Restaurant Reviews

Steppin’ Out – Frank Vilt’s Cakes, Cameron Park

Every now and then a male friend introduces me to someone he calls, “My brother from another mother.” It is usually a very good friend of his with similar likes. Well, I can do them one better. Yesterday I met “My brother from another grandmother.”

Like me, Frank Vilt was raised by his grandmother, who taught him to cook and bake. By the time he was seven or eight, he was preparing meals and baking for his large family. He would go on to work for Jennifer and Christian Masse at the original Zachary Jacques, then 20 years in the bakeries at Raley’s and Bel Air, before retiring to spend all of his time and energy on his own business, Frank Vilt’s Cakes in Cameron Park.

To complete the story, my grandmother also taught me to cook and bake, but our similarity sort of ends there. She let me help her in the kitchen, but I never reached the point where she left me alone. After all, it was her kitchen.

As I mentioned, Frank would go on to be a first class baker, but I would use my grandmother given talents to cook and bake for my children and judge baked goods at fairs and other events.

“I had planned on going to a culinary school in France,” Frank told me as we sat at a small table at his bakery talking while I sampled one of their very popular ‘Death by chocolate’ cupcakes. “I had even picked out the school and taken four years of French, but life got in the way and I had to change my direction,” stopping to then continue with a sly grin, “that cupcake won’t really kill you, but from the first bite on you will think you went to heaven.” He was right: devil’s food, injected with chocolate and thickly frosted with more chocolate.

“What I picked up from Christian and Jennifer at Zachary Jacques helped me a lot,” he continued. “I added to that what I learned at Raley’s and Bel Air.

“During the last few years I was at Raley’s and Bel Air, my wife, Nicole, and I baked mini cupcakes as a licensed cottage industry in our house. With both jobs, I was working from 3 a.m. until around 11 p.m. Fortunately I had the stamina to do that.

“About four and a half years ago we opened here in Cameron Park, behind Safeway and next to China City restaurant. Our first year we made the KCRA “A” List for Best Wedding Cake. That was exciting, as are our five star ratings on social media. I am very proud of what I have accomplished so far and humbled by it at the same time.

“This location is a good place for us and along with our constantly returning regulars and wonderful new customers, we get lots of dessert seekers from China City,” he continued. “I would really like to have a place with more walking traffic and big windows so people could watch us at work, but for now this works and is affordable.”

Frank Vilt specializes in wedding cakes and cup cakes. He is very picky about everything he makes, and especially them.

“Most wedding cakes are beautiful, but not necessarily tasty,” he told me. “Ours are different. The people at the wedding are our potential customers, so they should enjoy both the looks of the cake and especially the taste. I love to make beautiful cakes, but flavor is my top priority.

“We have the bride and groom come in to the bakery as many times as they want, to not only come up with a design for their cake but its flavor. We have lots of flavor options and they can come up with their own flavor if they wish. Maybe they have something from a special occasion they remember and want it duplicated. We can do that. After all, customer service is another of our highest priorities.”

Frank went on to explain to me that everything is from scratch. They use nothing pre-made and they use as few ingredients as possible.
“The raspberry topping that is cooking on the stove right now is made from raspberries, sugar, water and a little cornstarch,” he said, “ that’s all. People like simple things. For some reason it reminds them of their childhood.

“We avoid freezers. Freshness and quality are what we want and use. Butter is our major expense. It costs us almost as much as our lease payment, but it’s worth it.

“We try to balance our flavors between sweet and tart. We don’t want you just to enjoy what you are eating, we want it to be a ‘Symphony in your mouth.’

“We are a family operation,” Frank continued, “and it isn’t just myself, my wife, Nicole, and daughter Kaylie Rose. Our family includes our great employees, Kelsey and Alec.”

In addition to the wedding cakes and cupcakes, Frank Vilt’s Cakes also makes special occasion cakes, cake pops, cheesecakes, cookies, brownies, lemon squares and much more, including what Frank calls a “California Cannoli, filled with cream cheese and mascarpone, instead of ricotta.

Frank Vilt’s Cakes is located at 4100 Cameron Park Drive, Suite 117, just behind Safeway and next to China City restaurant. Their hours are Wednesday through Friday from 9 – 7 and on Saturday from 9 – 2. They are open Tuesday and Sunday by appointment only.

You can reach them at (530) 409-7046 and get lots of information from their website, You can also follow them on Facebook.

