Steppin’ Out

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, www.in-n-out.com.

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.

Steppin’ Out – Sandwiches, Burgers, Hot Dogs and T-Shirts.

While in Folsom, Russ Salazar noticed a new sandwich shop at 1300 East Bidwell, in the same small shopping center as Wayback Burgers. It is called Which Wich Superior Sandwiches and is part of a 404 store chain headquartered in Dallas, Texas.

We stopped there one day and found they had simplified the ordering business. Instead of verbally placing your order, you grab a paper bag that has the sandwiches listed on it, check the box next to your choice, hand it to the cashier and pay for it. In a few minutes, you get your sandwich, wrapped in foil and placed into the bag.

We each picked a bag listing their Favorites, which included a Philly Cheesesteak, Italian Club, Meatball Grinder, The Reuben, Gyro, Ultimate BLT, Cobb Salad Wrap and Superfood Wich (vegetarian).

Russ liked the looks of the Ultimate BLT, which included 8 slices of thick cut bacon, lettuce, tomato and avocado, with chipotle mayo on a toasted baguette, and ordered one. I thought about The Reuben, but chose the Meatball Grinder, which included Italian meatballs, Genoa salami, pepperoni, spicy capicola, marinara, mushrooms and mozzarella on a toasted baguette.

We found a table and in a few minutes received our sandwiches, which both looked very good, but nothing like the advertising pictures of them. Am I surprised? No.

My grinder was very good, except the meatballs were not very warm. They immediately offered to replace it, but it wasn’t that bad and why throw away food.

Russ’ BLT was also very good, but I felt the words “thick cut bacon” were more than somewhat misleading and the avocado was a bit over the hill (You know that taste).

I am sure things will get better after they have been open a bit longer.

In addition to those sandwiches there are many more and you can also build your own from quite a selection of ingredients including several breads, a spinach wrap or “Lettuce Wich.” You can also have any sandwich as a salad. You can see their menu at www.whichwich.com.

They also have soft drinks, chips, cookies, sweets and real ice cream shakes. Yes, they have a kids menu with a different bag for ordering.

This Which Wich is open daily from 10 until 9 and can be reached at (916) 294-7439.

Jack In the Box has been pushing its new Ribeye Burgers for a few months and finally sent out a short lived, buy one, get one free offer, which is why we went.

There are three different ones available: The All American, Blue Cheese and Bacon, and Havarti and Grilled Onion. They are all 100% ribeye meat and come on an artisan potato bun.

We ordered the All American (Spring mix, tomato, red onion, Provolone cheese and mayo), and the Blue Cheese and Bacon (crispy bacon, blue cheese, and peppercorn sauce). Russ insisted we should also try their highly advertised Country Scrambler Plate (Jimmy Dean sausage, crispy homestyle potatoes, and fluffy scrambled eggs mixed with bacon, ham, and melted cheese) so we included that with the burgers.

The buns were great, the meat was especially tasty. Everything else was just so-so.

The blue cheese overpowered the burger and the All American was badly in need of moisture. I added some Ranch dressing, which helped, but I probably should have taken it back for more mayo. Again, looking only slightly like the advertising picture.

The sausage on the Country Scrambler Plate was very good. The rest was okay, but only about half as much as shown in the pictures and on TV.

I collect t-shirts and have for many years. I don’t know why, I just like them. And, I especially like ones from restaurants.

When my son, Steve, was traveling a lot, he would pick up shirts for me from Hard Rock Cafes all over the world. I have them from Cairo, Dubai, Rio, Dublin and a dozen more interesting places. One I especially like, one he went out of his way to get, is not from a Hard Rock Café, but Rick’s Café in Casablanca – “Here’s looking at you, kid.”

I also collect t-shirts from restaurants in the United States, many where I have eaten and some that are just from odd places, places with an interesting name or location.

When I was in Maine, a dozen years ago, I drove to Eastport to visit a hot dog stand named Rosie’s. Along with getting a t-shirt I had a chili dog, fries and a drink.

Why Eastport? It is the most north easternly city in the United States and Rosie’s is, therefore, the most north easternly hot dog stand.

I had read about Rosie’s in a newspaper and going there was part of a quest for food and t-shirts on which I visited not only Rosie’s, but also Bob’s Clam Hut in Kittery, The Lobster Shack in Cape Elizabeth, Duckfat in Portland and several other places.

Duckfat was specifically on my bucket list because they have hand-cut Belgian fries cooked in duck fat, one of the most delicious fats around. It is also not especially good for you, but, as they say, in moderation…. Unfortunately, they were out of shirts at the time.

Among places I have not visited, but purchased t-shirts from, is The Varsity, a hot dog place in Athens and Atlanta, Georgia. They have been on several cooking shows and their signature is their greeting: “What’ll you have, what’ll you have?”

I also have a number of shirts from “Hot Doug’s” in Chicago and some time ago came across a note on a place in Newington, Connecticut named Doogie’s. They serve a two-foot hot dog, grilled, of course, and rated by some to be the “Best Grilled Hot Dog in the Country.”

I called to see if they had t-shirts, but was told by Kim, the manager, that they were out. She offered to take a picture of one and send it to me when they came in, but the note to do so disappeared when someone graciously cleaned off her desk for her.

A couple of months ago I emailed them and received a note from the owner, Rock, to call Kim. She apologized for not calling me and not only sold me one over the phone, but then took it to the post office to be mailed.

Doogie’s is kind of a side business to their main business, The Clam Digger, which specializes in seafood. After all, it is on the East Coast where seafood is king.

By the way, their motto is: “The secret to success is to do just a few things, but do them very well indeed.” A lot of the fast food chains with giant menus should take notice of that.

(See: “In-N-Out”)

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 www.thebreakroomeatery.com, 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 www.papagiannis.net.

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.