Monthly Archives: February 2012

Community Profiles – Cameron Park

engesser house smUntil the late 1950s the area just west of Shingle Springs, now known as Cameron Park, remained relatively undeveloped, the land being primarily used for the raising of livestock. However, that did not mean that this area had not played a important part in the early history of El Dorado County. In fact, the opposite it true.

Soon after the discovery of gold in Coloma, many prospectors came to this area hoping to strike it rich in the many small streams and ravines. These Argonauts were soon followed by merchants and other businessmen, along with farmers and cattlemen who would settle in this area.

The road which we know today as Green Valley Road rapidly became the major route between the steamboat docks in Sacramento and the mines in and near Coloma, while what is now generally the route of Highway 50, became the main route between Sacramento, Placerville, Diamond Springs and the immigrant trails.

It was on Green Valley Road, that Steven and William Elliot built the Green Valley Ranch House in 1850. Like many large “gold rush” houses, the lumber for this house was shipped “around the horn” from the East Coast of the United States. A few years later, in 1858, Frederick Engesser, who was in the hauling business, purchased the home in which was also housed the local post office (this building was torn down in the 1970s). In the early 1860s the short-lived Pony Express carried the mail along this route part of the time, stopping just to the west at the Pleasant Grove House to change horses. Some historians believe that this “Green Valley Road” route connected to the “Highway 50 route” along an alignment approximating Cameron Park Drive.

In 1852 a Scotsman named James Skinner arrived in California to search for gold. A few years later he purchased property in the Cameron Park area and established a vineyard and winery. Reportedly, he produced about 15,000 gallons of wine and vinegar at his winery, which is located on the eastern side of Cameron Park Drive, both north and south of Green Valley Road.

The Independent Restaurant and Bar – Placerville

“For a gourmet wine is not a drink but a condiment, provided that your host has chosen correctly.”

— French author Edouard De Pomaine

The Independent Restaurant and Bar
All upscale restaurants need a few weeks or even months to iron out their menu, service, etc. It is a normal part of the business; every restaurant goes through it. Therefore, I often wait some time before dropping in to talk with the owners

The Independent, which is located at 629 Main St. in Placerville, is the newest of these restaurants and has been open about three months. So when I was invited to a business lunch there, I jumped at the opportunity to see how things were going.

The Independent is operated by the same folks have the very successful Heyday in Placerville: Jeff and Judy Thoma and Ben Carter. A couple of days after I ate there, I sat and talked with Carter about the restaurant.

“We don’t want to be known as a steakhouse, but something more,” said Carter. “We serve regional American cuisine, with dishes from the east, the south, the heartland and even some Creole ones. And, to accompany this food, we stock quite a number of domestic wines and beers. I take care of the food and service, Jeff is in charge of the day to day operation and Judy adds the artistic element. We are very proud of the way the place looks. She did a great job.

“We are also very proud of our food. We use the best ingredients we can. The Classic Independent Burger you had a couple of days ago was made with prime Herford beef from Kansas. All our beef is prime Herford and you can taste the difference.”

I had to agree, the burger was different and very good, and the turnip (yes, turnip) fries that came with it were outstanding.

“We spent a lot of time training our help and kitchen staff to make sure the dining experience would be something special,” added Carter. “They spent a month working together and getting to know each other before we opened. It is well known that good service can save a bad meal, but a good meal cannot save bad service. Our goal is to make both excellent.

“We bake our own breads and even at our bar we make everything from scratch. We don’t buy flavored liquors, we make them, using real flavors, not chemicals. And, we make our own juices.

“Our executive chef is Matt Brown,” continued Carter, “he is industry trained and very creative. He was a sous chef in Sacramento and has 15 years of experience in the business.

“People like our menus. The burger and our grilled New York steak sandwich, along with the roasted chicken Cobb salad seem to be the lunch favorites, while at dinner the rosemary lamb rack, seafood Creole risotto and slow-roasted prime rib top the list. Prime rib is not a special at our restaurant, it is on the menu.”

Both the lunch and dinner menus start with a list of “Beginnings,” appetizers that are also an excellent accompaniment for people just meeting for a drink. Among other things it includes house-cured salmon lox, grilled artichoke halves, the turnip fries, and, at dinner east coast style crab cakes and a charcuterie board. There are usually two soups and the salads include duck confit, Belgian endive and the chicken Cobb (lunch menu). The menu continues with half a dozen sandwiches including the steak and burger selections and a vegetable Romesco at lunch and dinner, along with barbecued chicken, vegetable Romesco and focaccia Caprese at lunch.

Items from the grill include salmon, certified Hereford filet mignon and grilled polenta cakes at lunch and the filet, lamb rack and a certified Hereford New York strip at dinner. Also at dinner from the rotisserie is prime rib and herb chicken, along with buttermilk fired chicken (served with cheddar grits), the risotto and a different recipe grilled salmon.

Desserts include crème brûlée, gelato and at dinner the restaurant’s take on ‘smores.

The Independent Restaurant and Bar is open for food Wednesday through Monday from 11 a.m. until 9 p.m. on weekdays and until 10 p.m. on Friday and Saturday. It is closed on Tuesday. The bar stays open from 11 a.m. until the customers leave, or 2 a.m. They also serve “small plates” from 9 p.m. until 11 p.m. on weekends. Ask about them.

For more information call 530-344-7645.

Ruffhaus Hot Dog Co. – El Dorado Hills

“The noblest of all dogs is the hot dog; it feeds the hand that bites it.”

— Laurence J. Peter

Ruffhaus Hot Dog Co.
My friend Russ Salazar and I were continuing our quest for the best, or at least different, hot dog and ended up at Ruffhaus Hot Dog Co. at 4355 Town Center Blvd., Suite 114, in El Dorado Hills. I had intended for our visit to be just another of my “wanderings,” but it soon expanded into a whole story.

They have a large menu on the wall that includes just about anything in the way of a hot dog you might want, with a selection of different, high quality sausages. And, if it isn’t on the list, they have a BYOD, “Build Your Own Dog,” category.

We looked at the list and discussed unique dogs, such as the Montecrisdog, with a battered turkey frank, apple wood smoked bacon, melted Monterey jack and blackberry jam, all dusted with powered sugar and the “Dog of the Day,” “The Guido” — a Polish sausage with shaved pastrami, Swiss cheese, sauerkraut and German mustard on a dark rye bun.

We decided to try two of the most popular dogs, the Chicago, with mustard, nuclear relish, tomato, onions, dill pickle spear, sport peppers and celery salt, all on a poppy seed bun and the Coney, with chili, mustard and onions. Russ asked them to leave off the cheese on the Coney, “You don’t mess with a chili dog,” he said.
We asked for them to be cut in two and made them both “a combo,” with a side and a drink. We opted for regular fries and onion rings as the sides.

While waiting for our dogs and sides, we talked with Olivia, the well-informed and delightful counter person, about the menu, the non-dogs, the appetizers and more.
When she brought our dogs they were beautiful and delicious. The Chicago had real fluorescent relish and sport peppers from Chicago and the chili on the Coney was great, as were the sides. The buns are custom baked for them by Sacramento Baking Co. and are sliced along the top, like they do on the east coast, so the dog doesn’t slide out.

While we were finishing, Charles Knight, one of the two brothers who are both experienced chefs and owners of the place, came over to talk with us. He mentioned that they will be adding some new dogs to the menu, made with the restaurant’s own sausages, including the Mia Sorella, the Bangkok, the Coyote, the Bollywood and the Marley. He then brought us the Bangkok to sample. It has a chicken sausage made with red Thai curry, coconut milk, lime and cilantro and is topped with a spicy sweet chili aioli and cool Asian citrus slaw. It was very different, not as filling as regular hot dog and full of interesting and delicious flavors.

Then he told us about the “Big Bad Braut” a 36-inch house-made bratwurst, which comes in a custom baked 30-inch bun. You pick two toppings and then try to eat it in 30 minutes. He showed us one of the sausages and it was impressive. I’m not going to try it.

Ruffhaus Hot Dog Co., has lots of great dogs, classic to cutting edge, interesting sides, beer and wine and a laid back environment. Since all the dogs are made to order in the kitchen and the place often gets busy, you might consider calling in your order before you arrive.

Hours are from 11 a.m. until 9 p.m. daily. Stop by and check them out. And, ask them about catering both at their place and your place. For more information call 916-941-DOGS (3647).

Community Profiles – Caldor

Caldor Railroad -

Caldor Railroad -Courtesy of Steve Crandell Fine Art, Placerville

Caldor was a small, but very important, town near Grizzly Flat that was built by the California Door Co. Located on Dogtown Creek (also known as Dog Creek), a tributary of the Cosumnes River, it was the center for the lumbering operations of this company and ultimately, the eastern end of a narrow gauge railroad known as the Diamond & Caldor Railway.

The history of the town and the company goes all the way back to the days of the Gold Rush when a sash and door manufacturer on the East Coast received word that a large shipment of goods had not reached a customer in San Francisco. The company immediately dispatched a Mr. Bartlett Doe with instructions to search out and find the missing shipment. After a three-month journey, he arrived in San Francisco where he found the goods still on the ship, the crew having deserted for the mines.

While trying to located the needed manpower to unload the shipment, Doe observed that this “frontier town” might be just the place to open a new woodworking business. In 1850 his brother John sailed through the Golden Gate and the two then formed the B. & J. S. Doe Co. In the 1860s another brother, Charles F. Doe, acquired a nearby millwork company and, during the 1870s, the three brothers consolidated their interests, while retaining their individual companies. Finally, in 1884, the brothers formed a single company under the name of the California Door Co. and built a new door, window and blinds manufacturing plant in Oakland – the largest then in the West.

In 1900, to assure a continuous supply of ponderosa and sugar pine lumber for the business, the company acquired some 30,000 acres of timberland in El Dorado County, which included an old sawmill at a ghost town known as Dogtown, 30 miles southeast of Diamond Springs (The state archives indicate there was a school called Dog Creek School in this area between 1860 and 1864).

The old sawmill was soon replaced by a larger one that used water power from Dogtown Creek to saw the needed lumber. This new mill was capable of cutting into lumber 60,000 board feet of logs daily. After pondering for a time, the directors of the company renamed the site of the new sawmill Caldor, since Dogtown wasn’t quite the image the owners wanted for their company.

The company had built a planing mill and box factory at Diamond Springs, and now had to figure out best the method to get the lumber from the sawmill at Caldor to the mill at Diamond Springs, from where the railroad would carry the finished lumber to the Oakland factory.