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.
Mother’s Day is this Sunday. If that thought fills you with panic, get on it and make some reservations. Here’s a sampling of some restaurants we know are open on Mother’s Day. And if there’s someplace I’ve skipped, feel free to add it in the comments.
Cuvée Spirit & Wine Parlor on Van Ness Avenue in the Tower District is hosting a 21-and-over Mother’s Day brunch Sunday. It features unlimited mimosas. They’ll also be lots of breakfast dishes, salads, sliced meats and cheeses, along with bread pudding and chocolate mousse. 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. $24.99 per person. (559) 709-7077.
The Ahwahnee Hotel in Yosemite will have brunch from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. On the menu is slow-smoked bone-in country ham, prime rib, seafood, breakfast food and pastries. $45 for adults and $15 for children 5 to 12. They’ll be a professional photographer on hand taking portraits of moms and kids for $45 too.
Cosmopolitan Tavern bartender Ed Ward stands in the longtime restaurant’s dining room in this picture from 1995. Photo by John Walker.
The Cosmopolitan Tavern downtown is making plans for an eventual move. In case you missed it, the Lanfranco family detailed its long-term plans before the city council last week to move to a surprising place: The Selland Arena parking lot. The family will build anew on the property. You can read lots more about it in this story by Bee reporter Marc Benjamin.
Cosmo’s — as it’s called around here — is in the path of a high-speed rail. Unlike Angelo’s Drive In, which is also in the path of high-speed rail and closed recently, Cosmo’s is not only committed to staying open, but to staying downtown. The Lanfrancos say they need to be out of their current property by December.
It will be interesting to see what a new Cosmo’s looks like. The restaurant has been around for 80 years and the property has been owned by the family since 1900. Part of the restaurant’s appeal is that old-school dark dining room with its heavy wood bar. One gets the impression a lot of deals and important business meetings happen over lunches there. Here’s hoping they can take that vibe with them to the new place.
Angelo’s Drive In on Olive Avenue closed Thursday after 60 years in business. The burger joint is on the edge of what is slated to become the path of high-speed rail. The owners do not plan to reopen elsewhere.
You can read all the details about how much money the owners got and why they don’t plan to reopen here. The dismantling of the restaurants happened quickly. By about 3 p.m., while the kitchen was still serving, the big red “Angelo’s” letters were coming down. A crane took down the iconic sign that once stretched above the restaurant. It was sold to a local man who plans to restore it.
But yesterday most folks I talked to just wanted to reminisce about the long-time restaurant. Everyone I talked to yesterday had a different favorite, from the classic hamburger on a French roll to the chili dogs to fries with Thousand Island sauce. The drive in was a little slice of Americana that leaves lots of memories behind. Feel free to share yours in the comments.
Several restaurants with a South African twist are coming to Visalia and Tulare. Actually, the food has quite a few global influences, but we’ll get to that in a second. A family that owns numerous businesses in South Africa recently moved to Visalia and is opening them here. The restaurants are a three-in-one deal. Under one roof you’ll find Jay’s Peri Peri Flame Grilled Chicken, Ocean Basket and Mugs & Beans. The first location opens at Tulare Avenue and K Street Thursday and the Visalia location opens downtown at Garden and Main Streets Friday.
So let me pass along the description of these restaurants that real estate broker and partner in the business Marty Zeeb told me. Or, you can check out the brands on the company’s website here.
Peri Peri is a chili — as in the pepper — and also known as the bird’s eye chili. He tells me that some Portugeuse folks in South Africa came up with the peri peri sauce that the chicken is marinated in. It’s grilled and then served with the sauce.
Ocean Basket was a restaurant started by some Greek folks in Capetown. It sells hake, along with steak and lobster.
Mugs & Beans is a coffee shop that’s open all day long. It serves 20 espresso-based drinks, pastries, soups, salads and burgers.
A third location that’s just a Mugs & Beans will also open soon at 202 Willow St., near Kaweah Delta Medical Center.
Do you remember Cafe Rousseau in the Tower District that closed? It became the short-lived Bistro 566. Now it’s something new, this time with the family behind several DiCicco’s restaurants running the show. Frankie’s 568 opened quietly last Saturday. The Italian restaurant is a way of honoring Frank Vitucci — the father to Joanna Vitucci Lopez who runs three DiCicco’s restaurants and husband to Linda. Frank died in 2012. You can read more about him and the restaurant’s back story here.
Frankie’s 568′s menu is different than DiCicco’s, and includes pasta, steak, chicken Parmigiana and a few pizzas. There’s a “Frankie’s Special” on the menu: A petite filet Mignon, tender lamb ribs and an Italian sausage link. There’s also an appetizer dish Frank loved: Fresh ricotta served on toasted bread. Also, Rousseau’s wallpaper has come down and a mural of a scene in Italy went up.
The attached bar is now a separate business. Owner Pete Mejia ran both restaurant and bar under Bistro 566 and will continue to run the bar, which is now Bourbon & Taps. He also owns Tower Sports Club. The business will soon offer 40 bourbons — everything from Maker’s Mark to small-batch bourbons. By next week the place will have 19 craft beers on tap, including six or seven Tioga-Sequoia beers.
Easter is Sunday and if you just said “eek!” I’m here to help. Several restaurants are open serving special meals on Easter and others are selling take-home meals. Here’s what you need to know.
