Saturday, May 24, 2008

Acme Cafe

Killer Krab Kakes in Llano


This just in from the It's A Small World After All department. While doing market research, I came across this mention of the Fred books and discovered that one of the Fred gang owns The Acme Cafe in Llano, Texas, which is just 60 miles down the road from Casa Wunderfool. When I also learned that the Texas Proud Festival was in full swing, I packed The Woman into the car and drove into the sunset. (Note to self: Start earlier next time.)

We pulled into town around 6 pm, booked a room, and grabbed dinner at Llaneaux Seafood House. (Very good, but another story for another day. However, be it known that when it comes to quality eateries, the citizens of Llano have an embarrassment of riches.)

After a night of revelry, we busted out bright and early at 10 am the next morning and headed to the courthouse for the festival. A quick tour of the tents and a few purchases satisfied our need for commerce, so we stepped across the street to the Acme Cafe for a cuppa and Fredonian reunion.

Maurie Kay's father led the music at my father's church in Fred. However, since she was in kindergarten when I graduated high school, we didn't exactly hang out together.

But now that I've tasted the world famous Maurie Kay crab cakes, I plan to make up for lost time. These things are the best crab cakes I've had. To start off with, they're goodly sized things, about the size of a Skoal can and close to two inches tall. But the main point is they taste GREAT! And the sauce that comes with it is also very good. I didn't ask her what was in it, I just kept eating it. And you can try it too, even if you can't zip over to Llano. They're now available via mail order. Ha!

It's been over 30 years since I've crossed paths with the Battle fambly, not counting my father's funeral, when we didn't have time to visit, so the first order of business was catching up. We chatted over coffee and tea and then, when her folks showed up, we had lunch.

The Woman and I started off with the crab cakes, one each, which was a pretty good amount of food when you finish off the salad, which is included. We were going to split a Courthouse Special sandwich (mesquite smoked turkey, smoked ham, American & Swiss, onions, black olives, spicy mustard & mayo) but we ended up splitting one half of the sandwich and taking the other half home, where I had it for supper. Excellent sandwich, both times!

They make everything from scratch, including the dressings for the salads. Maurie had the tomato basil soup and it looked great. I think I'll try that next time. And there will be a next time, guarranteed.

After lunch we caravaned to the Battle estate for more conversation and general hilarity. It's not often you get to visit with somebody from Fred. Just think, when was the last time you got the chance? Hmm?

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Jardines de San Juan - Guest Review

Eat with the Chickens!


by Marlo Schalesky, author of Beyond the Night

No, this isn’t a call to eat more chicken. I really mean what it says - Eat with the chickens. And you won’t regret it . . . I promise.

You see, tucked between your drive from San Jose, CA to Monterey, is the quaint California mission town of San Juan Bautista. And a block from the old mission (the largest of the California missions, and still a working church), on Third Street (the main drag), is the beautiful Mexican Restaurant Jardines de San Juan (that’s pronounced “Har-deen-z day San Wan” and means Gardens of Saint John for the non-Spanish speakers among us). Here, chickens are not only on the menu but are among the guests.

But lest you think this restaurant is some sort of barnyard, nothing could be further from the truth. When they say “Gardens,” they mean it. While there is a small in-door eating area for rainy weather, what really makes Jardines spectacular is the outdoor patio dining. Dozens of large umbrellaed tables are scattered under a mesh-covered arbor. Flowers bloom all around. An extensive cactus garden sits behind (look, but don’t touch!), a gurgling fountain adds ambiance, and on weekends, two men playing their mandolins gently serenade the customers. (I suggest requesting the theme from Dr. Zhivago . . . heavenly!).

And of course, on good days, there’s the chickens. San Juan Bautista is famous for the chickens wandering the streets, adding a nostalgic ambiance to this quaint mission town. At Jardines de San Juan, you may see them pecking around at the bits of chips left under the tables, or the roosters cock-a-doodle-dooing from the next table. Toss them a bit of tortilla or a couple crumbles of the complimentary chips, and maybe you’ll get a closer view. (Just don’t toss out bits of your delicious chicken enchilada!)

In the back, you may catch the music or a crowd from a large wedding since the back of the garden dining area is often reserved for weddings. In fact, it was seeing a turn-of-the-century-dressed wedding party right here at the Jardines that inspired the story for my last novel, Veil of Fire. There I was, sitting with my family, nibbling chips and salsa, when the wedding party came by with their beautiful, old-fashioned gowns. As they passed, my mother-in-law began to tell me of the dresses that her great grandmother used to sew for the rich ladies in Minneapolis and St. Paul. From there, came the story of the great Hinckley fire and the rebuilding that this woman, my husband’s great-great-grandmother, was a part of. And finally, I heard the tale of the mystery figure in the hills, a person burned beyond recognition. A person never identified, living as a hermit until one day he just disappeared. At that moment, the first inklings of the story that would become Veil of Fire were born in my heart.

So, you see, the Jardines de San Juan has everything – chickens, music, flowers, ambiance . . . and it’s even got story ideas for your next novel. But what about the food? In a word – mouth-watering. Try one the combo plates – chili relleno, taco, or my favorite, the enchiladas (cheese, beef, or chicken). The plates are big enough to share, or order something ala carte if you’re not extra hungry.

But what can’t be missed is the beans and rice. At most Mexican restaurants, you maybe nibble those on the side. Here the refried beans especially are to die for (I sometimes just order a side order of beans and flour tortillas - mmmm, mmm, good!).

And here’s another tip – don’t order Manuel’s salad or the soup as your main meal. Of all the dishes, these are kinda pesky and not very interesting, though Jardines does make its own salad dressing, which is quite good. But still, compared to the other items on the menu – the chili colorado, the cheese enchiladas, the beef tamales, even the tacos or burritos, the plain salad and soup don’t measure up (except as side dishes).

So, if you’re traveling Highway 101 in California, make sure you plan your trip to hit lunch or dinner at the beautiful Jardines of San Juan in San Juan Bautista. Take a tour of the mission, walk the old town streets and stop in the antique shops, and make sure you check out those chickens at the Jardines. And order some refried beans for me!