La Parisienne Bakery - Morro Bay


        


I like surprises in my life, especially when they come under the realm of an impromptu trip. As you read this I am in Paris doing a story for Airbnb finding the best of the cities culinary treasures and soaking in the opulence that is gay Paris.  Before we left I did my weekly pilgrimage to Morro Bay. My grandkids now live in Morro Bay and we come to the bakery every Friday to fill up boxes of goodies to eat all weekend. The kids love the sugar cookies, but try a new treat every time we are there.  The smell of baked goods draw you in, put this is only place to have a proper authentic French petit déjeuner!  Crispy croissants, rich pies and other delicious pastries were my French fix for the day. I had my favorite breakfast sandwich in the entire world, goat cheese with sautéed spinach and mushrooms and egg on the most crunchy, soft baguette. The kids had muffins, sides of bacon and dolphin shaped cookies, and we toasted chef Deb with our chocolate milk and took a box of goodies to go. 

La Parisienne Bakery, owned and operated by a fantastic and full of life woman, Debra was a hit in both the food, coffee and friendliness factor. This authentic French bakery located at 1140 Front Street, at the north end of the Embarcadero by the rock (the sign just says "Bakery"), had a menu to impress and we ate three meals our first time there and took one home with us. Gary ordered the Burgundy Beef sandwich, which was a mixture of chunks of beef, smothered in reduced burgundy sauce and served on a fresh baguette. I had a scallop sandwich with flavors bursting and me wanting to take the whole bakery case back to the room. I just took one baguette, which was a mistake.  The Parmesan encrusted baguette was a meal in its self; I devoured the whole thing and was brushing the crumbs off my lap when Gary came home. Next time we ordered two and they were a perfect meal for dinner. 

We came back for breakfast, waking early to try some hot pastries. I started with an egg and ham sandwich on a freshly baked baguette with fried potatoes and cheese, and it was superb. Gary started with a walnut sticky bun, a chocolate croissant, and an apricot pastry. He ate every bite moaning with pleasure and then ordered a dozen fresh baked sugar cookies. The cookies are shaped like sea creatures and smothered in a magnificent frosting; they were still warm from the oven. It was brilliant and amazing. We then walked to the rock, played in the surf and came back to the bakery for lunch.  

This time I tried one of the many scrumptious quiches while Gary tried the French onion soup. The soup is topped with a crustini and smothered with shredded cheese, all complementing the super sweet onions.  Then we split an egg salad sandwich, which I watched the chef (Debra) slice the eggs and make fresh just as we ordered it. We took more cookies to go and a couple of loafs of bread for dinner. 




La Parisienne Bakery is on the Embarcadero (by the smoke stacks) come for a view of the harbor and the best pastry shop outside Paris.  They have abundant tarte choices, quiches, soups, light sandwiches, fresh sliced bread to go, cookies, pastries and more. They are open and can be reached at 805-772-8530.

Cracked Crab - Pismo Beach



                                    

I am saddened to announce my friend and restaurant owner Mike Lee of the Cracked Crab has passed on to the big crab pot in the sky.  He was my pal, fellow foodie and a good guy to grab a drink with guarantying a giggle at the end of a long, hard day. He was a renaissance man who lived a passionate life and touched all that knew him. He trained his staff well and most have been with him for years, so the restaurant is successively remaining. I went in to dine and honor a man who changed the food scene in Pismo Beach. 

I have a few guilty pleasures. One being good wine, the second being Alaskan king crab.  There is only one place in the United States you can find this delicacy and that comes from the Baltic Sea, and that’s at the Cracked Crab. 

Mike had been going up to Alaska and bringing back the whole load of crabs from the Time Bandit fishing fleet and even hosted the whole crew in Pismo in 2010.  Now Cracked Crab is the only American outlet that receives crab from Dutch Harbor. I sat down amidst the Jimmy Buffett music (another guilty pleasure of mine) and the murals of Pismo Pier to enjoy a huge hunk of crab in honor of my very missed friend. 

