Wanderings: Los Angeles

“You can’t go back home to your family, back home to your childhood … back home to a young man’s dreams of glory and of fame …”

Thomas Wolfe, “You Can’t Go Home Again.”


Los Angeles

A couple of weeks ago a friend invited me to ride with him to the Los Angeles area and stay for a couple of days. He grew up there and returns often to put flowers on family graves at Rose Hills in Whittier. My grandparents and an aunt and uncle are buried there and I had never been to their graves, something I have meant to do. That was a good enough reason to go, but, knowing me, he also mentioned that he knew some famous sandwich places that we could visit.

We left on a Monday morning and stopped at Harris Ranch on I-5 for lunch. He said he loves liver and onions and it was the only place he would eat it. I love it too and used to stir-fry it pink, so I tried it rare (yes, they will cook it anyway you want it). It was really good, but I think next time I will try it more towards medium, since the texture was a bit softer than I thought it would be. After buying my grandson, Harris, a Harris Ranch hat (they need to have kids sizes in the shirts), we headed towards L.A.

After checking in to our motel, we had dinner at The Hat, a place well known for their pastrami dip sandwiches for the past 60 years (10 locations in southern California). We split one of their delicious pastrami dips (great pastrami – just enough fat and lots of choices in condiments) and a small order of fries, which turned out to be half a paper bag full and very good. Before we left, I bought a t-shirt.

The next day, after spending the morning putting flowers on our relatives’ graves and spending some time there with them, we headed to Philippe – The Original Home of the French Dipped Sandwich, on Alameda Street in downtown L.A., near Union Station.

Philippe’s started at a different location in 1908, but didn’t serve sandwiches until moving 1918. Open daily from 6 a.m. until 10 p.m., it has been at this location since 1951 and is really popular, but has lots of seating. They also have sawdust on the floor to take care of spills.

We split a really good lamb dip and added an order of “excellent for a restaurant” cole slaw and two bowls of chili, with beans (also available without). I have never had restaurant chili that good: thick and delicious. I was told it is Delores Chili, which comes in a brick and can be purchased at Smart & Final stores.

Philippe’s has a huge menu and still serves coffee for nine cents, plus a penny tax. Decaf costs 60 cents. You can look at the menu and their extensive wine list at http://www.philippes.com/menu/.

Much of the rest of the day we spent driving around remembering growing up in that area. We even went to Pasadena, where I grew up and spent the first 19 years of my life. But if you put me in the middle of town I would be lost. I only recognized a few buildings. It was sad.

Dinner that evening (that is why we split orders) was at Original Tommy’s. Tommy’s has been around for 65 years and now has 31 locations in southern California and two near Las Vegas, NV. We went to the one on Whittier Blvd. in Pico Rivera.

Their speciality is chili burgers and chili dogs, so we ordered one of each to split, along with an order of fries which were crisp on the outside and nice and soft inside. We tried the dog first and it was really good with a nice snap. The burger had cooled when we got to it, but is was still excellent. You can buy their chili to take home, but bring a big plastic bag to put the container in since it will leak (and an ice chest if you are planning on taking it very far). Oh, I also bought a t-shirt there there.

For breakfast the next day we stopped at a restaurant called Hecho En Mexico, on Huntington Drive, for chorizo and eggs. The meal was excellent, and the salsa was especially delicious, but I still can’t eat a whole meal using torn flour tortillas instead of a fork.

On our way home, we stopped at a rest stop on I-5 to stretch our legs. To my surprise there was a vending machine that sold ice cream. You put in two bucks and make your selection. A freezer opens and a funny looking metal cylinder with a rubber tip slowly drops into the proper location and grabs your selection and then releases it into the slot where you can pick it up. Ice cream in the lower San Joaquin Valley on a hot day is delicious.

For dinner we made a stop at Pea Soup Andersen’s in Santa Nella, a very interesting and family-friendly restaurant with a large gift shop and dining room. I had a bowl of their always great spit-pea soup and a half chicken salad sandwich. As I mentioned, the soup was excellent, but the sandwich was just so-so. No kids t-shirts there either.

Well, Tommy’s told me what kind of hot dogs they use, but we couldn’t find them before we left L.A. We did get some Farmer John “Dodger Dogs,” which I shared with my friends at Shoestring. They are good for a long, regular hot dog, but we are on a quest to get Tommy’s

Poor Red’s – El Dorado

“Plus ça change, plus c’est la mΛme chose.” [The more things change, the more they stay the same]

French proverb



Poor Red’s 

A couple of weeks ago I stopped by Poor Reds, a landmark in the town of El Dorado, to pick up a couple of t-shirts for my son and one of his friends. It had been a while since I had been there, and a few years since I had written something about the place. I knew they had added to the menu, but, as a friend of mine would say, Wow!

My failing mind recalls that a few decades ago, their lunch menu had only their famous pork dip, a hamburger (“You want cheese on it, you bring it!” they would yell at you), a ham sandwich and a steak sandwich, which wasn’t really a sandwich, but a large steak with a couple of pieces of bread. Lunches came with a small, green salad (they fancied it up with a slice of pickled beet at dinner) and some great fries that still had the skins on them.

For dinner you had a choice of their famous ribs, chicken, a couple of steaks and I think ham, accompanied by a baked potato and the fancied salad.

It was that way when I first visited the place in the mid-1960s, and stayed that way until not too long ago. Now, you can still get those those items, and a lot more.

Added to today’s lunch menu are thing like a prime rib dip, cheese burger, bacon cheese burger, cowboy burger, 8 oz. ribeye, chicken strips and a chef salad. According to second generation bartender, Mike Speegle (Jr.), the pork dip and prime rib dip are the favorites of the lunch crowd. My favorite was always the pork dip, which was better late in the week for some reason.

