Restaurant Reviews

Steppin’ Out – “Beyond Belief” Burger and “They’re Back”

Well, first of all “Happy New Year.” It’s 2019 and from what I learned in school, so many years ago, among other things by now we should all be flying around in our own personal helicopter instead of driving cars.

For some reason this is one of the times of year that fast food restaurants add new menu items or bring back old ones to re-test the market. Maybe it is because the kids are out of school, or maybe not. I have never tried to figure out this industry.

First on my list this year is an attempt by Carl’s Jr. to open up a new pathway to the vegetarian market with a burger called the “Beyond Famous Star.”

No, this is not the burger that the actress is messily eating in the latest commercials, that is their iconic Famous Star which I believe is one of the better fast food burgers around. This new burger is made with a patty that contains no meat and is rated vegan. However, it can’t be called vegan in this case because it is cooked and assembled in a restaurant that serves meat.

The Beyond Famous Star is a plant-based version of the Famous Star. It’s quarter-pound Beyond Burger patty is cooked top-to-bottom on an open flame in Carl’s Jr.’s unique char broiler, giving it that familiar burger flavor. It has the same build as the regular Famous Star and comes topped with melted American cheese, lettuce, tomato, sliced onions, dill pickles, special sauce and mayonnaise on a seeded bun. If you want a fully plant-based option, simply ask for it without cheese and mayo.

The patty contains 20 grams of protein primarily from peas, but also from mung bean and rice. That is about the same as their regular patty. And, it is soy, gluten and GMO free.

So, last week I tried one, expecting to experience the taste I usually find in “veggie burgers” and was quite surprised…no, shocked and very impressed. It didn’t taste like beans or grains, it looked and tasted like meat. It even had a slightly pink color which is derived from beets. The texture was way better than many fast food meat patties and more like the hamburger you might cook at home: moister and softer than the sometimes rubbery patties that are often a result of beef being overcooked.

I was so impressed by this burger that I had to make sure that I hadn’t been given the wrong order.

Carl’s Jr. will replace the meat or chicken patty on any of their sandwiches with this new patty for an additional price. That is one of the drawbacks. It costs more, about $2 more per patty.

The other drawback is that it has about the same amount of fat and calories as the regular burger, not from beef fat but vegetable oil. Remember, fat is flavor and without it food would be pretty bland.

Beyond Meat Co., the producer of this product, has it in patties, crumbles or “chicken” strips for sale at local markets for use at home. They also make sausages, but I have not seen them yet.

In other news:

For a limited time, pastrami is back at Wienerschnitzel. You can get it as a sandwich on rye with cheese, pickles and mustard (sauerkraut extra), as a Pastrami Dog (all beef dog) or on Pastrami Chile Cheese Fries. I like their pastrami because, unlike most of the overly processed lean pastrami now common at delis, it has enough fat to give it a real pastrami flavor.

Jack in the Box has temporarily brought back their Pannidos, those long, thin sandwiches on a toasted Ciabatta baguette that are now available in Turkey, Bacon and Cheddar or a Deli Trio with Smoked Turkey, Ham and Salami.
I tried them in 2004, when they were first released, and really liked them. I looked back in my notes and they were “delicious, crunchy and different.”

Taco Bell, the restaurant with the most rapidly changing menu around, now has $1 Grande Burritos in two varieties: Chicken Enchilada and Three Cheese Nacho. They are available by separately or in a $5 Grande Burrito Box with Nacho Cheese Doritos Locos Taco, a Crunchy Taco, Cinnamon Twists and a medium drink. They also have a new $5 Chalupa Cravings Box that contains a Chalupa Supreme, Beefy 5-layer Burrito, Crunchy Taco, Cinnamon Twists and a medium drink.

I tried both of the new Grande Burritos and they were good, although nachos in a burrito is a bit “different,” but does add some texture.

By the way, in introducing their new “Beyond Burger,” the good folks at Carl’s Jr. coined a new word: “flexitarians,” people who are looking for options in what they eat. Now, wouldn’t that also describe people who go to a gym or yoga class to increase their flexibility? Maybe I can put these two together and stop for a burger on the way to the gym. Or, on second thought, maybe not.

Steppin’ Out – Grand China, Chinese Cuisine

A couple of weeks ago I received a call telling me that Vince Hoang, one of the owners of Grand China, Chinese Cuisine, wanted me to grab a friend and drop by. Well, not one to turn down a great invitation like that, my walking buddy, Mike Long, and I did just that.

Grand China is located at 4340 Golden Center Drive, #D, across from WalMart and behind McDonald’s, and it is a beautiful place. I first visited it in 2006 when it had been open just a few weeks and it had already become a popular restaurant for both lunch and dinner.

The 3500 square foot restaurant has both booths and open table seating, along with a nice banquet room perfect for a holiday event or any other kind of gathering.

I can’t write about this restaurant without mentioning the two huge crystal chandeliers, one over the main dining room and one in the banquet room. Vince told that they were good luck, so I looked it up and found this interesting information: “A faceted crystal ball or crystal chandelier over the center of the dining table will help to balance chi in the room, and also helps people with eating disorders embrace healthier habits.”

Mike and I arrived about 11:30 and were immediately seated by Vince himself at a booth he had prepared for us. He brought us water and some hot tea. Then he asked if we wanted to order or have him pick the food. Before I could answer, Mike spoke up, “Yes, you pick” to Vince. I always agree to that.

In a few minutes a plate of delicious pot stickers arrived at our table, along with a great dipping sauce. While we were enjoying them, I looked around and noticed two of the employees sitting at a table sorting and preparing fresh green beans for one of their seasonal specialities, Chicken and Fresh Green Beans. I mentioned it to Vince who told me they do their best to feature fresh produce even during the Winter months when it costs more. “It is worth it for our customers,” he said.

Next to arrive for our meal were two bowls of Wonton Soup. “Most restaurants only serve Egg Flower or Hot and Sour soup,” Vince said, “Wonton is harder to make and many restaurants won’t even try it, but we do. Only the best for our customers.”

Both the broth and the wontons in the soup were very good and soon both bowls were empty.

Two dishes arrived next, the Chicken and Fresh Green Beans and Walnut Shrimp.

The green beans were crisp and the chicken nicely cooked. I put some on my plate along with a scoop of steamed rice from the covered bowl that accompanied the dishes. Of course I added a couple of the shrimp, which were delicious and not too sweet. Everybody loves Walnut Shrimp and neither Mike nor I are exceptions. By this time we were filling up and there was still a lot of food left.

Our final dish was Singapore Rice Noodles with Barbecued Pork, something I had never tried before. This dish, which contains rice vermicelli, vegetables, pork and curry, is cooked dry, a process that is a bit difficult. It is delicious and different and, I found out later, reheats really well.

As we were enjoying our delightful meal the restaurant began to fill with diners and was about two-thirds full, and still adding people, when we left after about an hour of delightful dining.

While we were dining, I said to Mike, who was busy enjoying the food and not saying much, “This is a happy restaurant, just listen to the people talking and laughing. That is a good sign that they are enjoying themselves.”

He stopped eating for a moment, listened and then said, “You’re right, it is.” Think about that the next time you dine out.

As always I enjoyed reading through the menu at Grand China, which is several pages long. There are a wide variety of dishes categorized by Appetizers, Soup and Noodles, Chef’s Specials, Seafood Beef and Lamb, Vegetable and Bean Curd, Pork, Fowl, Noodles and Rice. And, yes, they have Lunch Specials and Family Style Dinners. I am absolutely sure there is something there to delight everyone.

Although this restaurant is a special place to dine, and very popular with the seniors who live nearby and the many people working in the area, a lot of people order the food for take-out.

They prepare everything when the order is called in but don’t start cooking it until you arrive. It only takes a few minutes and then, if you happen to be delayed, you still get it fresh and it is fresh when you get home.

