Thursday, November 17, 2011

Ghiradelli Outlet Store | Lathrop, CA

This past summer, when we learned that one of our favorite baseball players was the starting pitcher in a game featuring the Modesto Nuts and the San Jose Giants, we piled into the van and proceeded to make the 82 mile trip south on Highway 99. All along the way, we anticipated seeing a performance like no other. We envisioned catching foul balls and having them signed by the players who hit them. And we couldn't wait to indulge ourselves on hot dogs, cracker jack, and ice cream. Unfortunately, 24,000 other fans were feeling the same way.

There was not a parking space to be found. There was not a ticket to be sold. Disappointed? You bet. Sorry that we attempted the trip? Absolutely not! We were not yet ready to give up on a promising family night out. Not even close.

Banking on the hope of making lemonade from lemons, we turned our sights to chocolate. That's not to say that this new adventure made up for the sights and wonder that can only be found at the ballpark, but we weren't thinking about just any kind of chocolate. Rather, our senses were quickly "turned on" to the timeless pleasure that only Ghirardelli Chocolates can bring. Never heard of 'em? Please forgive me for being crass, but what rock have you been living under?

A San Francisco staple since 1852, the Ghirardelli Chocolate Company was founded by Italian-born Domingo Ghirardelli, who, after spending ten years in South America honing his dream of creating one-of-a-kind confections, immigrated to California during the Gold Rush. He struck it rich from the very start, and quickly turned his attention towards opening his first factory and storefront along the historic piers that overlooked the bay. Again, success was swift. Ghirardelli's use of high quality cocoa beans and extensive conching techniques earned him a reputation as America's premier chocolatier. There was no mistaking the unique taste of his candies, and the company flourished under his direction. Before long, the signature lights held high above the company's majestic brick facade "welcomed ships passing through the Golden Gate."

Today, Ghirardelli Square is home to numerous shops and eateries. It is also among the city's top tourist attractions with thousands having walked through the courtyard. Each stopping, of course, at the original Ghirardelli manufactory to make a purchase or to enjoy an unforgettable fountain treat. We've been there many times, but not on this day. If given the opportunity, however, we probably would have traveled down that road.

No, we didn't high-tail it to the city. Instead, we made our way to Lathrop, California, where, straddling one side of the I-5, the Ghirardelli Chocolate Company built one of its distribution warehouses. And tucked in one small corner of the building, you can stop in to pick up a box (or bag) of their chocolate squares while enjoying a frozen dessert, just like the ones made special in San Francisco. For example, there's the Cable Car (Rocky Road Sundae), the Gold Rush (Peanut Butter Hot Fudge Sundae), the Haight Ashberry (Very Berry Sundae with Strawberries and Chocolate-Covered Blueberries), and the Espresso Escape (An Intense Dark Chocolate Sundae). There's certainly much more to choose from, but we had finally found our heaven that night ... We had finally found restitution from the earlier let down.

The Ghirardelli Chocolate Company has a handful of locations and outlets throughout the United States that stretch from San Francisco to Miami, and their products are found all over the world in many fine grocery stores, specialty food shops, and gift boutiques. You now know where we go to satisfy our guilty pleasure. Where do you go to satisfy yours?

Ghiradelli Factory Outlet Store
11980 S Harlan Rd
Lathrop, CA 95330

Friday, November 11, 2011

OOTK Profile | Nicole Morgan of Nicole's Cupcakes

We met Nicole Morgan through a friend at work who was bringing in vegan cupcakes made by her 15-year-old daughter. She made every variety you can imagine. Not only did they look amazing, but they tasted just as great. And because they were vegan, folks who enjoyed these wonderful treats also knew that what they were eating had no animal by-products in the mix.

As self-branded foodies, we’ve had our share of cupcakes. But Nicole’s Cupcakes resonates with us because of her passion for what she creates and how she, at just 15-years-old, goes about picking her ingredients. A
ll local and as much as possible, organic.

As an aspiring cook and entrepreneur, Nicole is learning how to find her niche in the food world and getting her footing in an industry that she may or may not go into when she gets older. For now, she is a high-school student who enjoys tooling around in the kitchen, creating wonderful flavor combinations for her cupcakes, and creating a business she can call her own.

The following recounts a recent interview we had with Nicole this past summer.

OOTK: So why vegan cupcakes?

Nicole: I chose to make vegan cupcakes mostly because I'm vegan. I also firmly believe that consumption of food products derived from animals such as milk, eggs, cheese, etc., are harmful to yourself, the environment, and animals. I want a chance to show people that making decisions that benefit everyone can be delicious. You don't have to feel like you're missing out on anything. I decided to start specializing in cupcakes because I love how each cupcake can have its own identity.

They're fun to make and people love to eat them!

OOTK: How old were you when you started baking?
Nicole: I can’t remember a time when I wasn't in the kitchen! From the time I was old enough to walk, I would help my grandma pour the sugar for brownies or mix in the hot water for Jell-O with my stepmom.

OOTK: How do your parents feel about your cupcake business? They seem very supportive.
Nicole: My parents have been a huge help with starting up this business.
They've been very supportive in every way possible. Emotionally, physically, monetarily. You name it. They have been there for me every step of the way.

