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Show of hands, please: how many of you were first introduced to Mexican food by Taco Bell (en-chi-REE-toe,TAH-co)? And how many of you were shocked to learn that Taco Bell is not actually Mexican food as served in Mexico?

Ooops. Sorry. Femme de Joie just realized that she may have committed the culinary equivalent of saying there’s no Santa Claus. Well, as long as she’s busily destroying fondly-held beliefs, Chipotle isn’t Mexican either. Neither is that place you had lunch at on the cruise excursion at Cabo. And neither is… well, pretty much any Mexican restaurant that commits any of these sins. That doesn’t mean the food doesn’t taste good, but don’t call it authentic. (See this article for another take on authenticity.)

Mostly what we get here in NorCal is a pan-TexMex-California take on Mexican food. That’s not a bad thing – cuisine evolves with available ingredients and changing tastes. But we do tend to pile on every available ingredient until a simple taco morphs into a promiscuous behemoth, unrecognizable except by name and inevitably topped with Brobdingnagian mounds of shredded processed yellow cheese.

So it’s refreshing to find a small unpresuming restaurant that serves simple, tasty food with a minimum of excess and little acknowledgment of trends. Las Dos Marias has been serving their simple Mexican dishes in a tiny space on Bechelli Lane that was once home to Bartels Burgers. You can go inside to order at the counter and have a seat at one of the five or six small tables, or avail yourself of their drive-up window. The menu is not elaborate – the usual combination plates, burritos, quesadillas, etc. Service is fast and cheerful.

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Salsa and chips, $1.99

The prices are low and portion size reflects that: if you want chips and salsa – usually included with an order in Mexican restaurants – you have to order them separately. M. de Joie liked the chips but the salsa was bland and watery, as though it had been in the freezer and lost its punch.

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Chile verde burrito, $7.99

Looks plain and is plain, but the ingredients were top-notch. Creamy refried beans meshed with the tangy tomatillo-based verde sauce and bites of pork to make a satisfying burrito filling.

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Carnitas enchiladas, $7.75

M. de Joie liked that the simple grilled carnitas taste didn’t get smothered with too much melty whatever goop. Just enough sauce and a feathery dusting of cheese was all the adornment the enchiladas needed. The rice was a bit dry but with savory, almost smoky flavor; more of those homemade refried beans on the side rounded out the plate.

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Small chicken tortilla soup, $2.99

This was a special not offered on the regular menu, but it hit the spot on a cold day. A tomato-chili enhanced chicken broth with carrots, onions, celery and crisp tortilla chips was lighter than it looks and made a terrific lunch starter.

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Combination plate of tamale and a carnitas taco, $8.00

It wasn’t listed on the menu board, but Las Dos Marias was happy to create this combination by request. A carnitas taco was one of the best tacos M. de Joie has had in a very long time – very juicy with tender pork, pico de gallo, and a dollop of guacamole on warm flour tortillas. Tamales are a house specialty – you can order them by the dozen – and this one was excellent, a generous amount of pork filling inside the masa case and slathered with a warm-ish red chili sauce.

Femme de Joie doesn’t cruise down Bechelli Lane much, but she’d be willing to make a detour for a lunch at Las Dos Marias. Inexpensive and well-prepared food with clean, unadulterated tastes is sometimes just what the doctor ordered, and this small unpretentious place fills the bill. Give it a try.

Las Dos Marias, 2640 Bechelli Lane, Redding, CA 96002. 530-226-8011. Open Monday through Saturday, 11:00 AM – 8:00 PM. Closed Sunday. Cards and cash, no checks. Vegetarian options. No alcohol. Parking lot. Drive-through window. Website at LasDosMarias.org or follow them on Facebook.

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You would think a roadway as busy as Eureka Way would be lined with more and better restaurant options than having to order via a microphone and eat in your car, but most of the eateries are expressly designed to get you driving again as fast as possible. Maybe it has to do with the number of medical facilities and high schools on that street – necessary to be sure, but not really the sort of business zoning that attracts restaurants.

An oddly-shaped little plot at Eureka Way and 11th Street has been home to a series of sit-down restaurants. Back in the 1980s it housed a very good Italian restaurant, followed by (among others) the Donut Wheel, the ill-fated Avocado’s, Brick’s, and Uncle Mike’s Burgers. Uncle Mike’s had barely let the paint dry before Madayne took over, opening their second Redding location (the other on Hilltop Drive).

The dining room is relentlessly boxy, with small aqua wooden-topped tables and banquette seating along one wall and a lengthy counter on another, metal chairs to be moved around as needed. There’s a divided-off space in the center with picnic tables. When you walk in, order and pay at the counter (there is also another counter on the other side of the room which mainly serves coffee drinks), then take a seat and wait for your food to be delivered. While you wait, you can peruse the t-shirts, mugs, books, and coffee for sale.

On M. de Joie’s first visit, she ordered and then asked for a receipt but was abandoned by the cashier, so she never got it. She supposes the cashier had to confer with others in front of and behind the coffee bar who all seemed to be busily sending and receiving texts.

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Trinami sandwich, 1/2 $8.50, plus hummus & veggies, $1.00 with meal, $1.50 a la carte

Trinami is the name given to a sandwich built with smoked tri-tip, pastrami, Swiss cheese, and chipotle sauce on what the paper menu described as a baggett. The menu also said it came with fries, which were nowhere to be seen. While the sandwich was delicious, this was by far the smallest half-sandwich M. de Joie has encountered in a very long time. It was a good thing she ordered the hummus & veggies on the side since that $8.50 half sandwich was terribly lonely all by itself. It would have been nice to have a spoon or some other implement to scoop up the hummus after running out of baby carrots, but waitstaff was nowhere to be seen – maybe involved in a texting scheme to take over the world. Actually the hummus was very good scooped up with fingers.

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Black and blue salad, half $9.50

M. de Joie was surprised at the generous serving of salad, given the incident with the half-sandwich, and wonders if they got it right or she was given the wrong portion. No way to check now. At any rate, the salad was delicious, with thinly-sliced warmly grilled tri-tip and a generous amount of blue cheese.

It was while she was eating this salad that M. de Joie began musing about the wisdom of tipping. Now she is fully aware that the subject of tipping is a volatile minefield, but she’s going there anyway for the purpose of this story. Service/tipping is for, you know, service. You are seated in a restaurant, your waitperson brings you menus, takes your drink order, brings your drinks, takes your meal order, brings you your meal, checks back to see if you need anything, and in general makes sure you get everything you want/need. That fulfills the concept of service. Now at a place like Madayne, when you pay by card you are asked right away if you want to tip, and the options are spelled out on the automated screen (15%, 20%, etc.).

M. de Joie is a generous tipper in exchange for good service, knowing that waitstaff put up with a lot of abuse and are not paid well, but something stuck in her craw about this. How do you know what you want to tip for service when you haven’t had any service?

No one came to take Femme de Joie’s order: she gave it at the counter. No one checked to see if she had everything she needed. Someone did come around and plunk down the salad, but that was it. Since she’d had to get her own water, she could have easily gotten up to get her own salad too. Was delivery of a salad, a walk from the kitchen, worth a buck-fifty?

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NorCal breakfast burrito, $6.99

The old smears on the tables had been wiped away and replaced with fresh smears. A burrito filled with breakfast staples – egg, potato, bacon, ham, Cheddar – then lightly grilled was really very good, with all the fillings hot and cooked just right, though it did scream out for some salsa. Reluctant to have to get up and go disturb the waitstaff, M. de Joie decided to take a chance on a bottle on the table labeled “Madayne Sauce – a fresh take on ketchup.” She had noticed it on her first visit, mainly because the bottles on the table were half empty and left uncapped. Not feeling impetuous, she poured some onto her plate and tasted it before saucing the burrito. It was sweet ketchup with a hint of heat and a decided moldy flavor, and not the delicious type of mold like Brie.

M. de Joie also ordered coffee since they flog it tirelessly ($2.25). She won’t make that mistake again, though she was impressed at how a cup of coffee can be bitter and watery at the same time.

What to say about Madayne? The food is pretty good but overpriced. You’re hit up for a tip for service before you even sit down. Staff is friendly but elusive: you’re pretty much on your own. There doesn’t seem to be any one person in charge and the staff seems lackadaisical about taking care of basic details. Femme de Joie only visited the Eureka Way location and it may be different at the Hilltop Drive branch, but she’s not really interested in spending more money there to find out.

Madayne Grill & Espresso, 1970 Eureka Way, Redding, CA 96001. 530-245-9160. Also Madayne Eatery & Espresso, 930 Hilltop Drive, Redding, CA 96003. 530-224-1111. Open Monday through Friday, 7:00 AM to 8:00 PM, Saturday 8:00 AM to 7:00 PM, Sunday 8:00 AM to 8:00 PM (Hilltop branch closes at 7 PM on Sunday). Cash and cards. Parking lot. Vegetarian and vegan options. Beer and wine. Website at http://madayne.com/

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Back in the late 1980s, there was a Peacock Restaurant on Lake Boulevard near… oh dear. Femme de Joie was about to say it was near Timber Lanes, but that bowling alley had closed up by that time. So it was near Joann’s Fabric… but that’s moved twice since then. Well…. it was in the strip mall that is fronted by A&W (which M. de Joie thinks of as being on South Market Street, but oh dear again, that hasn’t been in that spot for a million or so years).

Let’s start over.

Does anyone remember when a new steak house was about to open in Anderson twenty-some years ago? Two Feathers was the name; it was custom-built and heavily promoted in the local rag as the next big thing, with calls going out for high-class servers and bartenders and dog catchers. It opened and closed again with astonishing swiftness before M. de Joie had a chance to bask in its glamour, so she’ll never know if it was great but just misunderstood or ahead of its time or what the story was. At some point when Femme de Joie wasn’t paying attention, the old Peacock closed in the 90’s and then reopened a few years ago in the Two Feathers space.

Peacock is situated favorably right next to a motel – sharing their parking lot, actually – and right off Interstate 5, meaning they’ve got a couple of built-in audiences. Such places can survive and be terrible because they don’t need local customers; their patrons will come in, eat, and goest away in their shiny car in the night, never to return. Still, M. de Joie read favorable things about Peacock and wondered if it was anything like it used to be when it was on Lake Boulevard.

The interior seems oversized when you look up at the circular light fixture built into the oddly high ceiling. And it’s relentlessly pink except for the carpet, which is relentlessly green and needs replacing. Still, it’s clean and cheerful, with wide windows letting in natural light. There’s a constant flow of customers, some of whom seem to be regulars. Service ranges from efficient to friendly.

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Hong Kong chow mein, $9.25

Hong Kong chow mein is usually a melange of stir-fried vegetables plus shrimp, beef, chicken, etc. bound in a light sauce and served on top of pan-fried noodles. The noodles were pan-fried but really didn’t have much personality other than a little crunch; the same could be said for the meat-vegetable topping. It wasn’t unpleasant but it didn’t have that zsa zsa zsu that makes you want to order it again.

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Wor Won Ton soup, $7.50 medium, $9.25 large

Wor Won Ton soup, with a delicate broth, plenty of filled won tons, shrimp, and fresh leafy spinach, was a treat on a cold day. The medium order is enough for two people to share or one person to enjoy as a light lunch. This was a winner.