I excitedly told a friend about Frank Vilt’s Cakes the next day. He replied to me, “I know about them. When we get invited to a dinner, we offer to bring dessert and get their cupcakes. They are always a big hit. I can see why.

Knuckledragger Pizza Company, Pollock Pines

Knuckledragger Pizza Company is another one of those businesses in our county that you might miss if you blink when you drive by. It is located at 6395 Pony Express Trail in Pollock Pines, which is just west of 50 Grand, on the opposite side of Willow Street.

Russ Salazar and I stopped by a week ago last Thursday and were greeted by the owner, chief cook, pizza and sandwich maker, Shannon Robertson. Helping her that day was her daughter, Hailee.

Shannon’s brother started the business in 2015. She was living in Arizona at the time, so they brought her here and gave it to her as a Christmas present.

We knew her restaurant specializes in “Take-N-Bake” pizza that receives outstanding reviews, but we were there to try something else, the sandwiches.

I had been told that the Philly Cheesesteak sandwich was especially delicious, and that was what I was after.

Since we usually order two items and split them, I looked over the menu and immediately spotted another of my favorites, a Meatball sandwich. Then Shannon mentioned to me that she also makes a Pulled Pork sandwich that was quite popular.

I asked if she cooked here own pork shoulder and she pointed to the two crock pots on the counter and said, “Yes, and it is really good.” That was enough, That would be our second one.

She made our Philly Cheesesteak first, so we could enjoy it without worrying about the second sandwich becoming cold.

The Philly is made on an Amarosa (Hoagie) roll, the proper roll for it. Filling it is sliced Angus beef, shipped in from Philly, along with bell peppers, onions, mushrooms and white American cheese. In addition to being delicious, it was moist and tender. It took me three napkins to happily get through it.

The Pulled Pork sandwich, which must have weighed close to a pound, was on a sweet French roll. Inside it was around three quarters of an inch or more of delicious pulled pork along with pepper-jack cheese. She would normally put barbecue sauce on it, be we asked for that on the side so we could taste the pork itself.

There was so much meat on it that Russ got a fork so he could first eat some of the meat out to make the sandwich thinner and more easy to eat that way.

After tasting it, I went back and had some thin-sliced fresh onion added. It needed that.

We both experimented with the amount of barbecue sauce and decided that having it on the side was the way to go. It took me five napkins for this one and still I got some barbecue sauce on my shirt.

As I mentioned at the start, their main business is “Take-N-Bake” pizza and they can make just about any kind you want. Of course, there is the “Build Your Own,” with a long list of toppings and sauces from which to choose, along with several uniquely named and built speciality pizzas.

They have The Hunter, with pepperoni, salami, sausage and Canadian bacon; The Gatherer, with spinach, sun dried tomatoes, black olives      and Feta cheese (my archaeology minded friends will catch that); The Mammoth, with pepperoni, sausage, Canadian bacon, salami, bell peppers, onion, black olives and fresh garlic; the Knuckle Combo with pepperoni, sausage, bell pepper, onion, black olives and mushrooms; The Beast with BBQ sauce, pulled pork, onions, jalapeños and pineapple, and their Signature Stuffed Pizza, The Knuckle Dragger, with pepperoni, Canadian bacon, salami sausage, bacon, olives, mushrooms all topped with a cheese pizza.

Quite a list, but that’s not all the pizzas. There are more self explanatory ones like the BBQ Chicken, Buffalo Chicken, Ultimate Veggie, Pulled Pork and something really different, the Enchilada Pizza. It is covered with enchilada sauce, sour cream mix, chicken, black olives, green onions and crushed corn chips.

They also serve a personal size pizza that they can actually bake on site.

The list of Knuckle Sandwiches includes the two we loved, along with Meatball, Pastrami, Road Beef, Reuben, Italian, Black Forest Ham, Smoked Turkey, Tuna, Egg Salad, Pizza Bread (with two toppings), Veggie, Grilled Cheese and, yes, Peanut Butter and Jelly (strawberry or grape).

We had Shannon make our sandwiches the way she thought they should be, but you can pick your bread, cheese, toppings and condiments yourself.