The new dinner menu has added to it baby back ribs (by far the new favorite over their famous pork ribs), a cheeseburger, chef salad, steak and Bleu salad, an 8 oz. filet, along with a 12 and 16 oz. ribeye.

On Thursday and Sunday, they add a 12 and 16 oz. cuts of  prime rib to the menu and on Friday and Saturday, a lobster dinner, along with combinations of the lobster and any of the three steaks.

The have also added to the menu appetizers, something you used to have to bring with you if you wanted them (lots of purses had cans of nuts in them when they arrived). You can choose from potato skins, chicken strips, buffalo wings, mozzarella sticks, jalapeno poppers, onion rings (you can also get a sampler plate with those last three), fries, garlic fries, cheese fries and Bleu cheese fries.

I understand from Speegle, that Casey Moore, a talented local chef, came up with a number of the new items in the few years he has been working there. I had talked with Moore a few days before, and he too was excited about the new menu.

The bar opens daily at 10 a.m. and stays open until late. Lunch starts at 11:30 (noon on Sunday) and continues until 4:30. Dinner is served from the start of lunch hours until closing, which is normally 9, and 10 on Friday and Saturday. You get fries with dinner until after 5 p.m, when baked potatoes are available.

For more information, drop by one of El Dorado County’s most famous landmarks or give them a call at (530) 622-2901.

Oh, remember that for years they only had Bud on tap? Now they have a much greater selection of beers.

Sierra Nevada House Summer Menu

“What you eat standing up doesn’t count.”

Beth Barnes




Sierra Nevada House summer menu

Three of us had the opportunity last week to try several items from the Sierra Nevada House summer menu, along with a couple of specials they were serving that day.

As far as I am concerned, since owner Howard Penn hired Diana Greer as his Executive Chef a couple of years ago, the food has gotten better and better.

Leaving the menu of small portions up to Greer and the selection of small pours of wine to Greer, bar manager Samie Campbell and our delightful server, Andrea Dodson, we started.

Our first course was seared Ahi, served with lime cilantro rice, sprouts, pickled ginger and wasabi. They chose a Perry Creek viognier that had a hint of honey in the nose and taste that went very well with it. The Ahi was perfect and melted in your mouth. The rice, sprouts, pickled ginger and wasabi added wonderful and different tastes and textures.

Our next course was a grilled prawn cocktail, served “up”in a classic martini glass with chipotle aioli. With it they served us a David Girard Roussane, a delightfully “clean and fresh” wine that was perfect for this dish and the next. There were six prawns, which we divided and found to be perfectly tender with a delicious slight crust, hinting of balsamic vinegar. The fight was over the wonderful aioli, which was over lettuce in the glass. I have always loved the flavor of chipotle (smoked jalapeno pepper) and Greer blended it perfectly for the prawns.

That was followed by their white truffle “mac and cheese,” made using Cheddar and Gruyere and white truffle oil and topped with onion strings. This dish gets better as you reach the cheese in the bottom, so stir it or serve everyone else first if you are sharing it. It too went well with the roussane.

Our next dish was a combination of a chili rubbed pork chop with papaya honey butter and another new dish, chimichurri pork chop, a flame grilled chop topped with chimichurri sauce. With these we were served a Lava Cap Sangiovese, made from grapes grown in the Matagrano Vineyard in nearby Lotus. I don’t know which of the pork dishes I liked better (maybe the first one), but the wine, which was full of flavors, really complemented both of them.

The next to last entree was the best. It was their new baby back pork ribs with their own chipotle barbecue sauce. With it was served David Girard’s Rive d’Or, a Bordeaux style blend of cabernet sauvignon, merlot and malbec.

One of my guests, after tasting the ribs and the wine, said the following over the next couple of minutes: wow, wow, wow, wow, wow, yummy and incredible. Five wows alone would have been enough to describe what were the most delicious ribs I have ever had, but the yummy and the incredible really added to the description. And the wine, five wows for it too. They were made for each other; a perfect food and wine combination. Thanks to the ladies for selecting it.

Our final entree sample was of a dish added to the menu by Greer to replace their very popular ratatouille, which is only served during the winter. It was Italian sausage and fennel pappardelle: spicy Italian sausage in an orange fennel sauce served over a bed of imported pappardelle egg noodles. To have with it we had saved a bit of the wonderful Rive d’Or.

We all agreed that it was excellent, but would have been better if served before the ribs. We also agreed that it would have been better if we had not spent so much time talking with Greer and her new Sous Chef, Eric Edstrom, while it cooled on our plates and the excellent noodles dried. I love the flavor of orange, fennel and spicy sausage, and this was an excellent combination of the them.

For dessert we shared blackberry pie ala mode, made with local blackberries. It was only warmed slightly so that the ice cream would not melt and the berry seeds, which can become very hot, would not burn your tongue.

At that point, Teal Triolo, who owns Sierra Rizing Bakery and Café in Lotus, and is a good friend of Penn, mentioned that she had baked boysenberry – rhubarb pie that day and wondered if we wanted a sample. I had forgotten how wonderful rhubarb is in pies. It was delicious.

The Sierra Nevada House restaurant is open for dinner Wednesday through Sunday at 5 p.m., serving wonderful appetizers, soups, salads, sandwiches, small plates, pastas, steaks, chicken, seafood and more. They also have the outdoor River Café and a full bar. Call (530) 626-8096 or visit their web page at www.sierranevadahouse.com for more information.