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Szechuan beef, $9.75

It’s deja vu all over again. Szechuan beef appeared to be virtually the same dish as the Hong Kong chow mein, minus the noodles and shrimp. Two small dried red chilies had been tossed in almost as an afterthought but they didn’t have that light char indicating they had been in the wok for any length of time, so the requisite heat was missing and the sauce tasted the same as the chow mein’s. And two slices of beef seemed to have been added from the frozen stage; they stubbornly clung to each other, resulting in raw undersides. Oops.

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Luncheon combination plate #2, $8.00

Down at the bottom of the menu page listing luncheon specials are a few combination plates. Those were a terrific bargain and the food was noticeably better than the a la carte plates. Egg foo yung is too often an omelet hockey puck at sea in a glutinous brown salty sauce. Here it was puffy and light with a thin flavorful gravy. Sweet and sour pork was particularly good, with a not-so-sweet sauce and cubes of pork with crunchy exterior and tender insides. Sometimes you feel that egg rolls could just be wrung out and the oil recycled, but this one was non-oily and freshly cooked.

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Soup of the day – comes with luncheon combinations

Here again, soup was very good. Beneath that eggy surface lay a good mix of tiny tofu cubes, chicken, diced Chinese BBQ pork, carrots and peas in a slightly salty broth. Adding a few drops of the hot oil from a small jar on the condiment tray made it sing.

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Luncheon combination #7, $8.50

M. de Joie loved the perfectly stir-fried crunchy vegetables in almond chicken laced with a light chicken-y sauce. It was a little short on chicken and almonds, but she didn’t mind because the rest was so good. Now about that doughnut in the center of the plate: that was advertised as “fried prawn,” and there was indeed a small prawnish creature inside, but a truthful menu would have described it as “fried batter ring with a hidden shrimp prize.”

Femme de Joie liked Peacock, though it does have its flaws. The luncheon combinations were far better than similar plates in most Chinese restaurants, and the soups were warming and tasty. A little bit of attention to detail could fix the problems – a spicy dish being decidedly unspicy, some ginger and garlic added to a stir-fry. Peacock is worth a visit if you’re in Anderson and maybe even a special trip from Redding for lunch.

Peacock Chinese Restaurant, 2881 McMurry Drive (between North Street and Balls Ferry Road), Anderson, CA 96007. 530-365-9833. Open Tuesday through Thursday, 11:00 AM to 9:30 PM, Friday 11:00 AM to 10:00 PM, Saturday 12:00 PM to 10:00 PM, Sunday 12:00 PM to 9:30 PM. Closed Monday. Cash and cards, no checks. Vegetarian and vegan options. Beer and wine. Parking lot.

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For six decades there’s been a whole lotta cooking going on in that tiny concrete block building on Placer, the one across from Holly Bail Bonds. Back in the 1960s it was home to Jan’s Frost Shop, run by a swarthy burly hirsute man who called everyone sweetheart and who made the most fabulous greasy pastrami sandwiches and French fries. After Jan’s closed, a series of fast food cafes opened including (in no particular order) Between the Bun, a hot dog place whose name escapes Femme de Joie at this moment, the first home of now-permanently-closed Brick’s, Wilda’s, and at least one or two others now lost to the vagaries of memory.

Ma Der Ma Der Sap House opened in that little building just a few months ago, serving Thai/Lao fusion with AmeriMex influences. Staffed by three energetic young men working the flattop, they use minimal equipment in a cramped kitchen to quickly turn out innovative specialties. Customers come from the nearby offices and most seem to already have their favorites from the short menu board above the counter.There are a few tables inside; in good weather sit on a barstool outside and eat at the ledge on the side of the building. Service is fast, helpful, and cheerful. For those wondering about the name: Ma Der Ma Der means “come over, come over.” Sap means “tasty” but also means “spicy-hot” or “chile hot.”

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A quick primer on Sap House sauces, fifty cents for a small cup with about two tablespoons of sauce: roasted Jalapeno is by far the mildest and would be acceptable to nearly all palates. Honey-Sriracha is like a hot and sweet orange-colored ketchup; if you like Srirachal you’ll like this. Roasted Thai chili sauce moves up considerably on the heat level; it is similar to bottled chile-garlic sauce, but hotter. M. de Joie didn’t quite have the moxie to sample the roasted Habanero sauce but has to assume it will take the top of your head off.

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Sapprito, $9.50

The cafe’s namesake dish is an Asian take on a burrito. Packed tightly in a flour tortilla are 2 eggs, mushrooms, onions, bell pepper, Lao sausage, tri-tip, sticky rice, and your choice of sauce; the tortilla is grilled just enough to give the exterior a little browning and crisp texture. If you have any doubts about whether the combination of Thai/Lao/Mexican is a good idea, this will lay them to rest: the flavors and concept work. Two people could easily split one sapprito for lunch.

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Philly cheese steak fries, $8.00

A registered dietitian would probably have harsh things to say about the Philly cheese steak fries: it combines French fries with cheesy, oniony fried strips of ribeye steak. It’s not on any known sensible diet plan. The fries – the bedrock – make it a carbaholic’s nightmare. But this gooey, salty mess of sandwich filling is as addictive as potato chips: you cannot have just one bite. It’s not health food but then Ma Der doesn’t claim it to be. If the photo looks a little fuzzy, well, that’s steam rising on a cold day.

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Blackened shrimp tacos, two for $7.00

If you just can’t bear all the goodness of the goopier dishes, the blackened shrimp tacos are more salad-y. While they aren’t actually blackened, lots of spicy rock shrimp with a squeeze of lime give a little kick to the rabbit food underneath, all held together in a flour tortilla canoe. M. de Joie thought that a creamy sort of dressing would be good to bind it all together, but it was quite delicious without, light and tangy.

Femme de Joie likes this little place, innovative without pretense and a good value in old Redding, which despite the number of offices really isn’t served well for fast non-junky lunch restaurants. Everything on the menu is under $10, can be split if you’re so inclined, and is already packed in a to-go box. Make it as mild or wild as your palate approves. If you’re looking to have something different and exciting for a workday lunch, try Ma Der Ma Der Sap House & Grill.

Ma Der Ma Der Sap House & Grill, 1718 Placer Street, Redding CA 96001. 530-691-4194. Open Monday-Saturday, 10:00 AM to 7:00 PM. Cash and cards; no checks. No alcohol. World’s worst and tiniest parking lot; many signs saying, “no restaurant parking.” Better to park on Yuba, Oregon, or Placer instead. Vegetarian and vegan options. Follow them on Facebook.

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If you haven’t lived in Redding long, you might be surprised to know that Market Street used to be part of California’s main thoroughfare. The Highway Formerly Known As 99 ran from Mexico to the Oregon border and was quite the accomplishment in interstate highways. When Interstate 5 was completed – likewise an accomplishment – it decimated businesses along 99, including Market Streets north and south (AKA State Route 273). Looking at it now, it’s hard to believe that it was lined with perfectly respectable motels, restaurants, and other businesses (remember the Coliseum Roller Skating Rink? Chesty’s Floor Shop? A&W? Paul Bunyan?).

A Denny’s Restaurant operated on 273 in the 1960s and ’70s; it morphed into the Lime Tree Restaurant, which later became AJ’s. Four years ago Roque and Tiferet Carbajal opened Sweetie’s in that old Denny’s, serving up their seasonal specialties like heirloom tomato Benedict and strawberry-rhubarb cobbler alongside home-smoked & barbecued meats to an appreciative customer base. Now Roque Carbajal has opened Roquito’s Taqueria on South Market, take-out Mexican in a tiny building that formerly housed to-go pizza and was perhaps best known as “that place next to The Tropics.”

Though there are a few picnic tables on the south side of the building, Roquito’s is really a take-it-home kind of place. There’s just enough room to squeeze inside and order; you watch your food assembled in the tiny kitchen. Or phone your order in ahead and pick it up; Femme de Joie wished desperately she had done this while waiting behind a customer who ordered a LOT of food yet seemed to not know what each item actually was.

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Nachos with grilled chicken, Roquito style, $7.50

“Roquito style” is available on all menu items for an extra dollar and is worth it; it includes cabbage, pico de gallo, Jalepenos, cilantro, onion, lime, and a spicy creamy sauce drizzled over. Although M. de Joie had her misgivings when she saw the nachos being assembled in a smallish-to-medium-size Styrofoam take-out box, the end product was more than the sum of its parts. Melty cheese sauce ladled over house-made chips with all of the Roquito toppings plus morsels of grilled chicken made two very generous servings and we wound up scraping the box for leftover smidgens of sauce. The chicken got a bit lost amidst all the competing flavors so a more strongly flavored meat like carnitas or barbacoa would work better – or no meat at all.

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Smoked carnitas torta, $9.50

Many Mexican restaurants don’t offer tortas; if they do, it’s likely inoffensive and unmemorable. The crusty grilled bolillo roll was necessary to hold the juicy filling – the house spicy sauce, lettuce, tomato, onion, cheese, and delectable smoked pork carnitas all pressed together. The smoked carnitas was one of the better versions in town, with real wood smoke taste on pull-apart shreds of pork. In fact, an order of the carnitas alone would be fantastic – it’s that good.

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Carne Asada burrito, $8.50

Roquito’s does a few things differently: whole wheat tortillas instead of white. Ranchero beans (pintos in a smoky sauce) instead of refried. And brown rice in place of the usual reddish annatto “Spanish” rice. So you can have a giant burrito and a lot less guilt. This was filling but not heavy with niblets of grilled carne asada beef peeking though – again, the meat got a little overwhelmed by all the toppings, but the little bites were delicious on their own.

Roque Carbajal is onto something here. The limited menu – no enchiladas, no chile rellanos, no tamales – lets Roquitos focus on just a few things and do them very well. Staff is efficient, friendly, and helpful even when the little foyer is packed. Grilled meat from Sweetie’s is on tap. Prices are reasonable for the quality and serving size. They serve Cholula Hot Sauce in to-go packets. Is it too much to dream that Sweetie’s and Roquito’s might be the harbinger of a Renaissance of South Market Street?

Roquito’s Taqueria, 2605 South Market Street, Redding, CA 96001. 530-768-1103. Open Monday through Saturday, 11:00 AM to 8:00 PM. Closed Sunday. Cash and cards, no checks. No alcohol. Parking is wherever you can find it – there’s a vacant lot to the north of The Tropics. Vegetarian and vegan options. Follow them on Facebook.

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Apparently no one in Redding had ever heard the phrase, “Location, location, location” when the old Ramona’s Mexican Restaurant opened. Or maybe it’s just that the edge-of-downtown location was pretty good way back when. There was a  lively, uh, bar scene and, robust, uh, personal entertainment industry. And of course there was no Mt. Shasta Mall or much of anything in Enterprise, so most people lived and shopped and dined out downtown, or close to it.

After Ramona’s closed – sometime in the late 1970s, M. de Joie thinks – it became a steak house called Grady’s, which did Okay (the Joe Clubs incident aside) and there may have been another similar steak house after that.  In 2002 Jim and Penny Gironda opened their eponymous Italian restaurant, which was bought by Deja Vu’s Karline Niver last year.

Niver has brought back lunch service,- making sense in West Redding, which has a lot of white-collar professionals but not so many sit-down lunch spots. The interior design is sleeker and more polished, while the menu has undergone a slight revamping. Service is friendly and helpful, though once in a while it seems as though not all waitstaff has their signals straight about who is waiting on which table – not enough to be problematic, but slightly confusing.

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Crispy calamari appetizer, $11.99

Femme de Joie loves calamari but has to admit that most of the time one restaurant’s version is indistinguishable from another’s. Amico del Signore has always been blasé at best about it. But the extra-crunchy calamari accompanied by a spicy roasted tomato cream sauce is much better than most, with crisp breading and just enough heat to elevate this above the average. It made a fan out of A. Del Signore.

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House salad, $4.99

You never know if a simple green salad will just be poured out of a giant Costco bag with some bottled dressing. Gironda’s salad is something to look forward to, with house-made dressings and a nice mix of fresh vegetables and greens. We would gladly order a giant bowl of this if it was on the menu.

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Roasted apple pizza, small $15.99, large $18.99,

Apple and arugula on a pizza? Why not? Pizza is a suitable vehicle for all kinds of toppings, and it works well here. Enhanced with gorgonzola (a great accompaniment to apples and arugula), salty proscuitto and sweet caramelized onions and roasted garlic, this is a winning combination of flavors and textures on a crisp crust.  Warning: one dedicated eater can finish an entire large pizza with ease. Just so you know.

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Catch of the day, shrimp picatta on linguine, $24.99

Femme de Joie loved the sharp lemony caper sauce on the shrimp and the pasta. Both were cooked perfectly and were a nice change from overly-buttery scampi presentations. The carrots were not quite cooked and not quite raw, so picking them up to eat seemed like the only possible solution.

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Pasta special, $19.99 – Beef Stroganoff with smoked Gouda sauce and New York steak slices on linguine

Smoked cheeses are one of those food that always sound tempting but which M. de Joie usually finds disappointing, a cheap way to cover up bland cheese. However, the judicious use of smoked Gouda in this fanciful version of Stroganoff was the right touch to give the creamy sauce a little oomph and character. The beefy taste of tender strips of New York steak were a good match for the slight smokiness.

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Catch of the day, Salmon on fettucine, $21.99

The waitress thought the salmon was a 6-ounce cut but it was more like a 4-ounce cut when it arrived. Moist and flaky, it could have done without the bit of cheese on top, but was still enjoyable with garlicky fettucine. Simply cooked fresh green beans were a pleasant side vegetable.

Femme de Joie likes what the new owner is doing at Gironda’s, from the pared-down, sophisticated decor to the updated wine list. Overall service has been good to exemplary; the food is very good and becoming more innovative while still holding on to the classics.  While it isn’t quite a white-tablecloth sort of place, Gironda’s is nevertheless a good place to take a date while casual enough to be comfortable and relaxed. If you haven’t been in a few years, check it out.

Gironda’s Restaurant and Bar, 1100 Center Street at Trinity, Redding CA 96001. 530-244-7663. Open Monday through Thursday, 11:00 AM to 9:00 PM, Friday 11:00 AM to 10:00 PM; Saturday 4:00 PM to 10:00 PM, Sunday 4:00 PM to 9:00 PM. Parking lot. Full bar. Cash and cards; no checks. Vegetarian and vegan options. Website at www.girondasitalian.com or follow them on Facebook.

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If you live in the US of A, chances are good that you own a grill – according to the Hearth, Patio and Barbecue Association, 75% of Americans own a smoker or grill, and 61% of them use it year round. No statistics are known to exist on how many people refer to grilling as barbecuing, but it’s a safe bet that “most of them” is the right answer.

If you get home from work and start up the Char-Broil or set fire to some Kingsford Briquets to cook some tender steaks or burgers, that’s grilling. If you light a wood fire in a big ol’ half-barrel and pull up a cooler full of beer to while away some serious hours tending tough hunks of meat, you’re talking either barbecuing or smoking. It’s all in the technique and window-dressing won’t cut it: serious pitmasters know that anyone who talks extensively about their 50-ingredient secret barbecue sauce recipe is an unworthy poseur and amateur. Real barbecue is expensive and time-consuming; there are lots of restaurants with the barbecue name that just flood some cooked chicken with sweet gloppy sauce and assume you don’t know the difference, or care.

Femme de Joie had heard good things about Old Mill Eatery & Smokehouse in Shasta Lake and thought it was time to head north to check it out. It opened some ten years ago and was taken over by new owners in 2015. In a light-filled faux log cabin chalet on Shasta Dam Boulevard, they serve three meals a day to a variety of tourists and locals, grandpas in overalls and hipsters with flashy hair tints, business folk and families, all of whom come for the generous portions and real smoked barbecue. Service is helpful and friendly albeit sometimes a little leisurely.

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House-made corned beef hash and eggs, $12.95

Canned corned beef hash isn’t worth the time and effort to make it attractive and palatable; you may as well serve a fry-up of Alpo. Homemade is a different story. Old Mill mixed pink shims of house-smoked corned beef mixed with hash browns and crisp-fried, a bit on the salty side but both crunchy and tender at the same time. More hash browns alongside had a golden crackly top and moist insides to go with eggs cooked sunnyside up.

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Smokehouse breakfast with ham, $12.95

Very often the ham part of ham-and-eggs is a neat little soldier of a ham slice, uniformly cut from a pressed loaf, microwaved or held in a heating tray until needed. A nicely browned 8-ounce slice has some texture and character and heft as it was here.

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A large flaky biscuit baked in-house was a breakfast in itself along with peppery thick cream gravy redolent with bits of sausage. The biscuit was not quite baked all the way through, though, so the inside was a little gummy.

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Old Mill Cheese Steak, half $11.95, full $14.95

Skip the drive to Philly and get this one instead. On the lively and spicy side, luscious smoked tri-tip meshed with mushrooms, onions, and bell peppers in a coat of melted cheese. A really delicious and messy sandwich.

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Potato salad and dirty rice, $3.95 each

Side orders are done especially well at Old Mill. House-made new potato salad, a far cry from that weird yellow sweet paste sold in plastic tubs in supermarket refrigerator cases, was crunchy with celery, creamy but not mushy, and lightly peppery. Dirty rice was outstanding – often made with chicken livers and giblets, this savory, fluffy rice was chock full of smoked beef niblets and seasoned generously with cayenne.

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Smoked brisket sandwich, $12.95, side of baked beans $2.95, cole slaw $2.95

At dinner, full plates of smoked meats are available, but they can also be ordered as sandwiches for lunch. Smoked brisket, though on the salty side, was juicy and tender with visible smoke rings – lots of smoke taste here, though the amount of meat on the sandwich was a bit scanty. The house-made baked beans had a snappy vinegary tang with diced bacon flavor. Femme de Joie assumed the cole slaw would have a creamy dressing and was pleased to instead taste a piquant apple cider vinegar-based sharp dressing that paired well with smoky meats. A A tiny cup of barbecue sauce tasted of ketchup, sugar, vinegar, and liquid smoke; the brisket did not deserve to be sullied with it.

Though not everything was perfect, there are many good things going on at Old Mill Eatery & Smokehouse – enough to warrant a drive up I-5 to Shasta Lake. If you crave barbecue that isn’t coated with sticky bottled sauce, this is worth trying out on your way up to the dam (go have a look while there’s water in it).

Old Mill Eatery & Smokehouse, 4132 Shasta Dam Boulevard, Shasta Lake, CA 96073. 530-275-0515. Open daily, Sunday though Thursday, 7:00 AM to 8:00 PM, Friday and Saturday 7:00 AM to 9:00 PM. Parking lot. Cash and cards, no checks. Beer and wine. Not much for vegetarians to see here. Follow them on Facebook.

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You’re at the airport waiting for your flight. You feel a bit peckish, maybe a little anxious, and decide to throw caution to the wind and get something to eat. You think about comfort food: a stack of warm cookies, a cheeseburger, a triple gin and tonic – but when you actually start looking at the prices, the trip back down to earth nearly shatters your ankles.  Ten dollars for a bowl of soup? Thirteen bucks for an Irish coffee? Twenty-one for a glass of Cabernet Sauvignon? Even as you reluctantly fork over $9.75 for a sad cellophane-wrapped turkey sandwich, you already know what it tastes like: the lonely humiliation of being the last one chosen for the softball team.

Fortunately for those who fly in and out of Benton Airpark, the situation is much happier. You might not think of dining at the airport, but West Redding is fortunate to have the Airpark Cafe close at hand, open to the public and pilots alike. Taken over by new owners a few months ago, it’s a cheerful place to enjoy a leisurely breakfast or lunch while enjoying the views of the mountains and planes landing and taking off. The outdoor deck is pleasant even on hot days with canopies and misters. Service is friendly, though a bit on the slow side.

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Reuben sandwich, $7.99, with house-made potato salad; small house salad, $2.50

Grilled Reuben sandwich needed just a bit more sauerkraut – it was pretty thinly spread – but otherwise was tasty and a good value. House-made potato salad was much better than the stuff in industrial-packaged tubs you so often get in small cafes – creamy and slightly sweet. Femme de Joie was expecting a salad of bagged iceberg lettuce so it was a nice surprise to get this salad of dark greens and tomato instead – and at a good price.

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Chicken fried steak breakfast sandwich, $8.25, side of hash browns, $2.50

Whoever thought of putting chicken fried steak into sandwich form is one smart cookie. This isn’t diet food by any means, but it was tender and savory with a thin omelet, cheese, and smear of gravy inside the bread. Hash browns were crisp on the outside and tender inside.

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French toast combo, $8.25

Freshly made French toast was light and fluffy alongside crisp bacon, eggs cooked as requested, and hash browns. A very good deal for the money.

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Side order of two biscuits ($1.50 each) and gravy $1.50

The gravy was definitely made in-house, as evidenced by the swirl of sausage fat that hadn’t quite been incorporated. Great sausage flavor and not too salty, this went nicely on fresh biscuits and smeared on the hash browns.

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French dip supreme with mushrooms, onions, and Swiss cheese, $8.25, sweet potato fries on the side

Airpark Cafe had some very tender tri-tip available, and that smokey taste made this French dip rise above the ordinary, a juicy and messy combination. Sweet potato fries were out of a freezer bag but were crisp and non-greasy.

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Florentine Omelet, $8.99, home-style potatoes on the side

The Florentine Omelet was a special of the day, with spinach, tomatoes, and ham, covered in Hollandaise. Eggs were tender and filled with fresh ingredients; the lusciously rich Hollandaise was missing the requisite tang of lemon and was more like a thick eggy butter sauce. Home-style fries were a bit undercooked.

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Cobb salad, $7.99

Cobb salad included dried cranberries, feta cheese, fresh apple, red onion, tomato, candied walnuts, and strips of grilled chicken atop a mesclun mix – this would probably be called a half-salad portion in most restaurants, but the price fit the portion size. Light and refreshing, this made a good lunch.

Airpark Cafe is a little gem in an unlikely place above the tarmac, not far from the Dog Park – hence the dog bed and dog water bowl on the deck. The low prices and friendly atmosphere make up for the somewhat slow service. It’s quite small so is unsuited for a group of more than about eight people, and is up a flight of stairs (Femme de Joie assumes there is another access from within the building it’s housed in, but doesn’t know for certain). It’s a good value with tasty food in an area where restaurants are thin on the ground. Worth checking out.

