Monthly Archives: January 2012

Buttercup Pantry Part 2 – Placerville

My good friend Russ Salazar and I went to Buttercup Pantry last week just to try the deep fried hot dog. When it comes to hot dogs, Russ is a gourmet and always leads me to the best of them. We tried two things: the Salty Dog, a bacon wrapped Miller hot dog that is beer battered and deep fried, then served in a garlic cheese French roll with a good homemade barbecue sauce, and the Texarkana Ham Dog, a Salty Dog and roll topped with a burger patty, cheese, homemade chili and a fried egg. I have to say that we both agreed they were very good, but a bit much for one meal.

With several customers and some staff watching, we split them and dug in. Russ came close to finishing them, but I took home my half of the Salty Dog.

Owner Bob Huston told me the Texarkana, along with the Triple Bypass Burger (three patties plus) and the Whatafarm Burger, made with a burger patty, grilled chicken breast, cheese, egg and bacon, were put on the menu as more of a joke, but have become very popular, especially with the younger set.

On another subject, after my earlier lunch reunion at Buttercup Pantry with my college professor, we continued our conversation over dinner at Fresh Mex Express, across from K-Mart, where I had a adovada taco and he had a shrimp burrito bowl. He had never had a burrito in a bowl before and was delighted he could choose just exactly what he wanted in it. I always enjoy a meal there and he was so delighted with his dinner that he went out of his way to tell me how good it was several times and complemented the staff.

Centro – Placerville

“In Seattle you haven’t had enough coffee until you can thread a sewing machine while it’s running.”
— Jeff Bezos

Last week I came home to find a message on my answering machine from Greg Phelps, the owner of Centro, the “more than just a coffee shop” at 385 Main S, right on the corner across from the Belltower in Placerville.

In mid-December Centro added small plates to the menu, generous servings of gourmet treats, beautifully presented, that are served during “happy hours,” from 5 until 8 p.m., on Thursday through Sunday evenings. To accompany them a wine bar serving 14 premium local wines was also added.

“There was nothing on Main Street like this,” said Phelps, “so I got some recipes, made them up and taste tested them, augmenting them as I saw fit. I use the finest ingredients in my dishes. I think they are all fun and perfect for sharing.”

The menu includes seven different small plates, along with the soup of the day and three desserts that serve two: the dolce Centro, a shot of espresso over vanilla bean ice cream; a lemon tart, wonderful lemon filling in a flaky, all butter shortbread crust, and Lana Lane’s cheese cake, an all butter graham cracker crust with a cream cheese filling.

The first small plate I tried was the dolmas, which had a nice flavor and a nice vinegary bite. Like two of the other items, they came with, what my editor would call “the cutest gourmet crackers ever.” Next I tried some of the “Sierra Blend” of Kalamata and feta cheese stuffed cured olives. I don’t know where they come from, but they were really, really good. My third treat was a large serving of duck cognac pate, which came with fresh baked little toasts of La Brea bread. It was smooth and flavorful, a perfect accompaniment for the glass of Oakstone pinot grigio I was sipping.

Next I tried the four different kinds of crostini that are served on fresh baked little toasts, eight of them to a serving. Each one of them was a cavalcade of flavors to savor, as you will see by the list of ingredients and I loved them. They were far above any I have tasted before.

The cannellini bean crostini is made with white cannellini beans, arugula, rosemary olive oil and aged balsamic vinegar; the artichoke crostini has fresh ricotta cheese and artichoke hearts topped with pine nut-currant relish; the eggplant crostini is made of grilled eggplant, red bell pepper, garlic, balsamic vinegar and a thin slice of Pecorino Romano cheese, and the prosciutto crostini consists of prosciutto, fresh mozzarella, arugula and black olive tapenade.

I topped everything off with just a few bites of Lana Lane’s cheese cake: smooth, delicious and decadent. Lana Lane, by the way, is Phelps’ sister, who just happened to be there that evening to appreciate to my accolades.

Centro is, as I mentioned, more than a coffee house. In addition to the list of Jeremiah’s Pick organic coffees, coffee drinks and chai tea (the favorite) that are served, along with the fresh baked pastries and more, it is open for lunch with four gourmet sandwiches on the menu. These include roasted turkey breast with Swiss cheese, lettuce, onions and whole grain mustard on a rustic roll; tuna with marinated artichoke hearts, caper-olive tapenade sauce and arugula, on a rustic roll; Soppressata salame with pesto and Havarti cheese on a demi baguette and Black Forest ham with brie and Dijon mustard on a demi baguette.

In addition to the coffee drinks, they have quite a selection of common and uncommon sodas, juices and other drinks, along with a number of beers and, of course, the wine bar.

I complemented Phelps on the place being spotlessly clean, warm and that from the inside and outside (weather permitting) seating Centro has the best view of Placerville around.

Including “happy hours,” business hours are Monday through Wednesday, from 7 a.m. until 4 p.m., Thursday and Friday, 7 a.m. until 8 p.m., and 7:30 a.m. until 8 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. For more information call 530-626-5500.