Mike had told me adventure tales of a time when he traveled to Alaska and got to go out on the Time Bandit, meet the captain and crew, set pots and pull them in and watch how they processed the delicious crab to make it to California tasting as fresh as the day it was caught. He told of the plane (the only plane in that area) breaking down three times as he tried to leave and how the fishermen were as expected full of stories and whisky when not battling the elements. Mike bought 8000 pounds of this delectable food and brought it to our sleepy little beach town.

Homemade Apple Cobbler
My crab arrived and I gasped at the beauty of it, three eighteen-inch long legs of the most delicious object on the planet. The Cracked Crab does a wonderful job at providing you with all the tools you need to break into these beauties, along with providing melted butter over a flame (so it stays that way), amazing cocktail sauce (the secret ingredient is a swoosh of tequila) and fresh lemon wedges. None of these was needed, as this was the most succulent, amazing crab I had ever tried. Perfectly cooked and so full of flavor, this truly is the food of Kings. I have never had crab this good. You owe it to yourself to try this. You may not be able to have the best car, designer shoes, or billion-dollar mansion, but you can have the best crab in the world and it is worth every cent. 

The chef also prepared a rare dish of Copper River salmon for me. This long river causes the salmon to get fat and flavorful, sprinkled with capers, red onions and balsamic vinegar, it was perfect. I eat sushi all the time and I had never had fish this fresh or flavorful. Cracked Crab always has only the finest seafood for their customers; and their menus are printed daily for the freshest catches.  I find even the sourdough rolls are flawlessly done and wonderful. I eat their San Felipe Style fish tacos weekly. These are cod filets breaded and fried, then wrapped in a corn tortilla with cabbage slaw and a special sauce.  The Crab Cocktail is the best way to get delicious Dungeness crab without all the work and the key lime pie here is only matched in Key West Florida. 

This is the restaurant to take anyone you want to impress whether it is company or your mother-in-law. I encourage you to treat yourself and go get the Alaskan king crab. Cracked Crab is located at 751 Price Street in Pismo Beach; they do not take reservations, but serve throughout the day. Call them at 773-CRAB or look at the wonderful pictures of Mike at www.crackedcrab.com.

Mr Pickle's Sandwich Shop - San Luis Obispo


                                                        


“That’s not something you see everyday,” my wise 3-year-old-going-on-18 Grandson proclaimed as we passed a huge dancing pickle on the sidewalk. We were driving to Cuesta College where he has school. He talked about the dancing gherkin all the way there and all the way back. We had to return after his precollege to find out why a cornichon would be dancing on the street. Into Mr. Pickles Sandwich Shop we went and a friendly hello greeted us and they handed us a warm cookie as we perused the menu. The kid was impressed and we were off to a great start.

Our sandwich master was Eric, who is also one of the general managers. The boy got a Kids Meal that included applesauce, juice box -but we substituted it for water as this boy is not allowed to drink juice or soda. The chocolate chip cookie and spinning toy was the frosting on the cake for the PB&J on wheat bread that he loved (though not in the shape of a dinosaur like his mom does). 

I asked Eric to surprise me using only turkey as a requirement. I can't remember the last time I felt like this while dining at a sub shop, as the experience was so customized. He suggested the Italian with the garlic sauce like a traditional Italian sandwich. I wanted to try the sauce, so he gave me some on a piece of bread. The bread is imported from a San Francisco bakery every day and it had that unique flavor only SF bread does. He explained that one of their secrets to a great ‘which is that they squirt garlic sauce on the inside of most sandwiches and it was pretty amazing. Then he added some sriracha sauce and salami for me to try, I gave thumbs up and he made it on a Dutch Crunch roll that was delicious. He called it an Italian Stallion.  I took a to-go order of the Hang Loose, a pastrami, bacon and cream cheese with avocado for Mr. Bayus. It was piled high with quality lean meat and wrapped in a thick traditional with marble rye. He was pleased, but upset he didn’t get the cookie, so we returned.