Additional bonus: they are currently offering a tri-tip dinner and a movie on Saturday nights in the hangar; schedule at flyhillside.com

Airpark Cafe at Benton Airpark, 2600 Gold Street at Airpark Drive, Redding, CA 96001. 530-241-4204. Open daily, 7:00 AM to 3:00 PM. Cash and cards; no checks, Beer and wine. Vegetarian and vegan options. Parking lot.

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It seems to be an inescapable part of growing older: asking, “Do you remember -” and increasingly finding the answer is, “No.” The Rite Spot, Shasta Maid, Redding Bakery, Shasta Bakery, the Shack, Midway Inn, Ramona’s, Holly Cafe – for longtime locals, those exist only in memories; sometimes the location has been erased, paved over or left to the nonstop erosion of time.

Femme de Joie was just a wee tot when she and Maman de Joie visited the old Gold Street Cafe – in particular she remembers a slice of caramel layer cake; a few days later she asked Maman if she thought the cafe still had any. Over the years there were many visits to Gold Street Cafe; it was inexpensive, quick, and the diner-style food was pretty good, with the homemade pies in a glass display case a standout. Then the cafe was sold a couple of times and finally closed in late 2014.

A few months ago a banner appeared on the east wall of that building, announcing that Trendy’s would open soon. Now Femme de Joie has to say here and now that she thought Trendy’s was an awful name for a restaurant. It sounds like a place in the mall selling cheap fall-apart jewelry to teenage girls. But the reviews on Yelp and Trip Advisor were generally positive, and the food photos looked luscious, so how bad could it be?

The old pastel paint and faux-Victorian decor is gone, replaced with sleek black and white paint and accents of red. A major and much-needed change was changing the restrooms around so you don’t have to walk outside the building to get to them. Service is generally fast and on the chatty side.

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Corned beef hash and eggs, $11.00

Corned beef hash is made in-house and did taste homemade, though there didn’t seem to be a lot of it on the plate. Amico del Signore asked for hash browns and was told Trendy’s doesn’t serve them, but that the garlic herb house potatoes were “really special.” We found them not-special without much garlic or herb taste, just home fries by another name.

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Griddle cakes were recommended with the corned beef hash and the waitress assured us that “everything is homemade.” From where M. de Joie sat, she could clearly see the restaurant-sized boxes of Krusteaz Pancake Mix on a shelf in the back, so she wasn’t terribly surprised when the pancakes proved to be very sweet with overwhelming vanilla taste. Perhaps the Krusteaz is used for a purpose other than pancakes, but having used this product herself, Femme de Joie feels this is the “homemade” pancake batter. Some people consider adding an egg and milk to a mix to be homemade; M. de Joie is not one of those people. It reminds one of the very old joke about the young bride who went all over town looking for a box of scratch because her new husband told her that’s what his mother made cake from.

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Country Fried Steak, $11.00

Eggs were ordered straight up; they arrived runny on top. While M. de Joie doesn’t mind this, most people would strenuously object being served uncooked egg white. Likewise undercooked was the roux for the gravy; the gravy tasted of raw flour. The country fried steak also suffered from raw flour underneath the crisp exterior – probably from cooking too fast so that the outside was done before the entire coating was cooked. The steak itself separated into curious layers when prodded with a knife.

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Biscuit and gravy would have been good if (A) the biscuit had been baked all the way through and (B) not smothered in the raw-flour gravy.

Femme de Joie is a clean-plate ranger, but left quite a bit of this meal on her plate. Amico del Signore declined to accompany her on subsequent visits.

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Two carnitas gringo tacos, $12, with house-made potato salad

The carnitas tacos were quite good, with juicy, tender meat, a spicy aioli over avocado slices, and melted cheese cradling the inside of the flour tortilla taco shell. The menu promised jicama slaw but what was delivered was cabbage. Potato salad had lots of dill pickle and was one of the better restaurant potato salads M. de Joie has tasted, There was a lot of empty territory on the plate, though; for $12.00 you’d expect a bit more actual food.

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The Bomb Burger, $12.00, with fries, extra $1.00 for garlic and Parmesan

This is one of Trendy’s most popular items, or so the waitress said. The 1/3 pound burger itself was good, but the Cholula fried onions didn’t have any Cholula taste (there’s an oversized bottle of Cholula on M. de Joie’s kitchen counter at all times, so she’s quite familiar with the pequin-arbol flavor). The onions had a nice light crunch at first but as they cooled, the crunch morphed into a bready, starchy texture that didn’t enhance the burger and mostly wound up back on the plate, along with the none-too-fresh flap of leaf lettuce. The garlic fries were probably wonderful when they were hot, but Femme de Joie didn’t get to experience them then. When they arrived at her table, they were lukewarm and gummy. Maybe they were cooked at the beginning of the 15 minutes it took to get the order and had been patiently awaiting the burger.

After reading the glowing reviews online and hoping Trendy’s would carry on the diner food legacy of Gold Street Cafe, it’s almost as though M. de Joie visited an entirely different restaurant. There’s nothing wrong with Trendy’s that some basic timing and cooking practice can’t fix. But when the food is disappointing, the menu prices seem even higher than they are – and they do seem pricey for portion size and quality. She hopes that some simple kitchen management will take care of the problems. Trendy’s has plenty of fans, but right now Femme de Joie doesn’t see whatever it is they see.

Trendy’s. 1730 Gold Street at Railroad Avenue, Redding, CA 96001. 530-768-1499. Open Monday-Friday, 6:00 AM – 2:00 PM, Sunday 8:00 AM – 2:00 PM. Closed Saturdays, Cash and cards; no checks. No alcohol. Vegetarian and vegan options. Parking lot. Follow them on Facebook.

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Anyone who has lived in the Redding area more than a few years knows that until quite recently live music was as rare as jackalopes. Oh, sure, if you were over 21 you might have gone into Ricardo’s to hear some band that got stuck here on their way to getting stuck in Lodi, or heard Norm Bailey and the Nervous Kats at a dance at the Moose Lodge, but that was about it. Concerts? Well, the Turtles played at the old Shasta High School auditorium (now U-Prep) in the mid-60s. There was also a concert by the 1910 Fruitgum Company and the Ohio Express – who can forget the immortal lyrics, “Yummy yummy yummy I’ve got love in my tummy”? The situation improved in the 1970s when the civic auditorium occasionally hosted a touring musician with an open date on their schedule like Jeff Beck or a young Dire Straits, but venues for local music just didn’t exist.

These are happier days for music fans. In the past couple of years numerous bars and restaurants have started featuring live music at least one night a week. (A News Cafe’s own Hal Johnson has taken on the arduous task of compiling listings weekly.) California Brewing Company is one such spot that opened up two years ago next to Holiday Market in Palo Cedro. A small dining room is augmented by a courtyard that serves as an auxiliary dining room & stage in good weather. In bad weather – well, squeeze together to make room for the musicians. When there’s no live music, you can watch a silent TV while listening to piped-in oldies.

Though primary focus is on their beer, CBC offers a simple menu that goes beyond salty bar snacks. The focus is on fresh, uncomplicated dishes that appeal whether you’re quaffing a brew or sipping an iced tea.

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California Club Wrap, $9.99, with side of deep-fried green beans, extra $2.00

You heard it here first: Femme de Joie predicts that crisp-fried green beans will replace sweet potato fries as the next ultra-popular restaurant appetizer. In the same way that deep-fried mushrooms have an almost meaty taste and texture, grassy green beans were transformed into vegetarian snacks that a carnivore would snarf up in a nanosecond. On a hot day, the salady California club wrap – lightly dressed chicken salad enfolded in a tomato flour tortilla (though colored tortillas never seem to actually taste like whatever they’re tinted with) was filling without being overwhelmingly heavy.

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Adult Stout Float, $4.99

Years ago, when a friend described the stout-and-ice-cream dessert he’d had at a Portland restaurant, M. de Joie privately thought that sounded really disgusting. Fortunately, tastes change. Dark and spicy house-made stout poured over chocolate ice cream, eaten while listening to the Trammps sing, “Disco inferno, burn that mother down,” is a pleasure M. de Joie doesn’t expect to ever find again in this life. Not for fans of super-sweet desserts, this was like carbonated dark bitter chocolate in a glass. Lovely.

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Baja California Burger, $10.99

Yes, $10.99 is a lot for a burger – unless it’s a 1/2 pound burger. Topped with fresh Jalapeno, pepper jack cheese, and sliced avocado, the Baja California was one of the better hamburgers Femme de Joie has tasted around the area – the burger still juicy despite needing a longer cooking time, with abundant and spicy toppings. More of those green beans on the side – they’re worth the $2.00 upgrade from salad or fries.

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Bacon, lettuce, & tomato sandwich with French fries, $6.99

This was a special deal sandwich, hence the lower price. The fillings were all fresh and tasty but it was a bit on the skimpy side. To be sure, you get what you pay for. The fries were quite good, non-greasy and very lightly salted.

Palo Cedro isn’t a long drive from downtown Redding and this little oasis is a pleasant reward for making the trip. The limited menu doesn’t overtax the small kitchen so service is fairly speedy. Service is friendly and helpful. Though there isn’t a children’s menu, all ages are welcome.

And now Femme de Joie gets on her soapbox, which she carries with her everywhere: Yes, there is frequent free live music. But there has been an influx of people coming into CBC, occupying chairs and tables, and ordering a glass of water. While that isn’t illegal, it takes up seating that would otherwise be used by customers who would happily pay good money to order food and drinks, which is what keeps the restaurant in business and keeps the live music coming. If this trend continues, it would certainly make sense for California Brewing Company to institute a cover charge or minimum purchase, and M. de Joie couldn’t blame them if they did. All this to say – if you want to listen to live music, don’t sponge off the good nature of a place like CBC.

California Brewing Company, 9348H Deschutes Road, Palo Cedro, CA 96073, in the Holiday Market shopping center. 530-222-2739. Open Wednesday and Thursday, 4:00 PM – 9:00 PM, Friday and Saturday, 4:00 PM – 10:00 PM, Sunday 12:00 PM – 6:00 PM. Closed Monday and Tuesday. Cash and cards; no checks. Beer and wine. Vegetarian and vegan options. Parking lot. Website at California Brewing Company or follow them on Facebook.

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A show of hands, please: Who remembers where all the old local taverns/bars/dives were? Better yet, who actually patronized them? Anyone?

Possibly the most infamous was the Oak Grove, which one night became an ungodly flaming cocktail and is now a grassy lot under an oak tree. But there was also 2-Me’s on Hilltop (run by a man named Twomey) where a Subway now stands. Urban renewal took out the Old Crow Club on California, US Bank rises above the old Ricardo’s location at Placer and Pine, and all that remains of Jomar’s is a width of dirt on Railroad Avenue where you can pull over and park. There are still plenty of the old watering holes around, but they are somewhat of an endangered species as they are slowly replaced with wine bars, microbrew taprooms, and upscale bars serving 16 varieties of Pacific Northwest gin and imported ice.

A more recent addition to the local bar scene is a space on Hartnell across from the Hen House. Bubba Thrasher’s was there first, then closed and made room for 21 Taps. Jr’s Across the Way followed in 2012 with a kitchen in addition to the bar (apparently Jr’s served pretty good burgers).

