Home Plate at Avila Hot Springs and Pool

Few people know and understand what it takes to run a successful restaurant. You must be part and all chef, cook, janitor, nutritionist, hospitality expert, accountant, marketing adept, and insomniac (meaning you don’t require sleep). If you all these skills and then add that little miracle of just “One Thing”, meaning you possess a single skill or talent that no one else does, you just might be a booming success. I love when I find an up-and-coming restaurateur succeeding and loving every day in that mêlée. My recent discovery came from a place I used to frequent often when my children were young and I have now just rediscovered with the grandkids- Avila Hot Springs and Pool.

The inside restaurant space has been through more lives than a cat and I was thrilled to find a familiar friendly face now taking the helm in Yvonne Mendivel who now runs the restaurant and has renamed it

Home Plate. Yvonne was a long time friend and server from Fat Cats in Avila. She served us daily as we labored over our sailboat. This lady is a unique person, possessing a real caring attitude and true love for what she is doing. She opened Home Plate in March of this year with her husband; she has turned this into a popular and sensational food enterprise. 

I asked her where the name came from and she told me she wanted this café to be just like home, offering quality meals that were like your mom was in the kitchen (if your mom could cook). She has succeeded. The café has almost always primarily served pool attendees, and I love that I can lie by the pool and have my food delivered. They also are offering Dinner and Movie nights where they show a family movie on the wall outside by the healing spa while you dine on pizza, tacos or delectable Mac & Cheese. This property has always had a magic quality to it and now with Yvonne, it is pure enchantment.

My first visit was a lunch affair feeding the kidlets too, so we ordered Sliders with fresh cut fries and inhaled them poolside as people do after swimming for hours. The Sliders were served on fresh brioche rolls with grilled onions, cheddar cheese and pickles with a dab of mayo. They were perfectly cooked and the flavor was outstanding. The kids devoured the fresh cut fries that were seasoned with an outstanding flavor and the sweet potato fries possessed that sweet and salty element we all loved. Trying to maintain a healthy appearance for their reporting back to their mom, I also ordered the Roasted Veggie plate with mushrooms, bell peppers, zucchini, tomatoes and onions. Prepared impeccably, these were also inhaled, so I felt good about a poolside snack and glad that owners understood the importance of making healthy food taste good.

Our next visit was just for dessert with my hunny as he had missed Miss Yvonne’s Bomb Bread Pudding that he had lived on when we were in the Port. She was excited he remembered, and dished him up a huge portion of fragrant treat that is a sweet explosion in your mouth with cranberries, house made French cream topped with vanilla ice cream. He tried the peach cobbler and she told us the cobblers were made fresh every day, with surprises appearances of in-season fruit. He vowed to try each one. I was a bit more reasonable and ordered the Chicken Blue Pizza with lightly breaded chicken breast, ham, white cream sauce and swiss cheese. This mix of savory and hot ingredients made for an excellent pizza pie. Home Plate offers other specialty pizza and a Build Your Own option. I also tried the Crab Cakes and Fried Pickles both were a gastronomic enjoyment.
My third visit, I tried the breakfast (they are open for breakfast, lunch and dinner) choosing the Breakfast Burrito. This huge meal blanketed with a flour tortilla combination of eggs, hash browns, chorizo, cheese, jalapenos and avocado was enough food for three meals and delectable. I took an order of cinnamon rolls to go for my sweet tooth at home. You can tell that all the items are expertly prepared with the passion of wanting each bite to satisfy.

Home Plate offers lunch buffets for only $7.99 from 11:00am – 2:00pm on Monday and Wednesday’s featuring Mexican and Italian dishes. On Tuesday’s they offer $1.00 Tacos and I have heard that the mole and chorizo tacos are worth the trip, so I will be trying this next time. I encourage you to grab your towel and spend the day enjoying the pool and the food.

Fruitland la Casa del Sabor (The House of Flavor)

Mexico City has over 21 million residents and a food culture that is unique to its place in the world. When we think about Mexican food in this state, it is mostly Baja based. That banana like peninsula that beacons surfers and travelers to drive her crazy roads, eat street tacos and see her unspoiled beauty. I could never live in a place where Mexican food isn’t available, as its flavors and heat are my favorite culinary treats. I eat it often, cooked it at home and worship Mexican Grandmas who make it for me in their kitchen. When I find an eatery that both surprises and delights my Mexican palate, I am instantly a fan and going to try everything on the menu.

