Thursday, October 21, 2010

Greenleaf Restaurant | Ashland, OR

In a town where world-class theater is expected by its visitors, the same can be said for the demand in high-quality food. Now, that’s not to say that the local restaurants and eateries are in direct competition with the latest revival of Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night” or a modern twist to Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice,” but to keep up with the diverse tastes of the audiences attending these fine programs, many of Ashland’s finest chefs have had to reinvent and redefine the way we eat. Take, for example, the
Greenleaf Restaurant.

Located just a short walk from the downtown venues that house the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, the Greenleaf Restaurant is the brainchild of chef and owner Daniel Greenblatt, who opened this quaint establishment in 1985. With a friendly wait staff and a varied menu that includes selections made from local ingredients, diners are treated to a warm and inviting dining experience.

Seating is available upstairs and downstairs, but as lovely as that appeared on the day of our visit, we elected to take advantage of the nice weather and chose to sit out on their back patio. This was especially charming since we were able to overlook Lithia Creek as well as take in the sights and sounds of Ashland’s open-air market.

I know what you’re thinking, what about the food? Atmosphere and personality aside, let’s get to the things that are really important.

Breakfast, lunch, and dinner is the order of the day, and it all gets started at 8:00 a.m. every morning. Choices during these hours include omelets, frittatas, and scrambles. There are also a variety of waffle and pancake combinations. And when the clock strikes noon, entrees range anywhere from a variety of pastas, two kinds of flatbread pizzas, over twenty different wraps and sandwiches, and over ten hearty salads.

Looking for just an afternoon snack? Select appetizers include exotic selections such as a feta pate, a hummus plate, dolmades, Italian fries, and garlic mushrooms. A favorite of ours was their tofu satay, cubes of organic tofu fried crispy and served with a side of the Greenleaf’s own spicy peanut sauce.

Oh, by the way, everything on the menu is available for those on the go, meaning that the Greenleaf is known for their boxed meals, which can be enjoyed as a picnic in nearby Lithia Park or in the OSF courtyard as you wait for the show to begin.

But don’t just take our word for it. Stop in for a bite when visiting Ashland. “Fresh, healthy, and delicious.” This is what the folks at the Greenleaf promise to all of their customers, and that’s certainly what they deliver.

Out of the Kitchen Medford restaurants

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Gunther's Quality Ice Cream | Sacramento, CA

Shortly after moving to Sacramento in 1939, Herman "Pop" Gunther and his wife, Iva, acquired a small storefront on the corner of 5th Avenue and Franklin Boulevard. Along with their son, Dick, they proceeded to turn this modest location into a place where neighborhood families and people from all over could come and enjoy good quality ice cream. The idea was there, and so was the knowledge given Pop's 20 years of previous experience working with a Bay Area creamery.

Gunther's Quality Ice Cream Company was opened in April 1940. Sales of hand-packed pints and quarts was its initial staple, but what steadily grew in popularity was the customer’s ability to order a single scoop cone of any flavor for just five cents. Needless to say, it didn't take long for the Gunthers to seal their place in ice cream heaven.

Now, I can't say with certainty the degree of frequency that my family patronized Gunther's, but I do know that a divide existed between a few of my father's brothers and sisters who preferred Gunther's ice cream over another neighborhood joint. Does the debate continue to this day? You betcha! Why? One only has to sample the goods.

Their ice cream recipe involves using only fresh and all-natural ingredients, including a high percentage of butter cream, and blending them slowly in a freezing process that mirrors the hand-cranked methods used in the early 1900s. What is ultimately produced is a much richer ice cream than any other churned by their competitors.

And there isn't a flavor choice that hasn't been tried or left off the menu. You've got your standards such as vanilla, chocolate, strawberry, mint chip, rocky road, and pistachio. But there are also some that are slightly off the beaten path like marble fudge, butter brickle, swiss orange chip, black raspberry walnut, and birthday cake. In all, Gunther's features 40 ice cream flavors as well as sherbets, sorbets, frozen yogurt, and real fruit freezes.

