Another chain restaurant has discovered Fresno. Pieology Pizzeria opened the first of what will be several locations in the Fresno area, this one in the former The Ripe Tomato Restaurant space in Fig Garden Village Tuesday. The pizzas are individual-sized — 11.5 inches wide — and made to order. Customers pick their own toppings, sauce, cheeses and “after bakes” such as dollops of fiery buffalo sauce. You can see the process in action by watching the video below. Pieology also has a gluten-free crust option and employees will ask if you want them to change their gloves (though things aren’t as GF-free friendly in the oven and the menu says Pieology can’t guarantee the final product will be 100% gluten free).
The Southern California-based company has more than 30 locations in nine states. More are headed for Fresno, including one at the Campus Pointe development near Fresno State and the Marketplace at El Paseo near Highway 99 and Herndon Avenue. You may see even more outside of Fresno.
Fajita Fiesta is officially no longer with us. But don’t mourn them just yet. The family behind the restaurants is running two other restaurants in town.
To catch you up: Fajita Fiesta once had three locations — one on Shaw Avenue, another at Cedar and Nees avenues and the little one downtown that was open for 25 years. They’re all gone now. The Shaw Avenue one is now Guri’s GrubHouse, a farm-to-table gastropub that we’ve written lots and lots and lots about. The Cedar and Nees location closed in 2009 after 10 years (and then became Mateo’s and most recently Uncle’s Bar & Grill, which last week had an eviction notice on the door and a disconnected phone number).
The Fajita Fiesta at Van Ness Avenue and Divisadero Street is now Papi’s Mex Grill Express, with the same family running it. Owner Raul Gutierrez saw the changes happening downtown — new lofts and young people coming in — and decided to tweak his restaurant. Instead of the traditional sit-down meal with waiters and waitresses, the restaurant is now a faster-paced order-at-the-counter affair.
Grilled cheese fans in northeast Fresno can get their melty goodness on at the newly opened Grilled Chz restaurant at Cedar and Herndon avenues. The restaurant opened last week at 7059 N. Cedar Ave., in the same shopping center as John’s Incredible Pizza. This location is technically a move, as the owners closed the Grilled Chz at Willow and Nees avenues, opting for a more high-profile location. (The Grilled Chz on West Shaw near West Avenue is still open.)
But enough about real estate. Let’s talk about the food. If you’re unfamiliar with Grilled Chz, the menu includes just about any kind of grilled cheese you can imagine, along with tomato soup, chili, fries and dessert sandwiches. The gooey sandwich pictured at right is the restaurant’s best seller: the “extreme grilled chz” with cheddar cheese, macaroni and cheese inside, along with caramelized onions and smoked bacon with cheddar crusted onto the outside of the bread. The restaurant’s “molten extravaganza” of double-cream French Brie, bacon, sliced almonds, and homemade fig paste got some attention from AAA’s magazine “Via” last spring. See the full menu here.
New restaurant Guri’s GrubHouse is open. This restaurant, at 1713 E. Shaw Ave. in the former Fajita Fiesta spot, is a farm-to-table gastropub. To find out more about what those terms mean, and all the creative dishes on the menu at Guri’s, check out my column about the place. Or, watch this video for an introduction to Guri’s.
Coldwater Creek in Fig Garden Village is officially a goner. The retailer closed all its stores after filing for bankruptcy and the going-out-business sale is over. That leaves a large and somewhat prominent space open in the shopping center for a new business to move into. The store sits on a corner deep in the shopping center between Banana Republic and Heart & Sole comfort shoes. There’s a for-rent sign in the window.
So, here’s where you come in. I’m curious about what you guys would like to see go into that space. Any particular retailer you’d get excited about seeing in there? Fig Garden doesn’t seem to be afraid to convert retail spaces to restaurants (as evidenced by the newly opened Jack’s Urban Eats) so feel free to suggest restaurants too.
Lots of restaurant news to share today. New restaurants are opening and existing restaurants are doing new things. Here’s a rundown of what’s happening in the Fresno food world.
