Saturday, August 30, 2008

Travelblog, Part 2--The Eats

During my recent California fling, I endeavored to avoid the national chain restaurants as much as possible and check out as many local one-of-a-kind eateries that are unique to the area as I could, based on shows I’ve seen on TV, Internet recommendations and the film/book ‘Hamburger America’.  I’ve quickly discovered that the various places that are spotlighted on shows like Food Network’s "Drive-Ins, Diners & Dives" or Travel Channel’s "Hamburger Paradise", et al, can often be a mixed bag.  Some of these joints do indeed live up to the hype, while others not so much…

Anyway, here’s brief sampling of the various eateries that I sampled on my recent trip to California…

Squeeze Inn, Sacramento  The Squeeze falls into the latter category above—it turned out to be a big disappointment after the way they built it up on DD&D.  I knew it was a teeny little place, so getting there early before the lunch crowd arrived was imperative.  I did so, but I still encountered a gaggle of Paris Hilton wanna-be’s who were buds with the girl that waited on me, and they were quite annoying.  You have the option of dining at one of the eight stools at the counter, or outside at a dirty picnic table by the dumpster out back, and I now wish I’d chosen the latter.

Anyway, I tried their famous Squeeze Burger, which features cheddar cheese that is piled on the burger, and while it’s cooking on the grill, they throw ice on the grill and cover it so the cheese becomes crisp like a potato chip and sticks out from the meat about an inch all the way around.  A novel approach to cooking, to be sure, but I wasn’t all that blown away by the burger, which was rather bland, and the French fries were vile.

From what I’ve read on the ‘net afterwards, evidently I missed the pleasure of being waited on by a surly be-yatch there named Sam, who was referred to as a "skank" in at least three different reviews I saw.  Squeeze Inn is supposedly a favorite among the locals in Sacramento, but methinks they can do a whole lot better…

Joe’s Cable Car Diner, San Francisco  Joe’s is another one that came highly recommended, but once again, I was pretty underwhelmed.  First off, there wasn’t anything particularly special about the burger I had—Fred P. Ott’s or the Westport Flea Market Bar & Grill here in K.C. blows Joe’s away.  Second off, Joe’s is grossly overpriced—counting the tip, I paid over $20 for just a burger, fries and a drink.  I find it sad that these places let greed get the best of them and overcharge just because they were featured on Food Network.  The ambience at Joe's was kinda cool, but hardly worth the exorbitant menu pricesgrossly overrated.

Big Nate’s BBQ, San Francisco  Speaking of exorbitant prices, I took one look at the menu board here and high-tailed it outta there without eating.  I read about this place in Sports Illustrated a while back, as it’s run by former NBA star Nate Thurmond and was supposedly one of the best BBQ joints in the city.  I was expecting something along the lines of K.C.’s Gates BBQ or Arthur Bryant’s, but was floored at the prospect of forking over nearly $20 for a decent-sized dinner for one, especially when the only choices for sides were coleslaw and beans.  What, no fries?  Sorry, Nate, I’ll pass…

Tad’s Famous Steaks, San Francisco  I knew nothing beforehand about this place, so I took a chance on it for breakfast since it was close to my hotel, and looked like a cool old-school restaurant.  Neat atmosphere, but the food was pretty bland for such a "famous" place.  The t-bone steak I had was dry enough that I resorted to the steak sauce—something I rarely do, as I prefer my steaks straight.  The one I had at the Denny’s in Sacramento the night before was far superiorand two bucks cheaper!


Escape From New York Pizza, San Francisco  This was a spur-of-the-moment stop while I wandered around the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood, and their big slice of Pepperoni really hit the spot.  I also loved the d├ęcor there featuring old 45 records mounted on the wall—very cool.

Carl’s Jr., somewhere north of San Diego  This isn’t about the food, but rather the manner in which I had to order it there.  Into our ever-increasingly impersonal world, we have now been bestowed the modern technology of touch-screen kiosks inside fast food joints on which to order and pay for your food.  It took me longer to negotiate my way through all the various options on the screen than it would have to place my order verbally like normal.  At least they still spared some flunky to bring me my food—I’m surprised they didn’t have some burger droid behind the counter. Ironically, I had just heard the old Zager & Evans song "In The Year 2525" on the radio, featuring the line, "some machine’s doin’ that for you…"

Bubba Gump Shrimp Co., Anaheim  I’ve seen these places everywhere but K.C., and had been wanting to check them out for quite a while, so since it was right on the way to Anaheim Stadium, I did an early dinner there before the ballgame.  Sad to say, I wasn’t all that impressed with their menu selections, and didn’t feel like I got $20 worth of shrimp from their sampler platter.  Joe’s Crab Shack is far better, and that’s all I have to say about that…

Mel’s Drive-In, San Francisco  Some enterprising folks pirated the Mel’s Drive-In logo and motif from the film American Graffiti and opened a chain of old-school diners throughout California, and I checked out the one in downtown SF and really liked it.  Good burger, dandy fries, and pretty speedy service.  The little jukeboxes on the counter were a nice touch too.  Hopefully Mel’s will drift eastward and open a few up around K.C. someday.




Zingo’s, Bakersfield While driving early Sunday morning, through Bakersfield, listening to Gospel music on that colored radio station, I stumbled across this kinda redneck-looking joint nestled between Hiway 99 and Buck Owens Blvd.  I wasn’t really in a Denny’s mood for breakfast, so I thought what the hey and took a chance on Zingo’s, and it turned out to be a wise move.  They were the best surprise of the trip, food-wise, and I enjoyed one of the best ham-and-cheese omelets I’ve ever eaten.  A tad pricey, but well worth it…






Bob’s Big Boy, Burbank  This is the famous one where Bob Hope used to hang out all the time, and where they have the classic car rallies that Jay Leno and other celebrities attend.  Located near NBC and Warner Bros. Studios, Bob’s was a very pleasant surprise, as it was easily the most inexpensive place I ate at on the trip (fast food joints included). I had their Big Burger Combo, which even included a salad, and it all cost me less than ten bucks.  I’d eat there all the time if I lived in the area.

Hodad’s, Ocean Beach  Just northwest of downtown San Diego, about a block and a half from the ocean sits local legend Hodad’s.  It’s a bit of a dive and full of surfers and slackers—in fact Ocean Beach was like a college town with surfboards—and I think I was the only person in the place who didn’t have a tattoo and/or piercings, but they served up one of the most killer burgers I’ve ever devoured!  I had their double bacon cheeseburger, and it made Hardees’ (or Carl’s Jr. for you West Coast folks) Monster Burger look like a White Castle burger by comparison.  I actually had to sit and formulate a plan of attack to figure out how to fit my mouth around it before I bit into the thing!  Good stuff, Maynard!

No comments: