Monthly Archives: February 2017

Steppin’ Out – Santa Maria Taqueria, Placerville

A few years ago I wrote about Carniceria Y Taqueria Soto which was located at 175-A Placerville Drive, right across the street from Raley’s, tucked in behind Placer Title. What was so great about the place is that it was not just a taqueria, but also a Mexican market (mercado) and meat market (carniceria).

About a year ago, a gentleman named Ruben Cervantes took over the place and renamed it Santa Maria Taqueria. He is an experienced caterer, so he fit right in. He restocked the market and meat market and added several new items to the taqueria menu.

“The store shelves were very nearly empty when I bought the place,” Ruben told Russ Salazar and me when we stopped by a couple of weeks ago. “I filled up the medicine area and restocked the food shelves.”

I was fascinated by the medicines. There were bottles, jars and tubes of things I had never seen before, or hadn’t seen in a long time. A box with a picture of radishes on it caught my eye. “It is something for your stomach,” Ruben told me.

While Russ was looking through the candies, I asked Ruben about a jar of unfamiliar fruit with a label reading, “Fruit Punch.”

“It is used to make a hot punch,” Ruben told me. Later I found out it is served at Christmas in Mexico and is made of cinnamon, sugar cane and available fruits.

Passing by the fresh fruit and vegetables and fresh masa for making tamales (a Christmas Eve tradition), I looked at the meat counter. I recognized the thin sliced beef for carne asada and was reminded that most supermarkets don’t use the proper cut of meat, nor cut it correctly. “Yes, you need the right cut, cut right,” Ruben told us.

Next to them were beef and pork ribs, cut crosswise and then chicken legs, with thighs attached, marinating in oranges and onions. I hadn’t noticed, but Ruben showed me they had been cut in half, along the bone, sort of butterflying them. “They grill better that way,” Russ said.
Then came the fresh cheeses, sausages, beef and pork chorizo and something long and green. “That is chorizo with jalapeños that we make,” said Ruben. Russ couldn’t pass up buying some, along with a nut bar.

We found a table in the taqueria area and looked over the menu. We couldn’t decide, so after offering us something to drink (we took horchata), Ruben asked us if we would like some samples. That was perfect.

While we were waiting, Russ told me about the nut bar he had found in the candy section and bought. “It is Barra Mixta, made with nuts in a molasses – cinnamon ‘glue.’ I haven’t seen these in 50 years. When I shined shoes in Los Angeles I would buy one after I earned a little money.”

Our first sample from Ruben was a pupusa, a thick, handmade corn tortilla usually found in Salvadorian restaurants (Ruben said it was Salvadorian by way of Mexico). It came with salsa and some marinated cabbage slaw and was delicious. A short time later we received a small bowl of menudo, which is served fresh every Saturday and Sunday.

There is a bowl of mixed spices on the table that you sprinkle on the menudo, along with lime juice. Russ loved it, but it is still not my favorite Mexican dish.

We watched Ruben, the “Master of the Spatula” (Russ came up with that while watching him work), preparing our samples. Then they arrived at our table: carnitas, al pastor, pig snout (trompa), tongue (lingua), green chorizo, beans, rice, two kinds of salsa and some corn tortillas. Russ’ first comment was, “Those beans are as close as you can get to homemade: not over mashed, just the way I like them.”

As we were tasting, Ruben brought us a small bowl with some dark meat in it. “Blood sausage,” he said.

I had seen it at the meat counter and recalled reading that the French Foreign Legion ate that and, like all kids, I once wanted to join that group, but…no. It wasn’t bad, just not my kind of food, even in a tortilla with a lot of salsa. There were too many other things on my plate to try.

The pig snout was very good, but a bit chewy, the green chorizo, al pastor and especially the carnitas were excellent, and the tongue, which I have eaten before, was better this time. It was in small pieces, which I liked.

“Ready for dessert?,” said Ruben as he brought us each a sweet tamale, which is simply sweetened masa and was very good. Okay, we were done. Then he brought the tray of pan dulce (sweet bread) to try.

“Take your pick,” he said. I took what appeared to be bread pudding, Russ went for a flaky crusted, strawberry tart. I took most of mine home, Russ devoured his. Both were very, very good.

There are about 2000 different sweet breads made in Mexico. I think I have tried five. Ruben has a couple of dozen that he gets from two different bakeries.

Just as a warning, the taqueria has only three tables, but most people take the food to go.

