Tuesday, June 28, 2022

OJAI CHEESE BURGERS, CHEESEBURGERS, CHEESEBURGERS


 

“CHEESEBURGER… CHEESEBURGER… CHEESBURGER…”

 

… “Pepsi… Pepsi… Pepsi.”  So yelled Greek immigrant Pete Dionasopoulos (played by John Belushi on “SNL”) to the short-order cook in TV’s fictional greasy spoon, The Olympia CafĂ©.  Only three things were really on the menu at Olympia – “cheeburger” (as Pete pronounced it), Pepsi and chips.  Heaven forbid you ordered a Coke, never mind French fries.  I related!  Doesn’t matter to me, Pepsi or Coke – you can hold the fries… the only thing I want is the cheeseburger.

I was about seven when I ate my first cheeseburger.  It was summer.  My family and I were vacationing at my Great Auntie Fanny’s camp (what New Englanders often call their summer houses) on Lake Boone in Massachusetts when, as the sun went down, my dad packed us into our Ford sedan and drove us to a popular burger shack for dinner.  He ordered cheeseburgers all around and, as I sat on an outdoor picnic bench and took my first bite, a glorious church-like choir sang rapturously in my head.  A taste revelation! I was in food heaven, enhanced by the fireflies lighting up the night sky like votives in a darkened church. 

Whoever dreamed up the combo of melted American cheese on top of grilled ground beef stuffed into a white bun was a food god. To recreate that magical culinary moment, I’ve been searching the world for that perfect cheeseburger ever since. (Fast food cheeseburgers don’t cut it.  Not even In-N-Out.)

My quest didn’t end when I moved to Ojai – and though I still have not recreated that nirvana cheeseburger experience of my youth, here are a few of my favorites in our valley in no particular order.

The Deer Lodge on Maricopa Highway started as a gas station/grocery in 1932 serving weary travelers, but eventually morphed into the iconic Ojai tavern it is today. Try the Lodge Burger made with 6 ounces of ground beef, homemade bacon jam, cheddar cheese, golden garlic aioli, and greens on a whole wheat bun (we’ve come a long way from ketchup, mustard, relish or mayo accoutrements). Then there’s the delicious Buffalo Burger – 6 ounces of ground buffalo meat, the homemade bacon jam, muenster cheese, chipotle aioli and greens on a pretzel bun.


 For a great cheeseburger with a view to match, you can’t beat Jimmy’s Pub overlooking a rolling golf green at the Ojai Valley Inn & Spa.  Made with Angus beef, it’s topped with melty Marin brie, bacon-onion marmalade and arugula, served on a brioche bun.  Because the beef and cheese are the “thing,” I often have the “sauces” and greens served separately so the tastes don’t conflict with the actual “cheeseburger” part. But, the Deer Lodge’s bacon jam and Jimmy’s bacon-onion marmalade are delish improvements over ketchup.  Really, it’s got bacon!!!

 The Ojai Beverage Company (OBC to its friends) on E. Ojai Ave, offers cheeseburgers from the classic to the exotic.  The Classic is topped with melty cheddar, spring mix greens, tomato with 1000 island dressing on a brioche.  One of its more exotic choices is Cow On Stilts, a burger smothered in blue cheese, fried jalapenos, bourbon bacon jam (another twist on the popular bacon jam) and mixed greens on a waypoint bun. For the non-beef eaters, OBC offers a free-range white turkey cheeseburger on a waypoint bun with pepper jack cheese, greens, tomato, onion, avocado, brown mustard and a pesto aioli.  What’s a waypoint bun?  I had to look it up.  It’s a celery root-and-sesame seed bun that sounds healthy, and perhaps it is, but, seriously, we’re talking cheeseburgers here.

 Ojai Pub, also on E. Ojai Ave., is the new “burger kid” on the block featuring “California comfort” food. Comfort food + a pub = cheeseburgers, starting with a Classic Burger made of beef or an “impossible patty” (translation: vegan patty), the house’s secret sauce, cheddar cheese (or vegan cheese), lettuce, tomato, pickles, and onion on a brioche bun.  Also, on the menu is the Rancho Burger with either patty, salsa macha (peanut butter salsa), cheddar (or vegan cheese), crispy onions, tomato, roasted bell peppers, jalapenos, and chipotle aioli on a brioche bun.

 

The closest cheeseburger experience to the one I had as a child is at the Summit Drive-In, a burger stand in Upper Ojai on Hwy 150 where you order at the window as my dad had done all those years ago. Take a seat at an outside picnic table and just enjoy the flavors of the Summit’s Classic Burger with melted American cheese, lettuce, tomato, pickle, and secret sauce on a sesame seed bun. For a non-classic culinary experience try the Western Burger covered with melting cheddar cheese, bacon, BBQ sauce, and an onion ring.  Or bite into the juicy Red, White & Blue with grilled onions, blue cheese, lettuce, tomato, and secret sauce. Also on the menu is the Firehouse #20 melty pepper jack cheeseburger, with chipotle mayo, jalepenos, bacon, lettuce and tomato.  And, yes, this burger shack even has a Vegetarian Summit Burger which includes lettuce, tomato, pickles, secret sauce, and cheese! served on a sesame bun.  The only thing missing were the fireflies in a night sky.