00Not up for a sandwich or pizza? You can build your own salad. They come with one meat, whatever veggies you fancy and your choice of dressing,

If that isn’t enough, you might like to try her Enchiladas, made with cheese, chicken or a chicken/green chile/onion/olives combination (call ahead two hours for these). Oh, I almost forgot the Breakfast Enchiladas with one meat, scrambled eggs, Mozzarella, onions, bell peppers and green sauce.

To accompany your meal they serve soft drinks and Blue Bunny ice cream.

Knuckledragger Pizza Company is open Monday through Thursday from 10 a.m. until 7 p.m., Friday from 10 a.m. until 8 p.m., Saturday from 9 a.m. until 8 p.m. and on Sunday from 9 a.m. until 6 p.m. For more information, give them a call at (530) 644-9914.

Oh, Birthday Kits for the kiddos, Sandwich Platters and Homemade Cakes for all occasions. Call or stop in for details.

Steppin’ Out – Domino’s Pizza, Placerville

Before we start with a review of the new Domino’s Pizza at 1331 Broadway (next to Subway in Placerville), let me take care of a couple of items.

Pastrami is back at Wienerschnitzel. You know how much I like their pastrami because it is real and has the fat (flavor) still attached. Not only do they have the pastrami on rye sandwich, with pickles and mustard, but an all beef hot dog with pastrami on top and pastrami fries. And, you can add sauerkraut if you wish or have it made as a Reuben with 1000 Island Dressing.

Last week I stopped to get an apple fritter (still under $2 and delicious) at the Donut Factory, next to the County Fairgrounds. On my way back to my car I passed Dickey’s Barbecue Pit and out came one of owners, my friend Troy Duncan, with a container of cole slaw.

If you recall, when I stopped there to review them, they were out of cole slaw and I commented on how much the sandwich needed it. He wanted me to know that they had it again and that I should try it. I did, and it was very good and very close in flavor one of my favorites, the slaw at KFC.

He also gave me three of their pork ribs – fresh from the smoker – to compare with those we had received when we were there. I put no extra sauce on them and they were wonderful. I think it is the rub they use that give them a very unique taste, and I think I know most of what is in it. But then, maybe I don’t.

Back to the subject of the day, Domino’s Pizza.

A week ago last Tuesday Russ Salazar and I stopped in at the new Domino’s to have lunch. We had heard their pizza was very good, so we were going to order a pizza and a sandwich to share, but since their smallest pizza, the medium cheese, with a couple of toppings was $12.99, we decided to instead have the penne pasta and a sandwich for $6.99 each (they were actually on sale at $5.99 at the time).
Our penne pasta choice was their Chicken Carbonara, with grilled chicken breast, smoked bacon, fresh onions and mushrooms, then baked with a really nice Alfredo sauce.

For a sandwich we chose the Philly Cheese Steak, which includes slices of steak, American and provolone cheeses, fresh onions, fresh green peppers and mushrooms, all on a soft roll.

While ordering, Russ asked if they had milk, but they didn’t. He then asked about tap water and found the only water they have is bottled, as are all the sodas. He was more than normally disappointed.

Although they have a good sized dining area, most of their business is obviously to-go or delivery. That is probably why the drinks are only in bottles. Those fancy soda machines are expensive.

A few minutes later our order arrived, along with an extra paper plate and foil bowl so we could share the food, thanks to our server.

I started with the pasta, which was very good, although it was mostly penne pasta and Alfredo sauce and very light on other ingredients.

The sandwich came on a nice roll, which Russ, the bread lover, said was very good. He also said it would have been very, very good if it had been toasted a bit more.

We agreed the sandwich was also short very on ingredients, when compared to its picture. Russ showed me the one small piece of bell pepper that was in his half of the sandwich. In spite of that, it did have a nice flavor.

While we were sitting there enjoying our food, several other people came in to order. I heard their server, someone different than ours, mention they had a special on pizza.

After we finished, I asked about their specials other than those on the back of the menu. It turned out we could have purchased a three topping large pizza for $7.99, about $10 less than normal.

Rule #1. Always ask about specials before you order, especially at a new restaurant.

Domino’s menu is quite large and includes a dozen or more speciality pizzas, with meat, cheese and veggie toppings, along with quite a list of toppings for the “Build Your Own” pizza lovers. They have five penne pasta dishes, plus, again, your chance to “Build Your Own.”

There are more than half a dozen chicken dishes, including wings sauced from mild to “wow,” and if you like salads, they have the Classic, Chicken Caesar and Chicken Apple Pecan.