OOTK: Are you thinking about going to culinary school?
Nicole: Culinary school is not really something that has ever interested me. I think you can get all the knowledge you need from pure experience. In the long run, I may get a degree in business, or I may pursue my interest in the medical field.

OOTK: Where are you planning on going to school?
Nicole: I’m thinking about University of San Francisco. I’ve visited a couple times. I’m not sure what I’m majoring in yet, we’ll see. All I know is that, whatever I end up doing in my career, cooking and baking will always be something that I am passionate about.

OOTK: What is your favorite cupcake?
Nicole: I love the vanilla cupcakes topped with chocolate buttercream.
Despite the simplicity, the two flavors compliment each other perfectly.

OOTK: We’re fans of your Green Tea cupcake. What is your most popular cupcake?
Nicole: Cookies and Crème.

OOTK: What are your favorite restaurants around town?
Nicole: Thai Palace is my favorite restaurant by far. I love the tofu pangang and vegetable pad thai. Sugar Plum Vegan Cafe is my “go-to” restaurant if I'm looking for a good sandwich. Their Midtown Bacon Cheeseburger is to die for!

OOTK: How do people contact you if they want to purchase your cupcakes?
Nicole: People can reach me through my Facebook page or by sending an email, text, or simply calling me. Although I check my Facebook page and email every day, if you're looking for a quick reply, contacting me by phone would be the best.

OOTK: Thanks for time Nicole. It was a pleasure meeting you. We wish you luck wherever your future leads you.

Nicole’s Cupcakes


Monday, November 7, 2011

Naked Lounge | Sacramento, CA

I've said it before, and most likely, I'll say it many more times to come. The one thing that has really captured our imagination since we started sharing our food adventures with you has been meeting the people who make it all happen. The tireless owners, the accomplished chefs, the talented short-order cooks, the hardworking wait staff, the welcoming hosts, and ... well, the people. The every man, woman, and child who we've shared our story, and in turn, they have shared theirs.

Each of the adventures we've come to enjoy have become not just about the food, but about relationships. The euphoric feeling of being with someone who also shares in your passion, whether it's enjoying a time-tested burger that oozes with greasy goodness, an ice cream sundae that's piled to the ceiling with all the fixin's, or a volcanic chocolate bar that packs just enough heat to make you sweat and cry at the same time.

It doesn't take long to find this common bond. It can happen in just a split second, and then last for as long as the kitchen (or bar) is open. Take for example a recent visit we paid to the Naked Lounge-Midtown located on the corner of 15th and Q Streets. We had already heard so much about this converted house with its blending of neutral colors against recycled textures, its evocative paintings on the walls, and the owners' penchant to support new and up-and-coming musical acts. After all, the soothing and sometimes rockin' sounds were the only thing filtering out of the hidden speakers.

As I recall, it was a cold, rainy day in late Spring. Not enough to get one soaking wet, mind you, but enough to drive us indoors and call it a day for coffee or, in our kids' case, a good cup of hot chocolate. After commandeering a corner table near the front door, we surveyed the drink menu that was perched high above the counter where all the magic happened. The names were catchy, inspiring curiosity. There was the Press Pot, the Hammerhead, the Kerouac, and something called the Keith Richard. Each was described with an interesting flavor profile that had us pausing for a moment to say, "I think I can drink that."

In the end, however, we retreated to conservative wisdom. Two Mexican hot chocolates and two Mocha Thai drinks. Yes, we chose to be plain-Janes. We resolved to be BORING. The act did not go unnoticed.

"You should have tried their Bowl of Soul," came a friendly voice from the table next to ours. There sat two women, one dressed liked she had just come from a meeting, the other like she had just come from home. They sat side-by-side, taking comfort in not just each others' affection, but in the warmth that the Lounge offered. "We noticed that you both were having trouble deciding, and since you didn't order it, thought we'd suggest the Bowl of Soul for your next visit. We order nothing else."

The Bowl of Soul. A generous cup of camomile tea infused with vanilla soy milk, honey, and a sprinkling of cinnamon sugar. This was a cup of yummy goodness that reminds us of those little Calgon moments of being swept away. No wonder our new friends repeatedly order this and snuggle up to each other. Relax, release, and let go.

And so the ice was broken between us. Next thing we knew, we were all talking like we knew each other since forever, like stopping into the Lounge was not just some random act, but rather a planned rendezvous with old friends.

So, go forward on your next food adventure and take umbrage of the people who share the space around you. Given the backdrop provided by the Lounge, it's a good place to start. Locally owned and self-described as fiercely independent, it is one of four locations housed under the Naked Coffee umbrella. The others include Tupelo, Orphan, and Naked Lounge-Downtown, which also features a live music venue. They pride themselves "on a belief of individualism rather than robot-ism, and strive to inhabit unique urban neighborhoods while promoting creativity, dialogue and individuality." Oh, the stories you'll discover and the new friends that you'll make.

Naked Lounge
1500 Q Street
Sacramento, CA 95814

Out of the Kitchen Sacramento restaurants

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Doughbot Donuts | Sacramento, CA

One bite. That's all it took. One delicious bite, and we were soon propelled to a place that can only be described as nirvana ... Just as long as this nirvana is decked out in red raspberries, fresh blueberries, chili chocolate icing, a spritz of mint, and the devilish combination of bacon and maple. What in heaven to earth am I talking about? I bring you the joy that is Doughbot Donuts.

Founded through their fascination of donuts and robots (the relationship is obvious, right?), the husband and wife team of Bryan Widener and Dannah O'Donnell recently opened their first storefront location in midtown Sacramento to crowds of adoring fans who already knew about them via Twitter and Facebook, the very platforms that have gotten many small business ventures like gourmet food trucks off to sustaining starts. This was certainly a far cry from their modest beginnings in May 2010, when they were only making a few dozen donuts in their home kitchen. Back then, experimentation was the name of the game.

As O'Donnell noted in a recent article in the Sacramento Press, “Everything we do is a team effort. I'll occasionally come up with an idea, and Bryan will create the recipes. It's truly trial and error, but everything we have tried has been okay. It has not been too outrageous.”

They currently have over 20 varieties of donuts in their arsenal, including vegan varieties. All are made from scratch, meaning that you won't find anything packaged or premade like that of most donut shops. Among the most popular are the bacon and maple donut, the apple and bacon fritter, the dulce de leche, the chai glaze donut, the PB&J, the mint chocolate donut, and "The Dude," a white Russian Bavarian cream-filled delight with a vodka Kahlua glaze. And as I understand it, they're currently working out a s'mores donut that echoes the days of childhood campfires and ghost stories.

But why donuts, especially given Widener's background and training? He's paid his dues having graduated in 2006 from the Institute of Technology’s culinary school in Roseville. He also made the rounds at such well-established eateries as Streamers Cafe, Magpie, Fat City Cafe, and Enotria. For O'Donnell, there was more than just unwavering support. There was a need to help find a niche that felt comfortable enough to be creative and innovative. Their breakthrough came after sampling VooDoo Donuts' bacon maple bar. From that moment on, the couple vowed "to dedicate their free time to making the best damned donut possible."

Looking back now, Doughbot Donuts seemed destined to happen. The proof is in the couple's own personal history when they were just kids. As fate would have it, Widener's mom used to treat him and his brother to a box of donuts on weekends from Marie's on Freeport. O'Donnell's grandfather would bring her a donut every time he picked her up from school. With memories like these, it's without wonder that they found each other, fell in love, and began creating something truly special.

“Our future goals would probably include, first off, getting a bathroom for our customers," Widener later noted to the Sacramento Press. "Eventually, (we hope to expand) so that we can stay open twenty-four hours."

Twenty-four hours of Doughbot Donuts? Looks like the path to nirvana will be getting even sweeter.

2226 10th St
Sacramento, CA 95818

Out of the Kitchen Sacramento restaurants

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Jim Denny's | Sacramento, CA

To say that they are as big as saucers would be an understatement. Some have affectionately called them hubcaps, while others have referred to them as manhole covers. We simply call them decadent, delicious, and filling. What am I talking about? Why, the pancakes at Sacramento's own Jim-Denny's Hamburgers and Chili, of course!

Considered to be one the oldest running restaurants in Sacramento, Jim-Denny's was founded by Jim Van Nort in 1934 on the corner of 16th and J Street, close to where the Memorial Auditorium now sits. As I understand it, his initial reputation was built on grilling up the tastiest burgers that his customers have ever encountered at that time. In fact, my father thinks very fondly of the days when he stopped for an order to go, knowing that the burger sitting at the bottom of the bag would not only be satisfying, but also a treat to brighten up the daily grind as he commuted to and from Dixon, CA.

How did Van Nort please so many? Quite simple. He used nothing but the finest beef and complimentary ingredients that money could buy. Couple that with his positive work ethic AND a well-seasoned grill, which, after 77 years, has become just as much of a treasure as the restaurant itself has become. The people kept coming. Politicians, city workers, commuters, tourists, and families. Jim-Denny's was said to have the "ten busiest seats in town." Still do.

Since those early days, Jim-Denny's was moved to its present location on 12th Street and saw ownership change hands four times. But one thing has always remained constant, the quality of service and food. As the current owners note when they recently acquired the restaurant, "It is our hope to continue the time-honored traditions started by Jim Van Nort (and the other before us) so many years ago." I'd say that they succeeded.

Now, having said all that, a few words to those who have never been to Jim-Denny's and are now jotting it down as a future stop. GET THERE EARLY!!! Or, at the very least, set aside plenty of time and reserve a good deal of patience. This is a small place with an equally small grill (and only one cook to work it). The wait for your order can be time-consuming, especially if there are a row of tickets ahead of yours, you have a large order, or you've included one of those ginormous pancakes to your order. Just one of these pancakes consumes the whole grill and can take as long as 20-30 minutes to properly "bubble and squeek." Should you or someone else ask for one of these bad boys, you will be waiting ... But it's worth it. Trust me!

Jim Denny's
816 12th Street
Sacramento, CA 95814

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

Jim-Denny's Lunch on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

South African Food & Wine Festival | Gum Spring, VA

(From contributing writer, Terry "Smitty" Ebright)

After experiencing consecutive days of relentless rain due to Tropical Storm Lee, the 6th Annual South African Food & Wine Festival hosted by
Grayhaven Winery was met with a beautiful sunny weekend on September 10 and 11. Nearly 2,000 people came out to the award-winning winery located on the Central Virginia countryside to taste over thirty wines from South Africa as well as Grayhaven’s selected vintages. The event presented a truly unique opportunity for visitors to sample imported South African wines that are not readily available to the public. And as an added bonus to this year's fest, two winemakers made the trek from South Africa to be on hand to discuss their distinctive wine culture.

Accompanying the wines were several South African foods such as Peri-Peri Chicken, Biltong (awesome jerky), Boerewors sausage with train smash (stewed tomatoes & onions), chutneys, and spices along with traditional wares from the country. As the organizers of the festival note, "Eating at the South African fest is kind of like going to a restaurant that happens to be outdoors and is only open 2 days a year. Most meats, vegetables, and fruit are from local farms. The Boerewors sausage is hand-made. Mielie Pap is shipped all the way from South Africa. In a nutshell - this is NOT your typical festival food."

And what's a celebration without music and entertainment? JuxtaPower, a production company that promotes South African talent and history through performance, provided entertainment during both days. Included in the mix were tribal songs, Zulu dances, and storytelling. And appearing for the first time, special guest David Jenkins - musician, singer, songwriter – gave great performances. Discovered on the television program South Africa's Got Talent, Jenkins is often referred to as the "White Zulu" due to his mastery of traditional Zulu maskandi music. More simply put, I equate him as the young “Justin Beiber” of South Africa with a traditional folk music bent.
That said, back to the wine and to the question of how does one taste so many in one afternoon? It was not easy. There were so many and most were really good. Among my favorites , these six topped my list:

- MAN Chenin Blanc 2010. Surprisingly light with tropical fruit flavors backed with refreshing acidity and minerality.
- Grayhaven Riesling. Made in Alsatian style, this selection is very food friendly. Crisp and clean with bright fruit notes.
- MAN Pinotage 2010. Made with the South African national grape, this red offers berry notes with touches of cinnamon, smoke, spice, and soft tannins. Nice & easy.
- Mulderbosch Cabernet Sauvignon Rosé 2010. This one is on the dry side. Nice color with berry and lime notes aligned with hints of nutmeg and black pepper. Perfect on a hot summer day.
- DeToren “Z” Red Blend 2008. A very balanced blend of seven different red grapes delivering intense flavors of plum, berries, spice with notes of tobacco and leather. Very enjoyable.
- Vilafonte “Series M” Red Blend 2006. Another blend of four reds. A great combination of sweet berries, nuts, and milk chocolate. Quite silky on the palate. My favorite, and very popular with the festival attendees.

It was truly a fun event. Great wines, sunny weather, beautiful Virginia countryside ... Not a bad way to spend a weekend.

Grayhaven Winery
4675 East Grey Fox Circle
Gum Spring, VA 23065

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Summer Snapshot :: Fresh Peach Shakes

With the last day of August having come and gone, that only meant two things to us: (1) the fun-filled days of summer were ending, and (2) time was running out to enjoy just one more fresh peach shake at Whitey’s Jolly Kone in West Sacramento.

The secret to their cold and frosty treat is the tree-ripened freestone peaches from Modesto. Share it with a friend or keep it all to yourself, they are pure heaven! With each slurp, we got a delectable taste of sweet peach bits mixed in with the thick vanilla ice cream.

The kids and I sipped slowly under the shade of the bright red umbrellas that adorned their patio tables. Each one of us hoping to stretch the summer hours just a little longer because we knew that once Whitey’s takes down their sign which reads "Fresh Peach Milkshakes," the summer was surely over ... And we didn't want it to end.

Whitey's Jolly Kone
1300 Jefferson Boulevard
West Sacramento, CA 95691

Out of the Kitchen Sacramento restaurants

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Summer Snapshot :: Frito Pie

In our family, we can never get enough of Fritos Corn Chips. No matter the size, no matter the flavor ... We love 'em! And when we heard that our friends at Chile Pie and Ice Cream included a Frito Pie on their menu, we had to check it out for ourselves.

Served straight out of the bag, the corn chips are piled with spiced Niman Ranch ground beef and pinto beans. To top it off, their signature red chile sauce over and into the bag. Talk about taking snack food to whole other level!

Chile Pie and Ice Cream
601 Baker St
San Francisco, CA 94117

Friday, August 5, 2011

Wicked West Pizza | West Sacramento, CA

We recently asked the kids to come up with some of their favorite food combinations, or at least, come up with as many food combinations that they can muster. The list included burgers and fries, spaghetti and meatballs, peanut butter and jelly, bacon and eggs, pie and ice cream, and liver and onions. We could have gone on and on, as I'm sure you could as well, but we were struck rather curious when our son blurted out pizza and bbq. Not exactly one that rolls right off the tongue and certainly one that is not necessarily in the culinary vernacular.

Still, stranger combinations have come to be accepted norms. Take, for example, fried chicken and waffles. So, it's not a stretch to think that pizza and bbq could work, and as our son reminded us, it does at Wicked West Pizza and BBQ.