Community Profiles – Bucks Bar

Downstream of Buck's Bar bridge

Downstream of Buck’s Bar bridge

Bucks Bar is not, as some suppose, named after a tavern or saloon located on Bucks Bar Road. The name refers to a specific gravel bar in the North Fork of the Cosumnes River, east of Diamond Springs, which allowed for a relatively easy river crossing for traffic heading to and from Somerset, Fair Play, Mt. Aukum, Uno and the other towns in the southern part of El Dorado County.

The original mining community of Bucks Bar was located upstream of today’s bridge, although in time most of the businesses moved to the main road. Water was brought in by ditch from Camp Creek to turn stamp mills and sluice the gravel.

Bucks Bar, it is said, was named by some gold seekers who stumbled upon a group of male Indians (often referred to by the miners as “Bucks”) working the gravel bar for gold. The Indians had taken up mining when the gold, which they had generally ignored for many generations, turned out to be very valuable to the immigrant miners.

This location in the canyon of the Cosumnes was chosen by the Indians because it was remote and the chances of being discovered were slim. It was also an area rich in fish and acorns, staples in their diet. Above the river’s high water mark are numerous locations where there is evidence of bedrock mortars where they crushed their acorns.

Once the immigrant miners found that this route to the southern part of the county was some two hours shorter and often a much safer route than the one from Hank’s Exchange south through Ladies Valley across the Cosumnes to Sandridge and then to Somerset, most of the traffic moved to it. Because of that and the fact that there was gold here, the Indians were soon driven out.

Almost immediately after it was discovered, this shorter route across Bucks Bar became the main road servicing the southern part of the county. Apparently the time saved was very valuable, because the narrowness of the canyon created a swift flow in the river and made crossing, especially during the rainy season, often quite treacherous.

This fact was borne out in 1860, when in response to a double murder at Indian Diggings, the coroner at that time, Dr. Eckelroth, left Placerville for Indian Diggings in the company of a Mike Welch. About 10 o’clock that evening they reached Buck’s Bar and found the water running quite high. Welch led the way across and was washed down the rapids and never seen again. Fortunately for him. Dr. Eckelroth escaped.

Buttercup Pantry – Placerville

“Onion soup sustains. The process of making it is somewhat like the process of learning to love. It requires commitment, extraordinary effort, time, and will make you cry.”

— Ronni Lundy

Buttercup Pantry
One day last week I had a business meeting at noon and we ended up at the Buttercup Pantry, 222 Main St. in Placerville. It has a very nice menu and is quiet enough that you can easily talk. I had the soup and salad, which was very good, and yes, it turned out it was a perfect place for a meeting.

Two days later I was asked to select a restaurant for a lunch with my major professor at California State College at Fullerton (now a university), Dr. Bayard Brattstrom.

He is an authority on reptiles and amphibians and was in town for a meeting of the California/Nevada Amphibian Task Force of the Northwest Partners in Amphibian and Reptile Conservation.

Although we have communicated now and then, the last time I saw him was in 1968 when I graduated, so we had a lot of catching up to do.

I took him to Buttercup Pantry, where we both had a delicious albacore and avocado sandwich that comes on a croissant (I took half of it home) and a delightful hour plus chat.

For more than 25 years the Buttercup Pantry restaurant and bakery, has been owned and operated by the Huston family. Bob Huston has decorated the place with an amazing collection of antique signs, equipment, vehicles and more. Without the food, it would still be a first class museum.

The menu at Buttercup Pantry is huge — seven pages long — and has something for everyone. It starts with breakfast, which you can order anytime: traditional, buttermilk pancakes, malted Belgian waffles, French toast, a variety of Benedicts, skillet specialties, omelets, huevos rancheros and the famous “Hangtown Fry.” They also have weekday breakfast bargains, served until 11 a.m.

The list of salads is amazing, which is followed by the famous all you can eat soup (three choices, list changes daily, but repeats weekly) or soup and salad bar. Looking for something light, try a half a sandwich or just a side salad or bowl of soup.

Under “Going to the dogs” are a number of quarter pound Miller all beef franks, including the “Salty Dog,” which is wrapped in bacon then beer battered and deep fried and served on a garlic cheese French roll with barbecue sauce on the side (I have to try that).

The list of hearty sandwiches takes up a whole page and includes anything from an Asian chicken wrap to a hot pastrami Reuben. The list of burgers under the heading “Buttercup Pantry Burger Shack,” includes a basic burger, a Whisky Creek western barbecue bacon burger and anything in between. The same page also has quite a list of pasta dishes.

The dinner menu includes steaks, lots of seafood, several chicken dishes, meatloaf and liver and onions, just to mention a few of the items.

For dessert the Buttercup has over a dozen different, fresh made fruit and cream pies, which you can purchase whole or by the slice (strawberry rhubarb: yum). Like the pies, they also bake fresh cinnamon rolls and apple strudels daily.

The restaurant is open daily from 6:30 a.m. until 9 p.m. and until 10 p.m. on Friday and Saturday. For more information call 530-621-1320. Ask about the banquet room for larger groups and the senior menu. They are also online at