A few months ago, Fusion Lounge Bar & Grill opened in Jr’s place. The premise is a new one for Redding: fusing elements of Asian cuisines (Lao, Thai, Vietnamese, etc.) with American and Mexican dishes to create such hybrids as the Pho-rito, Pho-nudo, and the Senganator Burger, while also functioning as a neighborhood bar.

Despite their new sign, it’s easy to drive right past as you toodle east on Hartnell, lost in a sea of metal auto repair and machine shop prefab buildings. The parking lot is one of those long narrow ones that passes by a long row of metal doors behind Fusion, makes a U-turn, and sneaks back out to Hartnell.

Fusion’s black and blood-red concrete block walls, easy-clean tables and floors, and a truly goth restroom took a note from the punk club playbook circa 1976, but the clientele was a mixture of locals, auto shop employees, hipsters, and families. (Note: family-friendly until 9:00 PM.) There’s a pool table near the back and a smoker’s patio out the side door. Sit at the bar or one of the tables and waitstaff will come take your order. Service was friendly and fairly fast; servers are knowledgeable about the food. Specials are on a backlit writing board at the end of the bar.

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Baller Bowl, $10.99

This was an interesting mixture of a taco salad (deep-fried flour tortilla bowl) with crunchy mixed cabbage salad, deep-fried shrimp, and tataki of tuna, Sriracha and wasabi drizzle, and a soy dressing on the side. The tataki (seared ahi with sesame crust, thinly sliced) was so very much like fine filet mignon that only its tendency to melt delicately on the tongue belied its origins. Alongside were crunchy fried shrimp that made a nice contrast to the ethereal tuna. The soy dressing, however, proved to be very salty, and toward the bottom of the cabbage salad M. de Joie regretted pouring the dressing over. Sriracha and wasabi were nice to smear the shrimp in, but mixed on the plate they tended to look septic.

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Fusion fries, $7.50

Femme de Joie ordered Fusion Shrimp but what was delivered was Fusion Fries, as she discovered when she couldn’t find anything but chicken in the toppings. This could be a variation on nachos or potato skins: Jo-jos – seasoned crunchy potato wedges – were topped with melted cheese, shredded chicken, cilantro, diced tomatoes, Jalapenos, and Fusion sauce. Fusion sauce is a somewhat spicy, smoky red sauce with hints of Thai curry – think of it as an exotic fry sauce. It was quite good when first delivered but after fifteen minutes or so, the potatoes got pretty soggy (there was a lot of sauce). This was plenty to share among two or three people.

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Calamari, $8.00

Calamari is a popular appetizer in restaurants but it is almost always straight out of a frozen box, already breaded and ready to deep-fry and serve up with “our own garlic aioli.” Fusion’s salt-baked calamari was wonderful: thick bite-sized morsels with a dusting of tart tamarind and garnished with fried green onions and Jalapeno slices, this was addictive and original.

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Kaliang Fin, $3.00

M. de Joie had never heard of Kaliang Fin and cannot find any reference to it elsewhere, so it may be an original specialty. Korean flour made from mung beans is cooked with water, cooled to produce a gelatin-like block, then cut into small pieces and served in a cold and slightly sour broth. The gelatin cubes had the texture and taste of hard-boiled egg white, slightly sulphuric and bouncy. The broth didn’t have much personality other than tartness and seemed to be mostly a vehicle to support the mung bean jelly. On the side was a small amount of house-made fermented bean & chili paste to mix into the soup – the paste was spicy-hot and delicious, though M. de Joie didn’t really think it helped the soup much. KF (as it’s called on the menu) did have a refreshing quality that might be appealing if one had overindulged in too much rich food and drink, but overall M. de Joie felt she probably wouldn’t order this again.

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Fusion Burger, $9.99 with garlic fries ($1.00 extra) and pepper jack cheese

This towering burger, piled high with lettuce, tomato, onion, bacon, roasted eggplant, Fusion sauce, and a fried egg, was in no way reminiscent of a franchise burger. Goopy and drippy, the thick burger fell apart as the egg yolk and Fusion sauce disintegrated the bun, and was overall luscious, juicy, and a wildly delicious messy mixture of tastes. Garlic fries on the side were on the greasy and slightly limp side, but Femme de Joie loved the plentiful garlic bits.

In an unlikely location far from the main hubs of Redding, Fusion is trying out new and exciting ideas, and for the most part they work. The menu is wisely kept small and manageable, with weekly specials thrown in. Prices are more than fair for the amount and quality of food. Though there were a few missteps, overall Femme de Joie loved the intent and direction of the kitchen. If you’re looking for something new to try, drive out to Fusion and sample their innovative dishes.

Fusion Lounge Bar & Grill, 2704 Hartnell Avenue, Redding, CA 96002. 530-768-1360. Open Monday through Thursday, 11:00 AM – 10:00 PM, Friday 11:00 AM – midnight, Saturday 3:00 PM to midnight. Closed Sunday. No minors after 9:00 PM. Cards and cash; no checks. Full bar. Vegetarian and vegan options. Parking lot. Follow them on Facebook.

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Back before Mary Lake was just a lake and not a subdivision, when Buenaventura was a city in Colombia, when the Benton landfill was a landfill and not a rolling landscape, there was a laundromat and little store at Placer and Pleasant in Redding. The store went under different names – Rex’s Market for a time and maybe one of the Holiday chain – while the laundromat was grim and slightly seedy. You didn’t linger any longer than necessary to wash and dry.

As the population grew on Redding’s west side and beyond, a much larger supermarket and shopping plaza came in. Now that old store is a church and part of the laundromat has become Zippy Food Mart (where they once served Korean food) with a gas station on the corner. (Curiously, just a couple of blocks away Google maps show “Methodist Church Ferry Road Anderson” on Mesa Street. What’s up with that, Google?)  Redding’s Ultimate Pizza fills out the north end of the old laundromat.

Though it’s got the look of a strip-mall place serving cardboard crust with ancient freeze-dried cheese, M. de Joie took note that Redding’s Ultimate Pizza’s been quietly chugging along since 2008.  If it was truly awful, the law of the jungle surely would have done it in by now, so it was time to check the pizza out. The interior is modern and cheerful but utilitarian with easy-clean floors and tables. Pizza by the slice is available if you just want to grab and go. There’s a TV constantly on that apparently only gets basketball games. Service is friendly.

The menu includes the usual beer-friendly appetizers (garlic beer-battered extra spicy cheesy whatevers), salads, sandwiches, and a variety of pizzas and calzones, some with cute names like the Elvis Pesto and the Diestlehorst Delight. Pizza takes about 15-20 minutes from the time you order – a good sign that they aren’t just defrosting and nuking.

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Small dinner salad, $4.19

If a restaurant kitchen gives consideration to the simplest dishes, that’s a sign management is looking at the entire menu rather than just focusing on one or two mainstays.  What Femme de Joie was expecting was a pile of Costco bagged lettuce. She was pleasantly surprised to get a well thought out composed mixed green salad with sliced zucchini, olives, onions, and tomatoes. The small salad, fresh and crisp, was a generous enough serving to be shared.

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Primavera pizza, $13.39 individual size

A variation on the classic Margherita pizza, the Primavera shows off the tender thin sourdough crust. Minimalist toppings – garlic, olive oil, tomatoes, cheese – made for a very light, non-greasy pizza. Of the items she tasted at Ultimate Pizza, this was Femme de Joie’s favorite.

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Original calzone (Canadian bacon, salami, mushrooms, onions, garlic), small $8.79

Calzone in Italian means “trouser leg,” not to be confused with pantaloni, “pair of pants.” How it got from trouser leg to pizza parlor is one of those culinary idioms that probably makes more sense in the original language. (After a quick look at Reverso Context, M. de Joie could amuse herself all day by looking up sentences such as “Fuori dai pantaloni, orribile donna.”)  The crust becomes more important in a calzone as it has to prevent leaks while remaining tender and pliable, and this one filled that bill. Despite the heavy ingredient list, this calzone held together nicely. It wasn’t quite as hot on the inside as one would expect so the ingredients were completely cold and/or it wasn’t baked quite long enough. Still, the flavor and texture combination worked well.

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Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Artichoke Hearts Gourmet Veggie pizza, $13.39 individual size

Femme de Joie couldn’t bring herself to say the entire name when ordering. However, the pizza was really quite good – even the thicker crust didn’t seem bready and gummy like many thick-crust pizzas. Artichoke hearts are the vinegary slightly pickled ones, so that tang may not appeal to everyone, though the taste is a nice contrast with white sauce. And the vegetables weren’t cooked into submission but retained their own tastes and textures, rather than being smothered with cheese and sauce.

To be clear, M. de Joie has eaten better pizza in other places, so she can’t say this is game-changing transcendentally fabulous world-without-end pizza. It sounds snobbish to add the qualifier, “It’s really good for Redding,” but she is not comparing to anywhere else, so it would be true. If she gets a Jones for pizza and doesn’t feel up to making it at home, Redding’s Ultimate Pizza is on Femme de Joie’s list of contenders in this town (and it’s a pretty short list). Stop by and grab a slice to give it a try.

Redding’s Ultimate Pizza, 1730 Pleasant Street at Placer Street, Redding, CA 96001. 530-241-8646. Open daily, 11:00 AM to 10:00 PM. Cards and cash; no checks. Beer and wine. Vegan and vegetarian options. Gluten-free crust available. Parking lot. Website at Redding’s Ultimate Pizza or follow them on Facebook.

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Until very recently, Femme de Joie’s only visit to 970 Hartnell was about seven years ago when a vintage furniture store was there; she and  Amico del Signore picked out a leather couch which went from “this great oxblood sofa” to “that Godawful purple couch” in just a few short years. The sofa found a new home about the same time Kanya Market replaced the furniture store.

Femme de Joie had originally planned to write about another Asian restaurant (which shall go nameless); unfortunately, the beef pho she ordered turned out to be Ptomaine Pho. After a dreadful night on the bathroom floor, she elected to not make a second visit to that establishment. But then   Amico del Signore discovered that Kanya Market not only sells Asian groceries but also has a small cafe and persuaded her that this might be worth checking out. And so it was. In addition to a wide variety of the usual items – soy and fish sauces, sesame oil, canned lychees, curry powder, teas (including “Sliming Tea” and no, that is not a typo), gigantic bags of rice –  Kanya also carries some fresh greens, fresh noodles, and the delightfully-named Snake Brand Prickly Heat and Baby Face with Aha.

Due to the dark window tint film, it’s impossible to see inside; instead, look for the neon “open” sign on the front. When you walk in, you are entering the grocery side of Kanya. Walk straight ahead toward the cash register, then turn right into the restaurant. You can order to-go at the counter, pick up some already prepared food from the refrigerators or the racks nearby, or sit down at one of the snappy black and white tables to dine in. Each table is stocked with a roll of paper towels, a stack of deep bowl spoons, and containers of forks and chop sticks. Service is friendly and helpful.

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Bahn mi, $3.00

Bahn mi – Vietnamese sandwiches –  are available on the to-go rack to the right of the cash register. They include pork, “meatloaf” (more like pâté), pickled daikon and carrots, and cilantro on a sliced, mayonnaise-spread French roll. It wasn’t bad but it would have been fabulous if it hadn’t been so flabby in texture; more crunchy vegetables and a crustier roll would make it sing.

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Mango drink out of the refrigerator, $1.25. Not quite as mango-y as the name suggests, but a very good foil for the spicy food to come.