Ever since they opened its doors last year, Wicked West Pizza and BBQ has caused quite a positive stir in the immediate and surrounding communities of West Sacramento. Why? Unlike other, more commercial pizzerias, they shy away from artificial fillers and flavors that can be found in mass produced pies. Rather, they are staking their newfound reputation by providing their customers with nothing but fresh and natural ingredients provided by organic farmers and artisans in the local area.

"Food is important to us," writes owners Michelle Lau-Heetkamp and Devin Grant. "It defines our bodies and makes us who we are. We know how important our customers' lives are, and we do our very best to help out families eat better and take better care of themselves. We don’t just put a local heirloom tomato on your plate and hope you assume everything is organic. We are truly committed to serving the very best food we can."

Their menu is a cornucopia of choices. If pizza is your craving for the day, you can select your own toppings or go with any one of nine specialty pizzas, each with a colorful name such as The Phat Man's BBQ, The Flyin' Hawaiian, The Old Lady, or The Campbell River. No matter the slice or size, they stack em' high on top of a gluten-free crust or one made with organic whole wheat flour.

Now, if you are anything like my son, great bbq is the preference. Sure, he likes their pizza, but he loves the bbq better. And what's not to love when their grill-master is cooking up all-natural free range chicken, baby back ribs, hot links, beef brisket, and hand-pulled pork.

Every bit of it slow-cooked over hickory chips to "give you a delectable plate of meat." And don't expect any one of the above to be served coated in sauce. That's not to say there isn't something to dip your bbq. They won't cheat you of that endeavor. You'll just find it on the side, kettle-cooked to perfection, in three ways: mild, hot, or WICKED HOT.

Beyond the food, the folks at Wicked West Pizza and BBQ keep family entertainment close to heart. Flat-screen monitors keep you updated on the latest sporting events whether the season calls for baseball, basketball, football, hockey, or soccer. For the kids, let them get lost in an arcade reminiscent of those found at the Chuck E. Cheese or the Dave 'n Buster restaurants. There's even a prize counter to cash in game tickets (AWESOME!). And for us older folks, on special evenings, it's not uncommon to enjoy live music and dancing on the patio.

Oh, by the way, did I mention the gelato bar? They got that too. No preservatives, stabilizers, or "gross stuff hidden here!" It's all-natural with featured flavors as cookie dough, vanilla, strawberry, chocolate peanut butter. raspberry marble, mint chip, butter pecan, coffee, and chocolate chip.

So, there's a little of something for everyone at Wicked West Pizza and BBQ, and now that this latest posting is done, I'll meet you there. I'll be the one chilling with a plate of their 3-Meat Sampler, a slice of The Old Lady, and a tall, frosted glass of Hoegaarden Speciale ... Oh, and a pocketful of game tickets (got my eye on sweet lookin' lava lamp).

Wicked West Pizza
3160 Jefferson Boulevard
West Sacramento, CA 95691
(916) 572-0572

Wicked West Pizza & BBQ on Urbanspoon

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Dynamo Donuts and Coffee | San Francisco, CA

BACON DONUT DAY IS EVERYDAY! A battle-cry that is noted on their website. A motto that is worn well on the chalk board signage noting the "flavors of the day" behind the take-out counter. None have stretched the creative boundaries of a donut's potential quite like our friends at Dynamo Donuts and Coffee. An idea conceived by renowned pastry chef, Sara Spearin, her neighborhood shop has not only fulfilled a longtime dream of hers, but it has also filled a niche that has not been seen or realized in San Francisco before her arrival.

Writes Lessley Anderson of Readymade Magazine, "Sara Spearin has developed mouth-watering recipes that use organic flour, milk, and palm shortening, rather than the preservatives and trans fat-laden ingredients favored by many commercial donut makers. Her natural approach, along with unusual flavor combinations, has drawn lines to the Mission District shop since she opened it in July 2008."

Spearin and her staff are there every morning at 2:30a prepping the kitchen for that day's menu, which is never repeated twice during the same week. In other words, a rotating selection of seven to ten donuts are featured daily from a collection of twenty-three exotic flavors, including, but not limited to:

- Chocolate Rose Geranium Hazelnut
- Lemon Pistachio
- The Monte Cristo (i.e. filled donut with ham, gruyere, and a house jam)
- Passion Fruit Milk Chocolate
- Candied Orange Blossom
- Caramel de Sel
- Saffron Chocolate
- Apricot Cardamom

And as noted, their Bacon Maple Apple donut is offered everyday. It is arguably their most popular flavor. Studded with bacon and apples that were sauteed in bacon fat and topped with a maple glaze and crispy bacon bits, every bite from this ringed delicacy simply melts in your mouth. We recommend that you include two (or more) in your order because one is simply not enough to garnish your plate.

For many of you who follow our culinary adventures, you know that we make no secret of our love for donuts. Baked or fried. Custard or jelly filled. Frosted with unusual toppings or simply covered in more traditional fare whether it's sprinkles, nuts, or coconut shavings. We just can't enough of these tasty confections, and as long as Spearin and her staff are rollin' out the goods, we will continue to be big fans and constant visitors to Dynamo Donuts and Coffee.