Grand China is open daily from 11 a.m until 8 p.m., with the lunch special served every day from 11 until 3. It features combinations of Wonton soup, egg roll, steamed or fried rice and your choice from 29 different reasonably priced entrees. Several people ordered the luncheon special when we were there and it was a very full plate of food,

Stop by and give them a try. I am sure you will like the food and service. We did.

For more information or to call in a take-out order, call (530) 621-1882.

A little note about Vince Hoang. Originally he was the general manager of this wonderful restaurant and often helped the staff when things got busy. Now, as the owner for the past five years, he is everything. He cooks, he serves, he busses, he runs the cash register and seats diners. I am sure after hours he probably leads the clean-up. When you own a restaurant, that is the only way you make it work.

Steppin’ Out – Subway in Cool

I didn’t even know there was a Subway sandwich shop in the town of Cool, and apparently a lot of other people didn’t even though it has been there for over12 years.

A few weeks ago, when I wrote about the Chipotle Southwest Steak and Cheese Wrap I had enjoyed at the Subway on Broadway in Placerville, one of the owners of this fine publication Tina Henderson, said that she liked the Subway in Cool and especially the new owners.
Well, a few days later I received a message that Denise Steele-Lydston, who, with her husband, Lee Lydston, took over this Subway last February, wanted me to come by and try the new Breakfast Croissant,

They used to make a breakfast sandwich on flatbread, but this one is different and being test marketed in just a few areas around the United States.

So, last week I packed up and drove to Cool (formerly Cave Valley I am told), arriving about 10 am, an ideal time for both breakfast and lunch.
The Subway in Cool is located at 5020 Ellinghouse Drive, #F in the same shopping center as Cool Beerwerks and Holiday Market, which is at the corner of Highway 49 and Highway 193. It is a bit hidden, so you may have to look a little, but it is worth it.

I entered and introduced myself to the delightful Denise, who then introduced me to her husband and business partner, the equally delightful Lee, and also to Cody, a dynamic employee of theirs who was working that morning.

Cody fixed us one each of the new Breakfast Croissants, one with bacon, an egg and cheese, one with sausage, an egg and cheese and one with ham, an egg and cheese. I asked him to make them “his way,” and he added a slice of tomato and some spinach, and a bit of mayo that I requested.

“We usually don’t put anything on them other than the meat, egg and cheese,” Denise said, “but Cody likes to fancy them up a bit. I liked that idea because I always like a bit of vegetables in my sandwiches..

Denise had him cut them into quarters so I could sample each one and have room for something more if I wanted.

The croissant, which is round and looks more like a bare cinnamon roll or bun, was very buttery and delicious. Of the three sandwiches, which were all very good, my favorite was the bacon one. Next time I think I might have them add a bit of mustard to them.

While I was trying the croissants and talking with Denise and Lee about how they got in this business, Cody asked me if I wanted to try something spicy.

I said, “Yes, I love spicy,” and he proceeded to make me his version of their Italian BMT, but with salami, pepperoni and turkey instead of ham. Oh, and yes, with vegetables, jalapeños and spicy Sriracha sauce.

He and I must share a palate because it was my kind of sandwich, delicious, spicy and perfectly balanced.

While I was talking to Lee and Denise about the franchise process, Lee mentioned something that makes Subway different in the realm of rapidly served food.

“Not only can you get it your way,” he said, “but we fix it right in front of you. So, not only do you see it being made to your liking, if you want a bit more of something you can get it. Most places fix your food out of sight and their way, but not Subway. We are proud of that.”

While we were discussing that and the freshness of their ingredients, he asked if there was anything else I would like to try.

I recently read that Subway was going to discontinue their Sunflower Crunch bread, so I asked him if it could try the Chipotle Cheesesteak on it. As he set off to make it for me, Denise brought me a sample of their Spicy Chicken Tortilla soup.

For a factory soup, that was really good, and I would bet even better on a chilly day. They have several additional soups to please you.
The Chipotle Cheesesteak was great and Lee fixed it perfectly to my taste.

