Saturday, July 13, 2013

Hidden Gem in Fresno

I love the places that we find by accident, especially if the food is spectacular, as is the case here. My daughter kept telling me when she rode the 38 bus, she'd see a bbq place in back of a barber shop, and, like everything else, I "put it on the list" to visit later. Well we decided that later, was today, and I'm so glad I did.

The Fire Pit, run by Sandra Warren and her daughter Sheree, is that kind of quintessential bbq place that most aficionados only dream of. Just off the NE corner of Fresno and Jones sts, in west Fresno, it sits behind a barber shop (almost an addition to it), on a tree lined residential street. Parking is fairly easy (just park on the street, no hassles about parking meters or other downtown nonsense. Walk through an open gate, past the shaded tables and up to the Order window. Here is a shot of the menu:

As you can see, the prices are very reasonable and the service was extremely friendly and accommodating. We ordered the Saturday special of fried basa fish and fries, and a second dinner of ribs with hot bbq sauce and beans.

The fish was fried to order but worth the wait, (which we did quite comfortably under spinning outdoor ceiling fans at the covered outdoor table) The fish had a well seasoned crunchy cornmeal crust and a mild, tender fish inside. YUM!

The beans on the rib plate were worth the trip even by themselves..with plenty of meat in them, the flavor was out of this world..slightly sweet and reminiscent of the beans my grandfather used to make. I'd go back just for those...however.. then there were the ribs...and that hot The ribs themselves were fall off the bone tender with a well seasoned bark that seemed that they'd had a good dry rub before being cooked. The sauce itself was a revelation. The kind of heat that creeps up and bathes the inside of your mouth with a tingly glow. The flavors were complex, sweet, vinegary, spicy and left us mopping up every last bit with the bread and fries.

Will we return? you bet we will! Do we recommend you make the trip to west Fresno? You bet we do! Please go, and you will be rewarded with some of the best bbq in Fresno or anywhere!

The Fire Pit on Urbanspoon

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Breakfast in Heaven..

I suppose today's title could either refer to the kind of breakfast one would receive in heaven (I hope it's like this one) OR the place one has breakfast being like heaven (I hope heaven is like Morro Bay (or Cambria, or Cayucos, etc ). Well I hit the double jackpot in this instance. I had one of the best breakfasts I've ever had, in one of my favorite places.

My eldest daughter and I took a heat escaping trip to the central coast yesterday, with the only real plan being to eat at Frankie and Lola's Front Street Cafe in Morro Bay. I'd seen it over the course of several trips taken to the area, but never had a chance to eat there before.

We breezed into town (because that is how one arrives in Morro Bay), at around 930 Saturday morning, drove past F & L's and found it packed to the gills with hungry patrons. (Good sign btw) We decided to do some beachcombing and let the crowd wind down a bit.

After about an hour of walking and splashing about, we dusted and dried off, and went back to the restaurant to find it a little less full than before, so we went in and were greeted and seated in no time at all. Drink orders were taken immediately and in no time our food orders were taken. I had the Fried Green Tomato Benedict (with hot cocoa to drink..such a luxury when its 108 back home!), and my daughter had the "Leroy Browns", fried potato chunks with bacon, cheese, sour cream, guacamole, and green onions with homemade salsa on the side.

Our breakfast came within a reasonable amount of time, and all I can say is every little aspect was exactly right and delicious! Mine had a layer of perfect creamy grits on the bottom, topped with two perfectly fried green tomatoes, two poached eggs, and a generous amount of the best hollandaise sauce I've ever had.. hands down (When I spoke to one of the owners at the register, she joked that she married her husband for his hollandaise..I can believe it!)
And a word about the fried potatoes that came on the side of my breakfast, and were the star feature of my daughter's.. they LOOKED like they were overfried, and would be hard.. oh no.. forget about that..they were shatteringly crisp on the outside, and literally melted in your mouth on the inside.. I don't know what voodoo they used to make these potatoes, but I hope it never changes! And a word about that side salsa from my daughter's breakfast.. I come from a valley full of excellent homemade salsa's and have even won a salsa contest (not bad for a gringo) of my own; and I can tell you, F & L's salsa was excellent!

Service throughout the meal was attentive, without being intrusive. I would recommend Frankie and Lola's to anyone and will definitely be back to sample their other offerings (that dessert list looked pretty darn good!)

