Steppin’ Out – A Quest in San Diego

Canada Steak Burger 1For over two weeks during the Christmas and New Years holiday season I was in San Diego, spending some precious time with my only brother, who passed away just before Christmas at the age of 80. That is why you have been reading more about early post offices than food.

On the brighter note, I did what my brother would have wanted me to do. I took advantage of the nice weather to put on shorts and a t-shirt to walk in the sunlight and even went swimming the Pacific Ocean, although the water was a cool 58 degrees (the air was 77).

He also liked to go find different food and new restaurants to try. However, not that different since when I ordered mussels and clams at a seafood restaurant he loudly announced, “Why would anyone eat fish bait?”

The last time I was in San Diego he was recovering from a fall, so I went by myself on a quest for the best hamburger. I found a restaurant on University Avenue called Canada Steak Burger, which had won the “Best Burger in San Diego” award several times. I had to try it.

After driving around for a few minutes, I finally found the restaurant. It was a very small place on a corner, across from a strip club and a check cashing store – not the best part of town I was later told, but okay.

The food was really great and the restaurant was very busy. Somehow out of a kitchen probably not as big as  yours at home, they produce great burgers, Greek food, Mexican food and more.

I think the restaurant seats around eight inside and another four outside. The parking lot is impossible unless you have a very small car and let your passengers out before you park.

With that former success in mind, this time I told my nephew that I wanted to find the best hot dog in San Diego and started searching on the computer. Right on the top of the list was a place on a better part of University Avenue called Daddy’s Dogs.

Yelp gave it 4.5 our of 5 stars and Urbanspoon gave it a 100% rating. On top of that, hundreds of people had written pages and pages about how good the hot dogs were and how interesting the owner was. Neither my nephew nor I had ever been there so we decided to try it the next day.

After again driving around a bit, we found the restaurant in a storefront of some older buildings near Richmond Avenue in the Hillcrest area of San Diego, across the street from a new group of retail stores and restaurants.

Daddy's Hot DogsOn their webpage www.daddyshotdogs.com they not only list their menu, but give a bit of information about the place like it opens at 11 a.m., but maybe 10:30 or rarely 11:30. It was about five minutes to 11 when we got there and, no, it wasn’t open yet.

A few minutes after 11 the owner came out and informed two vagabonds, who had spent the night against the building next door, that smoking within 25 feet of his doorway was illegal and that they were supposed to be packed up and walking by 6 a.m. Apparently that is a local law which we, and they, noticed the police were enforcing across the street.

Finally the owner brought out two small, but tall, tables which he placed on the sidewalk, then went back inside and opened up a window to the street, where he takes orders and passes out food. There are no chairs, inside or out, just the two tables.

After asking a few questions about the food, like the difference between the hot dogs, beef dogs and special beef dogs on his menu, questions which he “sort of” answered, I ordered the “O,” a grilled special beef dog with bacon, grilled onions, jalapeno relish, Russian dressing and tomatoes. I don’t recall what my nephew ordered, but it had cole slaw and chili on it. However, when he ordered it the owner said, “got you covered,” and gave him something entirely different. I think the chili wasn’t hot yet.

Why anybody thinks those are the best hot dogs in San Diego amazes me. They were a regular skinless hot dog, sliced lengthwise and put on a flattop grill with a weight on top so it would get a bit of char. The buns were not steamed, but simply placed on the back of the grill to warm them.

The house made Russian dressing and jalapeno relish were nice, but nothing about the hot dogs made either of us think they were worth more than two or three stars. Fortunately, the hot dogs were only $4 each since it was $1 off Tuesday.

After a few moments spent looking at each other and deciding what to do, I drove my nephew to Canada Steak Burgers for lunch, where he had never been before. The burgers and the fries got at least four stars from both of us.

Steppin’ Out – High Hill Ranch

High Hill RanchA week ago last Wednesday was one of those days that makes you absolutely love living in the Foothills of the Sierra Nevada: sunny and warm, but cool in the shade, with a bit of a breeze and the smell of Fall in the air. A perfect time to visit one of the Apple Hill growers, and why not visit the first one on the list, High Hill Ranch.

I have known members of the Visman family for a number of years. Together the extended family has several orchards and Christmas tree plantations.

High Hill Ranch is owned and operated by George and Jerry Visman, father and son. Over the past several years Jerry has been taking on more of the responsibility, but George is there every day, riding around in his golf cart making sure things are working properly.

George Visman was born in Placerville in 1929. After high school and some time in the U. S. Air Force, he returned to help his father, Carl, in their pear orchard, but he still found time to race motorcycles. In the early 1960s he purchased the Gatlin Ranch and renamed it High Hill Ranch.

The crop was mostly pears, but the pear blight put an end to them and he planted apples, which he sold from a fruit stand.

When the Apple Hill association was formed he became the first member and business has grown ever since.

I made an appointment to talk with Jerry Visman, but ran into George first, so I hopped into his golf cart and went searching for Jerry. “We grow about 12 varieties of apples in 12 acres of orchard” said George as we rode along. “Our mainstay is the Golden Delicious and we still have some older varieties like the Pippin and McIntosh.

“We also add new varieties as them come along. Some of them just don’t do well here, but do well at other local orchards, so we buy those from the best local growers, like Pat O’Halloran.”

We found Jerry and he and I decided to just walk around the place as he showed me what was going on. It was a busy Wednesday with several senior facility’s busses, and even a school bus, dropping off people.

“This is a great time of year to be here,” said Jerry, “and from the predictions, October looks like it is going to be a great month with beautiful weather.”

As we reached the front of the apple sales area, I noticed first lots of people sitting at the more than 150 picnic table enjoying the weather. There was also a large crowd around the bins filled with at least eight apple varieties, especially the Fuji bin. “The Fujis were picked about a half-hour ago,” said Jerry. “You won’t get fresh ones like those in the grocery store, and they will charge you more for what they have.

“We are all about apples,” Jerry continued, “we sell fresh apples, apple butter, baked and unbaked apple pie, several kinds of apple donuts, apple fritters, our special blend of apple juice, caramel apples and a lot more. We depend on the Golden Delicious for most of our products: it doesn’t break down in the pies, stays solid in the fritters and, because it has less natural wax, the caramel stays on the caramel apples.

“We also bring in other fruit and vegetables from local growers like winter and decorative squash and pumpkins for Halloween.”

We then stepped into the donut shop where he introduced me to Lorena, the “Donut Queen.” “She is in charge and everything they make is wonderful,” added Jerry, “but I should stay out of here because I know where they put the donuts that aren’t perfect and I eat them. Want one?”

The cider mill wasn’t in business that afternoon, but as we passed the apple coring and peeling machine it looked old, so I asked how old it was. “Only about 30 years,” answered Jerry, “the technology hasn’t changed in a century. We have a collection of some 300 old apple peelers and corers in our gift shop, It’s the biggest collection west of the Mississippi and a lot of them work the same way.”

Not all the craft stands are open on weekdays, but as we walked by them Jerry added, “We only allow them to sell handmade articles, no imported stuff. And, we have a long waiting list of crafters wanting to sell here.”

If you are hungry when you are there the Pie House serves burgers, nachos, hot dogs, salads, sandwiches, fries and pie, while the Chicken Kitchen serves their famous chicken dinners, sandwiches, wraps, salads, soup and more. On weekends they barbecue Swingle Meat’s “Kona” tri-tip and even serve tacos made the traditional Mexican way at their old apple wine tasting building.

And, if you are looking for something different, there are hay rides and their trout fishing pond.

As I was leaving Jerry said to me, “You know, I love to tell people this. I love my job. I get up in the morning, jump in a golf cart, drive about 300 yards and I am there. And I enjoy everything I do.”

High Hill Ranch is open from 8 a.m. until 6 p.m., every day from Labor Day to Christmas Eve. The rest of the year it is available for rent for weddings and events. For more information call (530) 644-1973 or visit www.highhillranch1.net.

Oh, it is dog friendly, but they ask you to pick up after your pet.

Hunting Hot Dogs: Sacramento and Roseville

“Laws are like sausages, it is better not to see them being made.”