Our recommendation? The kids swear on Gunther’s old-fashioned 50/50, a throwback to the creamsicle that takes a hefty scoop of vanilla and sandwiches it between two equal scoops of any fruit freeze flavor. Orange, strawberry, lemon, pineapple, strawberry banana, grape, or mango ... The choice is yours!

Not into ice cream, but fun foods on a stick is more your passion? They got you covered with a cold-counter full of heavenly selections, each one covered in chocolate for a complete sugar experience: cheesecake, moussecake, bananas, oreo pie, mudd pie, and strawberries just to name a few. They also have nutty cones, clown cones, oatwheels, bon bons, and chocolate dipped banana chips just ripe for the pickin'.

Completing their story, the Gunthers would later move their parlor just a couple of blocks down the street to its present location on 3rd Avenue and Franklin, and over the years, it changed ownership at least two times since Iva sold the business following Dick's passing in 1967. She passed away herself in 1989.

Although the Gunthers are no longer with us, their names have become synonymous with good, quality ice cream. And under current owner, Rick Klopp, the promise of "giving the customer his money's worth" continues to this day, meaning that the Gunthers’ legacy will go on to delight customers for many generations hereafter.

Out of the Kitchen Sacramento restaurants

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Wordless Wednesday: Guisti's | Walnut Grove, CA

In this photo:
The ceiling of the bar area at Guisti's Restaurant.
Guisti's is located in Walnut Grove right on the Sacramento Delta and has been a local favorite for nearly 100 years!

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Fenton's Ice Cream | Oakland, CA and Vacaville, CA

Fenton's Creamery was already a popular destination for Oaklanders, but once Pixar Animation Studios featured them in its 2009 animated feature "Up", the place exploded on the scene. Although I'd like to think that the long lines for the ice cream bar or a dine-in experience existed before the film, I do believe many, like my family, made a personal pilgrimage to discover what the folks at Pixar wanted the world to know: Fenton's Creamery is one damn fine place for ice cream!!!

Founded in 1894 by E.S. Fenton, the creamery was known for delivering milk by horse drawn carriage. It wasn't until E.S.'s grandson began making ice cream was its place in history solidified. 115 years and three store locations later, Fenton's boasts 37 flavors, four types of frozen yogurt, and season favorites like Apple Pie, Rum Raisin, and Egg Nog. And, any variety of them can be found in their specialty sundaes like Banana Special, the Berry-Go-Round, and the Saddleback Brownie.

But be warned, it doesn't just stop there. When stopping in, come hungry because a full menu of savory sandwiches, burgers, and appetizers also await your arrival.

Fenton's Ice Cream (Oakland)
4226 Piedmont Ave.
Oakland, CA 94611

Fenton's Ice Cream (Nut Tree Location)
1669 East Monte Vista Ave.
Vacaville, CA 95688

Out of the Kitchen SF Bay Area restaurants

Maps for Diners, DriveIns and Dives, Man v. Food and more

Friday, October 1, 2010

Tillamook, Oregon | "The Trees, The Cheese, The Ocean Breeze"

“Cheese, trees, and the ocean breeze.”

The quintessential motto for the city of Tillamook. It is not only appropriate, but it goes right to the heart of describing the historical background of the city’s surroundings, its geographic location, and its most popular export next to logging. Let me explain:

The Trees – After driving about an hour from Portland on Hwy 6, we stopped at the Tillamook Forest Center. We didn’t plan on staying very long, thinking that we would merely stretch our legs, rest a bit before continuing, and read a few roadside markers. Truth is, however, there was more to it … A lot more!

Open since May 2006, the Tillamook Forest Center consists of an interactive learning center, outdoor classroom facilities, a private theater, a 250-foot suspension bridge, and a 40-foot tall lookout tower that offered an endurance challenge for me and the kids. Needless to say, there was a lot of huffing-and-puffing once we got to the top.