Menchie’s frozen yogurt is scheduled to open the first of many shops in the Fresno area today. The shop is at 3090 W. Shaw Ave. in the same shopping center as Target next to Jimmy John’s. The grand opening celebration is Saturday and will feature free frozen yogurt, face painting, a balloon artist and other fun stuff. Expect to see a lot more of Menchie’s, as they’re planning to open shops in the Marketplace at El Paseo at Herndon Avenue and Highway 99, and in the Target shopping center at Herndon and Willow avenues.
Frankie’s 568 in the Tower District has opened for lunch from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesday through Friday. This is the restaurant that opened last spring in the former Cafe Rousseau spot and is run by the family behind several of the DiCicco’s restaurants. The menu features pasta and pizza and you can see it online here. (Yes, you can eat penne alla vodka pasta at lunch.)
The new-to-Fresno Jack’s Urban Eats is open in Fig Garden Village. It’s a quick-service salads and sandwiches type of place, with some french fries that get rave reviews. Here’s my full column on Jack’s (which also includes news about Sequoia Brewing, Frankie’s 568 and Menchie’s). Below is video introduction to Jack’s.
The much anticipated Jack’s Urban Eats restaurant in Fig Garden Village will open at 11 a.m. Monday. The restaurant is near White House Black Market. It’s the first in our market of a Sacramento-based chain that has 12 locations total, most of them in and around Sacramento . The restaurant is quick casual (kinda like Chipotle, but obviously not Mexican food) with a big range of food on the menu.
The restaurant’s owners describe it as hofbrau-style cuisine, and it includes all types of sandwiches and salads. There’s the Jack’s Classic, which comes with char-grilled tri-tip, oven-roasted turkey or chicken breast, along with banh mi (a Vietnamese sandwich with grilled steak, daikon, cilantro and a sriracha-lime mayo). Vegetarians can order any sandwich by subbing in grilled portabella mushrooms for the meat. You can get a side of fries, dinner salad or mashed potatoes. (I’ve eaten at the one in Sacramento and let me tell you, the side of mashed potatoes they gave me was huge.) Salads range from a steak salad to kale and quinoa salad and a build-your-own salad option. Meals range from $6.95 to $9.95.
But it’s the “Urban fries” that get the most attention. This signature dish is french fries topped with spicy chili oil, blue cheese and chili flakes. Or, as one Yelp.com reviewer described it, her “favorite food everrrrrr.”
The restaurant will be open from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday and Monday, and from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. It employs 30 people.
Pooches will be soon be allowed on restaurant patios. A new state law signed last week legally allows people to bring their dogs to outdoor eating areas beginning Jan. 1. While there is plenty of rejoicing at this news (and far too many uses of the phrase “bone appetit”), I want to know what you think of this practice. Do you welcome it as a fun way to spend breakfast with Fido? Or does the thought of fur floating through the air and landing in your eggs Benedict gross you out?
I’d also like you to help me out with a future column. Where have you seen dogs welcomed on patios in the Fresno/Clovis already? Or where have people tried to bring dogs? Are any restaurants in town particularly pet friendly?
It’s worth noting that this new law is not a furry free-for-all. It comes with lots of rules, including:
- The dog must be on a leash or in a carrier.
- The dog cannot sit on a chair or bench (so that puppy in the picture is a no no).
- Utensils, condiments, etc. must be stored in enclosed containers when dogs are present (meaning fur shouldn’t mingle with forks).
- Employees who deal with food can’t pet dogs and if they do, they need to wash their hands.
File this one under “Hey, what a cool idea.” New mobile teppanyaki business Teppanyaki 2U started barely a month and a half ago but is already getting booked up. The Clovis-based business brings a 9-foot griddle and a teppanyaki chef to your backyard. Like teppanyaki restaurants, the chefs prepare food right in front of you with flair, including making “onion volcanoes” that spew fire (at right) and juggling rice bowls (keep scrolling for a video of Chef Jimmy juggling the rice bowls).