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Fresh spring rolls, $5.50

M. de Joie was surprised at the generous serving of spring rolls – there was surely enough to share. Accompanied by tiny cups of sweetish peanut sauce and bottled Thai sweet chili sauce, the rolls were like small portable salads. Filled with lettuce, rice noodles, cilantro, and shrimp, these were wonderfully refreshing and crisp.

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Papaya salad Lao style, $5.00

Most shoppers have seen the giant overripe papayas in supermarkets here; their musky scent and perfumy taste is loved by some and reviled by others. But in places where it grows freely, green papaya is treated like a vegetable and made into salads. Kanya’s papaya salad is offered in Thai style or Lao. Both use fish sauce in the dressing but the Lao version uses fermented fish sauce (padaek) which has a more pungent aroma and taste. Green papaya was shredded and tossed with peanuts, tomatoes, green onions, and the padaek-infused dressing, served with a wedge of raw cabbage and plain rice noodles.

Femme de Joie ordered the salad with “medium” heat but either she was misunderstood or Kanya has a wicked idea of what medium heat is. It was fiery. She does enjoy hot food, but this was a challenge. The raw cabbage and noodles helped tame it, as did that mango drink. Still, she’s unsure if she actually liked the salad or not, since she was mostly concerned with not spontaneously combusting.

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Yellow curry with pork, $8.00

This smooth curry with potatoes, onions, carrots, and cubed pork also carried its own measure of heat, though not as pervasive as the papaya salad. The creamy texture and warm spiced sauce were delicious eaten as a soup or poured over steamed rice. This would be excellent comfort food on a cold day.

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Yum Nam, $6.00

If there was a Thai version of a chef’s salad, this would be it. It contains sour pork, AKA naem, a fermented Thai sausage, which explains the somewhat earthy smell of the dish.. Mixed with “meat loaf” (again, strips of pâté), celery, cilantro, green and red onion, and roasted rice seasoning powder, peanuts on the side, this was wonderfully crunchy with soft porky bites, hot and sour – one of the most interesting and exciting dishes M. de Joie has come across in recent memory.

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Khao Soy, $5.00 for small bowl

This might be the Thai version of grandma’s chicken soup – broth filled with Ho-fun noodles (made from rice and looking like a wide egg noodle), a very generous amount of white meat chicken, bean sprouts, shards of cabbage, and fermented bean and ground pork. It might remind you slightly of pho but has its own savory taste and textures in a rich chicken-y broth.

M. de Joie likes Kanya very much. The portions for the price are excellent value, service is fairly fast and friendly, and the cooking is usually spot-on and high quality. She also enjoys prowling around in the market, picking up various jars and bottles of condiments to try out, and suggests that if you stop in to have lunch, that you also look through the grocery and maybe pick up some chile-garlic sauce (which Amico del Signore and Femme de Joie love more than Sriracha) or some pork buns to go. It won’t cost much and it’s a good introduction to Thai cuisine.

Kanya Market and Thai Video, 970 Hartnell Avenue at Churn Creek Road (across from the fire hall), Redding, CA 96002. 530-222-7609. Open daily, 10:00 AM to 8:00 PM. Cards and cash; no checks. No alcohol. Vegan and vegetarian options. Parking lot.

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If you’re whipping along Hartnell Avenue, perhaps heading west toward Four Corners and planning your congested intersection strategy (You think it’s bad now? You should have tried navigating it before traffic lights were installed), or traveling east to pick up some eggs at the Hen House, you might well never notice the long cinder-block building just to the right of the gigantic Cash and Carry parking lot.

Maybe the ’50s-style space-age-retro sign atop the laundromat caught your eye, but other than that, it was just part of the landscape. Femme de Joie used to get her flivver repaired at the old Chevron station nearby and remembers that building was once home to a diner called Watson’s; it also housed Indognito and a Jiffy Burger, but she never set foot inside any of those places, feeling that she was probably spending enough to get the engine’s hamster wheel greased (she has since upgraded to a better line of hamsters).

Rita’s Kitchen has occupied the diner end of that building for 10 years now, the front door with the red canopy facing Hartnell. If you’re expecting the polished chrome, snappy black-and-white checkerboard tile, red Naugahyde booths, and flashing neon of a faux-retro luncheonette with American Graffiti waitresses, you will be expecting a long time. This ain’t no Streamline Moderne railway car restaurant: white enameled cinder blocks line the wall with reproduction Coca-Cola ephemera scattered about. The ceiling heat vent sports a fresh coat of duct tape and there are a few random dings and marks here and there. Four smallish tables, three or four seats at the counter: it seats no more than 20.

Owner Rita Fore cooks while her niece Ashley Hazelwood waits tables. They’ve got a smooth system to get your food out fast.

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Corned beef hash and eggs, $10.50

Canned corned beef hash is what you get in the vast majority of breakfast cafes; its resemblance to Alpo is hard to ignore. Rita’s makes theirs from actual corned beef and it’s absolutely worth eating, with shredded corned beef mixed with hash brown potatoes and fried crisp, along with a serving of hash browns (likewise crisp) and eggs.

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This is what Rita’s calls mini-cakes (an option to go with breakfast main courses instead of toast). It was more like a short stack of regular-sized pancakes, light, fluffy, and tender.

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Chicken fried steak, $11.50

A schmear of house-made sausage gravy was all this crisp-outside-medium-inside steak needed. Sometimes chicken fried steak is tough with a lot of gristle but the one served at Rita’s was gristle-free and not overcooked.

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Pastrami Reuben with potato salad, $8.50

M. de Joie loved the creamy homemade potato salad with tiny crunchy bits. She was much less crazy about the pastrami Reuben – a good grilled sandwich was spoiled with unpleasantly salty pastrami. Femme de Joie enjoys salty food but this was too, too salty even for her.

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Joe’s Special, $9.95

The story goes that Joe’s Special was developed by a San Francisco restaurant in the 1920s – it may have been Joe’s or Original Joe’s or New Joe’s. Anyone who knows the real story is long gone and it probably doesn’t matter any more, but the recipe survives: eggs scrambled with spinach and hamburger. Rita’s version was heavy on spinach and short on eggs – fine for M. de Joie, who is a spinach fiend, but it was more like a mass of spinach and hamburger with a teeny bit of egg thrown in rather than a scramble per se. The thin-sliced country potatoes made up for it with their crunchy edges and fall-apart interiors.

008 (1)Side of gravy ($1.00) with biscuit

Creamy, peppery sausage gravy deserved better company than the refrigerator-cold, slightly gummy biscuit it came with. M. de Joie did appreciate that jam was served in a little plastic bowl rather than the inevitable peel-back-top tubs of Smucker’s.

There were a couple of glitches but overall, Femme de Joie likes Rita’s Kitchen. Too far from Hotel Row and Interstate 5 to be of interest to tourists, this is a locals’ place. Simple, tasty food in a very unpretentious diner atmosphere at fair prices – while not a place to linger for a long lunch and too tiny to bring your entire tribe, it’s worth a stop, especially for breakfast.

But watch that step in and out the door – Rita says the City of Redding won’t let her make it safer since the surrounding sidewalk belongs to them. Anyone at City Hall want to explain how that’s business-friendly?

Rita’s Kitchen & Catering, 1154 Hartnell Avenue, Redding CA 96002. 530-223-4214. Open Monday through Friday, 7:00 AM to 2:00 PM, Saturday 7:00 AM to 1:00 PM. Closed Sundays. Cards and cash, no checks. No alcohol. Vegan and vegetarian options. Parking lot. Follow them on Facebook.

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It has long been the fervent wish of Femme de Joie that some enterprising soul would open up a Middle Eastern/Greek/Turkish restaurant in the Redding area. She vaguely recalls a short-lived one in a food court somewhere in Enterprise back in the 1970s or early ’80s, and an equally short-lived one on Antelope Boulevard in Red Bluff. Her two visits in 2011 to The Greek Shack on Hartnell left her underwhelmed (who knew you could buy frozen gyro slices from Amazon?), and never thought of stopping at Xander’s when toddling along Churn Creek until she’d already passed by.

At the corner of Eureka Way and Walnut Avenue, right across the street from the track and field shared by Shasta High School and U-Prep, stands a building that has hosted a slew of fast-food joints. M. de Joie can only remember three for sure: one of the Bartel’s Burgers chain, a Quizno’s, and an otherwise forgotten place that served salami burgers (that would be salami atop a burger) which a friend of hers adored. Last summer Anthony’s Mediterranean Cuisine moved in, and so far they seem to be thriving. Serving a simple menu of Middle Eastern salads, sandwiches, and sides, Anthony’s is run by the same party behind The Greek Shack and Xander’s.

There are some booths and bar tables; eat there or take out. Go to the counter to order and pay and they’ll bring your order to you. Staff is cheerful and helpful.

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Lamb gyro plate with Greek salad and hummus, $12.99

It isn’t easily visible from the dining area, but Anthony’s has one of those vertical spits that holds a big ol’ hunk o’ packed minced lamb slowly rotating by a heat source; the toastiest part is shaved off for the lamb gyro and cradled in a pita bread with lettuce, tomato, and tzatziki sauce. It was a bite of Nirvana to gyro-deprived folks like Amico del SIgnore and M. de Joie. Almost as good as the gyro was the small fresh Greek salad with feta, Kalamata olives, and a tangy dressing, and the mellow tahini-infused hummus with the nutty flavor of garbanzos.

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Chicken gyro plate with Greek salad and hummus, $11.99

The chicken gyro was the same arrangement as the lamb, but we did not love the pressed rectangles of chicken food product (hard to call it chicken as chickens are not normally rectangular). All wrapped up with pita & accompaniments, the sandwich was adequate but not awe-inspiring like the lamb.

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Babaganouj (served with pita), $4.99

A vegetarian/vegan staple, soft roasted eggplant smoothed out with tahini, garlic, and olive oil was a mild-flavored dip to go with pita wedges. It was pleasant enough but needed more tahini and garlic to ramp up the flavor.

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Vegetarian dolmas, $4.99, with wedges of pita bread

Dolma means “stuffed” and can refer to a variety of vegetables (zucchini, peppers, etc.) filled with rice and whatever else the cook has on hand. Stuffed grape leaves, those cigar-shaped bites common to numerous Mediterranean countries, are usually what we think of as dolmas here in the US. These were on the soft-to-mushy side and the rice filling was bland, even with a squeeze of lemon and some tzatziki to dip into. A disappointment.

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Falafel wrap, $7.99

Though the fried falafel balls were pretty darn salty by themselves, the salt wasn’t as noticeable when eaten as a wrap on pita bread with tahini, loads of fresh parsley, a spicy-warm pickled pepper, and – surprise! – a strip of purple pickled turnip (don’t knock it until you’ve tried it). Despite the frying, the sandwich made a light lunch.

Overall, M. de Joie is a fan of Anthony’s Mediterranean Cuisine. Though not every dish hit the mark, she’ll be back for the gyros, the hummus, and the salads. And there’s quite a bit yet to be tried, including the previously unknown-to-her manakeesh (flat breads with various toppings). Prices are fair for portion size and quality and most of the dishes can be prepared quickly if you’re in a hurry (the exception being the kebabs). If you’ve never tasted the foods of the Middle East, this is a good place to give them a try.