My recent surprise came in a large, bright yellow box posing as a Taco Stand in Arroyo Grande. Countless friends had told me Fruitland la Casa del Sabor (The House of Flavor) was outstanding, but I was pleasantly surprised at how wholesome and spectacular this eatery was to my experienced Mexican palate.

With no inside seating, but an authentic woodened table patio we sat and ordered our first dish. The owner, Jose explained that this was Mexico City cuisine, so no rice, chips, guacamole or filler, just fresh food. Even the salsa is made in small batches and not stored in a big bucket like other restaurants. My first impression was the fruit cocktail, which I usually have with hot/salty Pico De Gallo seasoning applied. I was with the grandkids so I had it topped with yogurt and granola instead. Large pieces of local fruit made this an outstanding starter. Next I had the Alambre Plate that was a sizzling platter of shredded beef, bacon pieces, ham fragments, bell peppers, onions, cilantro, and chipotle all covered with a fresco queso cheese and served with salsa, fresh pinto beans, and blue corn tortillas. I was shocked at the complexity of the flavors and awed by the brilliance.
I came back the next day and tried the Aztec Tacos with a glass of white wine. With thick, house made blue corn tortillas wrapped around red dried pasilla chili with cheese inside and wet azteca salsa, queso fresco, red onion and cilantro. It was a symphony of real main land Mexican flavors that I have longed for but never found here in the states. I became obsessed with trying everything.

I talked with the owner, Jose Rojas and his wife Grissel at length. They told me where they find the freshest of fruit, seafood, meat and how they make their own marinated carrots and jalapenos. We talked for an hour about his techniques and knowledge of this amazing style of food. I instantly loved them with their passion and desire to create this cuisine that can reach deep down into a person’s soul. From a carafe of the freshest strawberry juice, (sourced from our finest strawberry vendors) to the making of each tortilla and torta, you will find no cans in their kitchen, only food constructing from connoisseurs.

The next day I brought Mr. Bayus and he started with the Pina Colada. A whole pineapple shell filled with fresh coconut water, pineapple juice and wine based liquor was as refreshing as it was beautiful. He downed it in five minutes and ask for another and a hammock.

His dinner was the Hawaiian Tacos featuring el pastor meat with grilled pineapple slices in those amazing blue corn tortilla shells. They also held bell peppers, red onions, cilantro, and queso fresco. This was a savory, sweet surprise. My drink was the Agua de sandia (watermelon juice) and Jose gave me a try of the Agua de pepino (cucumber juice) that was perfect for a hot day. I had the Chilangas Steamed Clams. With a spicy, tomato base served with spectacular garlic cheese bread for sopping, I deemed these the best clams in America.
Attempting to share the love of this food, I brought fellow restaurateurs and foodies. The portions are huge and they all agreed it was the best Mexican food in the area. I had the Fish Tacos with grilled tilapia, cabbage and fruti pico salsa on the blue corn tortillas with a home made secret sauce. The fish was a large filet, moist and perfectly cooked and the sweet salsa with pineapple brought out an original essence. My other friend had the Chuleta Tacos featuring succulent roasted pork, bell peppers, red onions, cilantro, queso fresco, and avocado slices. We traded tacos and I was impressed by the suppleness and piquancy of the meat. Our other friend had the Cubano Torta, a bacchanal of a sandwich that could feed four people. Inside the huge, soft fresh bun was a Dagwood stack of chicken milanesa (breaded chicken), beef milanesa (breaded and beaten beef), hard fried eggs, chorizo, ham, queso de puerco, sausage, queso fresco, and quesillo. It was only exceeded in its size by its amazing taste.

Fruitland la Casa del Sabor is one of those rare culinary happenings where an entire family is making sure you are satisfied with their fresh, amazing food. They are located at 803 East Grand Avenue in Arroyo Grande, you can call them at (805) 474-8141. They are open every day from 9:30 am to 8:00 pm (expect for Thursday when the close at 4:00 pm).

Supper At Sunset in the Garden's of Avila

My favorite time of the day is dusk. The long shadows cast by palm trees on our spotless skies has always enthralled me. Add this picturesque setting to a huge burgeoning garden dressed up to serve us all its bounty and it is ecstasy for me. Chef Gregg Wangard of Marisol and Chef Robert Trester of Gardens of Avila created an intimate, garden inspired menu served in the chefs Garden at Sycamore Mineral Springs Resort for a dinner called Supper At Sunset. The setting included long tables under a draped canopy, sitting in the prolific garden and a meal served family style. Strangers surrounded us but through the magic of food, the strangers became friends.

This family style meal had each course pared with a specialty garden cocktail made by an incognito mixologist who deserves an Academy Award for her original creations. Each drink was so unusual and although at first surprising to the taste, it harmonized perfectly. Our greeting beverage was a spicy sirrocho infused vodka concoction with herbs and a salt rimmed. Hot, but not too much, this plainly burned the taste buds off to better receive the first course. A perfect wait staff swirled around serving each dish that was garnished with edible flowers for both beauty and flavor.

These chefs brought a rare passion to every creation. They stalked the garden for the impeccable element, picked it and prepared it as if cooking for Kings and Sultans. We do not get this kind of culinary expertise and passion often enough.

The table was prepped with a basket of bread including smoked tomato focaccia and rolls. Our next drink was Mojito-esque with muddled basil and honeydew juice and limes. The Tom Yum soup started with a bowl of tiny cut cherry tomatoes, sliced cucumber, flowering coriander, pork belly, shishito peppers, Thai basil and a lemon verbena. Then they pored over the savory roasted vegetable base that brought all the flavors to life.

The next plate was as charming as it was delicious. Mixed melon and tomato salad with emulsified cantaloupe melons and dry farmed watermelon, eight different kinds of tomatoes, a sprinkle of sea salt, olive oil, tellicherry pepper and cinnamon basil buds. Refreshing and different enough to make your taste buds sit up and pay attention. It came with a Madori sour cocktail that featured pickled watermelon rind and a sugared rim. This was the drink I went back for more, as I had never tasted anything this original.

Our next offering came from an unlikely source from the sea. It was called Skate Wing, I had heard about this delicacy, but had never tried it. Skate is a fish that usually gets thrown back by fisherman (picture a manta ray). But this chef knows that the wing part is very delicate and has the consistency and flavor like crab, only better. Because of its short shelve life (24 hours) it is rarely served. Chef Greg used the fresh form the sea wing, dipped in brown butter and breaded. Then he pan-fried and served it with a meyer lemon sauce, parsley blooms, sweet 100 tomatoes and flowering thyme. To say this was outstanding is an understatement. It was soft and rich, with a buttery texture. Served with Martini glass containing egg white foam, cucumber juice and thyme sprigs. This duo categorically blew my mind.

Our next drink was a surprise to the nose, but appealing once the second sip went down. It was Mescal (a strong tequila) with kale and celery juice. It was by far the strangest drink but balanced impeccably with the roasted suckling pig. Chef Robert also prepared a whole pork confit and pork belly to go with the main course. In the hands of this extraordinary chef, this delicacy was in a class by itself.  Tender, succulent and resting on a bed of chopped massaged kale (massaging the kale takes out the bitter taste and brings forth sweetness) it was also served with pickled radish, and infused melon cubes. We all had three helpings until the dishes were empty.

We were presented with a palate cleansing drink. This included a basil sorbet surrounded by with sparkling water and cucumber extract. We all sipped and then gave into the icy sorbet that opened our palate and made way for the desserts.

Chef apologized to Gary for not serving him the dessert first (his reputation proceeds him) and then presented us with an original delight.  The treat was an upside-down green tomato tart with caramel pecan piecrust and sea salt caramel ice cream. I was shocked, but this absolutely worked. It was enchanting. This extraordinary concoction defied all the rules of desserts. Gary loved it so he found a way to get the chef to box four up to take home.

As our next course came, the huge blue moon rose over the garden and we applauded the show as if it happened just for our magical dinner. Our last beverage “punched a hole in our stomach” to make way for more food. A brown sugared bourbon with candied cherry tomato and Vietnamese cinnamon. It was served with basil beignets stuffed with tomato curd (using tomatoes instead of cream) and a basil sugar base. Pop one in your mouth and it was paradise, pop another and you experienced bliss.

We are hoping that this event will happen with each full moon as the intimacy of the garden setting, the camaraderie of the family style serving and the passion that each of these chefs brings to their special menus is something everyone you should get a chance to try.

The Supper at Sunset is a collaborative garden party with the chefs from Gardens Of Avila at Sycamore Springs and Marisol at The Cliff’s Resort. You can get information regarding the next event at www.sycamoresprings.com or by calling (805) 595-7302.

Penny’s All American Café

Restaurants who have become a staple in a town bring a sense of community and connectedness to all who eat there. We sometimes forget them when trying all the latest eateries, but then the accolades start pouring in and you remember- this is a place that I can get a consistently great meal every time, and back you go. Penny’s All American Café is one of my favorites for the cooking, the camaraderie and just to listen to Penny laugh (the most infectious sound in the universe). For 10 years, Penny and her family have been serving the best breakfast and charbroiled burgers in Pismo Beach and doing some amazing fundraisers for our community. From the “Pancake Eating Contest” to the “Breast Cancer Dance Party” Penny puts her passion into helping those in need, while having a blast doing it all.

I go there first and foremost for the breakfast. Her blueberry pancakes are so virtuous; I have to sneak in to eat them (my husband believes he is the only and best “pancaker”). Equally as tasty are the Biscuit and Gravy. Using spicy sausage made by Andy Anderson and house made Buttermilk biscuits; these savory treats are the definition of comfort food. The Eggs Benedict is exquisite. The hollandaise has a lemony appeal, the ham steak is cut to just the right thickness, the egg yoke explodes when cut through (as it should) and the English muffin is lightly toasted with the tasty home fries. It is amazing how good this dish is when it is prepared correctly. Penny’s prepares breakfast chow impeccably.

This visit was for the purpose of trying the award winning Chili Verdi, as Penny’s All American Café had just won first place in the Arroyo Grande Rotary Chili Cook-off. Prepared and perfected by cook/chef Amado, this delectable pork dish was now wrapped in tamale with chili verdi inside and layered over the top. I ordered a plate, intending to take it home, but it was so delicious, I ate every bite. Served with a spicy Spanish rice and exquisitely stewed beans, I was in ecstasy. My companion (Izic who at 3-years-old is Penny’s chief devotee) ordered the fried chicken. He has loved this dish since he was a baby and his picture hangs on the wall devouring a drumstick. I love the chicken as much with its dusted buttermilk and breadcrumb coating and then half-baked and finished in the fryer for a less greasy taste and more flavor. It is served with scrumptious mashed potatoes and steamed asparagus with a buttermilk biscuit. This is the perfect all American meal served with a smile.

Penny was telling me about her upcoming annual Breast Cancer fundraiser that this year will be held at the Pismo Beach Vets Hall on October 12 at 5:00pm. She has been doing this for seven years and last year raised over $7200 for the Jacqualyn Palchak Cancer Fund that is the only local breast cancer fund that provides research, support, consultation, and wellness programs to those with a cancer diagnosis. The dance party is called Penny’s Steppin’ Out for Breast Cancer, which features the locally loved band, Steppin’ Out along with a hearty meal, drinks, roulette wheel, raffles and silent auction. I have been to these parties and they are the most fun I have had at a fundraiser. Penny always does special prizes (this year it is for the most “Pink” costume) and her husband Dale does a stand up routine that will leave your sides splitting.

Penny’s is a perfect little diner that will never disappoint as the chow is prepared and served with friendliness and attention to detail. Penny’s All American Café is located at 1053 Price Street in Pismo Beach; you can visit them at www.pennysallareican.com or call (805) 773-3776. They are open from 7:00 am until 2:00 pm everyday.

7th Annual Breast Cancer Benefit will be on October 12, 2013 starting at 5:00 pm at the Veteran’s Hall in Pismo Beach. Tickets are $45 that includes a beverage, raffle ticket and dinner plate in addition to access to all the nights’ festivities.  For further inquires regarding Penny’s All American Café or to participate in the event please contact Penny at (805) 773 – 3776 or email pennysallamer@yahoo.com.