Sunday, January 2, 2011

LOCKE & LUNCH - A Step Back In Time

A Step Back In Time

Remember Thanksgiving 2010?  The holiday that started a month-long eating binge that put us on that diet we started on Jan. 1 2011?  That Thanksgiving?

Well, as I blogged in November, Richard and I started our binge in Sacramento visiting my brother and his wife.  You remember - Bob and Nguyen.

Well, during our stay prior to turkey day, but after our welcoming feast of rib roast, popovers, et al (part of that November blog), we piled in Bob and Nguyen’s SUV and headed for the delta and the Chinese village of Locke.  Richard had never been to Locke and it was more than a decade since Bob had taken me to Al the Wops for steak sandwiches…. Yup, a “Wops” steak sandwich in a Chinese town. 

We took the scenic route from Bob and Nguyen’s pretty craftsmen’s house near the B Street Theater (founded by actor-director Timothy Busfield) and drove through the delta on the levees – all the while Don McClean’s “American Pie” was running thru my brain even though we weren’t driving a Chevy to the levee…  It was a cloudy, chilly day, but the ride was still beautiful (and I love that song).

Between stanzas of “American Pie” and choruses of “Delta Dawn” that also popped up in my head, my mouth started watering for that steak sandwich as we pulled into Locke.

Locke is the only remaining authentic Chinese village in the United States.  Not a “Chinatown” that so many cities have, Locke is a totally separate community that was built by and exclusively for Chinese immigrants in the early 1900’s.  At its population peak more than 600 people lived in the village’s three square blocks.  Now, however, the population has dwindled down to fewer than 100, and only a dozen people or so are Chinese.  Most of the storefronts are deserted
 but Locke still has a museum

 an art gallery

novelty shops, an herbal-medicine shop

 what appeared to be a 'town' house

a town garden

and, of course, Al the Wop’s.

Al (the Wop) Adami opened his restaurant and bar in 1934 when he took over the 1915 building that housed Lee Bing’s Chinese restaurant.  For many years, Al the Wops was the only non-Chinese business in Locke and became famous for steaks and pasta and Al’s eccentric behavior… like cutting off men’s neckties stating they were ‘too’ formal, stirring ladies’ drinks w/ his finger and giving free drinks to patrons who could get dollar bills (or fives or tens) stuck to the ceiling.  And, though Al and his swizzle-stick finger died many years ago, and fewer and fewer men wear neckties to a bar/restaurant, people still throw money at the ceiling.  

 Being there is stepping back into ‘an era gone by.’ It’s funky and fun…

As we walked down the street my anticipation grew.  

 I wondered if the steak sandwich would live up to its memory.  But, alas, I wasn’t going to find out.  At least not this trip.

Al the Wops – open 7 days a week – was closed for a two day ‘renovation’ (translation: a fresh paint job).   I almost cried.  Who renovates (paints) during Thanksgiving week when a zillion tourists are on the roads which means money in a restaurant’s cash register?  Well, the folks at Al the Wops, apparently.  We got to go in (hence the pictures) so Richard could see the place… but no steak sandwiches. 

Now what?  There wasn’t another restaurant in the village and Bob had no idea if there were any within a 20 miles radius.  We asked a shopkeeper and were surprised to learn there were restaurants open for business in a tiny town only a couple of miles away, Walnut Grove.

We were pretty hungry by now – it was way after the lunching ‘hour’ - so off we went, opting for Tony’s Steak House, a typical 50’s bar & grill that hadn’t changed its décor since the Eisenhower administration.  

There were a couple of more ‘up-to-date’ cafes

but for some bizarre reason Tony’s spoke to us.

The bar was hopping, but the kitchen was closed.  And though we didn’t meet “Tony,” the staff couldn’t have been nicer as they took pity on us hungry travelers, sat us down in the dining room at a corner table (no other diners in sight), gave us menus and took our orders.   


As we waited for our food, I wandered the empty dining room

inhaling the ambiance and years of cigarette smoke embedded in the walls… there was an old brick fireplace w/ worn furniture that could have been ordered ‘back in the day’ from Sears, Roebuck

and there was a wall of black & white vintage baseball pictures above the old-fashioned paneling.

Our food arrived.  We started w/ a typical 50’s favorite: iceberg lettuce, red cabbage and tomato salad.  The dressing choices... blue cheese, ranch and sweet ‘Catalina,’ of course… I had Catalina.  It was sweet.

You know how I love cheeseburgers, so a cheeseburger it was and what it was was OK.  Nguyen and Richard ordered the French dip sandwich.  But, because the kitchen had been closed, the meat and gravy were nuked, making the sandwich a bomb.  Bob, on the other hand, got a winner in his breaded veal cutlet sandwich which was made fresh.

All-in-all, it was a disappointing ‘time warp’ lunch after our Al the Wops high expectations – but we were thankful for the kindness of that staff at Tony’s Steakhouse in opening up their kitchen for us.

Stomachs full, it was time to rejoin the 21st century – wine tasting at the Bogle winery.


Richard said...

An hour later we were hungry again... but not for the French dip!

bobsaari said...

Locke is an interesting lil'town that's for sure.... It would have been highlighted with a steak sandwhich.....