Anthony’s Mediterranean Cuisine, 2475 Eureka Way, Redding, CA 96001. 530-768-1333. Open every day, 11:00 AM to 9:00 PM. Cash and cards; no checks. Vegan and vegetarian options. No alcohol (though they have a cold case with a lifetime supply of Red Bull and Rockstar). Parking lot. Follow them on Facebook.

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Redding and Anderson have their share of what Maman de Joie called “hard-luck spots” – places where businesses opened optimistically, closed quietly, and another business moved in rapidly – lather, rinse, repeat. For whatever reason, those locations seemed almost cursed, Bermuda Triangles of hopes and dreams that disappeared into the nether world where small businesses go to die.  The cafe in a minuscule strip mall at 2083 Balls Ferry Road seemed destined to be one such place – Femme de Joie recalls a sandwich shop (run by the guy who used to host a free Thanksgiving dinner at his home) and an Italian takeaway in that slot, among others.

About ten years ago, Becca’s Cafe evolved out of Miners Cafe in that little strip mall and seems to have put the curse to rest. Run by Marvin and Becca Howsmon, this little diner has become a local favorite for its extremely reasonable prices, unpretentious menu, and well-prepared comfort food, as well as the friendly proprietors. When Amico del Signore tried describing it to a friend who was unfamiliar with it, the friend finally said, “Oh, that religious place?” Well, the walls are decorated with the sort of tchotchkes and bric-a-brac you see in many small cafes, including a poster with Psalm 23 and similar artwork, there’s a rack of Chick tracts by the cash register, and they wish you a blessed day when you pay your bill. No one whacks you upside the head with a Bible or proselytizes. They’re busy cooking and serving.

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Chicken fried steak, $7.99 with biscuit and gravy

No one will ever claim that chicken fried steak is health food, but it makes a delicious breakfast when well-prepared with a crisp crust and tender, juicy interior as it is at Becca’s. A generous pour of peppery cream gravy over the biscuit on the side was enough to smear on the hash browns too.  Owner Becca confirmed that they buy frozen hash browns but do not pre-cook them as many restaurants do – they cook to order, which makes them taste more like homemade.

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Ham, tomato, mushroom, and cheese omelet with avocado (upon request), $7.99

Becca’s does omelets particularly well, with tender eggs and a plethora of fillings that are never gummed together with too much cheese. This one was a three-egg, but the menu indicates you can order a four- or five-egg omelet as well.

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Ham and eggs, $7.99

Your basic diner breakfast of ham and eggs depends largely on the quality of the ham – will it be dried out and over-salted, or lightly browned and tender?  In this case it was the latter, a more than fair serving for the price, with biscuit and gravy on the side.

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Bacon, mushroom, and Swiss cheese omelet, $7.99

Even if you’ve cut back on bacon, sometimes its siren song calls to you; just a little bit can satisfy that craving as in this omelet. Though that second slice of cheese somehow hit the plate rather than the eggs, the rest of the omelet was on the mark: again, fillings (particularly crisp bacon) that weren’t obscured with excess cheese.

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Avocado burger, $7.99

To be sure, the burger is a pre-made patty, but it had not been lingering in a freezer for six months. Cooked to order (not held on a steam table), it was still juicy and flavorful.

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Fish and chips, $7.99

This was the only item Femme de Joie tasted at Becca’s that she wasn’t crazy about. Rather small portions of fish were on the dry side and unmemorable. She did like the simple fresh salad on the side.

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Onion rings, $3.50

Yes, out of a freezer bag, but deep-fried at the right temperature – crunchy and not overly oily.

Becca’s is hardly fancy or au courant, and if you’re high-maintenance you might not love it. They use lots of pre-made and frozen foods. It gets noisy with kids and adults chattering. You have to slip to the (tiny) restroom through the kitchen and the kitchen staff isn’t going to dress up in their best duds to impress you. The ceiling vent could use some repair and cleaning. Not a hipster in sight, though we spotted a couple of folks who appeared to have just rolled out of bed. Sometimes it gets pretty crowded and you might have to warm a bench beside the front door to wait for a table (the whole place seats about 40 people). But the prices can hardly be beat with special extra-cheap menus for seniors and kids, and the portions of tasty fare are generous for the price. The coffee costs $1.00 – no, it’s not Blue Bottle, but it tastes pretty good for one dollar.  Becca’s might not appeal to those seeking a fine dining establishment, and for those people there are all those other restaurants offering such things. For everyone else, drive on down to Anderson and check it out.

Becca’s Cafe, 2083 Balls Ferry Road, Anderson, CA 96007. 530-365-4511. Open daily, 6:00 AM to 2:00 PM. Parking lot. No alcohol. Cash, cards; no checks. Vegetarian options. Follow them on Facebook.

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It might surprise some folks to learn that the Redding strip mall known as Cypress Colony was once a Southern Baptist Church. When that congregation upped sticks and moved elsewhere, developers turned the Sunday school classrooms into shops and offices; the former sanctuary became a restaurant. It seemed like a promising plan – after all, Cypress has plenty of traffic and plenty of nearby businesses with employees who presumably need lunch and dinner. Perhaps it’s the intense traffic flow (if you’re not already in the turn lane, you’ll never get into the parking lot) or the lack of neon signs to grab your attention that has caused previous businesses to go under. Femme de Joie remembers a Mexican restaurant in that spot where she grabbed a burrito one very busy day a few years ago; after that Umstead’s BBQ lasted a couple of years.

Jim and Laurie Harris operated a “gourmet sandwich shop” in Washington but have restaurant history in Redding: the old Perry’s Pizza on Lake Boulevard (which introduced us to square pizza in the 1970s) was run by Harris’s father.  The Harrises opened Jaimitos Tacos about a year ago.

The menu is on a board behind the counter; order and pay, then wait for your food to be brought out to you.

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Chips and salsa, $2.50 ($3.00 to go)

The chips were freshly fried and unsalted, but the salsa was very thin, like V-8 juice that had a few minced onions and cilantro tossed in, inoffensive and indifferent as well as difficult to scoop up on a chip.

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Taco al carbon, $3.00

Though not really al carbon (cooked over charcoal), this grilled-and-sauced taco was deliciously messy with a light sprinkling of cheese and cilantro leaves to oomph up the flavor.

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Bean and cheese burrito, $3.99

The menu board read, “Bean and cheese (only) burrito,” and they weren’t kidding. Other than a smear of mild red sauce, this was nothing but beans and cheese, no onion or other garnish. Truth in advertising to be sure, but a bit on the bland side.

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Steak torta, $6.99

On a soft fresh bun, steak torta had plenty of colorful fresh toppings and was a filling meal, but the steak turned out to be very soft shredded beef, cooked long enough to be easily consumed by someone who had forgotten to put their teeth in. While it wasn’t bad, it was unmemorable other than for the squashy texture.

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Top row: two fish tacos. Bottom row: steak taco and pork taco, $2.25 each.

M. de Joie loves fish tacos, but not these. Thin fried parallelograms of an unknown fish were very dry and required a lot of salsa; there was a surfeit of chopped cabbage and onions. Eventually we were presented with a thimble of sauce that tasted very much like cole slaw dressing, which helped, but it should have been on the tacos in the first place.

Femme de Joie and Amico del Signore had a brief debate over which was the steak taco and which was the pork, finally deciding on the basis of the color of the meat, since they tasted the same and both were as pulpy as the filling for the torta. We did appreciate that two corn tortillas were used on each taco.

While the food is inexpensive and the service fast and friendly, nothing Femme de Joie tasted at Jaimitos Tacos had that addictive gotta-have-it quality that brings people back in. Meat fillings were overcooked to flabbiness with unexciting seasonings, the salsas bland and without personality. It wasn’t bad but neither was it particularly good. And there was an unfortunate incident on one of her visits where M. de Joie could very clearly hear a loud, deep masculine voice emitting from the back, chewing someone out in a sarcastic manner. “You thought you were being helpful by doing it this way, but do us all a favor….”  Whoever it was doing the berating, be advised: No customer wants to hear that kind of thing and no employee should be talked to like that.

While she wouldn’t strenuously object to being taken there by someone who was paying, Femme de Joie probably wouldn’t stop in there on her own and wouldn’t make a special trip there.

Jaimitos Tacos, 916 East Cypress Avenue at Larkspur, Redding, CA 96002. 530-768-1047 (not the number on their receipts, which belongs to some poor guy who constantly deals with phone calls meant for Jaimitos). Open Monday through Saturday, 11:00 AM to 8:00 PM. Closed Sunday. Cash, cards; no checks. vegetarian and vegan options. No alcohol. Parking lot.

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The Brewers’ Journal Volume 34, published in 1909, said this about Shasta County beer: Kennett, Shasta County, Cal., is said to be the location of a new brewery to be erected by Portland, Ore., capitalists. We don’t know if this brewery paid off for the investors, but we do know it’s now underwater.

Earlier, the “Report of the State Agricultural Society, 1907-8” stated there was one brewery in Shasta County.  However, it should be noted that the same report also states “The climate is pleasant, not extremely hot in summer nor cold in winter” and “Irrigation is unnecessary for most crops… as the rainy season covers the entire growing season,”  so it is possible that the person charged with researching Shasta County’s report may have spent a large amount of time inside that brewery and gotten his information from the denizens thereof.

Fast forward 100+ years, we find the state of breweries in Northern California to be wildly popular and growing. Femme de Joie recalls a few false starts – the Redding Brewing Company, Kennett-Diamond, North Star – but a glance in the craft beer section of local stores shows many more success stories. Wildcard Brewing Company, Fall River Brewing Taphouse,  Etna Brewing Company, Dunsmuir Brewery Works, Lost Coast Brewery, and the Big Enchilada, the Capo di tutti capi of Northern California breweries – Sierra Nevada Brewing Company in Chico.

Add to that list Woody’s Brewing Company, which opened in early 2015 in the old Tapas location. While not strictly “downtown” – it’s a few blocks away from the old mall location (M. de Joie has a large amount of snark for the “Promenade” name) – Woody’s has certainly contributed to increased business and patronage in Redding’s downtown area.

M. de Joie and Amico del Signore visited when Woody’s first opened. They liked the beer but they weren’t certain they liked it enough to endure the noise factor. During busy times in the evening we had to shout at each other across a table to be heard, which didn’t help lower the noise and didn’t make for a pleasant evening out. However, lunchtimes are relatively peaceful, especially since sound baffles have been installed on the ceiling.

The menu is primarily food that goes with beer- burgers, large appetizers, lots of cheese. Service is friendly and knowledgeable, though it can be slow when Woody’s is busy.

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Smoked onion rings with honey-mustard dip, $6.99

The first few bites of these onion rings were delicious – a light smoky edge, crisp coating, piquant honey-mustard dipping sauce. As the rings cooled, though, they began to release superabundant amounts of oil.

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Squeeze one of the rings and the oil oozed out. The onion inside the batter began to lose its character and fuse to the flabby coating. After a beer or two, you might not notice so much, but it was impossible to deny the puddles gathering in the paper liner of the basket.

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The Woody Burger with house-made veggie patty plus side salad, $10.99

You can’t help but notice the giant hamburger bun on any of the burgers, and the burger looks small in comparison. But in fact the veggie burger was of a generous portion to match – it did fall apart like virtually every other veggie burger and was a bit on the goopy side, but had a pleasant nutty taste. Side salad was fresh and crisp. It made for a filling lunch.

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Cobb salad, $11.99

Cobb salad is one of those items that always looks good on the menu but often is a bit of a disappointment with skimpy amounts of indifferent toppings, but Woody’s version delivered – lots of flavorful blue cheese, avocados, bacon, grilled chicken and plenty of fresh greens underneath. All mixed together (as inevitably happens with a Cobb), the salad was pungently creamy with crisp bites.

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Fish and chips, $13.99

M. de Joie has to say this was the strangest looking fish and chips she’s ever been served. It looked rather like bread sticks than fish. Looks aren’t everything, though – this was not like bread sticks at all. It wasn’t particularly like fried fish, either. The interior was fish, to be sure; it was moist and tender and fully cooked. The exterior was flabby, soft, and without any seasoning whatsoever, so the effect was that of a warm, damp paper towel cuddling the hot fish wrapped inside it. There was a cup of sprightly cole slaw alongside as well as a portion of what the menu said was Remoulade sauce. It was unlike any Remoulade sauce Femme de Joie has ever tasted, oddly bitter and sour at the same time. Perhaps there was a tot of beer added to it; if so, she feels that was a grave mistake. There were also some of Woody’s fabled house-made tots (short for Tater Tots) which had a nice crunch but not a lot of personality – possibly because Woody’s encourages ordering them with a load of toppings.

M. de Joie liked the salads and burgers at Woody’s but felt they definitely need to work on their deep-frying (and deep-fried anything goes with beer).  Woody’s is a definite plus to downtown Redding. With a more casual ambiance than wine bars, non-franchise feel, attracting mixed crowds of hipsters, ladies who lunch, business and government employees, they seem to be filling (and perhaps helping to create) a niche market.  At least one other local brewery is slated to open a pub downtown so time will reveal whether the craft beer movement has legs in Redding. In the meantime, check out Woody’s.

Woody’s Brewing Company,1257 Oregon Street, Redding, CA 96001. 530-765-1034. Open Tuesday through Thursday, 11:00 AM to 10:00 PM, Friday and Saturday 11:00 AM to 11:00 PM, Sunday 11:00 AM to 9:00 PM. Closed Monday. Cards and cash; no checks. Beer (of course) and wine. Street parking. Vegetarian and vegan options. Website at www.woodysbrewing.biz or follow them on Facebook.

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Some 20-odd years ago, Femme de Joie had a close gal pal who lived near the Perko’s in Westwood Village. If we were out and about doing Girl Stuff, she’d often say, “Let’s grab a bite at Perko’s.” The options in that area being severely limited, M. de Joie went along with this, but was invariably underwhelmed. The food wasn’t inedible; it was indifferent and inoffensively tasteless and bland. The scrambled eggs stick in Femme de Joie’s mind as resembling  the powdered eggs served in her college cafeteria. It was food as fuel – nothing more or less. After her friend moved away, M. de Joie moved Perko’s to her list of places she would never again have to darken the door.

Recently, friends TC&C recommended the Humble Joe’s on Hartnell Avenue to Amico del Signore. These  are not people who patronize the House of Carrot Sticks or Fanny’s Flophouse & Pizzeria; they enjoy a good meal in clean, comfortable surroundings. Femme de Joie was highly skeptical, but TC&C had never given bad advice yet, so we headed off to breakfast. It was good enough that we returned and ordered the exact same breakfasts a week later.

In the interim between breakfasts, M. de Joie learned that  Humble Joe’s owner Tom Lachuassee had been the operator of Perko’s but had grown disenchanted with the direction the company was going, so struck out on his own nearly three years ago. Perko’s soldiers on elsewhere, but the two Redding and one Anderson locations are now local.

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Masterpiece Omelet with Cheddar cheese, red onions, green onions, and bacon plus hash browns, $10.48

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Biscuits and gravy (included with omelet)

The Masterpiece Omelet is one of those build-your-own concepts: start with the basic cheese omelet at $8.99 and add ingredients to taste. Sometimes those are a rip-off to an unsuspecting or distracted diner, but in this case was a good value, with a surprisingly abundant amount of crisp bacon plus sauteed red onions and green scallions. Likewise, a lavish serving of hash browns on the side with melting interior and crackling exterior was twice the amount of potatoes normally served up in most breakfast houses. A peppery, creamy gravy topped the biscuit.

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Oaxacan pileup, $11.49

Not the most elegant of names, but this interesting variation on huevos rancheros makes you forget the semantics.  A stack of hash browns, crunchy corn tortilla, shredded pork verde, a tomatillo cream sauce, and eggs made a delicious and unusual one-dish breakfast. Again, portions were generous.

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Reuben with potato salad, $11.99

M. de Joie liked the Reuben sandwich with plenty of sauerkraut and pastrami plus rather good potato salad (did not appear to be out of a deli carton), though she thought this was not as good a value as some of the other dishes on the menu.

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Fish tacos and chips, $12.49

Generally speaking, Femme de Joie likes fish tacos very much. She would describe this as fish tacos for people who don’t like fish or tacos. She cannot claim to be an expert on fish sticks because she has never knowingly eaten one, but that is what appeared to be the center of attention: fish sticks carefully cut into rectangles and placed carefully on top of cubes of avocado and iceberg lettuce which was on top of slightly warmed corn tortillas with minced red onion and tomato, ranch dressing and bottled salsa on the side. It was an impressively large amount of very bland food. The fries on the side were not bad.

Femme de Joie did not visit the Anderson location so can’t comment on that, but the Westside Humble Joe’s suffered from lack of upkeep – in particular the fabric booth covers showed dismaying amounts of built-up grime where many hands and feet had made their unsightly impression over time. However, the Hartnell location is well-kept and cheerful. They cater to seniors – even though Femme de Joie and Amico del Signore are what might be termed Extremely Advanced Youth, they found themselves the youngest people in the place, which lead to being able to overhear very loud conversations from other patrons whether we wanted to or not. We now know everything there is to know about renting a car in Spain, and M. de Joie wonders if the lady in another booth will let her family know how much they hurt her feelings (she certainly repeated it often enough that everyone within earshot knows it).

However, overall M. de Joie liked Humble Joe’s. Service was fast and friendly and the food, while not haute cuisine, was better-than-average coffee shop quality. Stop in and give it a try.

Humble Joe’s Chophouse and Grill, 10 Hartnell Avenue, Redding CA 96002, 530-221-1144. Also 2631 Balls Ferry Road, Anderson CA 96007, 530-365-3308, and 6400 Westside Road, Redding CA 96001, 530-244-0738. Open Sunday through Thursday, 6:00 AM to 9:00 PM; Friday and Saturday, 6:00 AM to 10:00 PM. Serving breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Cash and cards. No alcohol. Parking lot. Very confusing website at http://www.humblejoes.com/

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Even the most dyed-in-the-wool ardent Reddingites have to admit that it gets intolerably hot here in the summer. (You think it’s bad now? Imagine what it must have been like for the early settlers, clad in voluminous layers of heavy fabrics and garments with nary an air conditioner in sight.) Many stay indoors and turn the thermostat as low as their electricity budget will allow. Some head for the mountains to camp or to the lake to poach gently until well-done. But for Femme de Joie’s money, the best bet is to endure the 3 1/2 drive to Humboldt County and enjoy those cool ocean breezes (until she has to turn around for another 3 1/2 hour drive back home).

The Eureka Times-Standard reported in 2011 that the City of Arcata put a cap on the number of chain businesses allowed within city limits, a ruling some might find draconian but which M. de Joie finds utterly delightful. If one really needs to patronize a franchise or big box megastore, Eureka is a ten-minute drive away, but locally owned and operated businesses rule in the home of Humboldt State University.  Yes, you can get a Big Mac in Arcata, but you have to drive all the way north to Valley West off Highway 101 to get it. Wouldn’t it be better to just stay close and enjoy some real food instead?

Golden Harvest Cafe has been serving up breakfast and lunch since at least the early 1980s (when Femme de Joie discovered it).  Sean Balissa and Dorothy Myers bought it in 1998 with the intent of having a restaurant friendly to both vegans/vegetarians and carnivores. The lines out the door during Sunday brunch attest to their success in appealing to a wide range of tastes.  M. de Joie and Amico del Signore have always been so stuffed after a breakfast that they have never tried the lunches.

Cajun potato cakes

Cajun potato cakes, $10.19, eggs $1.50 each

Golden Harvest features several variations of potato cakes for breakfast – a sort of potato hash with eggs atop. Cajun potato cakes were spicy-hot with cayenne-heavy Cajun seasoning, crisped all around, and savory with pepper jack cheese, olives, onions, and sausage (tofu sausage upon request).  Definitely on the hot and spicy side, this was an unusual and delicious potato breakfast dish.

Golden or Harvest Toast

Golden Toast, 2 slices for $7.89

Remember the 1960s fad for cornflake-coated fried chicken? This variation on regular French toast beats that by a mile. Embedded crunchy cereal gives texture and sweetness to normally soft Texas toast slices.

Benedict with garlic cream sauce and Hollandaise

California Benedict with avocado and tomatoes, Hollandaise and garlic cream sauce, $11.39

Sometimes you just have to have something unapologetically artery-clogging, but it better be worth it. The California Benedict fills that bill. We couldn’t decide whether the house-made Hollandaise was more delicious than the garlic cream sauce, and they were even more heavenly smooshed together on the plate. Crispy hash browns on the side were perfect with tender insides and crunchworthy outsides.

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Chicken fried steak and eggs with biscuits and gravy, $13.99

This was quite simply the best chicken fried steak either M. de Joie or A. del Signore has ever tasted. Made with pounded New York steak and cooked until the batter was crisp but the interior medium-rare, tender and juicy, this was worth every calorie-packed bite. Sometimes gravy on the side is too salty, gummy,  or otherwise a letdown, but Golden Harvest’s gravy was a perfect balance of creamy, savory, and peppery. Likewise, biscuits were tender and flaky.

Golden Harvest Cafe recently expanded to include a Eureka location, though it’s hoping too much to expect them to open a Redding location. The Eureka location presumably does not include the angry Arcata ghost who resides upstairs; it is rumored that he/she hates loud techno music and throws cutlery at the kitchen staff if the music is too loud. Femme de Joie did not hear or see said ghost so can’t provide independent confirmation, though she would definitely pay extra to experience this.

Everything we’ve tasted at Golden Harvest Cafe has been nothing less than wonderful, including coffee from Humboldt Bay Coffee Company (placed in a carafe on your table). Vegans and vegetarians are well-provided for – do not sneer at their house-made tofu bacon, as it is crisp and smoky with great bacony flavor. Though there are many fine places in Humboldt County to enjoy breakfast, Golden Harvest has to rank in the top three.

Golden Harvest Cafe, 1062 G Street, Arcata, CA 95521. 707-822-8962. Also 1707 Allard Avenue, Eureka, CA 95503, 707-442-1610. Open daily for breakfast and lunch 7:30 AM – 2:00 PM. Cash, cards, no checks.  Kids’ menu. Vegans and vegetarians well-provided for. Beer and wine. Parking lot behind the building (access off 11th Street) or street parking ( feed the meter). Website at http://www.goldenharvestcafe.com/index.html or follow them on Facebook. Menu pages (pdf) here, here, here, and here .

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