Dynamo Donuts and Coffee

2760 24th Street

San Francisco, C A 94110


Dynamo Donuts & Coffee on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Summer Snapshot of the Day :: Tillamook at the Zoo

Last year, the 102-year-old Tillamook County Creamery Association (TCCA)assembled a group of dedicated personnel and placed them behind the wheels of a small fleet of decorative VW buses. They had never done anything like this before. At least, not in recent memory. Their mission? Travel across the western states to promote the many award-winning products under the Tillamook brand. Referred to as the "Love Loaf Tour," the adventurous endeavor proved to be a great success not only in its simple approach, but also in its grassroots philosophy.

They have since brought the "Love Loaf Tour" back for a second year, and during this past week, the little VW buses parked themselves in front of various locations in the Sacramento area. We were fortunate to catch up with them this past Saturday at the Sacramento Zoo, where nothing but fun was on the agenda: scavenger hunts, walkabout bingo, word scrambles, and of course, the animal exhibits and shows. Prizes were given away as well as all the cheese samples you could stomach!

"Our hope is to introduce ourselves to those who come out and see us and give them a chance to try our best tasting cheeses," noted Andrea, one of the tour hosts. "I love meeting the people. This has been a very rewarding experience for me."

But as good as that all sounded, the cheese and games were not the only highlight. Rather, the Cheese on Wheels or Baby Loaf Buses were sights to behold. According to the handouts, each bus "started out as a standard Volkswagen microbus from the '60s. Roughly five feet from the middle section was removed and the two halves were welded together. The buses were then lowered three inches to improve balance, handling, and performance." With a lot of "loaf and care," each bus was made to resemble a baby loaf of cheese and, over time, have since become automotive marvels.

Not familiar with the Tillamook brand? A quick history. Established in 1909, the Tillamook County Creamery Association (TCCA) is a cooperative of 110 dairy farming families guided by century-old values of quality, cooperation, integrity, stewardship and responsiveness. During their storied history, the cooperative has developed itself as one of the top dairy brands in the country, offering not only their naturally aged cheddars, but also a variety of other cheeses, ice cream, butter, sour cream, and yogurt.

The "Love Loaf Tour" has just a few more months left on the road with more stops scheduled in Salt Lake City, Denver, Seattle, Spokane, Portland, and Boise. To see the tour’s full & detailed schedule of stops in Sacramento, please visit their website at For other information, tune into Tillamook Cheese on Facebook or follow @TillamookCheese on Twitter.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Summer Snapshot of the Day :: Salumi Cone from Boccalone

Many of us have heard of ice cream cones and snow cones. But a meat cone? Why not, and leave it to our friends at Boccalone to assemble such a combination of salty flavors.

Located at San Francisco’s Ferry Building, Boccalone's storefront is visited by folks from all over the world. Whether they are local to the area or a tourist (like us), they are here for one thing: cured meats.

Fresh sausages, head cheese, cooked and smoked hams, salumi, and many others treats. Created by Chris Cosentino and Mark Pastore, Boccalone takes great pride in creating small-batches of their meats, including assurances that everything is sustainably raised, hand butchered, and cold cured.

Given this, it never takes us long to maneuver through the crowds and create a beeline towards their counter to get one of their delectable meat (a.k.a. salumi) cones. For just a few dollars, we are soon holding a paper cone stuffed with three to four varieties of their sliced, expertly cured meats ranging from Ciccioli, Coppa di Testa to Mortadella. Meraviglioso ... The salumi cone really hit the spot that day!

Boccalone Salumeria
Ferry Building Marketplace
Shop 21
San Francisco, CA 94111

Friday, July 29, 2011

Summer Snapshot of the Day :: Pie Shake

A few weeks back, our family was in the San Francisco area to attend a family reunion. As with any trip, we researched a few of the neighborhoods in the city and pleasantly discovered a corner cafe that combined two of my favorite food items, but with a unique twist ... We've all had pie à la mode, but have you ever had a pie shake?

Located in the NOPA neighborhood of San Francisco,
Chile Pies (& ice cream) has been serving up their frozen dessert since it opened in March 2010. The general concept? You get to choose your pie from a wide variety of selections -- peach, lemon, blueberry, country apple, or whatever is in season -- and then it gets blended with a little bit of milk and whole lot of ice cream. Although a good portion of it was able to get through the straw, I had to bust out a spoon to get to the sweet and buttery goodness at the bottom of the glass.

Now, there were a few skeptics at the table, including my wife who was unsure about combination. But she soon "ate her words." Before I was able to take a second sip, the pie shake suddenly disappeared.

Chile Pies (& ice cream)
601 Baker Street
San Francisco, CA 94117-1407

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Sacramento Zoo | Ice Cream Safari

For the last twenty-seven years (and counting), the Sacramento Zoo has opened its doors for one special night in the mid-summer months to host their Ice Cream Safari, an all-you-can-eat extravaganza that is easily one of the city's premiere showcases that promises hours of family fun. This year was no exception, but to be honest, we almost didn't make it after we already put in a full day of activities that drained most of our energy.

With a little cheerleading from our kids, however, we mustered up just enough motivation to include a date with zebras, giraffes, flamingos, gibbons, and great hornbills. Sorry folks, no lions, tigers, or bears on this trip. Many of them were still hiding out in their pens, but as one visitor aptly put it, "We're not here to see the animals. We're here for the ICE CREAM!" Can't say that I was arguing with her, and the many volunteers, staff, donors, and supporters did not disappoint. They rolled out the flavors by the truckload:

- Reese's Peanut Butter Cup
- Pink Lemonade
- Oreo Cookies and Cream
- Vanilla
- Chocolate
- Very Berry Strawberry
- Rainbow Sherbet
- Mint Chocolate Chip
- Pralines n' Cream
- Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough
- Golden Oreo

And to ensure that no one was left out, they also threw in free popsicles for those whose diets couldn't include dairy.

It didn't just stop there either. The price of admission also included complimentary bottled water and sodas, face painting, an ice cream dance party, live music, and of course, access to all zoo exhibits.

Generally speaking, the Sacramento Zoo's Ice Cream Safari is held in the month of July. Discounted tickets are available prior to the day of the event, but door admission is $20.00 dollars for adults and $15.00 for children ages two to eleven. All proceeds benefit the general maintenance and animal care at the
Sacramento Zoo.

So, take it from us. We were certainly impressed, and after having visited for the first time, we would encourage anyone, with kids or not, to add the Ice Cream Safari to your list of summer plans.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Summer Snapshot of the Day: Baby Back Ribs

What: Full-rack of baby back ribs with sauce on the side
Where: Luck BBQ, 2502 J Street, Sacramento, CA

Our son who is a huge fan of barbecue had a smile from ear-to-ear when he found out that we were going out to dine at Luck BBQ in Sacramento. What was formerly known as the BBQ Spot, Luck's meats are all smoked for at least an hour and all menu items are prepared from scratch. Talk about fall-off-the-bone goodness!!

Friday, July 8, 2011

Summer Snapshot of the Day: Pineapple Banana Shortcake with Saffron

What: Pineapple Banana Shortcake with Saffron
Where: The Eatery West Sacramento Farmer's Market

We decided to check out the Farmer's Market in West Sacramento and came across "The Eatery." Their spin on the traditional shortcake was inventive and extraordinary. The hint of saffron mixed into the fresh dollop of whip cream brought out the freshness of the fruit and rounded out the flavors of this very original dessert.

The Eatery is a bistro that will be opening at the end of July in the Southport Area in West Sacramento. They have been fixtures at the West Sac Farmer's Market since it opened just a few months ago. And now, they have a legion of fans who are chomping at the bit to taste the rest of their fare and can't wait for the actual restaurant to open. Yours truly included!!

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Summer Snapshot of the Day: Bowl of Soul

What: Bowl of Soul
Where: Naked Lounge 1500 Q Street, Sacramento

A chamomile infused drink mixed with steamed vanilla soy milk, a squeeze of honey, and a sprinkling of cinnamon sugar. All of this served in a huge latte bowl. We snuggled up to quite a few of these concoctions during the many cold spring and early summer days in Sacramento.

Monday, May 23, 2011

The Eagle Cafe | West Sacramento, CA

NOW SERVING OMELETTES. Funny how these three words can prompt one to stop into a neighborhood coffee shop and pull up a chair. That's just what happened to us when we noticed these three magical words outside The Eagle Cafe, a favorite stop of ours in the West Sacramento area. We've known for some time about the cafe's great tasting beverages and savory panini sandwiches, but when we learned that they added five different omelettes to their menu, our appreciation was renewed for this quaint neighborhood eatery.

The Eagle Cafe is still very much in its infancy having opened its doors in February 2010. That aside, however, owner Altin Shquti has gone to great lengths to create a relaxing environment where one can feel welcome whether its kicking off a good morning or soaking up the sun's rays in the afternoon. There's ample seating for such a little place, including a lounge area situated at one side of the cafe's common area. It's an ideal spot to catch up with good friends or perhaps to hold mini meetings with colleagues. During our recent visit, we observed a group of young thirty-somethings musing over the books in their hands. Book club, perhaps? Why not.

The beverage bar is quite extensive. The coffee used by The Eagle Cafe is provided by Vaneli's Handcrafted Coffee, a local roastery located in Rocklin, CA, where much of their fair trade blends are organic and fired slowly to ensure balance among bold, complex flavors. If blended beverages are more to your liking, Shquti and his staff can whip up any one of their iced drinks, smoothies, or blended cremes. Flavor choices include coconut, java chip, taro, green tea, chocolate peanut butter, mango, pralines and cream, belgium chocolate, strawberry, etc. etc. etc. Definitely something for everyone!

But let's not forget, we were enticed by those three words, NOW SERVING OMELETTES. Again, five different kinds to choose from such as the Veggie, the Greek, and the Eagle, which is made with bacon, tomato, cheese, spinach, bell peppers, and roasted turkey. The two remaining choices include simpler favorites such as a gooey 3-cheese offering and their ham-n-cheese combination. Each of their omelettes are complimented with a slice of toast and fresh fruit.

I do have to be honest, however. As satisfying as their omelettes were, and they certainly got our day off to a good start, the real attraction for us at The Eagle Cafe still has to be their panini sandwiches. These are some of the best we've had this side of the Sacramento River. Among our favorites is their breakfast panini made with scrambled eggs, spinach, tomato and bacon served on sourdough bread or a herbed focaccia roll. Couple this with one of their hearty soups of the day such as minestrone, chicken and wild rice, tomato basil, or clam chowder, and you'll walk away in a food coma.