Frankie and Lola's Front Street Cafe
1154 Front Street
Morro Bay, CA
Hours: Breakfast 630 AM to 1130 AM
Lunch 1130 AM to 230 PM
Dinner 5PM to 8 PM Thurs thru Sat.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Local Food Bonanza

Sorry no pics, but I honestly thought I was done blogging.. I was tired of having to photograph stuff before I ate it, tired of having to remember ever little detail and then write about it. It was getting to be more like work, than a hobby. But there are some places and some foods that need to be written about at the very least. Because they are too good to be kept to myself. I still champion local businesses and think the really outstanding ones need recognition. And since we've been blessed with being able to eat out ALOT lately, here is a recap of the three places we've enjoyed just in the last 24 hours.

Hunan. Most of you know and love this place. They are blessed with an extraordinary head chef in Chef Liu, winner of the prestigious Bocuse D'or! (if you don't know what this is and you call yourself a foodie..shame on you, look it up).

The original location at Cedar Tree Village is undergoing remodeling and will be open again June 15th. In the meantime, you can enjoy the West Herndon location, between Clovis and Sunnyside. They have two menus, one with standard "American-Chinese" fare, and the other with more "exotic" and authentic things.

We enjoyed some delicious bao tze steamed buns with ground pork, onions, and a steamed chinese beerock. Another fave were the "dumplings in homemade sauce" which were moist, a little sweet, savory, spicy, and yummy. We started with Westlake minced beef soup, full of finely chopped beef, minced water chestnuts, egg whites, tofu, and perfumed with cilantro. We also had eggplant in a spicy sweet garlic sauce, mongolian lamb, garlic pork, and the showpiece of the evening, a whole striped bass cooked in black bean sauce.. which we picked clean!

The next morning, I had chance to stop in at Cafe Corazon, tempted by the Croque Madame and their wonderful coffee. If you've never been here, you MUST go, but have some time to take there, because while it is beyond awesome, this is NOT fast food. Everything is made from scratch, and all that milling, grinding, roasting, and baking takes TIME. And every minute is worth it. I was rewarded with a delicious breakfast sandwich on home baked bread, with the best applewood smoked ham, cheese, and mustard, topped with a chevre mornay sauce and a perfectly sunnyside up egg. Knife and fork food for sure..and topped off with their amazing coffee, it was the perfect breakfast. They also have freshly baked pastries like you can't get anywhere else in town. Major NOM spot. In the Tower district.

For lunch, again, perfect timing and a hankering led me to Keith's Boxcar Cafe once again. I don't know how they do it, but I hope they keep doing it for a long long time. I only came for the smoked bread pudding, not normally being a fan of smoked turkey sandwiches.. I let my husband get that.. well ..first off.. the bread pudding was like nothing I'd ever had before.. the subtle smoke flavor added so much depth to the rich dessert..not too sweet, just exactly right. So I said.. "ok..honey, let me try a bite of your sandwich" (which he was enjoying quite a bit..) it was a smoked turkey club..I good could it be? REALLY GOOD as a matter of fact! One of the best sandwiches I've ever had joke.. every element was more than just right, it was the best of the best.

So there we are, 3 fantastic local meals in less than 24 hours. Anyone who can't find something to eat in this town just isn't trying very hard or doesn't like great food.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Fresno Food Expo 2013

Last Thursday (3/14) was the night of the annual Fresno Food Expo (still a fairly new event in town). This is a great event for the valley because it brings together the best produce, products, and food producers we have, and the sheer amount of excellence should make us all very proud of what we have to offer. The stories I heard from the farmers alone, about how much of the country's produce they actually provide, would make the rest of the country pay more attention and respect if they only knew.

Nearly all the products I found at the Expo are available in local stores, at local farmstands or markets, or online. If you'd like to see a particular product in your store, be sure and ask the manager! If enough people are asking for something, they will go out of their way to acquire and provide it.

Since pictures really are worth a thousand words, I'll let those tell most of the story, with commentary to follow.

My favorite use of produce goes to perennial fave, Wawona Foods, for several items. Particularly, ready to bake peach cookies, that taste more like little peach dumplings or pies, than cookies. For the more adventurous home cook, they offer a frozen pie filling and glaze in one. Wonderful bags of fruit, that you can either just put into a pie crust, or use any way you like. Completely unlike those gloppy, sugary canned fillings, these are the closest thing you can get to buying fresh fruit and making your own pie filling. Even their simplest frozen fruit was fresh tasting and delicious.

Best innovative new product comes from Pacific Choice's Ya! Greek Salsa... a mixture of olives, capers, and peppers mixed with a light 3 tomato base, this fresh tasting offering would be great on pita chips, or as a topping for gyros (prounounced YEAR-o's for the love of pete!).

My favorite cheese of the show went to Hacienda's Teleme. It was everything I could want in a cheese, it was creamy, with a bit of tang. Rich, without being cloying, it would melt well, and has a flavor that would go with pretty much any food or just as a snack.

My favorite meat product has to go to our old friends at Harris Ranch. Smoked prime rib (served on sandwiches here), are you kidding me? The flavor and tenderness was off the hook! I would serve this at any gathering and be proud to say where it came from.

There were some extremely interesting citrus fruits from Phillips Farm Marketing (the finger limes I mentioned in the previous blog as well as citron aka Buddha's Hand), as well as Gold Nugget tangerines from Homegrown Organic Farms, that are shown in the first picture above (thanks to Cherie France for that!).

I was also pleased to see Fresno State adding to their already extensive lineup, delving into the chocolate bar market with Bulldog Bark, with local almonds and raisins in a delicious chocolate base.

And speaking of chocolate.. I was very pleased to get to speak with a representative of the company that rescued a childhood favorite, Flicks. Here is a link to the interesting history of this delicious treat, how we lost it for awhile, and thanks to local innovation, we got it back and now can enjoy it again!

Of course the valley also produces some pretty tasty alcoholic beverages. There are more and more wineries producing here these days, and our craft beer industry is slowly growing as well. A Big shout out to our own Tioga-Sierra brewery for bringing their great offerings to the Expo. Particular Tamarack Amber Ale. An easy to drink amber with a clean finish and no bitterness. I also enjoyed the previous blog mentioned Cold House Cake Batter Vodka, mixed with pineapple juice and Sprite - Pineapple Upside Down Cake! YUM!

So tired and happily full, I made my way home, glad I came, and even gladder to experience the valley's best of the food and drink industry. Thanks to Danielle LaBouef Griffin for making this experience possible for me.!

Friday, March 1, 2013

Oh What A Night!

Last night I attended the Fresno Food Expo's preview event for their People's Choice and San Joaquin Valley New Product awards. There were samples of 52 products from 30 valley based companies, some familiar, some new. Today's blog is to talk about some of my faves, to encourage the public to vote on the People's Choice portion (which you can at: to plug a very special event at the Tioga-Sequoia Brewery. First the food(and the drinks!). The apparent trend this year is dairies/creameries putting their milk back in bottles. There is a definite flavor difference between milk in plastic or cardboard and milk in glass. It seems fresher, creamier, and has a cleaner taste to it. I tried milk products from Top O' the Morn Farms, Rosa Brothers Milk Company, and Dairy Goddess (who definitely won my heart with their presentation This brand is pasteurized but non homogenized, which gives it a fresher flavor.
Of all the supposedly "hot" or "spicy" items (hey it's not easy to impress a chili head like me!), the real standout in both flavor and heat were the Simply Smoky Jalapeno Peppers from Deb's Gourmet. Real smoked sliced jalapenos, had a delicious smoky flavor, which complemented the flavor of the pepper and helped tamp down the heat a bit by sheer distraction. Unbelievably (and deliciously) paired with blueberries, this is another item I would seek out on my own.
From our old friends at Star (Borges USA - Star Fine Foods)comes a new item in its Balsamic Glazes. They come in apple, raspberry and Modena (aged balsamic), and are an easy way to have a sweet and tasty balsamic glaze on hand to garnish savory or sweet items. tried it on a spinach based pasta, and found it tart with a sweet finish. I also saw the raspberry variety on cheesecake.
For sheer inventiveness, I have to give a shout out to Phillips Farms Marketing new "Finger Limes". They look like..well..finger shaped limes, about the size and shape of a small pickle..and the inside..looks like... green caviar.. and the taste? Like limes. I think the real selling point here is in presentation, because the inside is small nodules of lime pulp, you can easily add a lime flavor (without the juice)to any dish.
My fave pick of the night, was a unique product from Noah's Spring Water/Varni Brothers Corp. Noah's Sparkling Varni Almond Spring Water. If you love almonds, (and sparkling water) you will love this. It isn't a sweetened beverage, but something with a true, strong almond flavor with a refreshing finish. Like fizzy liquid almonds, times 10.
But there was more than just food..there was some delicious adult beverages waiting to be sampled..

The first offering was Raspberry Romance from the San Joaquin Wine Company. A red wine based light (not heavy or syrupy), with a bright raspberry finish.
At the bar, from the Valley Spirits LLC, came two delightful and dangerous offerings in the way of Cold House Cake Batter Vodka, and Outlaw Moonshine Apple Pie. Both spirits tasted exactly like their namesakes, sweet, enticing, complex, and delicious. The moonshine had a wicked kick at the end...
And then the ale.. our local boys at the Tioga-Sequoia brewery were offering up two as yet unreleased items: Sugar Pine Porter, 9flavored with vanilla beans and cacao nibs0, and 99 Golden Ale (a honey golden ale). I tasted the 99, and found it smooth and easy to drink. Which led to an interesting conversation with one of the makers, who told me that they were finally opening the brewery to tours for their second anniversary. Next Saturday, the 9th of March from noon to 6! Here is all the info:

It was fun, exhausting, crazy, trying to juggle food, camera, information, etc.. looking forward to the Food Expo itself...and don't forget to vote for the People's Choice awards!

Friday, February 8, 2013

Friday Frolics in Food

Today's foray was a revisit to two places I've enjoyed (but maybe not properly blogged about) before: Keith's Boxcar Cafe, and Charlotte's BakerEatery.

I often jest about the BFE nature of Keith's but it's really not that difficult to find: You can either take Van Ness south til you hit Hamilton (think industrial district), and then take a left. (It will be a couple blocks east, on your left). OR do as we did since we were on our way from work, and take Butler over the tracks out to Pearl, turn left, then right on Hamilton (Keith's will be on your right). Either way, it's worth it. The first time we went, many months ago, we had the smoked meatloaf sammy with fries. YUM. Today we went specifically for the pulled pork bbq lasagna. When they have it again (they will), you MUST have some, order ahead as it's rightfully popular and sells out quick!. Don't think Italian lasagna with spaghetti sauce and ricotta. Think the best, smokiest, tenderest pulled pork you've ever had, layered with noodles, bbq sauce, and cheese.. epic lunch win. Paired with some tasty grilled uber garlic bread and you've got a fine lunch for 9.99 right there. We'll be back, again and again!

Keith's Boxcar Cafe on Urbanspoon
Then it was on to dessert at Charlotte's.. again a place we'd been (and enjoyed immensely) before. The last time we had a vegan/gf chocolate (you couldn't tell!), and a lemon lavender cupcake, as well as a triple berry turnover. All great. This time around we enjoyed blackberry lemon lavender and raspberry rosewater cupcakes, as well as a bluberry danish, and a chocolate/coconut bread pudding. The think I love about Charlotte's is nothing is tooth achingly sweet, and there isn't an overabundance of gloppy frosting on the cupcakes. The flavors are clean, sweet enough, and vibrant in their various ingredients. The cupcakes had subtle notes of rosewater and lavender on top of the fruit. The Danish was like the best french croissant dough mixed with a good amount of fresh blueberries and a light cream cheese underneat that. The bread pudding? Like the kind of choco/coconut macaroon decadent moist desserts they must have in heaven. Another place we will return to many times in the future.

Friday, February 1, 2013

less than Golden Horse....

So it's been awhile since I've done a proper review... you're getting this one without pics because frankly... we didn't get anything worth taking pics of.. It was your standard white boy combo plate with a side of potstickers, and since the meal wasn't that exciting, I didn't bother.

We are still looking for a local (near our neighborhood of Gettysburg/Blackstone), fairly priced, delicious goto for basic Americanized Chinese Takeout. Please don't get the idea that is the only type of Chinese we enjoy, as we also like the "secret Chinese menu" stuff and the odd parts and pieces. But sometimes, you get a hankering for sweet, gloppy, crap, but still tasty and well made sweet gloppy crap.

The Golden Horse (which replaced the Golden Palace on Blackstone between Ashlan and Gettysburg) didn't quite fit the bill. It was local. And other than unusually dark bloody red sweet & sour sauce, and unsually light fried rice, there was nothing oomphy about it. And it's more expensive than other Chinese places by at least 2 dollars per item or more.

We had the #2 (that should have been a hint) lunch combo: Sweet n sour pork, fried shrimp, pork fried rice, and pork chow mein. We also got a side of potstickers that came with some odd black bean dipping sauce.

First off, even though the lunch combo was steaming, it wasn't actually hot, (and it was ready WAYYYY too quickly for it not to have been premade..when they give the standard line about 10 minutes, they aren't kidding). The S & S pork as I mentioned was extremely dark and disturbing in its sanguinity. The flavor was alright, nothing horrible but nothing to write home about. It wasn't very crunchy but not horribly soggy. And drowning in sauce.

The fried shrimp was bland and mostly batter..the shrimp were like shrimp strips. The chow mein had more pork in it than the fried rice, but both were tasty enough. Which surprised me because the rice was verging on whiteness, as if there were no soy in it. The potstickers were the one hot item, very juioy with almost no flavor.

These two items cost a litte over 12 dollars. And that was only because it was 10 percent off everything for their Grand> I've heard they have a "secret authentic Chinese menu" as well as offering dim sum on weekends. If the prices weren't so high, I'd consider dining in and trying other things, but with other places in town to try yet, I didn't feel a strong urge to go back. I'd like to think if a place can't do something as simple as a lunch combo well, it won't get more complicated dishes right.

Sorry Golden Horse, but we tried, and you just didn't do it for us.