We came back to try the Ruben as Gary swears he hasn’t had a good one in California. This was an impressive tower of 1/3 pound of pastrami, sauerkraut, Swiss cheese and their homemade thousand island dressing on that wonderful marbled rye all heated to precision. While we were waiting for our sands, they handed Gary a cookie. He looked at it funny and asked why not a pickle? The irony was not lost on me. They do have giant pickles for sale, but found that most people preferred a free cookie. I had the Big Jake on a Dutch crunch roll with turkey, avocado and cream cheese. It was piled high and that garlic sauce really makes the flavors shine. I am now a fan of these sandwiches, they are superb. 

General Manager Eric Ebeling told me that Mr. Pickle's Sandwich Shop sandwiches are made with high quality meats served on delicious San Francisco style freshly baked breads. They have 23 specialty sandwiches, three are made just for this area (The Ruben, The Mustang, and the Cal Poly) or you can build it yourself. They offer a choice of five different cheeses and also include "everything” which includes mayonnaise, mustard, their special recipe garlic sauce, lettuce, tomato, pickles, peppers and onions all on that wonderful bread. They also have freshly made specialty salads or you can turn your favorite sandwich into a salad. 

He explained that Mr. Pickle's serves the growing fast casual market where customers demand more than fast food; they want quality without a huge price tag. 

When you walk in and smell the fresh baked bread, and are handed a warm cookie then have a big bite of their made to order sandwich prepared with the addictive garlic sauce, how can you not love Mr. Pickle's. Plus they have that dancing giant gherkin!


They do deliveries and you can order online for delivery or pick up at www.mrpicklesinc.com where you can also find six pages of pickle gear. Mr. Pickles Sandwich Shop is located at 1075 Olive Street (at Santa Rosa and Olive Street) in San Luis Obispo. You can call them at (805) 545-9909; they are open Monday through Saturday from 10:00am to 8:00pm and Sunday’s from 10:00am to 6:00pm.

McPhee's Grill - Templeton



Chef Ian McPhee
It is an achievement when a chef becomes successful. Those with the right ingredients of talent, hard work and panache not only survive but also thrive.  Chef Ian McPhee of McPhee’s Grill in Templeton is the like a white truffle, rare and wonderful. To be successful and happy after 20 years as a restaurant owner and chef is a rarity. The Chef-Owner attributes his years of success to both the growth of the surrounding wine country, tourism and the loyalty of his local customers. He recalls that when he and his wife, June, first opened in 1994, there were about 20 wineries in the surrounding area. Today more than 250 populate the countryside. Chef told me it was no secret, “I just cook what I like and I am lucky a bunch of people like what I like.” I think he is a modest genius. 

Gary started with the combination of homemade hot fudge sundae with toasted macadamia nuts, delectable French vanilla ice cream and added a warm caramel sauce. He was thrilled with the frozen dish and delectable sauces. I started with the spicy vegetable Crudité and then the oak grilled Ocean Mist Artichoke, steamed then cut in half. It is finished on the grill and served with a chipotle chile mayonnaise and shaved parmesan cheese. This is my favorite way to eat this illusive flower, and I have been known to drive to Templeton from Pismo just for this dish. We then tried a bit of the Mexican Tortilla soup with the lime creama and colorful tortilla ribbons, and we both were elated at how delectable and comforting it tasted. Our next taste was the Chopped Little Gem Caesar salad with roasted red peppers agrodolce served with Mom Herten’s garlic bread. 
The salad was unique and scrumptious but that bread was one of the best things I have ever tried. A thick slice of French bread covered in secret sauce and cheese, it was simple, yet astonishingly delightful. We talked about making just a meal out of that and the J Dusi Zinfandel wine. 

For an entrée I had the 14-ounce rib eye served with three salsas, jalapeno cheese mashed potatoes and a goat cheese stuffed poblano chile. The steak was impeccably grilled and the mashers where so full of flavor, I inhaled them. The chile was the flawless combination of savory and hot, I vowed to add this to my reason to drive to Templeton list. Gary had two starters for his entrée, as our immaculate server, Leslie had down such a succulent job of describing them; he just had to try both. The Kung Fu Baby Back Ribs with their secret Asian BBQ sauce and cold noodle peanut salad were delicious and bold. He went epically crazy for the crispy tempura shrimp. Large shrimp dredged and fried to precision with a spicy peanut dipping sauce and Asian slaw where his favorite of the night. 