The taqueria menu includes tacos, burritos (big, served wet or dry), tortas, quesadillas, enchiladas, fresh tamales, combination plates and more. And, on Saturday and Sunday, menudo.

They are open daily from 9 until 7, except on Sunday when they close at 6. For more information, give them a call at (530) 295-8121.

If you want something for an authentic Mexican dinner or some other event, this is the place to shop. They have things for sale that I have literally never seen before, including piñatas the size of a small child. Best of all, everyone is very friendly and helpful.
If the names of Mexican food confuses you, go to http://doginspace.com/taqueriaspanish/.

Steppin’ Out – Shoestring, Garden Valley

A lot of people, even many living in and near Garden Valley, didn’t even know there was a Shoestring in that area. That was until they moved from Black Oak Mine Road to 5032 Garden Valley Road, which is at the corner of Garden Valley and Marshall roads.

Rick Siegel opened Shoestring at 1320 Broadway in Placerville in 1989. Then, a few years later he sold it to his sister, Debbie, who had been helping him, and opened one in Garden Valley.

After a few years he decided to retire and closed it. Then, six and a half years ago his daughter, Tamara, thought it would be something great for her to do, and reopened it.

To give you a little history, Rick and Debbie’s father, Richard, had opened the original Shoestring in the San Fernando Valley in 1959. It was called Shoestring, not because they served fries, but because it was opened on a shoestring. They didn’t even serve fries at the start, but they did serve burgers, hot dogs and chili, the same wonderful, secret-recipe chili they still serve.

Both Rick and Debbie worked there and learned the business from him. When he passed away, Debbie took over and made a few changes. “We had been serving burgers, hot dogs and tamales,” said Debbie. “I added fries and one day I decided to put some of our chili and cheese on the fries. I don’t know if I was the first to do it, but it was a hit and still is.”

Rick was the first to move to El Dorado County and Debbie soon followed. Rick opened Shoestring and the rest you know.
I stopped by the Garden Valley Shoestring last week just to check out the place. Wow! Compared to what they had on Black Oak Mine Road, it is huge with lots of inside and outdoor seating.

It is a real family business and a happy place to visit. The day I arrived the owner, Tamara, was cooking while her sister, Erica, and mom, Judy, were helping customers. Even Tamara’s husband, Roger, was up on the roof doing repairs. I understand that when they are really busy, they even bring in the kids.

“We love the location,” Tamara told me with a big smile. “Our business has doubled since we moved from our other location in July. We are more visible and very near the park and the high school. People come by and say, ‘We didn’t even know you were here until you moved.’

“We bought this place and have a lot of plans for it, both inside and out. A lot of traffic goes by, so my sister, Erica, will soon be opening a small coffee drive-thru named the ‘Red Rooster Coffee Stop’.”

The menu is basically the same as the one at the Shoestring on Broadway in Placerville, but they have added a few things.

“We have a ‘Grizzly Burger,’” Tamara told me. “We needed something big to fill up the high school kids, so we came up one named after the school’s mascot. And they can eat it in the ‘Grizzly Den,’ the name we have given the dining room.”

“You should have one,” added Judy. So I did.

The “Grizzly” has bacon, pastrami, Swiss cheese, jalapenos, an onion ring and your choice of chipotle or horseradish sauce. I opted for horseradish and, let me tell you, it was delicious.

“We sell a lot more burgers than hot dogs,” continued Tamara as I devoured my burger and fries. “Our Western, Pastrami-Swiss and Bacon-Swiss are the most popular and we even get lots of orders for our ‘4 X 4′ (four patties and four slices of cheese). One man often comes it to get what he calls a $15 burger, which he designs himself.

Including what I have already mentioned, the menu includes burgers, double burgers, triple burgers, the “4 X 4,” Caliente burger, Chili Burger and many more, including a Veggie Burger.

They also serve a Chicken Sandwich, Pastrami and Swiss, Steak and Cheese, a whole range of hot dogs, plain or with chili and/or cheese, chicken nuggets and chicken tenders.

For sides you can get fries plain or with chili, cheese or both, along with onion rings and Jalapeno Poppers.

Oh, sodas, shakes, floats, freezes and even hand scooped ice cream.

Shoestring in Garden Valley is open from 11 until 8, Tuesday through Saturday.

“We are closed on Sunday because we have kids. You have to have at least one weekend day off with them,” Tamara told me. “We are closed on Monday to rest and catch up on things.”

For more information, call (530) 333-2400.

Hop in your car and take a trip to the northern part or our county, look around at the beautiful country and stop by Shoestring. You’ll be happy you did.

Steppin’ Out – Weinerschnitzel, Placerville

I usually head to Wienerschnitzel when I have a desire for something different, such as a Polish sausage sandwich on rye with a pickle, but once a year they serve a grilled bratwurst for “Oktoberfest” and I HAVE to get one of those.

Although not as famous as many of the other fast food restaurants, Wienerschnitzel has been around for some time, having been founded in southern California back in 1961 by John Galardi. Known as the “World’s Largest Hot Dog Chain,” they have 358 locations and serve 120 million hot dogs a year.

Wienerschnitzel celebrates its “sort of German” roots with the return of grilled bratwurst through the end of October each year. You can enjoy this authentic grilled sausage topped with mustard and kraut or mustard and grilled onions. To enhance this German favorite even more, this year Wienerschnitzel has also introduced a brand new soft and chewy pretzel bun to complement the savory flavor of their bratwurst.

My friend Russ Salazar mentioned to me that he had driven by the Wienerschnitzel at the corner of Broadway and Schnell School roads (1365 Broadway) and had seen the bratwurst sign in the window. So, I got back to him and we met there for lunch a week or so ago.

You can actually order any of their hot dogs and substitute the grilled bratwurst for an additional cost, but we decided to try two they way they advertise them, with mustard and onions, but one on a pretzel bun, which was the best idea we had that day. We decided against the sauerkraut since we wanted to taste the bratwurst in all its glory.

We had them cut in two, so we could share them, and when Russ bit into the one in a pretzel bun his eyes actually lit up.

“This is the best pretzel bun I have ever had,” he said. “It’s not like the ones from the stores, it is softer. All the rest have been just too chewy, but not this one.”

He paused for a moment and then bluntly added, “It makes the rest of them taste like crap. They just sold me on pretzel buns.”

Both of us agreed that the bratwurst were some of the very best we have eaten, nice and fat and full of flavor, and, we both loved their pretzel bun. I think next time I will only order them with that bun.

After we had devoured the two bratwurst sandwiches, Russ decided that he would also like to retry a chili dog with an Angus beef dog.

I like their chili dogs, but Russ really likes them. Their chili has a secret recipe and tastes different from all the others. It has a good tang.

While we were enjoying the remnants of the chili dog, the store manager, Frank Atefi, came by to see how we liked the food and dropped off a large order of fries for us to try.

Now, you know my problem with fries. If you give me 10, I will eat 10. If you give me 100, I will eat 100. No fries go to waste. Well, too many go to my waist.

They were very crispy, the way I like them, and they stayed that way while we ate them and chatted with Frank.

He is in the process of remodeling the restaurant and has found out two things: The people in Sacramento who do this kind of work don’t want to drive to Placerville, and a lot of local businesses don’t seem to return calls. He said the biggest problem was getting someone who would replace the carpet with tile.

Well, back to the restaurant. Wienerschnitzel serves a lot of things other than hot dogs, but if that is what you are looking for their menu includes hot dogs with any combination of the following: mustard, chili, bacon, relish, onions, cheese or sauerkraut, along with a Junkyard Dog, Deluxe Dog with tomato and a Chicago Dog. And, you can get them with their Original Dog, a 100% beef Angus Dog or a Polish sausage. Of course, through the end of October with the bratwurst.

Whoops, I almost forgot the corn dog and mini corn dogs.

They also have burgers and cheeseburgers, with or without chili, the famous Polish sandwich and, sadly, on rare occasions, pastrami, when the market price isn’t too high. And, don’t forget their great fries, which come plain, or covered with chili, cheese, bacon and more.

For the kids, you can get a meal with a mustard dog, corn dog or mini corn dogs and milk. Remember what Russ says, if you serve kids, you should have milk on the menu, and they do.

They also have several combos with one or more burgers or dogs, fries and a drink, or large “Crowd Pleaser Meals” for a group.

To add to your meal or have after your meal, don’t forget they also have a Tastee Freez section with lots of great ice cream treats (Yum, shakes).

Our Wienerschnitzel also has a drive-thru, in addition to inside seating, and is open daily from 10 a.m. until 10 p.m. (11 p.m. on Friday and Saturday). They can be reached at (530) 295-8255.

It’s a happy place with friendly people.

Anyone else recall when it was Der Wienerschnitzel? My German teacher told me it was not masculine, but neuter, and should have been Das Wienerschnitzel.