The Elbow Room is doing an Easter brunch from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday. I’m told Chef Roy Harland has “gone all out” and is serving a huge buffet, including eggs, biscuits and gravy, omelets, prime rib, ham, oysters on the half shell, salmon, turkey pot pies, salads and pastries. Adults cost $25.99. Kids 10 and under cost $14.99.
The regular dinner menu is offered from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. Reservations aren’t required for either, but are a good idea. Call (559) 227-1234.
Campagnia is having its jazz buffet brunch from 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Sunday. Reservations required. Call (559) 433-3300. For $23.99 adults get brunch and a glass of Champagne (bottomless mimosas are available for an extra fee). Kids 12 and under cost $12.99 and 4 and under are free. The menu includes all kinds of brunch goodness: ham, bacon, poached salmon, crab salad, pasta, French toast, pastries, garlic mashed potatoes and lots of dessert.
After closing last summer, the former North India Bar & Grill building will soon be home to a new restaurant. A chef and restauranteur from the Bay Area bought the building and will open the Elephant Lounge in the space, likely in early June.
Ranjit Dosanjh says he knows the previous owner of the restaurant was a Bay Area restauranteur who couldn’t make a restaurant work there, but says his will be a different concept. Elephant Lounge will serve modern, Indian fusion food with French and Thai influences — but also American and Italian food. They’ll be meat and vegetable dishes with a basil cream sauce, for example, but also steak and pasta. He says he often hears of families where the wife loves Indian food, but the husband and the kids not so much, so he wanted a menu that would appeal to the entire family.
“There are very faithful fans of North India and I can promise them that they’ll be pleased with my food,” he says.
Tired of running four businesses in the East Bay (restaurants Xenia Bistro, India 4 U, Rising Loafer and Spice Global Catering) he is moving to Fresno, where his daughter attends Fresno State. (He’ll still own the other restaurants, but someone else is taking over the day-to-day management.)
Hiding behind the window is the most charming order-taker ever, Maria (pronounced Ma-RI-ah).
This new burger joint is a little far afield — it’s in Caruthers — but it’s got some Fresno back story. The Brown Bag Burger Bar is the latest project by the people behind The Painted Table, the busy catering company that operates out of the former Daily Planet next to Tower Theatre. The burger bar is a little, low-key place with a bar to sit at that opens up to the outdoors.
You can read all about the colorful characters — charmer Maria and Caruthers native Rod Hansen – in today’s column, but let’s focus on the food here. The restaurants serves all kinds of burgers wrapped in brown paper with inventive names and toppings.
– The Roy Rogers burger has onion rings on it, with a “coka cola” barcecue sauce (yes, it has Coke in it).
– The Frito Yacht is like a Frito boat, but with salad and chili atop the Fritos.
– Milkshakes are popular here, including the “Rod special,” which has real chocolate, banana and peanut butter in it.
The restaurant sells sandwiches and hot dogs too. Burgers can be made with gluten-free buns or vegetarian patties. They get pretty busy on weekdays, so you may want to call in your order ahead of time. It’s open 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday.
The Broadway show “Wicked” is returning to the Saroyan Theatre starting Wednesday. It’s bound to attract lots of people who will be looking for places to eat beforehand. This week’s Eating Out column is about where people can eat dinner downtown before the show. You can read the full column here, but I thought I’d highlight a few restaurants that are doing something special for “Wicked”. Neither the column nor this blog is meant to be a comprehensive list, so if there’s someplace you like to eat downtown that isn’t on here, be sure to tell us in the comments.
Sumtin’ Ta Eat. The owner of this “home cookin’” restaurant on Kern Street is getting her good witch on with a $9 meal special. But you need to call ahead of time and use the word “wicked” while making your reservation. It won’t work if you say it when you walk in the door. Call (559) 572-2328.
The newly reborn The Downtown Club will open for dinner during the run of the show. It’s usually just open for lunch and special events. To make sure you get to the show on time, the restaurant will have a buffet for $19.95.
Umi Sushi is serving up a “Wicked roll” — as in sushi. The roll’s contents are a surprise (though that may be just because they haven’t figured out what they want to put in it yet). Umi is the new place at 2321 Kern Street across from the Fresno Convention Center.
Joe’s Steakhouse is expanding its regular hours to be open for lunch during the run of the show. Reservations aren’t necessary, but they’ll take them.
There’s some cool new places in Fresno gearing up to open that I’m dying to tell you about. It’s a little too early to do a full newspaper column on some of them, but Beehive readers like to be in the know, so here’s a preview.
Richie’s Pizza & Hot Dogs. This Tower District restaurant should be opening any day now. It will sell pizza by the slice and whole pies, along with gourmet hot dogs. It’s in the space that used to be Scoop’s ice cream.
Chili’s is building a new restaurant in the former Baker’s Square spot at 3585 W. Shaw Ave. near Marty Avenue. Chili’s isn’t talking, so don’t we don’t when the restaurant will be up and running, but the building permit confirms that it is a Chili’s being built.
Mardi Gras is coming and that means it’s time for gumbo. The 7th annual Gumbo Throwdown is from 10 a.m. to noon Saturday at the Vineyard Farmers Market at Blackstone and Shaw avenues. For $10, you get to try gumbo from five local restaurants and vote on which one you think is the best. There’s some pretty talented chefs on the list this year. Check it out: