Restaurant Reviews

Steppin’ Out – High Hill Ranch, Apple Hill

A couple of weeks ago I mentioned the new Blueberry Donuts at High Hill Ranch and that I hoped to go back and check out the food, of which there is quite a selection. Well, a couple of Fridays ago I did just that, again, just to check out the food.

Even though it was a weekday, it was very busy, so after I found a parking place among the apple trees, I went looking for my friend and contact there, Jerry Visman.

I looked in the office, the Apple Barn, Pie Shop and even wandered by the huge number of crafts people, but couldn’t find him. In fact, nobody seemed to know where he was.

I thought about heading back to my car and trying another day, when I saw him directing what appeared to be a never-ending line of cars coming in to their ranch. He was easy to notice, since he had on a yellow shirt emblazoned with “Cat Herder,” an appropriate name for his job that day.

While he directed cars, busses and vans to various parking locations with his well-worn red flag, I took the opportunity to talk with him about the food they serve.

“We try to find the best food for our restaurants,” he said between directing cars. “We believe our visitors deserve the best, so we get the best.”

“Our tri-tip sandwich is the big seller,” he told me. “We get the tri-tip from Swingle Meats in Jackson already marinated. It is so tender and delicious that people tell us they used to come here for the donuts, but now they come for the tri-tip.

“We also added a Wagyu beef (think Kobe beef, but American) burger to our menu that is fantastic, You really have to try one. I always get the double, it is double good. Or, you might like our Polish Sausages. They are big and delicious.

“We buy large chickens for the barbecued chicken we serve in the Apple Barn. You can get a half or a whole to share and, if you are not that hungry, our Chicken Salad Sandwich is very popular.

“Speaking of salads, they are all from scratch. It really makes a difference.”

He paused for a few minutes while he talked to the rest of the parking crew by radio, trying to figure out if they should open up another row of parking spaces between the trees for the endless line of cars that continued to turn into their driveway.

“Because of the crowds and shuttle issues on weekends, the number of Friday and Monday visitors is getting bigger,” he continued. “If we get a break in the traffic, I’ll buy you a tri-tip or burger, but it looks like it will be a while.”

A few minutes later an employee named Alice came by in one of their many golf carts. She was heading towards the kitchen, so he stopped her and said, “When you get to the Pie House, please make us a couple of tri-tip sandwiches and drive them back to us. We’re going to be here a while and we are getting hungry.”

While we anxiously waited for our lunch, he continued. “Let’s see, our chili is also made from scratch using our own recipe. That you don’t find everywhere. And, something that will really surprise you is that we make our own caramel for our apples. You can buy that in a can, but we always want to do the best we can do. We have our own secret recipe for that.

“Our pies tins are bigger and deeper than most. It is an added cost, but worth it. Many pies you buy are in 9 inch shallow pans. Not ours. We use a ten inch, deep dish pan. More pie!

“You know about the donuts and fritters, but recently we added turnovers. They are really flaky and you can get them in the Pie Shop, but only on weekends.”

About that time Alice came back with our two tri-tip sandwiches and two soft drinks.

I had tried their tri-tip a year ago, and was not impressed. I had told Jerry and he said they were getting new ovens so that the meat didn’t overcook while sitting. That was the problem before, but now the problem had been solved.

Fortunately there was a break in traffic so Jerry could join me in the shade to have lunch.

I was very surprised and delighted with the tri-tip. Now it was moist, delicious and nearly fall-apart tender. Perfect for a sandwich.
It came naked on the roll except for a drizzle of barbecue sauce, which I found did not overpower the meat, which by itself was, as I said before, outstanding.

“I usually leave off the sauce,” Jerry said, “since I like the taste of the meat so much. The marinade Swingle uses is the best.”

I really had to agree. I have never had tri-tip that tender and delicious and I have eaten a lot of tri-tip over the years. I may drive down to Swingle Meats to see what else they have.

In addition to what I have already mentioned, they also serve a Turkey sandwich, Grilled Cheese, a Veggie burger and a whole lot more. You can choose from a dozen different kinds of pies, many baked or unbaked. They also have sugar-free Apple pies and even apple cake. Most are also available by the slice. I personally like Dutch Apple or Sour Cream Apple.

Don’t forget the donuts they make fresh throughout the day, the Apple Fritters and the famous Caramel Apples. Also, apple juice and cider.
Oh, don’t forget it is an apple ranch, so they have a lot of different varieties of apples, with changes in the varieties as they ripen on the tree.

These are real crisp apples, local and freshly picked, not something that has been is cold storage for several months.

Okay, almost finished. Trout fishing, pony rides, hay rides, more crafts people and any other location in Apple Hill and excitement for kids of all ages. They are also available for field trips, weddings, picnics and events. Give them a call.

High Hill Ranch is open from mid-August through Christmas Eve, from 8 until 5, Monday through Friday and 7 until 6 on weekends. For more information you can call (530) 644-1973 or visit their webpage at

I really gotta go back and have one of their burgers and maybe a bowl of chili.

By the way, Jerry told me the crowds thin out about the last week in October, so take a trip to High Hill Ranch and/or the other Apple Hill Growers businesses. We are lucky to have this opportunity so near to us.

Steppin’ Out – 19 Slices Pizza and Grill and a few odds and ends

My daughter has been telling me about a pizza place that serves great burgers. She even told me that my grandson thought they were the best ever.

Well, last Friday I went to Carmichael to attend a high school water polo competition my granddaughter was playing in and, on Saturday, two football games my grandson was playing in.

First of all, they won all three games and, secondly, on Friday we went to the pizza place, which is named 19 Slices Pizza and Grill and is located at 4314 Marconi Avenue in Sacramento.

Their menu has a very simple twist. Sure, they have signature pizzas, but you can also craft your own. You start with a 12 or 16 inch crust and then add to it from a list of sauces, cheese, proteins, veggies and finishes. The price is the same no matter what you add. And, the same goes for the burgers.

They have three all beef burgers: a Hamburger, a Cheeseburger and a Bacon Cheeseburger. You pay for the burger and any or all of the toppings are free. They include: Special Sauce (1000 Island), Mayo, Ketchup, Lettuce, Mustard, Pickles, Tomatoes, Red Onions, Green Peppers, Grilled Onions, Grilled Mushrooms, Jalapeño Peppers, BBQ Sauce or Buffalo Hot Sauce.

I ordered the Bacon Cheeseburger with a half-dozen of them and it was wonderful.

My grandson, half way through the meal, asked if he could get some fries and it was decided he could.

My daughter had previously told me they were “okay,” but he came back with battered fries, which must be the “House Fries.” They were fantastic. Every time he turned away, someone took one.

The menu also includes Appetizers, Salads and lots of side. Check them out.

19 Slices Pizza and Grill is closed on Monday, but open every other day of the week from 11 a.m. until 9 p.m. For more information call (916) 692-8887 or check out their Facebook page,

Yes, they also have 19 Handles Pub and Grill on Arden Way in Sacramento.

Bratwurst at Wienerschnitzel

Well, the Oktoberfest special bratwurst is back at Wienerschnitzel, an annual happy event.

Last year they had both bratwurst and Italian Sausage sandwiches, but this year they are focusing on just the bratwurst, serving it with either mustard and grilled onions or mustard and sauerkraut.

I think the bratwurst is a bit softer than last year, but the flavor is great: not too spicy, not too mild. Just right.

FreshMex Express Mexican Grill

FreshMex Express Mexican Grill, located next to Anytime Fitness in Prospector Plaza (K-Mart and Ross) at 3970 Missouri Flat, Suite H, has added Barbacoa (tender, slowly steam cooked beef) to their menu that already includes chicken, steak, al pastor, chile colorado, chile verde and more. I tried it, I loved it, loved it, loved it.

Hours: Daily 9:30 until 9. Their phone number is (530) 642-9778.

Rafael Garcia, who owns FreshMex, along with his son, John, recently opened El Fuego Express Mexican Grill at 1225 J Street in downtown Sacramento. I have heard nothing but great things about it and it has high social media ratings. Give it a try the next time you are in downtown Sacramento to yell at your legislators.

El Fuego is open daily, 9:30 until 9. Their phone number is (916) 917-5998.

By the way, catering is a big part of their business. Think about that when you are planning your next event, party or….

Carl’s Jr.

Well, I had to try the new Pastrami Burger at Carl’s Jr. They are calling the added pastrami “Condomeats,” a cute combination of the words meat and condiments.

I ordered it and it looked very much like the photograph in the ad, one of the few burgers that has. It was good, but even with lettuce, tomato, onions, pickles and a one-third pound patty, it was dry.

The pastrami is real, but very, very lean and, as fast food restaurants often do, the burger was overcooked. I asked for some more sauce to overcome the dryness and they were nice enough to simply make me a new burger with more sauce.

They use a thin mustard based sauce that tends to run out into the wrapper and, although there was more on the second burger, it was still a bit dry. I added a pack of mayo, which helped, but I think the burger needs a re-build.

By the way, Carl’s Jr. is one of the few fast food restaurants where you can get anything on the menu during breakfast hours.

Oh, the Famous Star with cheese is still my favorite fast food burger.

Steppin’ Out – A Place in Folsom and One in Sacramento

Islands, Fine Burgers and Drinks, Folsom

My neighbor and friend, Larry Stiles, is still healing from a broken foot and needed to go to Kaiser in Folsom for a quick test. He asked me if I could drive him and when he told me we could have lunch and visit Trader Joe’s, I jumped at the opportunity.

After his test, he mentioned he had some coupons for pizza, but we decided neither of us were up for pizza that day. He though for a minute and then said, “Have you ever eaten at Islands? It’s really good.” I hadn’t, so in a few minutes we were in their parking lot at 2455 Iron Point Road.

Islands, fine Burgers and Drinks, is a sit-down restaurant with a Hawaiian theme and lots of surfing on their big screen TVs. This theme is reflected in the names of their menu items, which are a mixture of American, Asian and Hispanic style dishes.

I ordered The Big Wave with cheese, which is their basic burger. It comes with American cheese, lettuce, tomato, onion, pickles and mustard. I was trying to be good and didn’t know when we ordered that all their burgers come with endless fries (a real test for me).

Larry decided on the Kilauea, which is a jalapeño and black pepper crusted burger with pepper jack cheese, chipotle aioli, lettuce, tomato and Island Reds (fried red onions). He also opted for their whole wheat bun rather than the regular one.

The burgers were very large and both Larry and I really enjoyed them. The service was great.

I like crispy fries and was fortunate to get some that varied from lightly cooked to really crisp. They must have been the last left in the basket. I didn’t ask for more, but Larry did and I have to admit I ate a couple of his.

Islands serves a number of different burgers, all of which sound great and the prices are not that bad. They also have a large number of appetizers, salads and soups, “Beach Bowls,” Island Tacos and a list of lower calorie items under the heading “Paradise’s Bikini Beach.”

It doesn’t stop there, they have a gluten free menu, kids menu, lots of desserts and shakes and smoothies. Yes, there is a full bar.

The Islands in Folsom (there is also one in Roseville) is open Sunday through Thursday from 11a.m. until 9:30 p.m. and Friday and Saturday from 11 a.m. until 10 p.m. For more information call: (916) 983-4092.

El Pollo Loco – Rancho Cordova

Mike Long, who I walk with most mornings, told me he had to pick up something in Sacramento and asked me if I wanted to ride along. I’m always up for a trip, so I said, “Sure.”

For some time he had been saying he wanted to try Pollo Loco’s stuffed quesadillas that they were advertising on TV, so this was our opportunity. And, since one of our stops was across the street from the Sunrise Blvd one, we went there.

Although they are now featuring “$5 Craveable Combos,” they still had the quesadillas on the menu and we ordered two: the Double Queso Overstuffed Chicken Quesadilla and the BBQ Bacon Avocado Overstuffed Quesadilla.

The Double Queso one is described by them as: Cheese lovers unite! In addition to our fire-grilled chicken, avocado, pico de gallo salsa, tortilla strips, and sliced jalapeno, this quesadilla is filled with enough Monterey Jack and double the queso cheese to satisfy your cheese cravings. The BBQ Bacon one they say is: Summer BBQ in a quesadilla! We start with our fire-grilled chicken with our Chipotle BBQ sauce, add cheese, bacon, onion, avocado and cilantro all tucked into a large flour tortilla and grilled to a warm and slightly crispy finish.

Mike picked up our order when it was ready and immediately returned to the counter to ask which quesadilla was which. They weren’t like a sandwich you could open and look at, they were in a folded tortilla and tucked in unmarked foil covered bags.

After a conversation among the employees, they determined they had made us two Double Queso quesadillas and “were making the other one and, as a bonus, we could keep both.”

The quesadillas were very good, and for a good reason.

Remember the burger I had at Islands? That was a big burger and burgers are notoriously high in calories, fat and salt, but the Double Queso quesadilla had nearly fifty percent more calories and fat, and, like the burger, enough salt for a full day. It appears it is the shredded Monterey Jack cheese that is responsible for almost half the fat.

Mike was a bit bummed with me, since I had noticed the 1180 calories it contained and not said anything before he ordered. Like me, he just thought the food at a chicken based restaurant would be healthier and lower in calories and fat.

Fast food is often full of fat, including saturated fat, and has loads of carbohydrates. Fat is what makes it taste so good. Remember, “Fat is flavor.”

So, the lesson is, if you want to eat fast food, either enjoy it and try to adjust your diet to compensate, or read the nutritional data and choose wisely.

I like Pollo Loco. They have lots of good food on their menu, especially their fire roasted chicken. If you are curious, their webpage actually allows you to add and subtract ingredients to see how it affects the total nutrition of a given item.

The Rancho Cordova El Pollo Loco is located at 2281 Sunrise Blvd and can be reached at (916) 638-2133. They are open daily from 10 a.m. until 10 p.m.

Oh, the “$5 Combo Dishes” have a better nutritional rating.

Steppin’ Out – Morty’s Grill, Camino

I have been meaning to stop by Morty’s Grill in Camino for some time, but when I would get a chance it was a Monday or Tuesday, when they are closed.

Last Saturday I decided to stop by High Hill Ranch and try one or more of their donuts, specifically the new one made with blueberries. I am going to give the place a bit more attention in a couple of weeks, but I did try the Blueberry Crumb donut and thought it was a bit light on flavor.

I mentioned that to Jerry Visman, part of the four generations of George Visman’s family that own and run the place. He looked down at me and said, “That is because they are made with real blueberries, not some kind of blueberry syrup or artificial flavoring.” He is right.

With the rest of my donut saved for dessert, from there I drove less than a mile to Morty’s Grill, which is next to Gold Harvest Market – 76, in the place where Crystal Basin Bistro was located.

Morty’s serves burgers, dogs, sandwiches and more, and is known as the “Home of the Morty Burger.”

Craig Morton (“Morty”) was there loading up his food truck for a trip to a location on nearby North Canyon Road. I talked with him for a short time and then went in to check out the restaurant and order something for lunch.

The first thing I noticed was that the place was very, very clean and neat. Sure, they had only been open less than an hour, but I noticed as I ate my meal that they kept it that way.

As Craig and others walked in an out carrying items to the food truck, I talked with Brogan, who was working the counter. I don’t know why I said this, maybe out of habit, but I asked what they felt was their best burger. Of course, it was their signature “Morty Burger.”

The Morty Burger starts with two one-third hand formed char broiled patties topped with pepper jack, cheese, Cheddar cheese, a fried egg, bacon and pastrami all served on a toasted sesame seed bun. It is so large they serve it with a knife stuck through it to keep it together.

Craig mentioned that it was also available with only one patty if I thought two was too much, but after thinking about it for a minute, I went instead for the Pastrami Burger, the same kind of burger that I have tried at several restaurants. It is sort of my “comparison” burger.

Had someone been with me that day, I would have ordered a Morty and a simple cheeseburger to split and share. But, alas, I was alone.

Their Pastrami Burger has one patty, topped with Provolone cheese, pastrami and horseradish mustard, served on a grilled sesame seed.
As I have mentioned before, I am not a fan of meat and cheese only burgers, so I asked if they could add some lettuce, red onions and tomato, which Craig said they would, as he personally fixed my burger.

I know, I should stick to their recipe, but I feel better if there are some kind of vegetables in my burger. I think it covers up my “fatty meal” guilt.

It was hot, it was large (splitably large) and it was good, although the pastrami, of which there was a lot, was very lean. I think it would benefit from pickles, which they will add, and they have a list of several sauces that can also be added to their sandwiches or used as a dip for fries, for a little extra. Oh, like with all their sandwiches, there was a delicious dill pickle spear on the side.

Their menu starts with their Classic Burgers, single or double, to which you can add, for just a bit more, any of several cheeses, bacon, avocado or a fried egg.

Then there are the Speciality Burgers: the Morty, Pastrami, Ranch Hand (Cheddar cheese, bacon, onion rings and barbecue sauce), Smokehouse (Cheddar cheese and sweet mesquite sauce) and Dynamite (pepper jack and Sriracha sauce). Like the Classic Burgers, the last two in the list include lettuce, tomato and red onion.

The list titled Sandwiches includes a Tri-Tip, the El Dorado (hot pastrami, hot turkey, bacon, choice of cheese, mayo and mustard), Hot Pastrami (hot pastrami, Provolone cheese and horseradish mustard), Chr-Broiled Chicken (grilled chicken breast, mayo and mustard) and the Classic Turkey, made with oven roasted turkey, choice of cheese, mayo and mustard.

Salads include a classic Caesar Salad and a Garden Salad, made with mixed greens and a variety of vegetables, topped with toasted croutons and served with your choice of dressing on the side.

Listed under Dogs & Chicken are a Polish Club, Pastrami Dog, one-quarter pound All-Beef Polish Dog, an All-Beef Hot Dog along with Chicken Tenders and Fries.

The Kids Corner listings include a Hot Dog, Hamburger, Grilled Cheese or Chicken Tenders, all served with fries and a small drink.

Sides include fries, onion rings and chips and drinks include fountain drinks, iced tea, hot coffee, hot tea, wine and on-tap and bottled beer.

Morty’s Grill is located at 3590 Carson Road and open Wednesday from 11 until 3, Thursday, Friday and Saturday from 11 until 8 and on Sunday from 11 until 3. Closed Monday and Tuesday.

For more information on Morty’s Grill or Morty’s Food Truck, call (530) 303-3098.

Oh, I liked Brogan’s comment when I ordered: “Will you be dining in?” Pure Class. No “Here or to-go” question.