The Eagle Cafe is open daily, but if you're a night owl of sorts or if the craving for caffeine tends to hit you once the sun starts to set, this is not the place for you. While the doors open at 6:00 a.m., they close up for the night at 6:00 p.m. Will the world stop spinning because of this? Of course not. In fact, my mother would put it another way as one who looks out for my health and well-being: "They may be doing you a favor. Drinking all that coffee will just keep you up at night, and you stay up too late as it is." Point taken.

The Eagle Cafe
3150 Jefferson Blvd
West Sacramento, CA 95691

Eagle Cafe on Urbanspoon

Monday, May 16, 2011

Hot Italian | Sacramento, CA

Alla ricerca di un posto eccitante per trovare pizza grande degustazione e molto altro ancora? Poi, fermandosi a Caldo Italiano è solo il posto per voi. Anche se sono stato solo in giro dal febbraio 2009, i proprietari di Andrea Lepore e Fabrizio Cercatore hanno creato un unico "luogo specificamente progettato per essere un punto di incontro dove le persone possono riunirsi per una cena, godendo di una confortevole e moderno spazio urbano."

Whoops! My apologies for starting my latest entry in Italian, but after visiting our newest discovery, I couldn't help myself. To translate...

Searching for an exciting place to find great tasting pizza and whole lot more? Then, stopping into Hot Italian is just the thing for you. Even though they've only been around since February 2009, owners Andrea Lepore's and Fabrizio Cercatore have created a unique "place specifically designed to be a meeting point where people can gather for a meal while enjoying a comfortable, modern, urban space."

Now, I have to be completely honest in saying that we weren't entirely sure what to expect from Hot Italian. We've seen the gathering crowds outside their doors, and that showed promise. We even read all the press, which added to our curiosity and their popularity. But, we couldn't shake the notion of "judging a book by its cover" because its facade seemed too chic, too modern. Would this be a case of more flash than substance? Not in the least.

Entering from Q Street, we took the long walk through the restaurant and feasted on its sleek interiors that was more reminiscent of a gallery than a place to find good eats. Soon enough, however, we were directed to the dining area with its long blacktop tables, each saddled with medium height bar chars. There's also a large circular table toward the middle of the room that screamed community dining, be it with friends, family, or strangers. Add a helpful staff to the mix, and the stage was set. Bring on the food!

We weren't disappointed with with a variety of selections available in either of four ways: as a pizza, as a calzone, as a panini, or as a salad. If choosing a salad, don't settle on having it served cold. Rather, have it brought to you warm on top of their tossed pizza crust. We chose to do this when ordering the Sozzani (baby spinach, pears, dried cranberries, gorgonzola cheese, and roasted pine nuts), and we couldn't have been more pleased. The kids couldn't decide between two pizzas, the Bellucci (tomato sauce, mozzarella, spicy sausage, and ricotta cheese) or the Stella (prosciutto parma, mozzarella, crescenza cheese, and a mushroom medley). So, they went with both. They went speechless after just one bite.

Quoting my wife after taking a bite of the Bellucci, "This is perhaps the best pizza I've ever had, so far, and I've had my share of great pizza." Strong words, I know, but before we start debating where great pizza can be had, she did say "so far." I mean, we've all had great pizza and have our favorites to tout whether it's from Casa Bianca, Village Bakery, Lou Malnati's, Grimaldi's, Taste Chicago, Gino's East, Bertucci's, Chicago Fire, Extreme Pizza, etc. etc. etc. The list can (and does) go on and on. All we are saying, bottom line, is that we would consider putting Hot Italian alongside these elite establishments.

If that isn't enough, the folks at Hot Italian also have a saying that is quite indicative of its approach and attitude toward food: "Pizza as Art." Beyond what you see on the plate, which, by the way, looks like something painted by Da Vinci himself, the phrase says a lot about them. These words are splashed throughout much of their literature from its take out boxes to their menus to their avant-garde t-shirts. My interpretation, the meaning behind "Pizza as Art" is a message that cleverly describes their flavorful dishes. It's a declaration of their use of simple, fresh ingredients that are as pleasing to one's taste as the music, videos, art, design, and aromas serve our other senses. That, in my mind, is what sets Hot Italian apart from other eateries that we've enjoyed.

By the way, after you've expired the last piece of pizza on your plate, be sure to take stroll around the restaurant to enjoy its other components such as the in-house gelato bar, where no less than 14 succulent flavors are featured. We recommend that you try one of their signature concoctions that dunks scoops of vanilla and espresso gelato into real espresso coffee. If that doesn't get a charge out of you, then perhaps browsing though their Motors & Gears Shop is the thing for you. Here, you can find Italian inspired sportswear and accessories for cyclists.

As I said, searching for a unique place to find great tasting pizza and a whole lot more? Hot Italian is the place to find it. It's a celebration for the senses that fa bene al cuore e per l'anima. Buon divertimento!

Hot Italian
1627 16th Street
Sacramento, CA 95814

Out of the Kitchen Sacramento restaurants