Personal trainer Eric Sunamoto got the idea for the business while taking a break at his 10-year-old daughter Kimora’s birthday party. He was thinking that buying and preparing the food was a lot of work and he should have hired a taco truck. His daughter loves teppanyaki and he then thought, “Man, I wish there was a teppanyaki place” that would deliver. The business idea was born.
Teppanyaki 2U charges a minimum of $300 for an event. Prices vary depending upon the number of people and whether you’re getting steak and lobster or chicken. The business can handle events as small as six people or as big as 150 people. You can see lots of pictures of the events on Facebook and on Instagram under the username @teppanyaki2u.
If you’re like me, you don’t need an excuse to eat out, but here’s a good one: Restaurant Week is happening right now. You can read more about it here and see all the participating restaurants here, but basically it’s a time when you can get good eats for a lower-than-normal price. The 26 participating restaurants are offering three-course dinners for $20, $30 or $40. A few are doing lunch for lower prices. Newly participating this year are Aria Persian Cuisine, Shepherd’s Inn, Frankie’s 568, HCK (Hermosa California Kitchen) and Peeve’s Public House. It goes until Aug. 15.
Most of the restaurants have their Restaurant Week menus on the website. A few don’t and a few oddly have listed their regular menus. That’s a bit of a head scratcher, because certainly some diners are making decisions based on the drool-worthy descriptions of menus that are specifically for Restaurant Week. (Surely, the “deluxe feast of BBQ” at Westwoods with tri-tip, St. Louis ribs and honey Q fried chicken strips is luring in a few customers, and if you ever wanted to try fried green tomatoes, you can do it at Trelio.) After chatting with the organizer, the best advice we can give if the Restaurant Week menu isn’t listed is to call the restaurant directly and ask them what they’re doing for Restaurant Week. (And you may want to make reservations. Lela’s Restaurant said on Facebook that it’s booking up fast.)
At any rate, the promotion is still a good way to try out a new restaurant or experience one that’s normally out of your budget, or even take a risk on a new dish at a restaurant you already know.
Lots of restaurant and retail news happening lately, so I figured it was time for a round up. Here’s what’s happening.
Lots of folks have been asking what’s happening at the former Fajita Fiesta on Shaw Avenue, just west of Cedar Avenue. It’s going to be Guri’s Grubhouse & Taps. It’s a gastropub (that means lots of craft beer and gourmet food) that the people who own Swigg’s are opening. You can read all about it here. No opening date released yet.
The long dead corner of Clinton and Weber will get a Vallarta Supermarket. The Hispanic grocer probably won’t open until the end of 2015, but it’s nice to finally have some action on the site of the former Mid-State Bowl.
The Elephant Lounge is open at 80 W. Shaw Ave. in Clovis in the former North India Bar & Grill. It quietly opened a few weeks ago to work out the kinks. The restaurants sells Indian food — both authentic and fusion — along with Italian and American. Stay tuned for more details on that from me.
Cracked Pepper Bistro, which has a reputation for being one of the best restaurants in town, has moved to its new location in northwest Fresno. It’s at 6737 N. Palm Ave. near Herndon Avenue in the North Pointe Shopping Center (which is having a little revival of its own, now that Rue Cafe and Parma are there, along with By the Sea and Club Habanos). Cracked Pepper opened in its new digs Tuesday, taking over part of the space that Samba left behind when it moved. Owner and chef Vatche Moukhtarian says the move was mostly driven by behind-the-scenes difficulties (employees sardined into a too-small kitchen, for example) along with not enough parking. Here’s what you need to know about the new place.
It has a bar now. And that means all kinds of new “culinary cocktails” on the menu. The cocktails have fresh vegetables and fresh-squeezed fruit juices. The Palm 67 cocktail, for example, has vodka, lime, sugar, cucumber and mint. The Honeysuckle cocktail has fresh Fresno chiles in it.