Chef Ian took me on a tour of his busy 
kitchen and was fired up about the new custom-made brick oven that was hand-built by native Italian Giuseppe Crisa at Forno Classico in Santa Barbara, reflecting the Italian tradition of wood-fired Napoletana pizza ovens. Using only local oak for fuel and reaching temperatures up to 1200 degrees Fahrenheit, the oven can cook pizza in less than one minute, which McPhee says, gives the pizza a “lightness” that is not found in slow-cooked pizzas made in a conventional gas oven. The pizza menu includes house creations like the Fig & Pig (fig jam, prosciutto, crispy pork belly, smoked Gouda, and basil) and the R U Nuts (pistachio pesto, basil, Italian sausage, fresh Mozzarella, and Pecorino), in addition to classic pizza styles such as Margherita and Pepperoni. He was also excited about the new Sous-vide ("under vacuum") machine which creates perfectly cooked meats and veggies buy vacuum sealing them with herbs and spices, immersing them in a “spa” of water thus cooking evenly and deliciously. Chef said he experimented with everything and only rabbit was not enhanced by this method of slow cooking. 

“This is not a job to me. It’s part of my life and lifestyle. I am so happy to be here and I love what I do, I’m very lucky,” I asked him if he would ever retire and with the well known twinkle in his eye he told me, “If I don’t show up for work, then I have gone to the big kitchen in the sky.” I wish him 20 more years of success, as this chef is a rare gem.


McPhee’s Grill is located at 416 South Main Street in Templeton; call them at (805) 434-3204. They are open for lunch Monday thru Saturday from 11:30 to 2:00pm and nightly for dinner at 5:00pm. For more information, visit their new website at www.McPheesGrill.com.

Eureka Burger - San Luis Obispo

                                             



“In wine there is wisdom, beer there is freedom and water there is bacteria” stated wisely by Benjamin Franklin and used with other bits of wisdom at Eureka Burger in San Luis Obispo. Following their mantra of Eureka, used as an exclamation of triumph at a discovery, I agree. I had avoided this place because of the long waits and burger centric meals, but I became a fan on the first night, a convert on the second meal. There is a talent to creating a menu that will sustain and intrigue the college crowd, yet make the locals (and grownups) come back again and again. Eureka has accomplished this with a full and unique drink items and delectable food staples.  Those that truly appreciate great food, craft beer and artisan liquor like me are discovering a better restaurant experience at Eureka in downtown San Luis Obispo.

Our first night there we sat at the bar and received some of the best service I have had a casual restaurant. The bartender made Mr. Bayus an Old Fashioned that loosened his retrieve and made him swear to come here every night. They he presented him with the Butterscotch Rum Pudding that was pronounced “Green Mile” worthy, a first for a dessert, and this one was topped with homemade whipped cream, caramel sauce and flaky sea salt. He inhaled it; I didn’t get to try even a bite. He has since returned over ten times for this after-work treat of liquor and pudding. 

I started with the Fried Chicken Sliders that surprised and delighted me. The perfectly fried chicken was shaped into a small patty then put on a biscuit slathered with tomato jam, a crisp and delicious housemaid pickles and served with signature hand cut fries. The biscuit/bun had me puzzled, as it was familiar and yet not something you get in a restaurant. When I asked the manager about it, he sneakily whispered that they were Pillsbury biscuits. Brilliant! Comfort food, wrapped in comfort food. Then there were those fries. I am usually not a fan, but these were so good, I ate them all and ordered more for dessert. I choose the buffalo dipping sauce as a fantastic alternative to ketchup. It was our first time there and I had to tell the server about how please and surprised I was. He instantly bought us another dessert, the Chocolate Espresso Soufflé Coffee Cup Cake that was a dark chocolate soufflé with homemade whipped cream and a vanilla bean ice cream.  

Next we came back for Happy Hour and I was delighted at all the offerings. Shishito Peppers that were grilled and topped with tobiko (fish eggs) and fresh lemon juice. The Pacific White Fish Tacos that were 
                                  
                                                

blackened and sautéed tilapia with cabbage, avocado aioli, mango salsa, and cilantro all served within two corn tortillas. It was fantastic. The Lollipop Corn Dogs made Gary happy with his rare IPA beer. They consisted of a Polish sausage saturated in a sweet corn batter then fired. They are dipped into spicy porter mustard, homemade ketchup or ranch. He proclaimed it the top “Men Food” as he grunted and watched sports on the big screen TV’s. 

I finished it off with Watermelon Salad that was crisp and refreshing. It consisted of arugula, kale, lemon vinaigrette, homemade quinoa, watermelon, feta, toasted walnuts and a balsamic glaze. Again, the service was outstanding as my wine got toppled over that they refilled it for free. 

Eureka exudes the benefits of handmade food, locally sourced produce and fresh baked breads found throughout the menu. You'll find an authentic, one-of-a-kind experience serving a wide selection of all natural beef burgers, signature hand cut fries, gourmet salads, delectable sandwiches and delicious desserts. They strive to treat each guest as an important individual and prepare each plate with the pursuit of perfection in mind.

 Eureka is located in San Luis Obispo
1141 Chorro Street, call them at (805) 903-1141, they are open everyday for lunch and dinner. 


Coronas Mexican Restaurant - Arroyo Grande

                         

I love when I get tips from the readers (hint, hint- if you have a restaurant you want me to try, please tell me about it). My latest’s was from an impassioned man who wanted me to try a Mexican restaurant called Coronas in Arroyo Grande. He was thorough in telling me the best dishes and what to experiment with and I am happy to tell you I was pleased. 

They brought out tortilla chips with a tasty salsa and the waitress suggested the guacamole so we ordered it.  The guacamole did not disappoint, good flavor and plenty of it the green goodness. I was impressed that they had their own signature beer, poured on draft. The Coronas Victory Golden Ale is their own private label. It was light and crispy, a perfect accessory to the hot flavors. The chips were hot and the salsa packed a punch. We were off to a very good start. 

I tried the Combination Plate choosing a cheese enchilada topped with a smoky mole red sauce. The dense tortilla made this an enchilada to be remembered. My favorite part of my combo was the Flauta. Stuffed with chicken and deep-fried, this flour tortilla was topped with a unique, hot and spicy ranchero sauce. The Ranchero sauce is on of my favorites. It is a picant tomato-based sauce that includes onions, green chiles such as serranos and a touch of sweet seasonings. This Mexican salsa is most often associated with huevos rancheros, put was perfect on the Flauta that was also draped with with house made guacamole and sour cream. A delicious Chile Relleno rounded out my trio. The eggs where fluffy surrounding an impeccably cooked Pablano chili stuffed with cheese, it was memorable. 

Our next visit we did the Platillos del Mar (Plates from the Sea) that included soup. My Albondigas soup with its vegetable base and spicy meatballs, rice, zucchini, celery, and potato was delightful. The homemade meatballs were good enough to be served by themselves. It was not spicy at all, but chocked full of flavor. My main dish was the Camarones a la Diablo seasoned with tomatoes; onion green chiles and a spicy set your hair on fire sauce. The large prawns were cooked perfectly. 

The El Gallo Burrito (meaning the Rooster) was the one I was encouraged to try. It was huge, stuffed with the chile relleno, chili verde, and cheese. It was topped with house made guacamole and sour cream. The chili verde was succulent and so full of flavor. When this dish is cooked correctly, it is outstanding and this was. It was almost too big to finish. 

Coronas has many budget options with $1.00 Taco Tuesdays and lunch specials for $6.99. The special includes rice and beans and your choice of enchilada, taco, flauta, carne asada taco, taquito, pork tamale, or chile relleno. The plates were big and filling. 
                                                         


Corona means crown in Spanish and this family is trying and succeeding in leading the Mexican food revolution. Coronas Mexican Restaurant is open daily from 11:00am to 9:00pm and everything on the menu is made from scratch. It is located at 1263 E Grand Avenue in Arroyo Grande; call them at (805) 473-9999.

Ben Franklin's Sandwich Company - San Luis Obispo

The word sandwich was born in London during the very late hours of the night in 1762 when an English nobleman, John Montagu (1718-1792), the Fourth Earl of Sandwich, was too busy gambling to stop for a meal even though he was hungry. The legend goes that he ordered a waiter to bring him roast-beef between two slices of bread, so he wouldn’t get his fingers greasy while he was playing cards. A less than noble start for what is today a staple for lunch most everyday.

Since 1969 a sandwich maven has existed at the Y on Higuera Street in San Luis Obispo. Ben Franklin’s Sandwich Company not only boasts the cool Purple Dragon, Ben's is the place were the small sandwich is seven inches long, medium is fourteen inches and the large is twenty one inches, so it is my advice is to go big or go home. With a plethora of noble sandwiches, salads, soups and homemade chili to choose from this is colorful building filled with helpful, friendly employees is my favorite place for fast food. 

                     
Originally called Ben Franklin's Electric House, this local favorite has been serving San Luis traditional submarine style deli sandwiches with a wide selection of high quality meats and cheeses on fresh, locally baked white or whole wheat rolls from Farb’s Bakery (which they pick up daily). 

I originally found them for a breakfast sandwich that was as tasty as it was big. Fluffy scrambled egg, bacon and cheese all resting on a hot from the oven (and so soft) French roll, it was the best breakfast treat I had had and made me swear never to eat a fast food replication of this delightful and filling sandwich.

I went with friends for lunch and ordered sandwiches that made the whole party contented. I started with Ben’s ATC (avocado, turkey and cheese) on billowy soft white bread loaf. The turkey was sliced thin and piled thick, the fresh avocado and crème cheese mixture was tasty and I chose Swiss cheese and The Works that included: olive oil and red wine vinegar dressing, mayonnaise, Dijon mustard, sliced tomatoes, dill pickles, onions, shredded iceberg lettuce, and a dash of black pepper. Priced similar to the wretched Chain that I avoid like a torpedo (Subway), this should be where everyone goes to purchase their hoagies. 

You forget just how good a sandwich can be until you have had it on freshly baked bread. It is no secret that I am a colossal fan of Farb’s Wholesale Bakery. I can always spot their bread on the first bite. Only the finest restaurants carry their bread and I find them and point them out for the world to enjoy. They supply white and whole wheat loaves to Ben Franklin’s, and it is the simplicity and freshness that makes them virtuous. 

                           

My friends ordered the Ben's Californian with sliced, moist roast beef, pepper jack cheese, green chilies, pepperoncini peppers and oil-vinegar dressing, that was heated for a “Frankly” tasty sandwich.  The hippy girl ordered the Vegetable Mix that was heaping with fresh tomatoes, onions, olives, bell peppers, cucumbers, green chilies, mushrooms, pickles, pepperoncini’s and alfalfa sprouts. She added avocado and cream cheese mix, and declared it the best. We shared the homemade chili with kidney beans, chunks of beef and superb secret spices. 

We came back the next day for sandwiches in route to wine tasting. Gary filled our bag with homemade Rice Krispy bars, brownies and cookies that kept a smile on his face the whole day. We took a Cold Italian sub with sliced ham, Cotto salami and pepperoni with provolone cheese, it was filled with meat and Gary asked them to leave the rabbit food (lettuce) off, which for the male palate, equaled success. I had a Club San with a juicy turkey breast, two strips of crispy bacon and tomatoes piled high on my favorite white loaf. 

Ben Franklin’s Sandwiches is located at 313 Higuera Street
in San Luis Obispo, call them at (805) 544-4948. They are open Monday through Saturday from 9:00 am to 6:00 pm and
Sunday from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm. This is a place where good food happens fast. No reason to ever go anywhere else for a sandwich.