Since it was now after noon, I picked up my “doggie bag” filled with what I had not eaten (including a selection of delicious cookies Denise tucked in there) and headed home, quite satisfied with my breakfast and lunch, and with dinner in-hand.

Subway has quite of selection of cold and hot sandwiches, soups and salads, all made with the freshest ingredients – right in front of you and to your liking. Check out all the food, with pictures, at the menu on

The Subway in Cool is open Monday through Saturday from 9 until 8 and on Sunday from 10 until 8. Oh, they will deliver locally and cater your special event or party.

For more information call the restaurant at (530) 888-0111. For catering call 1-877-360-CATER (2283).

Oh, almost forgot, the new Cheesy Garlic Bread should be available by now.

Steppin’ Out – Subway, et al

About a week ago I was in Placerville for an appointment with my doctor and following it decided to stop for lunch. Then came the decision, where?

I had first made a stop at Grocery Outlet to check out their wine sale and started driving back towards downtown along Broadway when I recalled it had been some time since I had grabbed a sandwich at Subway.

I like Subway, since you can buy a six or twelve inch sandwich, depending on how hungry you are and you can add all the veggies you want.
Amongst their offerings they have a “Sub of the Day,” a six inch sandwich for only $3.99. Additionally, they have been adding new sandwiches and breads more often than they used to, extending your choices.

I wasn’t wild about that day’s “Sub of the Day,” so I took a long look at their menu boards. I thought about one of their regular sandwiches and then noticed a Chipotle Southwest Steak and Cheese Wrap. That looked and sounded good and since I had never tried one of their wraps, I ordered it.

I told them to put on it what they normally put on it, since somewhere in the kitchens of Subway someone had put a lot of thought into what should be in it and when I add things I usually mess it up.

The young lady making the sandwich did just that. She did stop and ask if I wanted jalapeños and I told her I would like those on the side. I do that so because sometimes they all end up in one place on the sandwich, making for one exciting bite.

It was really good: a tomato basil wrap filled with a double portion of steak, Monterey cheddar, guacamole, lettuce, tomatoes, red onion, green peppers and Chipotle Southwest sauce. The only thing it needed at all was to be a bit warmer.

They cut it in half and I intended to eat one half and take the other half home, but… was too good and, besides, it might not be as good later.

Subway regularly has a couple of dozen different kinds of sandwiches to choose from. They include Black Forest Ham, their BLT, Cold Cut Combo, Italian B.M.T., Meatball marinara, Oven Roasted Chicken, Rotisserie Style Chicken, Roast Beef, Spicy Italian, Turkey Breast, Veggie Delight and more. They also have a number of different breads, that they bake right there.

And, you can choose the dressings and fresh vegetables to add to the sandwich.

In addition to their regular menu, they often add something different in the way of a sandwich or bread. That is how the wraps ended up on the menu.

To give you a little background on Subway, in 1965, 17 year old Fred DeLuca set out to fulfill his dream of becoming a medical doctor. Searching for a way to help pay for his education, a family friend suggested he open a submarine sandwich shop.

DeLuca received a loan from a friend named Dr. Peter Buck and the two became partners, opening their first store, “Pete’s Super Submarines,” in Bridgeport, Connecticut in August, 1965.

It was very successful and they set a goal of having 32 stores opened in 10 years.

By 1974, the duo owned and operated 16 submarine sandwich shops throughout Connecticut, and realizing they would not reach their 32 store goal in one more year, they began franchising.

Today, the Subway brand is the world’s largest submarine sandwich chain with more than 45,000 locations in more than 100 countries around the world.

Just locally there are Subway locations in Placerville, Diamond Springs, Cameron Park, Shingle Springs, El Dorado Hills, Cool and South Lake Tahoe.

Subway can also cater your party or event by providing a six foot long sandwich or any number of sandwich trays.
Take a break from your normal routine and stop by your local Subway for something delicious and full of vegetables.

As an additional note, Wienerschnitzel has their tamales back, Jack in the Box has their ribeye burgers back and Carl’s Jr. just put out a coupon with a by one, get one deal on my favorite fast food burger, the Famous Star.