 

 Another classic cheeseburger favorite is at Jim & Rob’s (W. Ojai Ave.) made with Watkins beef and popular with Ojaians. 

Cheeseburgers – manna from heaven.

Saturday, October 23, 2021

ANOTHER WINE TASTING SLEEPOVER IN ARROYO GRANDE -


 

Covid!  Covid!  Covid!  How everyone's lives have changed since the onset of the pandemic.  We are so fortunate that all our friends have been vaccinated and we've been able to see them in small groups inside and larger groups outside.  Like most people, we've stayed close to home, but our desire to leave our pretty valley has magnified.  Hell, we were stir crazy... and then, like manna from heaven, came an invitation from dear friends, Candace and Craig Anderson to venture north to Arroyo Grande for a sleepover in their beautiful 'home away from home'.  Before we finished texting 'yes,' we were packing an overnight bag.

Much like Ojai, Arroyo Grande is a rural town surrounded by orchards and ranches and vineyards.  Fabulous vineyards, I might add and I've written about many of them. Yet, still close to larger towns and a stone's throw from the Pacific.

As we traveled north on the 101 with a shortcut detour through beautiful Santa Ynez and a lunch stop at The Wine Merchant (our favorite watering hole in the darling town of Los Olivos), we arrived at Candace & Craig's around 2-ish.  We visited for a while before heading out to Chamisal Vineyards one of their favorite wineries (and ours) with a large outdoor venue, perfect during this pandemic period.

Check out our first visit to this delicious winery.   https://mydinnerswithrichard.blogspot.com/2012/10/a-sleepover-in-arroyo-grande-pt-1.html


The weather was perfect.  We were ushered to a picnic table for four.

Place mats with 5 circles drawn on it where a glass of wine would be were on the table.  Written under each circle was a description of the wine we were about to taste. 

 
We started with the 2018 Estate Chardonnay and the 2018 Califa Chardonnay both with flavors of vanilla custard (and who doesn't have fond memories of vanilla custard from their childhood?), lemon, and hints of other fruits.  I'm a chardonnay drinker, so I can be quite choosy (and critical) of chardonnays, but both these wines were just what the doctor ordered.  So, of course, I had to buy a bottle (Califa) for medicinal purposes.

Next were the 2018 Estate Pinot Noir and the 2018 Califa Pinot Noir.  Again, both were delicious with various scents and taste nuances that boasted a few earthy notes.  The Estate pinot was mellow and light and no back taste. I liked that.

The last was a 2016 Califa Syrah with aromas of violets, black pepper, olives and smoked meat.  I wanted a rare New York steak with some steamed asparagus to 'go with.'

Check out Chamisal's website for prices and wine club membership.  chamisalvineyards.com

Arroyo Grande, like Ojai, has become a weekend tourist town with packed restaurants and parking hard to find... even during Covid, because most restaurants in both towns have outdoor dining.

So, as the tasting room was closing, we headed back to our hosts' cozy home to drink more wine (of course) and prepare dinner.

What a perfect reprieve from our Covid stir craziness...  Thank you Candace & Craig!


Chamisal Vineyards

7525 Orcutt Road - San Luis Obispo, Ca. 93401

805-242-7326


 

Sunday, March 28, 2021

PANDEMIC DIARY - How I Spent My Sequester - Pt. 9 - To Keto or Not To Keto...

 ... that is the question.

Richard making a spaghetti squash supper

When the god/desses introduced me to Richard, I was young, and tho I was no longer modelling or dancing (other than club-type dancing), nor was auditing Luigi's jazz dance classes along w/ Bob Fosse on occasion, I was thin and could eat cheeseburgers w/ a side of fries or pizza or a bowl of fettuccine alfredo everyday and not gain an ounce.  

In the beginning of our love affair, I was the main bread winner and cook in the house, but that didn't last ... Richard's career took off as did his culinary skills.  He won an Emmy and was nominated for more AND became our 'chef in residence' when we entertained - I made "pretty" and did clean-up.  

As we got older, his cooking prowess grew, but, sadly, so did my waistline.  My dress size went from 4-6 to 8 to 10 to 12 (I had 3 sets of jeans - from thin to 'menopause-aly plump'... you get the picture.  I was not a happy camper.  I went on Fen Fen (remember Fen Fen?) and returned, if not to my "model/dancing" weight, close to it.  I bought clothes again.  Looked and felt great...  but Richard had discovered these wonderful pasta recipes, learned to make bread, as well as rich, creamy sauces.  It was  then I started this blog shortly before we went to Europe in 2001 right after 9/11.  He was writing and producing a series of show for the Food Network about the best chefs, foods and wines in Europe (I tagged along and ended up doing set design and various other little jobs to "pay my way").  See my "Five Guys & Me" series written in 2001-2002.

Well, as you've probably guessed, I began to gain back the weight.  (Yeh, it's all Richard's  fault - not the cheeseburgers, french fries, hot dogs, pizza, as well as Richard's meals I wolfed down.)  Then  a couple of years ago, I discovered NuAtkins which morphed into Keto, and I lost most of the weight.  As a meat, chicken and fish lover, not to mention a cheese-aholic, this was the perfect diet for me and Richard was happy to oblige.  I haven't lost all the weight I want to (do we ever?), and this pandemic isn't helping, as I 'graze' a lot during the day, but I've maintained, pretty much, with a little cheating now because Richard has been making amazing NuAtkins/Keto meals.  He hates cleaning up and doing dishes, I don't mind - so as we've sheltered in place this past year, he's made most all of our dinners.  

Here are some of my favorite of his "eat fat to lose fat" low carb suppers.

I'll start with bangers and cauliflower mash w/ a side of broccoli...

Speaking of cauliflower -- cauliflower mac & cheese - yup - my mouth is watering...

 ... and

Cauliflower carbonara

Moving on to chicken dishes - he's made a zillion over the pandemic - here are just a few of my favorites...

Joanna Gaines' chicken Florentine


Chicken in a creamy tarragon sauce

Chicken & arugula w/ summer squash in an orange/butter sauce

Let's go fishing...

grilled cedar plank salmon w/ a brown sugar (just a tad) and mustard sauce

plated w/ mashed broccoli

shrimp scampi w/ spinach

Golden bass Piccata 

Jamie Oliver's roasted white fish wrapped in bacon in lemon/mayo sauce

sheet roasted salmon Nicoise 


scallops in lemon/basil sauce & mashed broccoli

shrimp w/ garlic, spinach and spaghetti squash

swordfish Piccata

tilapia w/ crushed almonds in a butter/orange sauce


Besides grilled steak or lamb chops w/ veggies (favorite meals always) here are a few of Richard's NuAtkins/Keto low carb meat meals...

rack of lamb w/ mint, mustard crust and sauce

roast pork shoulder baked in cream and milk

 
grilled pork chop in garlic, butter/orange sauce


So to answer the age old question - To Keto or not to Keto - hell, yes!!!

 

 

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

PANDEMIC DIARY - How I Spent My Sequester - Pt. 8 - 2021 Begins

 

 

2021 Begins

 

I don't know anyone who wasn't happy to say good bye to 2020.  Sheltering in place has been challenging, especially for the families I know with children who needed to be schooled online as they worked from home.   For Richard and me, it was less stressful.  Though Richard was in the middle of co-directing a revival production of "Harvey" with Broadway director/producer, Craig Anderson, that was a week away from opening when theaters doors were closed, we are basically writers.  Translation, we are used to 'sheltering in place,' writing days, weeks, even months on end - hunkered at home.  Of course, as you know by now, we do entertain a lot, but we've managed to entertain ourselves with explorations into a cocktail world (which I've blogged about earlier in this Pandemic Diary) and Richard has been challenging himself in the kitchen as he's become our "chef in chief" - many of his meals I've also blogged about. We also walk/hike and he plays tennis and golfs, so exercise and fresh air are not absent.

Wanting to support our local restaurants, we did have a few dinners out during 2020 when outside dining was open, and I had lunches with girlfriends (one at a time, of course) at some of our favorite Ojai watering holes...  but, outside dining was shutdown again at the end of 2020, and, since we're not normally big New Year's Eve celebrants, we planned an intimate dinner at home.  I tried to make pretty...


 while Richard planned our dinner... a pork roast rack at my request.


 It was his first foray in pork roasting and it couldn't have been more delicious.

We enjoyed dessert (assorted nuts and peppermint tea) in front of the fire and our lighted, downsized, very dead, Christmas tree (it's last hurrah).   

A few weeks into 2021, outdoor dining in Ojai returned, so we decided to celebrate the year's romantic holiday by going to the 6:30 seating at Ca Marco, our favorite Italian neighborhood restaurant.  It was a beautiful evening... being out sipping a nice wine...

... and eating a nicely cooked meal that Richard didn't have to cook and I didn't have to clean up after, made it a perfect Valentine's Day.

                                         

As we both now have had our first vaccination shot - my second is Mar. 1 and Richard's a week or two after that, we are looking forward to entertaining friends again, some of whom we haven't seen since the first lock down.

Please stay masked, safe and healthy - there is now a light at the end of the pandemic tunnel.