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Jun. 26th, 2014

Positive Affirmations and Sandwiches at Turbo’z Deli

It just occurred to Femme de Joie that someone who works in the area of Market and Tehama is spoiled for choice at lunchtime. Within a block each way lie two sandwich shops, two Mexican restaurants, one pizza place, one pub, a Japanese restaurant, and probably another place or two that escape her just now. If what you're actually craving is none of the above, well then, you're probably outta luck.

So after Village Delicatessen closed last autumn, Premier Solutions of Shasta Lake took over that spot to use as an work experience site for disabled adults, helping them to integrate into the community and learn skills that will enable them to become independent as well as earn their own paycheck. There was already a Turbo'z Deli on Airport Road; this is branch #2 with the same menu and also run by Premier Solutions.


This is likely the first job for the people behind the counter, but you wouldn't know that. Customers are greeted with cheerfulness and enthusiasm. You aren't the next order in line; you're a real person and staff is very eager to please. Service is speedy (though there seem to be a hiccup or two with the POS device at the counter). M. de Joie noted all employees wear plastic gloves when preparing the food. Prices are proportionate to the serving size.


High Octane, $6.89, with side of potato salad, 99 cents

The classic Reuben sandwich gets a new name at Turbo'z but is otherwise the same, corned beef-Swiss-sauerkraut. The menu says it's grilled on marble rye, but there was no grill in evidence. It seems more likely that the corned beef was given a couple of minutes on high in a microwave to give it that frizzled crackly taste and texture. It would have been nice to have the entire sandwich grilled, and Femme de Joie wished for a kosher pickle on the side, but she really has no complaints, Note: this sandwich is very juicy and you'll need a handful of napkins.

Potato salad is one of those things you never know about when you order it. Will it be house-made or will it be out of one of those plastic tubs packed in Eden Prairie, Minnesota - slippery lumpkins purported to be potato and saturated in a quicksand of gummy, sugary mayonnaise-like sauce? On her first visit, M. de Joie was delighted to find the potato salad made in-house of wedges of new potato in a mustardy dressing. It was so good that she ordered it again on a subsequent visit, when it was horribly oversalted and swimming in far too much sauce.


The Burn Out, $5.89

AKA Buffalo chicken wrap, this was made to order with warm chicken breast slices, spicy Buffalo sauce and ranch dressing plus fresh vegetables (avocado on request) and enveloped in the tortilla of your choice. Overall Femme de Joie liked it, though there seemed to be a streak through the wrap where it had been salted too well - perhaps on the chicken itself. She liked the spicy Buffalo sauce tempered with the tart ranch dressing and the crunchy red onion, though the avocado got a bit lost in the mix.


The Low Rider, $6.99, with side of macaroni salad, 99 cents

This was Femme de Joie's favorite sandwich at Turbo'z, pulled pork smeared with barbecue sauce, then topped with pepper jack cheese and cole slaw on a crunchy roll. Unbelievably messy to eat, it was nevertheless a delight. The cole slaw was meant to go on the side but the counter staff asked if it should be placed on top, which was a very good idea. The celery seed-flecked slaw itself was very fresh and crunchy, a cool contrast to the kiblets of pork and sauce. Macaroni salad was on the bland side.

Overall, M. de Joie liked Turbo'z. They offer salads, hot dogs, and pizza along with the deli sandwiches, so there is a little something for everyone. Service is fast and very friendly, and while this isn't breaking new culinary ground, it's a good stop for a quick lunch downtown to grab a bite from someone who is really glad to see you.

Turbo'z Deli, 1300 Market Street (at Shasta), Suite 102, Redding, CA 96001. 530-241-1600, fax 530-241-1604. Open Monday through Friday, 10:00 AM to 6:00 PM, Saturday 11:00 AM to 4:00 PM. Closed Sunday. Street parking. Cards, cash; no checks. No alcohol. Indoor and outside seating. Vegetarian and vegan options. Follow them on Facebook at Turbo'z Deli 2 or Turbo'z Deli 1

El Rinconcito’s little corner of good food

After Senor Rosa's upped sticks and moved into the old Leatherby's Family Creamery at the south end of the Downtown Mall (call it the Promenade all you like, it's still the old Downtown Mall) that funny little cinder block building set back from Eureka Way didn't sit vacant for long. Salvador Hernandez stepped up and opened El Rinconcito a few months ago, joining other locally-owned restaurants like Brick's and The Best Little Sandwich Shop as havens in a sea of chain fast food spots.

It looks pretty much the same - park next to the gas station and squeeze past some nasty-looking cactus to get inside, or share parking with the auto repair. The cinder blocks are painted blue, and the old green canopy is gone. Inside it's still fairly spartan. But Hernandez serves his food on actual ceramic plates with metal cutlery instead of wrapped in foil or in squeaky disposable boxes with plastic forks, which is a big improvement in Femme de Joie's eyes. The menu is typed on both sides of a single piece of paper and tucked inside plastic sleeve protectors. There are all the usual suspects plus a few less-common items. A few daily specials are written on a board above the cash register. Service is helpful and friendly.

Salsa - not the usual pico de gallo, but instead a smooth puree of chilis and tomatoes - and chips come with your meal.


Tortilla soup, $5.95

Many Mexican restaurants offer tortilla soup; it's usually pleasant if undistinguished. This one was simply the best version Femme de Joie has ever had the pleasure to eat. A savory rich cilantro-spotted tomatoey chicken broth was topped with crisp tortilla ribbons and diced avocado. Underneath was what appeared to be fine noodles; on closer inspection the noodles turned out to be filament-fine shreds of poached chicken. That kind of attention to detail made M. de Joie realize the kitchen was run by serious cooks.


Carnitas burrito, $9.95

Delicious niblets of carnitas pork were layered with house-made refried beans and rice. Instead of the usual practice of stuffing a flour tortilla with as much filler as possible, minimal was the word: when the ingredients are all beautifully seasoned and cooked, you don't need globs of cheese, salsa, tomatoes, onions, and so forth. Just a little crema drizzled decoratively over was the only concession to the usual restaurant burrito.


Taco salad, $7.95

To the best of Femme de Joie's knowledge, taco salad is an unknown beast in Mexico; it appears to be a American hybrid creation of the 1960s when comida Mexicana began to creep into the American kitchen. Most versions involve a sizable mountain of iceberg lettuce centered inside a pre-made oversized fried taco shell and decorated with fried ground beef mixed with a packet of taco seasoning, some diced tomatoes, shredded cheese and sour cream - in other words, a lot of cheap lettuce with a modicum of toppings. El Rinconcito's taco salad started with a homemade shell and a modest amount of lettuce, went on with lightly seasoned morsels of steak, fresh tomatoes and olives, and finished with a generous scoop of house-made guacamole. That crisp shell was as different from pre-made shells as a homegrown tomato is from one of those miserable pinkish winter tomatoes. Instead of a scoop of made-ahead filling, the steak bits were cooked to order. Again, it's the best ingredients combined skillfully, sans fatty, creamy sauces, that distinguish this dish.


Sope with chicken, $3.50

A sope is essentially a small, thick tortilla made of masa fried and served with some sort of savory topping, also known as huaraches, gorditas, and other names. House-prepared and freshly cooked revealed the delicate corn taste of the masa. Lightly grilled chicken cubes were sprinkled with cotija cheese and a thick wash of crema . There was a bit of oil oozing from the sope itself, so this was not as successful an execution as some of their other dishes.


Al pastor taco and lengue taco, $2.50 each

"Regular" size tacos are made with house-made tortillas, and they are worth it. Puffy and tender, thicker than commercial tortillas, they're the perfect wrapping for the simple fillings of diced al pastor (spicy pork) and lengue (tongue) accented with cilantro, diced onion, and a fresh green salsa.

El Rinconcito is probably our new favorite Mexican restaurant. Everything is made in-house (with the exception of the chips, which appear to be commercial). As Femme de Joie stood waiting to pay, she observed a tiny woman behind the counter serenely turning fresh pasilla peppers on a gas flame, blackening and blistering them to make chile rellanos. That is the kind of time-consuming detail that makes this food so good. But let it be known: if you are expecting the servings to be the giant platefuls found at most Mexican restaurants, you will be sorely disappointed. Portions are modest. But this is carefully prepared food to be savored, not gobbled. Take your time and really taste it.

El Rinconcito, 2030 Eureka Way (behind the smoke shop and auto repair), Redding, CA 96001. 530-262-8646. Open daily, 11:00 AM - 8:00 PM. Parking lot. Cards, cash, no checks. Vegetarian and vegan options.

Maxwell’s – food for the hip and not-so-hip downtown

Back in the late 1970s there was a Maxwell's Restaurant in Redding. Femme de Joie's memory is a bit fuzzy on this, but she recalls it being on the corner of Market and Sacramento, where Vintage Wine Bar sits now. But she also seems to remember it on Market Street north of the mall, so perhaps it skated through town now and then. It was what current parlance calls "casual elegance" - that level between coffee shop and white tablecloths. They served a lovely Chicken Jerusalem. Versions of that restaurant came and went into the 1980s and perhaps into the 1990s if memory serves.

Maxwell's Downtown Eatery today seems to share little with that Maxwell's of old save the name and perhaps the address. From the outside it looks like a hipster's dive bar, and even on the inside you might get that impression. It looks to be decorated entirely in black at first glimpse until your eyes adjust to the light, when you can see the brick wall behind the bar and the dark olive green wall with paintings on the other side of the room. Tables and chairs are the elevated tall bar variety, though there are a couple of regular height tables as well. One room to the side is dedicated to occasional live music performances. The crowd is largely young-ish, though M. de Joie overheard a dedicated beerhound behind her speak the words, "Lew Alcindor," a name largely unknown to most 20-somethings. Music ranges from reggae to Robin Trower to 1970s staples.

There's no chicken Jerusalem on this menu and no pretense. All the offerings pair well with beer and are listed with a minimum of poetic descriptions. "Our hamburgers are made from cows who were lovingly hand-fed the finest hay and lulled to sleep by a Mozart Quartet" doesn't appear here.


Buffalo Bacon Blue Pizza - "buffalo sauce," bacon, tomato, blue cheese $15.99

This is exactly the kind of pizza M. de Joie would want if she planned to down a few brews to go with. She ordered it sans chicken - chicken on pizza is a travesty - and while it was not the most incredible blow-your-skirt-up pizza she has ever eaten in her life, it had a lot going for it. A thin, airy crust supported a not-spicy "creamy buffalo sauce" with crisp, salty bacon and fresh tomatoes; there was a definite paucity of blue cheese, though. This was enough for one greedy diner or two restrained polite people.


Spicy Jalapeno Burger with onion rings, $9.99

A fat, generous burger was tasty enough, but what really set this apart was the breaded and deep-fried Jalapenos. M. de Joie has seen both raw and pickled Jalapenos on burgers and loves those, but these were quite delightful and addictive. A bonus too was the hamburger bun: a Kaiser-type roll did not fall apart or get greasy and soggy.

A word about the onion rings: wonderful large rings with a thin, delicate shatteringly-crisp batter - definitely the best-cooked onion rings M. de Joie has ever had in Redding, but the batter badly needed some salt.


Trout Slayer Chili, $3.50

On the bean/no bean chili discussion, Femme de Joie is Switzerland. She doesn't care. However, she is less forgiving on the tomato issue: they do not belong in chili. Now having said that, she found the Trout Slayer Chili really wonderful, meaty and well-seasoned, not so spicy that a chiliphobe would reject it; even the bits of tomato were not distracting. The name can't help but make her think that there's fish in it, though. (There isn't.)


Maxwell's Club with salad, $8.99

Expecting a pile of shredded iceberg lettuce alongside the club sandwich, it was a pleasure to instead get an actual composed salad with Romaine, cheese, olives, pepperoncini, and tomatoes: the extra mile gone. The club was one layer instead of the usual triple-decker and stuffed with lots of ham, turkey, cheese, tomatoes, and lettuce. However, the bacon was completely uncooked. It had apparently been placed on a heat source because it was warm, but all that did was bring the fat to the surface. Floppy and flabby bacon may have its fans, but M. de Joie is not one of them. After the care taken with the salad, it seemed sloppy or uncaring: it isn't as though a cook wouldn't notice that.

Overall, Femme de Joie liked Maxwell's. Service was friendly and efficient and the food was better than average pub-type food. While she's a bit older than its target audience, M. de Joie felt perfectly comfortable and wouldn't hesitate to go back. It's a local downtown enterprise providing a badly-needed venue for live music and the food, even with a couple of issues, is well-prepared and a good value. Try it out.

Maxwell's Downtown Eatery, 1344 Market Street, Redding, CA 96001. 530-247-7200. Open for lunch and dinner Monday through Friday, 11:00 AM - 11:00 PM; Saturday 12:00 PM to 11:30 PM; Sunday 12:00 PM to 10:00 PM. Occasional live music. Beer and wine. Street parking, Cards, cash. Website here.

Popular Guadalajara – No hay milpa sin cuitlacoche

Long ago - long ago being relative, of course - there was a Mexican restaurant in Hamilton City which was apparently the bee's knees to Hamilton City diners. The exact name of it escapes Femme de Joie just now, and after doing a brief search on the internet, apparently no one else remembers it either. But what M. de Joie does recall is that there was a fever upon the land when the word came down that this restaurant was going to expand to Redding. And so it came to pass; said restaurant built on East Cypress Avenue, not far from where the fabled and infamous El-Bo Room lived out its days. It opened and after a certain amount of time, shut the doors; M. de Joie seems to remember at least one other Mexican restaurant opened and closed in turn in the same location. For about the last 14 years, Guadalajara has held down the spot where others came and went.

Approaching Guadalajara is easiest if you're heading east on Cypress and can just swing right into the parking lot. It's trickier to slide in there from the westbound lanes, especially during the noon hour and around 5 PM, when the traffic is unforgiving and unrelenting. The interior is spacious and colorful with what appear to be large tin stars hanging from the ceiling and brightly painted chairs. Service is generally friendly and speedy.


House salad, $5.29

The basic house salad was one of the better menu items at Guadalajara. Expecting just a bowl of iceberg lettuce, we were pleasantly surprised to get fresh Romaine with grated cheese, olives, tomatoes, avocados and onions, a definite step up from the side salad at most restaurants.


Lunch special, enchilada and tamale, $8.29

A chicken tamale was quite doughy with a ponderosity of heavyweight masa corseting an shredded chicken filling. It was slow going through the doughy masa to get to the oily filling - the oil had already spread to the cornhusks, so it had plenty to spare - and the filling itself was surprisingly bland considering the oil was vividly red, presumably from chili powder. Sharing the plate was a chicken enchilada that was likewise bland and tired, like it had been up since 2 AM and just couldn't muster any enthusiasm. Refried beans were creamy but not especially flavorful; rice had odd crispy bits here and there, like it had been sitting uncovered and part had dried out while what lay beneath remained moist. It was salty.


Lunch special, enchilada and tamale, $8.29

A chicken tamale was quite doughy with a ponderosity of heavyweight masa corseting an shredded chicken filling. It was slow going through the doughy masa to get to the oily filling - the oil had already spread to the cornhusks, so it had plenty to spare - and the filling itself was surprisingly bland considering the oil was vividly red, presumably from chili powder. Sharing the plate was a chicken enchilada that was likewise bland and tired, like it had been up since 2 AM and just couldn't muster any enthusiasm. Refried beans were creamy but not especially flavorful; rice had odd crispy bits here and there, like it had been sitting uncovered and part had dried out while what lay beneath remained moist. It was salty.


Cup of albondigas soup, $3.50

Though not stated on the menu, the soups can be ordered as a cup instead of a bowl (which is a quite large serving). Albondigas soup was apparently cooked to order and it was a winner. A more-than-generous cup with two large tender meatballs, freshly cooked carrots, zucchini, and potatoes in a really delicious savory tomato-tinged broth came with a dish of cilantro, chopped onion, and one very dry lime half on the side. Whoever is making the soup knows what they're doing in terms of seasoning and timing the doneness of each ingredient.


Lunch special, chile verde burrito, $7.49

This lunch special was everything the others were not. Chile verde - tender pork cubes in a tart green tomatillo sauce - wrapped in a flour tortilla with a moderate amount of cheese melted on top was piquant and lively, as well as a bargain for the price.

Femme de Joie is of two minds about Guadalajara. Clearly it's quite popular, both with locals and with Interstate 5 travelers who rave about it in online reviews. You do get generous portions, the salsa is fresh and tasty, and it's a family-friendly place with a kiddie menu of under-$2 items. But they're missing the mark on preparations for some standard Mexican restaurant dishes. The care taken with the soup and the chile verde indicates the kitchen can deliver; M. de Joie hopes they can raise the bar and take steps to increase quality across the board.

Guadalajara Mexican Restaurant, 435 East Cypress Avenue, Redding, 96002. 530-223-2540. Open Monday-Thursday, 11:00 AM - 9:00 PM, Friday-Saturday 11:00 AM - 10:00 PM, Sunday 10:00 AM - 9:00 PM. Vegetarian and vegan options. Children's menu. No checks. Full bar. Parking lot. Website at http://www.guadalajararestaurant.net/

Cafe Paradiso – French food in Redding? Mais oui!

Ever since the Cascade Theater reopened gloriously in 2004 with that sublime Mark O'Connor concert, there's been a certain mumbling and rumbling from patrons: why isn't there anywhere to go downtown after a show? Well, there's Spoon Me... and... Bombay's.... aaaannnnd.... uh.... ummmm... well... let's go to Denny's. Or IHOP. Or home.

To that end, Cafe Paradiso opened in early 2013 to fill a need: a place to go late at night for a drink and a snack without going to a bar. Housed in the former Thai Bistro location on Yuba Street between Sally's (Salvation Army) and a florist, it's an unlikely bistro home of French cooking. A very small space of about a dozen tables seating two to four and a limited menu ensures service doesn't become overwhelmed. More importantly, the food is prepared to order, not defrosted or waiting on a steam table. The interior is painted olive green, gold, and orchid; bare-topped tables at lunch get the white cloth treatment in the evening.

Femme de Joie was interested in trying this new venture downtown. While the food is quite good, there were a few things that made her go, "Hmmmm...."


Caesar salad, $5.00

This Caesar salad was lovely to look at and delicious to eat, once Femme de Joie located the part of the salad that had dressing on it. For reasons untold, the top inch or so of Romaine was sprinkled with Parmesan cheese but otherwise was naked as a jay bird. Once she prodded around in the dish, the dressed salad was located underneath the first layer of inexplicably plain lettuce.


Fettucine with shrimp, scallops, and crab, $12.00

Let us be honest: this was the smallest serving of fettucine - nay, of any kind of pasta - ever placed before M. de Joie. Ever. She wondered if perhaps this was some kind of test to see if she would explode in righteous indignation, or if she would shut up and eat it. Not one to make a scene on most occasions, she ate it. Four large grilled shrimp were perfectly cooked with a slightly crisp exterior and tender meat. Two or three scallops had been sauteed to a light brown - not easy to do well - without being dried out. The crab was completely lost in the mixture of fettucine, cream, and cheese, though the fettucine was al dente and not gummy. However, the dish was on the dry side and needed more sauce.


Cream of mushroom soup, $4.00

Creamed soups often remind one of Campbell's Cream of Mystery, but the version at Cafe Paradiso was excellent. Fresh sauteed mushrooms floated in a delicate creamy base of half-and-half tempered with broth so as not to feel fatty and globulous. One of the few versions that doesn't make the diner call out for a defibrillator afterwards.


Large Southwestern Salad with avocado, $8.00

This started out as a $6.00 Southwestern Salad with an addition of avocado to make it an $8.00 Southwestern Salad. If you look closely, you can see four scalpel-cut slices of avocado on the upper left side. Crispy tortilla strips, diced tomato, corn kernels, and cotija cheese decorated a lovely stack of arugula-strong mesclun. Served with an addictively tart lime-chipotle aioli, this was a very good rendition of a salad that's become a staple on many menus. As Femme de Joie happily worked her way down through the salad, she discovered a stratum of chopped Romaine underneath the mesclun. Normally, all green leafy participants in a salad are tossed together like college youth of yore in a telephone booth, so she was bemused to find the Romaine looking like a poor relative of the privileged lettuces, hiding its head in embarrassment, Perhaps the person assembling the salad started to make a Caesar, then rather than toss out the Romaine, covered it up. Perhaps this is the Bump-it of salads - like Snooki wearing that plastic dome on her head, Romaine is used to artificially floof up the mesclun. Perhaps this is the new trend in salads - rather than mix all the greens, they will be layered like cakes. It's a mystery. The truth may never be known.


Wine flight, $8.00 for one person, $15.00 for two people

A wine flight is a offering of several wines, usually (but not always) with a common theme - varietal, terroir, maker, and so on. This wine flight is served as an appetizer and seemed to not have anything binding them together. From left to right, a Ruffino white from Tuscany with Granny Smith apples, a Mouton-Cadet Bordeaux with aged Cheddar on a Carr's water cracker, and Chocolate Shop with a house-made brownie. By far the Ruffino and apple was the most successful pairing. Mineral and flinty, the cold Ruffino bounced off tart apples that was stimulating and exciting. Mouton-Cadet sounds prestigious but it is a brand - perhaps the first brand name of wines in France - and the wines are generic and inexpensive. Owned now by Constellation, it's a wine to not get one's hopes up over. After tasting the Ruffino, the blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Cabernet Franc was disappointing and muddy. A flake of aged Cheddar needed a little stage to star on, but what it got was a Carr's Water Cracker. For a thankfully brief time, M. de Joie thought it was a sign of good taste and prestige to serve Carr's; she now knows that if you're going to serve crackers, be sure to get ones that don't taste like burned cardboard. Merlot infused with chocolate sounds like a dessert wine, and it is, but it went surprisingly well as part of this flight. The brownie was on the dry side but it made the chocolate wine sing.


Ahi with lemon, garlic, butter, and capers ($19.00) and twice-baked potato ($4.00)


Beet salad, $5.00

Ahi (tuna) resembles beef more than other fish; slices of prime ahi look very much like rare steak. The texture is firmer than many other fish and it lends itself well to strong seasonings and sauces. It is frequently served seared so the interior remains dark red and meaty. At Cafe Paradiso, it was served medium, meaning the narrow end of the steak as well at the edges were well-done - which is overdone. Coated with a lemon, garlic, butter, and caper sauce that seemed to be losing its emulsion rapidly, it was a disappointment compared to what it could have been. On the side, a twice-baked potato was leaking butter that mixed with the caper sauce, creating a lemony oleaginous puddle. In a separate bowl was beet salad - roasted cubed beets reclining on greens. It tasted like beets and nothing but beets - M. de Joie could not detect any flavorings, sauces, dressings or other garnishes. She likes beets quite a lot, and these were tasty enough, but there was nothing about it that made her want to order it again.

Femme de Joie would like to see Cafe Paradiso succeed. The food is quite good, though the preparation and presentation are uneven. She has a little laundry list of opinions, of course:

  • Every French restaurant in France - and every Italian restaurant in Italy - includes bread as part of the meal. The cost is worked into the price already. Why isn't it here?

  • Include one or two prix-fixe meals. A la carte is fine and dandy but the cost adds up faster than one imagines. Femme de Joie pictures a young couple out for a nice dinner who fall over in a dead faint when they get the bill at the end of the evening - and then have to call someone to come bail them out.

  • The premium wine list is delightful but if someone is paying $26.00 a glass or $95.00 for a bottle of wine, the year should be printed on the wine list. The not-premium wine list has some bright spots such as the Darcie Kent Zinfandel, but it would be lovely to see Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir and/or Syrah offered by the glass.

  • Rethink the fettucine serving size. Really.

Cafe Paradiso, 1270 Yuba Street (between Pine and East), Redding, CA 96001. 530-215-3499. Open Monday through Saturday for lunch, 11:00 AM to 2:00 PM, dinner 5:00 PM - 10:00 PM. Open late nights Thursday through Saturday for wine/beer/special menu, 10:00 PM - 1:00 AM. Closed Sunday. Beer and wine. Vegetarian and vegan options. Street parking. Website here or follow them on Facebook.

Joe’s Giant Orange – Yesterday’s Kitsch Becomes Today’s Diner

Long, long ago, in a space of time after dirt was discovered but before Interstate 5, there were only two-lane roads. Incredible, yes, yet it's true. Femme de Joie saw it with her own two eyes. She traveled those roads often whenever the de Joies went on a weekend trip . Mostly the trips were modest ventures, as the crow flies: Crater Lake, Lassen Park, Reno, Eureka. But if the crow is not flying, if the crow is driving a Ford Falcon on a two-lane blacktop with thousands of other travelers, in those days before roadside towing service and emergency phones, then it's a much different - and much longer trip - than it is now.