Yes, they have desserts, including their famous Chocolate Lava Crunch cake.

The Placerville Domino’s is open daily from 10 a.m. until Late Night. For more information give them a call at (530) 303-6777.

Be sure to check out Domino’s webpage at for more information on specials, coupons and the such. Believe me, I will next time.

According to their webpage, home delivery is not available as of January 21, 2018, but should be soon.

Steppin’ Out – In-N-Out Burger

Just about every day I see or hear and new advertisement from a fast food restaurant promoting a new sandwich, drink or something else. Lately it has been combinations for a set amount, such as two burgers for a price, a burger and another item for a price or recently, from McDonald’s, a $1, $2 and $3 menu.

I don’t recall when this all started, but I just can’t keep up with it. In fact, I occasionally go to one of these places to try something, just to find it was discontinued a few days before and replaced with something even newer.

It wasn’t that long ago (although now even 20 years seems like just a couple of years ago) that most fast food restaurants had just a few things on their menu and did them well. Not any more. I guess the market and competition has become so fierce that nobody wants to be left behind. I noted that within days of McDonald’s advertising their new, cheap menu, Jack in the Box had an advertisement comparing it to their new menu.

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about Doogie’s, an independent restaurant in Connecticut. Rock, the owner, had a simple motto: “The secret to success is to do just a few things, but do them very well indeed.”

Following that, I added that a lot of the fast food chains with giant menus should take notice.

Then it occurred to me. One chain, that will turn 70 this year, has kept their basic menu of burger, cheeseburger, “Double-Double” (two beef patties and two slices of cheese), fries, soda and shakes. That place is In-N-Out Burger.

Sure, they do have a “Secret Menu” that contains modifications of these (depending upon how busy they are at the time), but it hasn’t really changed since its opening: burgers, fries, soda and shakes.

Their first restaurant opened in 1948 in Baldwin Park and it broke new ground with the first drive-thru.

I had a friend who worked there in the mid-1950s. I had never heard of In-N-Out Burgers, so he told me I had to come by. Four of us jumped in my 1948 Ford convertible and went there one day. Four people, less than five bucks, total (I miss that car).

They didn’t have a restaurant outside of the greater Los Angeles area until 1990 when they opened one in San Diego County. Two years later they opened one in Las Vegas, Nevada.

The first northern California restaurant opened in Modesto in 1993 and now they are in several western states with around 329 locations.
I don’t recall exactly the year that they opened in Placerville, but prior to that there was a location in Auburn that we would visit and bring back burgers for our friends.

So, what makes them successful? They are still family owned, their meat is not frozen, everything is fresh, they grill their buns next to the meat and one thing that seems to stick out in most of the comments left by customers: their burgers are consistently delicious and look like burgers when you get them. They aren’t as fast as some places, because they only cook to order.

They will tell you that have no heat lamps, freezers or microwaves and deliver on their promise of Quality You Can Taste®. That is true.

Their French fries are made from fresh hand-cut potatoes and prepared in 100% vegetable oil. The last time I checked, they used Kennebec potatoes, which taste really good, but don’t maintain their crispness as long as Russets. They also don’t blanch them before cooking. You can order them “Well Done” to get them crisper (Secret Menu).

At my insistence, my friend Russ Salazar and I stopped by last Saturday around 2 p.m. for a late lunch. It was busy as it always is. I had a Double-Double combo, Russ had a Cheeseburger combo. His first comment: “Look at that, a burger with fresh lettuce, a nice slice of tomato, and it looks delicious, like it should.” I agreed and it was delicious, as were the fries.

The Placerville In-N-Out Burger is located at 3055 Forni Road, near Office Max, and is open from 10:30 a.m. until 1:00 a.m., daily, staying open until 1:30 a.m. Friday and Saturday nights. Yes, they have a drive-thru.

They can be reached at the corporate phone number, (800) 786-1000. The menu and more information is available on their webpage,

By the way, I believe they were the first fast food restaurant to offer a burger wrapped in lettuce and without the bun.

Oh, don’t look for their welcoming crossed palm trees in front. The City of Placerville and In-N-Out had a disagreement about them.

I have been told that the 1963 movie “It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World” was a favorite of In-N-Out founder Harry Snyder and in tribute to the film and its crossed palms, he planted the first In-N-Out palms in 1972. They soon became a trade mark for the chain.