— Otto von Bismarck


Tale of the dog

I spent much of last week in Carmichael house-sitting, and I always take advantage of my time there to check out various restaurants that people might like to visit. When I told my friend Russ Salazar that I was going to be there, he said he had to be in Sacramento one day on business and that we should meet and try some of the hot dog places that we had been talking about.

Salazar showed up with an itinerary and his GPS and said, “We are going to visit three places: Wiener Works, Parkers Hot Dogs of Santa Cruz and Sonic. I figured if we split two dogs at each place we could do it.”

Wiener Works

Wiener Works is located at 5207 Madison Ave. For more than 20 years it has been in the same location. They take cash only, are a bit pricy, have no WiFi and, as someone commented, really haven’t given the place a thorough cleaning since they opened. On the plus side, the food is great, they steam their dogs in beer and, I’m told, they either make their own sausages or have them made for them.

They have lots of different sausages in different sizes, but we stayed small and ordered a chili dog ($5.95) and, something different, a red cabbage (cooked) and cheese dog ($6.40).

The dogs were delicious, all beef, solid and with a casing that snapped when bit, exactly what we were looking to find. The buns, chili and cabbage were good, but the cheese had very little flavor. I asked if they had any other cheeses other than shredded mild cheddar, and they said they didn’t.

They serve soda and beer, burgers up to a pound is size and great fresh-cut French fries (one-half pound is their “tiny” serving). They are open Monday to Wednesday from 11 a.m. until 7 p.m., Thursday to Saturday until 8 a.m. and on Sunday until 4 p.m. For more information call 916-334-8711.

Parker’s of Santa Cruz

Parker’s Hot Dogs of Santa Cruz is located in Roseville at 1604A Douglas Blvd. Their dogs are “old fashioned foot long 100 percent beef” and more reasonable that those at Wiener Works.

We ordered a “pick-me-up chili dog,” ($4.19) and a Ruben dog ($3.99). When we got the food, we commented to each other, “Who puts beans in the chili for a chili dog?”

The dogs were solid and good, the buns were good and the kraut on the Ruben dog was tasty and not so juicy that it soaked through. But, shouldn’t a Ruben dog have Russian or 1000 island dressing, not just kraut and cheese?
There are lots of good looking dogs on the menu, along with fries and onion rings. Soft drinks are available. The place is open Monday through Friday from 11 a.m. until 8 p.m., Saturday and Sunday, until 6 p.m. Call 916-786-2202 for more information.


Sonic — America’s Drive-In” is also in Roseville, 913 Pleasant Grove Blvd., and is a real drive-in, with carhops on roller skates (some of them). They also have some outside tables, which is where we chose to sit.

At the moment the specials are the wholly guacamole dog ($2.99) and the chili cheese Fritos Coney ($1.99). We ordered one of each, asked them to cut them in half and asked for water to drink (25 cents — but it was a big cup and came with ice, a cover and a straw). The dogs (and the napkins) are a bit skimpy, but what do you expect at those prices. Both the dogs were OK (the wholly guacamole dog was best), but more than a bit salty and soft. Overall they were worth the cost.

They have lots of other dogs, burgers, chicken, breakfast and more, and soda and speciality drinks like slushies. It is open from 6 a.m. until midnight. For more information call 916-771-4422.

Wanderings: Carl’s Jr. and Wienerschnitzel

A couple of weeks ago I tried the new buttermilk ranch hand breaded chicken tender sandwich at Carl’s Jr. It was actually quite good, and not overfilling like some burgers. Because it is made with two tenders, it has a tendency to fall apart, so be careful when you eat it.

I also had their Oreo ice cream sandwich. I don’t know how they get the ice cream so perfect: soft enough to bite, but not so soft that it runs out.

I also stopped by Wienerschnitzel on Broadway for a pastrami on rye. They have good pastrami with the right amount of fat and make  a great tasting sandwich that is not so big that you wish you hadn’t eaten it all.

Wienerschnitzel gets a bonus point for having both pump mustard and pump catsup with little cups for their fries. I like mustard, but hate opening those little packages.