For one thing, cars overheated a lot more then than they do now. Auto air conditioning was in its infancy and it generally resulted in hoses bursting at very inconvenient places. The de Joies spent more than one hot Sunday afternoon in a very, very long line of cars crawling along what is now Interstate 5, creeping through the Sacramento River Canyon between Redding and Dunsmuir as we all slowly passed some unfortunate family and their sizzling car.

That's why the Giant Orange stands were very popular, not just in California, but anywhere it got miserably dog-tired hot in summer. They were absolutely everywhere along Highway 99 (I-5's predecessor). It was so wonderful to come across one of those funny round orange buildings as you drove along California's Central Valley, and go in and get a cold orange juice.

Times change, freeways and off-ramps and McDonald's came in, and nowadays if you're driving on an old highway, maybe you will see an occasional forlorn Giant Orange stand boarded up. There are still a few in business, resurrected as restaurants - there's one just north of Redding that is now serving Mexican food, and it must be a puzzler to younger folk who wonder why the place serving tacos looks like an orange. A green orange.

Joe's Giant Orange has been serving up breakfast and lunch since 2006. Colorfully painted booths and wall murals inform the diner that this place specializes in Mexican dishes - though there is plenty of American food available as well. Service is friendly and fast.


Ham and cheese omelet, $8.99

Tender eggs folded squarely around generous portions of mild cheese and diced ham - not a breakfast that's breaking any new ground, but a constant favorite. Filling and non-greasy with crisp hash browns alongside, this was better than some more expensive versions.


Arizona Enchilada Omelet, $9.99

While the name is a little confusing - nuthin' really screams enchilada about this - chile verde draped over a folded egg omelet does bring Tex-Mex to mind. Femme de Joie loved the verde's tartness and shreds of pork laced throughout. This is not a spicy-hot sauce so chiliphobes can enjoy it without fear.


Tamales, $10.99

House-made beef tamales seemed on the dry side. While the filling was flavorful and abundant, it was also on the salty side; a bite of masa and filling together made us wish for some badly needed sauce. Fortunately, the house-made salsa is quite good and was necessary to resuscitate the tamales and give them a bit of oomph. Refried beans were also house-made, creamy and smoky. The rice was undistinguished.


Enchiladas Colima Style, $9.99

The house-made enchilada sauce was evidently salted in the same way the tamale filling was. Femme de Joie admits to an unholy passion for salty foods, but this overdid it even for her. Too bad, because the rest of the dish - freshly prepared pork filling and not too much cheese - was really delicious.


A side order of fresh green salad was crammed into a small soup bowl, a plating that makes M. de Joie start twitching: instead of forcing greenery into a too-small container, put that salad on a plate where it won't fall off.

We did love a vanilla milkshake ($3.99) made with real ice cream (that may sound obvious, but there's a reason McDonald's calls it a shake - so as not to imply anything by the title) with the metal can plopped onto the table alongside the glass for a second serving, as every devotee of Fifties-style diners knows it should be.

Overall, we enjoyed Joe's Giant Orange. It's a truly local place, mainly patronized by regulars who know each other and think nothing of sharing their opinions of the Raiders with you at length as your food gets cold. While we might not drive north every day to dine, if we were headed thataway and were feeling peckish, we'd stop in. Femme de Joie is curious, though: is the water in the first toilet in the women's restroom always heated, or was that just a temporary interesting feature?

For more on Giant Oranges or to buy one for your own front yard, see http://www.agilitynut.com/food/oranges.html

Joe's Giant Orange, 3104 Cascade Boulevard, Shasta Lake City, CA 530-275-9582. Breakfast and lunch. Open daily 6:00 AM to 3:00 PM. Vegetarian options. No alcohol. Parking lot. No checks.

Head to Airport Road for Smoked BBQ

Up on North Market Street just at the western foot of Sulphur Creek Hill stands a now-empty building. For years it housed El Papagayo, then another restaurant that escapes Femme de Joie's memory just now, followed by Catanio's. M. de Joie only visited Catanio's once; she remembers it fondly as an upscale Italian restaurant that provided a musical interlude during dinner by Joe Catanio. After it closed, Catanio moved on to run the cafe at Turtle Bay until The Powers That Be closed it pending the construction of a Sheraton Hotel. Not idle for long, Catanio paired with Scott Rawson to open Smoked BBQ on Airport Road.

Fitted inside what appears to have been a drive-through coffee kiosk (and located next to Dutch Brothers), the restaurant has just three small tables. The meat is smoked on the premises and sides are house-made. The menu is short and sweet and quite reasonably priced. Each item comes with a choice of sides.


Hot pastrami sandwich, $7.99

M. de Joie has long been a pastrami fan - Amico del SIgnore, not so much; he always found it greasy, salty, and fatty. This sandwich converted him; plenty of very lean, mildly spiced pastrami with a pleasant smokiness didn't have that off-putting greasiness. The sauce was served on the side instead of glopped on, which we approve heartily of - and this sauce is a far cry from the dark brownish-purple sauces that fall off the Sysco Truck by the gallon. A tomato base made tangy with apple cider vinegar and slightly sweet, it complimented the pastrami rather than smothered it. We liked the macaroni salad too - not sweet but slightly mustardy with tiny bits of celery.


Pulled pork sandwich, $7.50

The pulled pork was likewise non-greasy, little niblets of tender smoked pork piled on a bun. Moist and tender, it didn't need sauce, but we poured it on anyway. The smoked sweet potatoes were wonderful: though they look like plain sliced white potatoes, they are made from yellow sweet potatoes rather than red Garnet yams. M. de Joie has never cared much for yellow sweet potatoes, finding them dry and chalky, but this was delightful, especially when we scraped the bottom of the container to scoop up the caramelized juices that had puddled there.


Combo meal, four pork ribs and sliced tri-tip, $8.99

Tri-tip isn't an easy cut to cook. Tough sinews and connective tissue riddle it; though it's flavorful, it can necessitate a yard or two of dental floss afterwards. But at Smoked BBQ the tri-tip was meltingly tender and smoky, luscious and juicy. Pork ribs had a crackly crust and were fall-off-the-bone tender. Alongside, potato salad was not overcooked and mushy (as often happens) and slightly on the tart side. The only disappointment was that the combo meal was not as generous a serving as the sandwiches, so not really a great value.


Smoked Stack (tri-tip. pastrami, pulled pork), $8.99

A terrific combo of the best of Smoked BBQ, this was a most satisfying sandwich. Even though it was heavy on the protein, the smoked meats were trimmed of excess fat so it didn't have a soporific effect, Scott's slaw was a winner too: freshly made with, cubes of apple teamed with dried cranberries and thin-sliced cabbage in a light vinegary dressing. If a diner was so inclined, they could certainly pile the slaw on the sandwich.

Even though it's all the way out on Airport Road. Smoked BBQ is worth a drive. Now that Thanksgiving has been ticked off the list for another year, there may be a few turkey tidbits lurking in the far reaches of the refrigerator. There may well be people who are pointedly ignoring those leftovers, crying for surcease, for something that isn't turkey, isn't covering in gravy and cranberry sauce. For them, a trip to Smoked BBQ may be in order. For those still happily snarfing up the ends of that bird, head on out there anyway.

Smoked BBQ, 8540 Airport Road at Rancho Road, Redding, CA 96002. 530-364-2085. Open Monday-Saturday, 11:00 AM - 7:00 PM. Closed Sundays. Very small dining area; better to order take-out. Parking lot. No alcohol. Cards, no checks. Not much for vegetarians to see here except side orders. Follow them on Facebook.

You Never Promised Me a Rose Garden

The blue cinder-block building on South Market Street that now houses Rose Garden was once home to a liquor store (name long forgotten), then an Asian market, then a series of restaurants including The Experience (which came and went before Femme de Joie had a chance to experience it) and a couple of Thai cafes of varying quality and longevity. Most recently Kanya Garden occupied that spot; it has hosted Rose Garden for some months now.

The Good:

The interior is bright and cheerful with a fresh coat of paint and good lighting. Service is fast and attentive with cheerful waitstaff. Prices are fair for the portion sizes.

The Food:


Yum Nam Tok, $6.95

Grilled beef with vegetables on a bed of iceberg lettuce was coated with what the menu calls "a house spicy cilantro lime sauce." The lime was up front and present as was a fair amount of fish sauce, but we couldn't discern any cilantro or much that was spicy. "Nam tok" means waterfall, and the salad seemed to get a bit watery as time passed, the salty fish sauce wilting the iceberg lettuce and diluting the dressing.


Red curry with tofu and sticky rice, $8.50

Red curry was ordered with medium heat but was very much on the mild side. Heavy on the canned bamboo shoots and light on tofu cubes, the liquid curry lacked that punch of flavor that makes a diner crave it again - it could have used an infusion of galangal, lemon grass, garlic - just about anything to elevate the complexity. It wasn't bad, but neither was it great.


The sticky rice that accompanied the curry was wrapped in clingfilm and brought to the table in a small wicker pagoda that fell over frequently. It was kind of cute but also kind of a pain every time it tipped over, which was any time it was touched.


Pad chow mein with pork, $6.95

The Thai version of chow mein was filled with nicely-cooked vegetables and thin-sliced pork. Not overly salty with too much soy or too oily, this would have been very good if the noodles hadn't been overcooked and on the gummy side.


Get to know the Thai condiment tray (kreung prung): judicious use of these can make a difference in your food. They encompass sour, sweet, salty, and spicy flavors. Clockwise from top: in squeeze bottles, oyster sauce, chili garlic sauce, hoisin sauce, prik pon (dried ground hot chilis), sugar (used to balance flavors), Sriracha, Tamarind soup mix (sour flavor), salt, pepper, soy sauce, fish sauce (nam pla). Just behind the soup mix is a small jar of pickled Jalapenos.


Beef pho, $5.00 lunch special

A small bowl of beef pho was accompanied by a plate of Romaine leaves, fresh basil and cilantro leaves, and bean sprouts, plus the condiment tray. With a goodly amount of rice noodles, some beef slices and halved meatballs, this made a satisfying light lunch. But other than a strong star anise flavor, the broth didn't have the rich melange of flavors that make the difference between an adequate bowl of pho and a really memorable one.

The Not Good:

The moment we walked in we noticed a strong scent in the air. Femme de Joie thought optimistically that maybe it was fresh herbs. Amico del Signore thought it was some kind of cleaning fluid. Eventually it became clear that it was perfume on one of the waitstaff, who had not sprayed it on so much as saturated herself in it.

On M. de Joie's last visit to Rose Garden, she approached the cash register to pay where she saw a sign saying that any debit or credit card purchase under $10.00 would be charged fifty cents for the privilege. The cashier pointed out the sign and asked if that was okay. M. de Joie told her it was illegal, and got exactly the response she expected: a blank uncomprehending look. A $5.00 pho suddenly became a $5.50 bowl of pho. After a lengthy discussion with her bank, Femme de Joie found out how the consumer protection laws in California can be sidestepped, which is apparently what happened here. Caveat emptor.(Sources: http://oag.ca.gov/consumers/general/credit_card_surcharges and http://money.msn.com/now/post.aspx?post=4e20e4b0-bd7e-47a5-824b-4f7920a45a1b and http://usa.visa.com/personal/using_visa/checkout_fees/)

Femme de Joie had higher hopes for Rose Garden, especially since their predecessor had such good food. But her overall take on the food was that it was pretty average, uninspired, and utilitarian. She wouldn't protest loudly if she was dragged there, but she wouldn't advocate for it, either.

Rose Garden, 2825 South Market Street, Redding, CA 96001. 530-243-8863. Open Sunday-Friday, 11:00 AM - 8:00 PM, Saturday 11:00 AM - 9:00 PM. No checks; debit and credit cards (watch for that user fee). Beer and wine. Vegan and vegetarian options. Small parking lot on south side of building. Follow them on Facebook.

Wilda’s Grill – Fast Lunches Downtown

There's been a small concrete block building on Placer Street near downtown for well over 40 years. It housed Jan's Frost Shop, run by a cheerful round man with stunningly hairy arms who called everyone sweetheart and dished up memorably greasy French fries and pastrami sandwiches. After Jan's closed it morphed into Between The Buns - Femme de Joie doesn't remember the state of the arms of the owners - Willie Dogs, Brick's (now on Eureka Way), and possibly another place or two lost to the steamy fog of memory.

Wilda's Grill opened nearly two years ago in that little building. There's no Wilda behind the counter; owners Bret & Dayna Speers (former owners of nearby Carnegie's) bought the Wilda's Mustard name & recipe from the eponymous creator (who made and sold it at the Ono Store some 30 years ago). Downtown Redding is chockablock with offices but surprisingly underserved for fast, inexpensive lunches, so Wilda's quickly filled a longtime need. Extravagantly popular since their opening, they only serve lunch five days a week.


Buddha bowl, $6.00

If the photo seems blurry, it was because M. de Joie was attempting to wrest the Buddha Bowl from Amico Del Signore's grip in a hurry before it was completely obliterated. If Wilda's has a signature dish, it would be this creative Asian-inspired combo. On a base of brown rice and red beans is piled deliciously spicy tofu or chicken, shredded cabbage, slices of avocado, cilantro, Jalapenos, garlic chili sauce and a sesame-flavored dressing. We lifted the Chinese take-out carton it's served in and estimated the weight at around 1.5 to 2 pounds, so it makes complete sense to serve it in a to-go box. Unfortunately, that also is a terribly awkward way to eat it, as the greens on top never get a chance to be amalgamated with the rice and beans underneath. A nearby diner solved the problem by ordering it to be served in a basket on a paper liner, which would also make an ideal way to share it with one or more additional diners. If Wilda's asked how the Buddha bowl could be improved - which they haven't, but if they did - black beans would be a better choice than red. Otherwise this is a wonderful lunch and can be made vegan easily.


Sweet potato fries, $3.00

There are only three sides available, and sweet potato fries are one of them. Non-greasy and nicely crispy, they're not made in-house and are served with what was described by the server as garlic aioli, but which tasted like plain Best Foods to us.


Falafel sandwich, $6.00

Falafels are deep-fried patties or balls made from ground chickpeas (garbanzos). You can't see them here under the toppings, but they were indeed there, wrapped in soft naan, drizzled with cucumber dressing, providing a nice nutty crunch under the cole slaw-like toppings. Deceptively light, this turned out to be quite a filling sandwich with subtle Middle Eastern flavors.


Roasted garlic dog, $5.25

When the garlic dog was delivered, it looked like the BBQ dog or the chili cheese dog. Reassured that this was the item we ordered, we took a couple of bites and wondered, where's the garlic? This was a case of too much stuff and too many competing flavors. Soft sweet roasted garlic was unrecognizable and untasteable under an avalanche of grilled balsamic red pepper & onions, blue cheese (also nearly obliterated) and what the menu says is garlic-Parmesan aioli. There was so much goop that the bun quickly became soggy and squishy. The grilled mixture tasted more like sour wine than balsamic vinegar - not a great companion for the other toppings. If we had to order this again we'd ask for the red peppers and onions to be left off.


Blue cheese and bacon salad, $5.25

Femme de Joie understands why restaurants love iceberg lettuce: cases of it arrive in good shape without wilting, it's cheap, it keeps very well, it can be cut without bruising the leaves, and it takes up room on a plate that would otherwise have to be filled with spendy temperamental leaf lettuces. There's a restaurant mania for iceberg wedge salads - a hunk of iceberg lettuce coated with blue cheese dressing. Every time she tries one of those M. de Joie thinks, "This would be a great salad with decent lettuce." She thought that again as she tried this salad. Good blue cheese, fresh sweet red onions and tomatoes, bacon crumbles - on a mesclun mix or spinach, this would be great. As it is, it's good toppings trying to disguise the bland watery crunch underneath. It was undistinguished. Fans of iceberg lettuce may love it.


Hot pastrami sandwich, $5.95

While this pastrami sandwich didn't match M. de Joie's memories of Jan's Frost Shop's pastrami, nevertheless it was quite good, with plenty of pastrami under sweetly sauteed onions with Wilda's mustard, pepperoncinis and jack cheese. Sometimes cured meats like pastrami are overly salty but these thin slices were mild and lean. It would have been nice to have a pickle spear alongside.

While not every menu item was indisputably wonderful, there are plenty of office workers nearby who love Wilda's. We arrived for each visit either before or just after their 11 AM opening time and were amazed to see the tiny dining room packed with 15 or more hungry patrons within just a few minutes. Large portions and dirt cheap prices as well as a super-efficient system of getting orders out fast certainly contribute to its popularity. We'd visit it again for the Buddha bowl and to try the eggplant sandwich. If you're parked downtown already on a weekday, walk over to give it a try and maybe pick up a jar of mustard ($3.99).

Wilda's Grill, 1718 Placer Street (between Court and Oregon), Redding, CA 96001. 530-246-3502. Open Monday-Friday, 11:00 AM - 4:00 PM. Closed weekends. No alcohol. Cards, cash. Vegan and vegetarian options. Gluten-free bread available. Outdoor seating; small indoor dining room. The world's smallest parking lot: better to park on Yuba or Oregon Street and walk. Follow Wilda's Grill on Facebook.

Savory Spoon – the Price of Nonprofit

The phrase "tote-bag hell" was first coined during the 1970s for those interminable weeks when public television programming was interrupted every six minutes to beg the viewers to pledge money. In exchange, the pledger received a "token of appreciation" - a tote bag or a coffee mug. Tote bags and coffee mugs are now apparently passe - instead, the lucky donor gets a CD/DVD of Live from the Andorra Opera House, Peter Lemongello Salutes Allan Sherman! Even a die-hard Peter Lemongello fan must surely be aware that no matter how shiny and new that DVD may be, it's just an enticement to get you to send money for the greater good.

There's been a restaurant of some kind in the courtyard of the Hartnell Castle for many years. Femme de Joie knows she dined there a few times, but it was so unmemorable she cannot recall now if it was Mexican, Chinese, or what. Savory Spoon opened in that oft-abandoned spot in late 2011. M. de Joie immediately filed it away in her soon-to-close-due-to-bad-location file cabinet. But it didn't close; it prospered and grew from being open three days a week to six days. Good things were heard about the food and the pay-what-you-can Mondays. It was time to drive east on Hartnell to visit.

The dining room features perhaps 20 small tables (no booths) topped with butcher paper; a cup of crayons is provided. Also on the tables are small pepper grinders and salt grinders - a very nice touch. Collections of vintage menus and kitchen tools make more interesting wall decor than the usual starving-artist paintings found in small cafes. It was perhaps half-full and not crowded on any of our visits.

M. de Joie was surprised at how varied Savory Spoon's menu is. There are numerous vegan options (including seitan) as well as gluten-free dishes (though Femme de Joie did not ask whether cross-contamination measures are taken).


VLAT (Vegetarian bacon, lettuce, tomato & avocado) potato salad, $11.00

When vegetarian meat substitutes were first widely available, most of them were on the disgusting side. M. de Joie remembers a booth at the Shasta District Fair circa 1970 that was handing out fake steak bites. She has blocked out exactly how nasty that bite was. There's been a lot of progress since then, and this sandwich was a good example. Crisp and smoky veg bacon stood in for the real porker product. Matched with local tomatoes and buttery avocados, this was a healthier take on the classic with a strong resemblance to the real thing. On the side, potato salad was good enough to be compared to homemade - this definitely did not come off the Sysco truck. However good the food was, we did expect more food for $11.00.


Monte Meat Burger (brown rice, legumes, mushrooms & vegetables) with chipotle sauce, side of cod chowder, $12.00

It's easy for most restaurants to offer a veggie burger by just defrosting a Boca or Garden burger, but kudos go to anyone who makes their own. The Monte Meat burger had a meat-like texture (it held together rather than falling into sorry lumps like many veggie burgers do) and taste (though again, it isn't going to be mistaken for ground chuck). Femme de Joie was rather taken aback at the size, reminiscent of a kiddie burger at a fast-food place, though the homegrown yellow tomato soothed some of the disappointment. Chipotle sauce was very mild and bland. Cod chowder was full of vegetables but a bit short on actual cod, though it had the fishy taste of a cod swimming in the cauldron.


Strawhouse Morning Blend coffee, $2.50

Savory Spoon uses a lot of local food purveyors, including coffee from Strawhouse on Highway 299 at Big Flat. Why would you get coffee from a wide spot in the road on your way to the coast? Because this is exceptionally good coffee and worth the extra trouble.


California omelet (bacon, tomato, avocado, blue cheese) with red house potatoes and rye toast, $9.00

It isn't that easy to find a really good breakfast in Redding, but Savory Spoon does them right. A tender omelet with a harmonious combination of fillings (blue cheese on an omelet? Yes, please) was the centerpiece. Red house potatoes were a delight - not burned or underdone or out of a freezer bag, seasoned lightly, they made the plate complete. Rye bread from The Oven Bakery in Mount Shasta was a surprise - toast is often just on the side to take up room, but fine rye bread is actually worth eating. A nice touch was jam served in tiny bowls rather than the peel-away plastic tubs.


Biscuits and gravy, $8.00/$5.00

House-made sausage gravy isn't on the dieter's list, but this gravy was worth at least a taste or two. Not overly salty or greasy, creamy gravy had plenty of sausage bits (unfortunately, a bit of gristle too). It would have been nice to have the gravy served on the side rather than poured over the biscuit so the biscuit could have remained unsoggy.


Tofu scramble with potato, red bell peppers, onions, mushrooms, with hash browns and rye toast, $9.00

Scrambled tofu? It's been a staple of vegetarian & vegan breakfasts for years, and is worth exploring if you're looking for a low-fat alternative to eggs. Colored with turmeric to look like eggs, tofu takes on the taste of whatever it's cooked with. This was a pleasing mix of vegetables with soft tofu curds. It's been a mission of Amico del Signore to find really great hash browns, and these were pretty close to potato Nirvana: very crisp, nongreasy house-made shreds of browned potatoes.

The food is delicious with so many nice touches, and the undertaking of the Savory Spoon is noble and in line with everything M. de Joie agrees with. It is located in an underserved area for restaurants and also attempts to serve the disenfranchised population. Savory Spoon has so many good things about it - ingredients sourced from local purveyors, dedication to high-quality organic foods, gluten-free and vegan options, a pay-what-you-can day on Monday for the poor & indigent. Having said all of that, Femme de Joie found this to be by far the most difficult review she has ever written.She walked out of Savory Spoon feeling uneasy, unsettled about some niggling little discrepancy, something that just wasn't sitting well with her. It finally came to her, not in an enlightening moment of shimmering clarity, but after hours of boring Amico del Signore with existential questions and general angst. It's the pricing.

Take the coffee, Morning Blend, retailing at Strawhouse for $13.00/pound. It is very good coffee and a very good deal at $2.50. But Cheesecakes Unlimited in Redding serves coffee for $2.79, Clearie's for $4.00, a French press of coffee (2-3 cups) at Moonstone costs $5.95. Wines: Savory Spoon has a nice selection of primarily local wines. A bottle of Burnsini 2009 Tehama Red sells for $24.00 at Vintage Wine Bar but $18.00 at Savory Spoon. The food pricing seems askew: a large spaghetti lunch (including garlic bread but not soup or salad) costs $15.00 but a 1/3 pound Prather Ranch bacon cheeseburger (including a choice of sides) is priced at $12.50. Chicken and dumplings at dinner is $15.00, more than meatloaf ($14.50). And at breakfast, a bowl of cream of wheat or oatmeal seems sky-high at $7.00, compared to an English muffin with meat, Cheddar, and a fried egg for $5.00. Should a seitan sandwich cost more than a Reuben? Why do inexpensive pasta and chicken cost more than beef? Why is a simple bowl of hot cereal more than a ham-egg-cheese breakfast sandwich?

M. de Joie wondered what's wrong with the chicken if the pasta costs more? Why do pancakes cost more than an omelet? There must be something she is missing here. It would seem logical to her that a nonprofit restaurant capitalize on the same things that for-profit restaurants make money on - i.e. the huge markup in beverages - so that the other menu items are not so far out of line with other restaurant menu pricing. Does getting a cup of coffee for $2.50 make up for a seven dollar bowl of oatmeal? At what point does "It's for a good cause" trump actual value? Like the DVD sent out by PBS in exchange for a donation of $120, is it enough to keep people coming back for more, or will it eventually dissuade consumers?

These are questions M. de Joie does not have a satisfactory answer to, but thus far the customer base seems quite happy with the food at Savory Spoon - and in the end, that is what will keep it alive.

Savory Spoon, 1647 Hartnell Avenue #1, Redding, CA 96002. 530-222-7200. Open Tuesday-Saturday, 9 AM - 8:00 PM. Sunday brunch from 9:00 AM - 2:00 PM. Community Monday, 12:00 noon to 4:00 PM; pay what you can. Cash and cards. Beer and wine. Vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free options. Parking lot. Website at www.SavorySpoon.org

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