Now, the meaning behind the Center is as varied as the trees that surround it, but its mission is as clear as the water in the Wilson River behind it: Educate visitors on the valuable ecosystem that makes up the Tillamook Forest and inspire others to maintain its natural beauty, especially given the park’s history.

You see, back in the 1930s and 40s, the entire region was nearly wiped out by what is collectively known as the Tillamook Burn, a series of fires that blackened over 550 square miles. In the decades that followed, the entire forest was restored by countless volunteers and school children who planted – by hand – over 72 million seedlings. And to account for terrain they couldn’t reach, innovative techniques and aerial drops from commercial helicopters were incorporated.

A thriving habitat now exists as well as breathtaking views at every turn. Gazing toward the hills while walking along its bridge, there was a lot about the Tillamook Forest that left us in awe. So, be sure to do as we did, and stop a moment to take a look around.

The Breeze – On the day of our visit to the Oregon Coast, temperatures in the inland areas of Portland, Oregon City, Beaverton, Woodburn, and Salem soared well into the mid- to high-90s. To put it in another way, it was downright hot. So, we were glad to be in Tillamook, especially when the ocean breeze kept conditions at a very comfortable 75 degrees.

Located between the Coastal Range Mountains and the Pacific Ocean, the city of Tillamook was incorporated by the state in 1891. It is known as the gateway to some of the state’s most beautiful beaches and prominent fishing whether it’s for clams, crabs, or Chinook salmon. The city is also home to a variety of world-class museums, wildlife centers, restaurants, golf courses, campsites, and scenic adventures such as the Three Capes Drive.

But, of course, the main attraction is the Tillamook Cheese Factory, which is what brought us, and hundreds of other tourists, to the city.

The Cheese – The Tillamook Cheeese Factory traces its roots as far back as 1894, when T. S. Townsend, a prominent dairy entrepreneur, partnered with Canadian cheesemaker Peter McIntosh. Together, they would create the first successful commercial cheese plant in the area, and their reputation was solidified after one of their cheeses was awarded a top prize during the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis, Missouri.

The key to their success was very simple from the beginning: Ally with local dairy farmers for their basic ingredients; Share their knowledge with other talented cheesemakers in the county; And remain faithful to a set of guiding principles that include “values of quality, cooperation, integrity, stewardship, and customer responsiveness.” Bottom line, it was about producing dairy products that is both nutritious and satisfying. These efforts soon led to the formation of the Tillamook County Creamery Association in 1906.

That said, visiting the factory is a true delight with a little bit of everything for everybody. After grabbing a snack at the in-house cafeteria, we embarked on the self-guided tour, which consists of wall posters and photographs that note the rich history of the facilities and the people that made it all happen and still do today.

Among our favorite stops was along the second floor, where large pane windows allowed us a look into their packaging area. Blocks of cheese whizzed by at a record pace through the various conveyor belts, wrapping machines, and quality control sensors. And watching it all happen was a dedicated group of people who seemed oblivious to the fact that we were staring down at them with our noses pressed close to the glass. That is, until we saw one of them pause for a moment to share a wave and a smile.

At the end of the tour, a cheese bar welcomed us into the visitor center's market and gift shop. Heaping bowls of diced cheese was laid out for all to sample, and included not only their award-winning cheddars, but also newer flavors such as their signature mozzarella, popular cheese curds, and three types of Jacks (Monterey, Pepper, and Colby). Next to the ice cream, the kids loved trying each cheese variety and were encouraged by the employees monitoring the line to come back for seconds and thirds.

There is certainly a great deal of tradition and pride at the Tillamook Cheese Factory, and why wouldn’t there be? As it is noted throughout the factory and in their literature, "Dairy is our life, and it has been that way for over 100 years. When something is that important, you want it to be absolutely right." No need to convince us.