Diners pass the wine cellar — actually a room with a glass door — on their way to the restrooms. The staff is really excited about this room stacked floor-to-ceiling with wine bottles. Before, wine storage was spread out over four or five locations, causing wait staff to go on a bit of a hunt to find your wine.
The Melting Pot could be coming to Fresno — eventually. The fondue restaurant with locations in Sacramento and Southern California sent out a press release today saying it’s looking for franchisees to open a restaurant in Fresno. From the release:
The Melting Pot Restaurants, Inc., the world’s premier fondue restaurant and a leading polished casual dining franchise, announced today that it is actively seeking franchisees on the West Coast to bring its interactive dining experience to Fresno, Calif., naming the city as a target for future franchise development.
I tend to be a tad skeptical of these things until they actually happen (the Tilted Kilt pub said the same thing a year ago and we’re still waiting). But it does prove that the company is looking for someone to foot the bill for opening one here. In case you have no idea what I’m talking about, the Melting Pot is a restaurant where you can dip bread and veggies in cheese, or strawberries and marshmallows in chocolate. (Excuse me while I clean the drool off my keyboard.) It also serves salads and entrees with dipping sauces such as pot stickers and pork medallions.
Opening a Melting Pot restaurant is quite an investment. Franchisees must have a net worth of $750,000 and be able to shell out $977,000 to $1.4 million.
Remember the Sonic Drive-In on Shaw Avenue in Clovis that’s been surrounded by a chain-link fence and overgrown for the last two years? It’s an eyesore no more. The Sonic near Walmart reopened Tuesday after the owners of 24 other Sonics in the Valley bought it. It took a couple years to reach a deal because the couple likes to own, not lease, the land their restaurants are on. (The restaurant just didn’t work out for the previous owner, not sure what specifically led to its closure.)
New owners Scott A. and Tani McMillan put some work into the place to bring it back up to speed, and added a few extras you won’t find at the other Sonic restaurants. Namely, the menu boards that you pull up to have a video screen that promotes Sonic food and confirms your order.
Sidenote: Sonic is now carrying Slushes with Nerds candy in it. We spent several minutes talking about this bizarre little development and Scott is pretty excited about it.
“It’s awesome,” he says of the Nerds. “They don’t sink to the bottom. They don’t float on the top.”
Anyway, you can expect to see more Sonics in the Fresno/Clovis area in the long-term. The restaurants do very well here, say the owners. Also, Sanger will get a Sonic, possibly by the end of the year. There, the restaurant will take over the former Burger King at Academy Avenue and 9th Street. They’ll experiment with some indoor seating, something Sonic does in the wintery northeast, but might be appropriate for 104-degree days like today.
The BreakFast Hut owners Cheryl Dunton, special cardboard guest John Wayne and Carlos Castillo. That’s Sidney Pitre having some fun in the background.
The BreakFast Hut has been serving up breakfast burritos with a little help from John Wayne and Elvis for about a month now. The restaurant is at 915 Van Ness Ave., near Kern Street (in the spot that used to be a coffee shop and briefly a Guadalajara restaurant). It serves breakfast and lunch, so you can get a burger for breakfast or pancakes for lunch — or chicken and waffles any time. It’s open from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. weekdays and 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. on weekends. The owners have a background in breakfast. Both have owned The Waffle Shop on Blackstone Avenue and one of them still does.
Life-size cutouts of John Wayne or Elvis usually greet customers as they come in the door (figuratively, that is). John Wayne because the restaurant does country cooking and because the owners got too busy to finish the rest of the decor. When he got loaned to Warnors Theatre for their showing of the original “True Grit,” Elvis stepped in. It’s not unusual to see customers taking pictures with them. (During my visit I overheard a grandma say to her grandkids about John Wayne: “That’s grandma’s boyfriend.”)
If this makes you think the owners don’t life too seriously, you are correct. Chef/co-owner Carlos Castillo was giving me a fist bump within seconds of meeting him. And partner Cheryl Dunton is just chipper and friendly. You’ll find their kids working at the restaurant too, including 10-year-old Brandon, who has no problem chatting up customers.
The Downtown Club is now open for dinner Wednesdays through Saturdays. Photo: Eric Paul Zamora.
The Downtown Club is now serving dinner. Doing dinnertime business has always been the plan since the new owners took over. Now, from Wednesday through Saturday you can get dinner from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. The bar just reopened too and happy hour is during the same time period. Owner Nick Farid says two people can get two dinner entrees and a bottle of house wine for $49. The menu includes New York steak, salmon and chicken Marsala.
I’m sure this news will please my fellow blogger and downtown resident Joshua Tehee, who complained about the lack of downtown dinnertime options in a recent column about new restaurants opening downtown:
The majority of these new businesses will cater to the many government and office workers, operating limited hours and only during the workweek.
That makes practical sense.
But it’s frustrating for those of us who live (and work and play) downtown and are eager for a vibrant, urban community that includes life after 5 p.m. on Fridays.
Here’s something different for Fresno: A Mexican restaurant that is always vegan, has organic and non-genetically modified food whenever possible and has a mostly gluten-free menu. Flacos has opened inside Strummer’s in the Tower District. (If you need a reminder, Strummer’s is the former Starline at 833 E. Fern St. in the Tower District and the restaurant is in the half that used to be called Starline Grill.) Strummer’s is still Strummer’s and has the same bar service and loud music that the bar has always had. (You may remember Flacos tested out serving meals on Fridays back in March. Now it’s a permanent restaurant.)
Some of the dishes at Flacos use a meat substitute, such as the textured soy protein in the taquitos (it tastes like chicken). Other dishes don’t require any meat substitutes, such as the pozole or huarache — an organic corn tortilla with avocado, refried pinto beans (no lard in ‘em), rice, cilantro, onions, cabbage, radish and salsa. (Pictured at right is the banana leaf tamale with avocado salsa.) You can see the full menu online here. Owner Antonio Magaña owns a restaurant with the same name and menu in Berkeley.
There are so many food-related events happening this weekend — and then Father’s Day on Sunday — that you don’t need to spend a second in your kitchen. Here’s a rundown of the good eats available.
The Great Madera Chili Cook-off is back after more than a decade-long absence. The event at Madera District Fairgrounds runs from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday. It features, of course, a chili-making contest (and includes a special category for firefighters because apparently firefighters are really into making chili), a salsa-making contest, lots of food samples and fair food vendors. $5 for adults, children 12 and under free.
The Serbian Food Festival is Saturday from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. at St. Peter Serbian Orthodox Church on First Street. You can get Serbian food for lunch or dinner for $15, plus buy all sorts of Russian and Serbian baked goods. A few years back I visited with the ladies who made rostule — a pastry made from paper-thin dough, deep fried and sprinkled with powdered sugar — and other pastries for the event. I remember the rostule being ridiculously delicious. Admission is free.
Photo of the Caipiroska cocktail courtesy of Eureka!
The World Cup started today in Brazil and there’s plenty of places to watch it. Some restaurants are also getting in on the fun offering discounts or free food. Here’s a rundown of some of the food and drink deals around town.
And Eureka!, the burger joint at Palm and Nees avenues, isn’t having any discounts, but it is selling a special World Cup-themed drink: the Caipiroska. It’s a spin on the very yummy Brazilian cocktail the Caipirinha. The Caipiroska involves vodka, orange rinds, lime wedges and a raw cane sugar cube and costs $8.
Update: If you want to see the results of your responses, today’s food page features Fresno’s five favorite patios with lots of photos. I know there’s more out there that people love, so feel free to leave ‘em in the comments.
Warm weather is here and that means it’s time for what Fresno does so well: dining outdoors. We want to know where your favorite restaurant patios are in Fresno are and what you like about them. For example, do smokers go to Livingstone’s patio so they can be among their own kind? Is Irene’s just where you go with that certain someone who spent the night? What about north Fresno? And who has the most undiscovered patio in town? Some of your responses may be used in an upcoming story about dining alfresco.
The picture at right is from On the Edge coffee shop on Pollasky Avenue in 2012.
Deliciousness is coming in the form of two new restaurants. Actually, there’s a ton of deliciousness in the form of new restaurants coming and this is just a sampling of what I’m working on these days. First, I already told you about how Dickey’s Barbecueis coming to Fresno. The Dallas-based franchise sells “authentic slow-smoked barbecue.” Now they’ve identified a few locations. One is at the corner of Herndon and Fowler avenues in Clovis. Another will be built in the Marketplace at El Paseo shopping center near Herndon Avenue and Highway 99. And expect news about one in Madera soon too. It’s going to be a few months before these places open. Even more Dickey’s will be rolled out over the next three or four years as a pair of franchisees — who also own the Dickey’s in Hanford — bring the barbecue joint to town.
And downtown will get its first Deli Delicious in about two weeks. The sandwich shop, at 970 N St., is just north of the Galleria and around the corner from the Starbucks on Kern Street. Fresno-based Deli Delicious is also gearing up to celebrate its grand opening June 20 at the new location on Jensen Avenue just west of Highway 99. This company is in major growth mode, so expect to hear more news about them.
But one restaurateur wins the prize for most entertaining: Mike Cook at Trendy Pasta Company. When you go in there, you’ll likely be greeted loudly and flamboyantly by Cook, possibly in Italian. He’s not the only one working there — his wife Rosalie works the counter and co-owner Matthew McComas is usually hiding in the kitchen (but that’s McComas’ gorgeous artwork on the walls). But it’s Cook who’s in charge of making sure customers have a good time. If they like him — in addition to his food — they’re more likely to come back, he figures. You can get a glimpse of Cook’s goofy personality, including him pulling my leg a little, in the video below.
Anyone in the mood for pizza and beer? Blast 825, the latest concept by the Me-N-Ed’s folks at Sierra Vista Mall, turns 1 today. To celebrate, it’s selling $3.65 pizzas all day. (These are their pick-your-own toppings 10″ personal pizzas that are blasted in an 825-degree oven.) There will also be a drawing for free pizza for a year and a nonprofit shindig in which local groups compete to make the best pizza and win a cash prize.
And on the beer front, Yard House in River Park has 125 beers on tap and is about to give you even more options with beer cocktails. The drinks combine beer and cocktail ingredients (duh), such as the Dreamsicle, a grown-up version of the childhood treat with white ale, whipped (as in cream) vodka and Cointreau. For the hop heads, there’s the West Coast Shandy, with the House IPA and citrus flavors from X-Rated Fusion liqueur.
Ooeey gooey cheesy hot pizza is plenty good on its own, but if you’re the type who likes to try new things (say, fruit punch Oreos), some restaurants in Fresno are getting creative with their pizza. Pizza fries are a “secret menu” item at Popolo’s Pizza on North Blackstone.
This one has a charming little back story: A 26-year-old Fresno rapper named Halo the Human (he got the name Halo in church because he didn’t cuss) is a pizza fanatic. He throws monthly pizza parties for adults. He went to a pizza expo in Las Vegas and discovered pizza fries. They’re exactly what they sound like — french fries smothered in mozzarella, cheddar and pepperoni, baked so the cheese gets all melty and served with a side of sauce. He asked Popolo’s if they could make them. They said yes and the pizza fries took off. It’s not on the menu, but they’ll make them for you if you ask. A big plate costs $8.95 or $4.95 during happy hour from 3-6 p.m. daily. By the way, Popolo’s is apparently quite the place for craft beer if you’re in the mood for pizza and beer.
Richie’s Pizza & Hot Dogs, which opened recently in the Tower District (more on that here) sells a pizza dog. It’s a spicy Italian sausage with pizza sauce, mozzarella cheese and pepperoni, also baked for the melty goodness.