 until 9, Friday and Saturday from 5 until 10 and on Sunday from 5 until 9. Last Seating: 30 minutes prior to closing. For more information call (530) 672-2333.

By the way, our lunch cost less than most of the other lunches we have recently had at fast food restaurants.

Steppin’ Out – Ciao Deli

As you know, Russ Salazar and I tend to try foods on what some people think is the “less-than-healthy” side of the menu. We eat healthy too, but we like to search out unique foods, obviously along with the perfect pastrami sandwich or giant hot dog.

Since I listen to comments I receive, we decided to visit Ciao Deli and try a couple of sandwiches. They are a healthy restaurant and, as we found out, one of the best.

If you haven’t heard of them yet, Ciao Deli is located at 2864 Ray Lawyer Drive, Suite 108 in Placerville. Or, if that confuses you, next to Raley’s in Placerville, where the Hoosegow was once located.

Russ and I stopped in for lunch a couple of weeks ago and were a bit overwhelmed with the amount of information on the walls.
The restaurant is very nice, very clean and mostly decorated with words, words that explain what different herbs, spices, fruits and vegetables are good for you and why. It would take you a whole day to read all of them.

My mother, who was a registered nurse most of her life and became an attorney only in her final working years, was very into healthful eating. I immediately recognized on the wall a lot of the great information she taught me. I was impressed.

On the wall behind the counter is a huge list of everything you can put in or on a sandwich including vegetables, cheeses, meats and even the bread and wraps. In addition they also have listed the soups, sides and chili, along with a kid’s menu. Yes, they also have a salad bar with quite a selection of dressings.

Oh, everything is organic and the only meat with nitrates is their salami, something they are working to correct.

It is also important to note that they can make you something delicious that it also vegan and/or gluten free.

Russ immediately decided he wanted to try a real vegetarian sandwich and asked for one. He selected a seeded bread and asked for all the veggies, even adding avocado. I decided on a spinach wrap with almost all the veggies and some of their own, slow roasted turkey.

Russ also asked for a cup of their vegetarian chili and I went for a cup of their soup of the day, which turned out to be more like a delicious vegetable stew.

The owner, Kay Oelze, was the one making our sandwiches and told us to find a table while we waited, since it was not fast food. While she prepared it, she talked with us.

“I was born here and come from a family of local farmers,” Kay told us. “I grew up farming and still know a lot of farmers in this area. I get the best, local organic ingredients for my food and our meats are slow roasted by us.

“I went to school in Idaho where I got my culinary education. After that I worked with a lot of different chefs from all over the world. They gave me most of the health information that is painted on the wall. I learned from all my adventures everywhere.

“Oh, by the way, I hope you have a big appetite because we don’t make anything small.”

In a few minutes our food arrived and, she was right, there was nothing small about the sandwich or wrap. They were huge and looked delicious.

The vegetarian sandwich was a lesson in freshness. Both of us thought it was moist, delicious and, most of all wonderful – and that is a rare comment from two dedicated carnivores.

The spinach wrap, about the size of a super burrito at any of our local taquerias, was similarly fresh and delicious. The slow roasted turkey was far superior to any commercial lunchmeat I have found in restaurant sandwiches (and I will bet a lot better for you).

As I mentioned, the soup was more like a delicious vegetable stew and the chili, although a bit “beany” for my taste, tasted fresh and was soon gobbled down, mostly by Russ.

“Everything we make here we make with love,” Kay told us. My whole purpose is to share the love with the food.

“For years people have helped me out and now it is my turn to repay them by sharing the love and good vibes with everyone.

“What’s in my future? We’ll see. Maybe my adventures will take me elsewhere, but right now I am here and loving it.”

She’s right. There is a lot of love in the food and the atmosphere. Smiles, happy faces, graciousness and more from all the employees. Both of us left there feeling both warm and satisfied with our meal.

Ciao Deli is open on Monday from 11 until 4, on Tuesday through Friday from 11 until 6 and on Saturday from 11 until 2ish,
For more information give Ciao Deli a call at (530) 391-9005. You can also follow them on Facebook where they often post interesting articles on food, herbs and health.

Steppin’ Out – Love Birds Coffee & Tea Co.

Sometimes a new business is very obvious, but still I drive by it several times a week and don’t see it. Such was the case with Love Birds Coffee and Tea Company.

It is located in the small shopping center at the southeast corner of Broadway and Wiltse, right next to the UPS Store . If you drove south from freeway on Schnell School Road and didn’t turn right or left onto Broadway, you would drive right into it.

Russ Salazar and I dropped in one Tuesday around noon and introduced ourselves to the high energy and very busy Garrett Sanders, who, with his wife Jasmin, own this business.

“This has been a dream of mine since high school,” he said. “I have previously worked in coffee shops and finally we opened our own about a year ago in the Smith Flat House. It was a little out of the way, so a few months ago moved here. We love both our business and this new location. We are the only Italian Espresso Bar in the Placerville area.”

Their goal is to bring their customers top quality products that are good for the body, soul and environment.

All of their coffees are sourced with the most intentional buying to bring to you wonderful coffee to be enjoyed. Their gourmet coffees come from single farms and co-ops along with Direct Trade Coffees which cost quite a bit more but its important to them to support the farmers from Seed to Cup. They also look for Rainforest Alliance and Organic Coffees when they are Direct Trade.

In their roasting plant the roasters take special pride in roasting each coffee in the style of the old world Italian tradition to ensure a wonderful coffee for their customers that follows coffee and espresso skills dating back to 19th century Italy.

We sat at one of the tables in this beautifully decorated and very clean coffee shop. Garrett offered us coffee and then said we should try one of their waffles.

For coffee, Russ selected Italian roast. I’m not really a coffee drinker, so I selected a special flavored coffee, Snickerdoodle. Both were really good.

To enjoy with the coffee, Garrett recommended the house speciality waffle, which comes with a triple berry compote and housemade huckleberry whipped cream on top.

Their waffles are a do-it-yourself item. They provide the ingredients and add the toppings, your only job is to bake the waffle.

The waffle was excellent. Russ pointed out to me that it had body, unlike most of the restaurant waffles. He really liked it.

In addition to gourmet coffee, coffee drinks and speciality tea, Love Birds Coffee and Tea Co. serves a multitude of delicious items, such as fresh baked pastries, like Cannoli (with mascarpone filling) and Pizzelle; fresh baked turnovers (Seasonal Flavors); assorted bagels and scones (Seasonal Flavors) and even banana bread using Jasmin’s recipe.

They also serve gluten-free Chocolate Dipped Macaroons and vegan turnovers, along with a good selection of seasonal baked goods from

Apple Hill bakeries.
You can also purchase coffee and tea for home use and, if you are looking for a unique gift, they ship anywhere.

Love Birds Coffee and Tea Co. is open weekdays from 5:45 until 4 and on Saturday and Sunday from 8:30 until 4. For more information call (530) 300-9891 or visit their webpage at

They do plan on special events in the near future, like music, poetry readings and much more. Be sure to ask about that. Oh, free Wi-Fi.

Okay, I am sure you want to know where the Love Birds name came from. I did.

Garrett told us that people commented on he and his wife Jasmin holding hands when they walked together. They would say, “There go the love birds” and it became their name.

You probably also noted that Garrett’s last name is Sanders. He is the nephew of John Sanders who has both Old Town Grill and the Smith Flat House Cellar and Grill Event Center.