Posts Tagged ‘East Bay’

Fenton's

Fenton’s Creamery

Some places rely on their reputation.

I’ll be honest upfront. Fenton’s is a fun, family friendly establishment that will make even the most well-behaved children giddy. I went there as a kid a few times – the food was good, the ice cream even better, and I certainly didn’t care how much it cost! So if you want a fun family evening out (translated: your kids will be happy), Fenton’s will fit the bill perfectly. But after going here as an adult, with other adults, I’m not in any rush to go back.

The biggest issue is that the food isn’t very good. But the quality of dishes served here will never increase because the restaurant is packed every night – and people are eating full meals, not just ice cream. There’s no reason to change what doesn’t seem broken. But how did Fenton’s get this way?

1) From all reports I’ve heard (+ my 11 year old memories), the ice cream is very good.

Well, this fact is a relief, since it is Fenton’s Creamery. And it is definitely a positive selling point for the restaurant.* And the Yelp reviews agree that the ice cream is what brings them back, so I’m relieved I’m not the only foodie in this boat.

2) They’ve been serving safe American food since dinosaurs walked the Earth  (OK, I lied, only since the turn of the 20th century).

No offense intended to my dad, who grew up five minutes from Piedmont Avenue in the 50s and 60s, but with how evolved [American] cuisine was in the mid-1900s, it wouldn’t surprise me if generic diner food was “cool”. But although American cuisine has come leaps and bounds in recent years, the vast majority of the population still seems to have very tame, basic food desires, and would prefer to go to a place that serves up safe American sandwiches and salads. I guess I was that way until I was 15 or so.

3) Fenton’s gained an additional boost after showing up in the 2009 Pixar film Up!

Well, if kids and families are essential to the success of a business, this cameo would certainly help. And I think it has.

I actually watched Up! as part of an undergraduate paper examining the influence of Miyazaki/Studio Ghibli on Pixar films, but I don’t think I watched the end credits, where Fenton’s shows up! Anyway, I have to admit, it does look inviting.

Fenton's Pixar

OK, well I think I’ve surpassed my hipster quota of making fun of the average American palate for this week. Let’s get onto the meat of the matter, shall we?

We never even determined why I decided to revisit this American tradition. I actually ended up at Fenton’s for the first time since 2001 or so with some friends after an evening of drinking at Kona Club up the street. Wasn’t feeling classy enough for Adesso (nor did I need another drink), so Fenton’s seemed like a safe (there’s that word again) choice. The benefit of showing up at midnight is that the families are all gone, so there’s no wait for a table.

I should have just ordered ice cream, loved it in the moment, and regretted it the next morning, but the nerd in me was really curious about how the burger would be. Fortunately my bff (best foodie friend) Emily wanted to share a burger! Perfect. Surprisingly, nobody got ice cream at our table, so I neglected to take any pictures of desserts…sorry for the abundance of text, and lack of pictures!

We opted for the California burger – avocado and jack cheese – a surefire combination. Annoyingly, they won’t serve anything below medium, which sent off red flags about how “medium” they’d even serve burgers. I can see, and understand, the thought process suggesting that because the heart of their business is kids, perhaps it’d be a good idea to keep mid-rare meat off the table, but I still feel bad for the patty – especially when they’re advertising grass-fed beef (Durham Ranch). The burger was in the vicinity of $10.50 + $2.00 (!) for a side of fries with the burger – I didn’t really think to remember the exact price at the time, but I expected something good for that price.

One friend shared his jalapeno poppers with the table. I was not a big fan of the breading – too heavy.

When our main courses arrived, the burger looked exactly like what I’d remembered from a decade prior. My first thought was that the toasted sesame seed bun looked extremely inviting.

To be honest, I didn’t expect the burger to be cooked correctly, and sure enough, it was approaching well done. Why even bother offering pink at all if you won’t serve my burger how I ask for it? Overcooking the soul out of a burger should be a crime – the burger loses its identity (and especially when you’re advertising good-quality, grass fed beef!) And to be honest, I’m glad I only had half a serving – it was boring, bland, dry, overcooked, and extremely forgettable. But hey, what unsuspecting kid is gonna know the difference, right?

The bun was actually quite nice, and the smeared bits of fresh avocado on the toasty bun are what I most remember about the meal.

And then there were the fries. Oh the poor fries. They were lukewarm at best. The portioning of the fries was also laughable, too. Of the four dishes served, there were four extremely distinct portion sizes of fries – one girl had 50% more fries than we did! Off putting, but not nearly as much as the fact that they were bordering on cold. But Emily didn’t mind, and they did have some radiating residual heat, so I made no fuss.

I thought the service was quite good – our food was served quickly and my water glass was always kept filled. Our waitress never seemed like she was fading, despite being after midnight – props to her, and she was tipped accordingly.

Yeah, I should’ve just gotten ice cream, but curiosity got the best of me. The food here is extremely average, and I don’t see any signs that it will change, even if it does last another 114 years. It represents much of what I see wrong with the role food plays in the diet of American kids, and it annoys me that they can charge such high prices to people who just don’t know any better. But last I checked, that’s a part of capitalism, so I’ll take out my dentures now and go back to my rocking chair for nap time. Oh and get your darn basketball off my newly mowed lawn you spoiled brats!

As far as future plans go, I’ll come try the ice cream sometime: it has to be really good, right?

The Last Bite:

Burger Rating: C

Overall Experience (sides, service, cleanliness, price, etc.): C+

If you’re a kid, you can probably change the ratings to A-/A. Seriously, it’s a great place for kids.

Keep on nomming!

*Post Script: I actually came back to Fenton’s so that I could try the ice cream. That’s ultimately what they are known for, right? I left empty handed: $4.45 for a “petite scoop” of ice cream (I saw the size of a petite cup). You’ve got to be kidding me. I just walked out and bought a tub of low fat cookies ‘n cream ice cream at Safeway for $2.50.

I could get sorbet at Scream for $3, Ice Cream at Ici for $3.75, CREAM for whatever they sell for now ($2.50?), Tara’s for $3.25. I’m sure the ice cream is good (my friend of this review’s burger-sharing fame had a sundae there last week – she thought it was great until she found hair in it) – I just have no desire to be gouged just because the name is famous. So I’ll save my sampling of their ice cream for when I’m yet again buzzed on chichis at Kona up the street. Spending money is much easier when I’m extra happy, and I’d love to have a good opinion of their desserts. Also, the sundaes appear to be huge, so maybe I’ll opt for sharing one of those with a few people…

 

Evie's

Evie’s Hamburgers

This entry is being posted a bit on the late side, trying to get the archives unloaded here!

The Northgate area of Walnut Creek isn’t usually a destination for people who live outside the area. The only reason I ended up at Evie’s was that my dad and I were early for a home inspection, and I’d noticed this place online before.

Evie’s screams rural roadside drive-in. Put this place in any small town in Texas or the midwest, and it’d be the go-to hangout. Not that Northgate is by any means the “old” Walnut Creek, but given the never-ending makeover of downtown, the east side of town has begun to feel…older. In a sense, Evie’s fits better here. (Note that Evie’s itself is a restaurant in a generic plaza, there’s no drive in or anything – it’s just the emotion that was evoked once I was inside).

So I’ll have to invite you to picture what the inside of Evie’s looks like, as I didn’t want to be too foodie crazy during a work lunch. But suffice to say it’s a fairly typical diner, with big old menus behind the order-at-the front cash register. The first thing you really notice is the price. On a budget? Hamburger and fries is $4.60. Feeling splurgy? A large order of fries and double cheeseburger will run you…$6.80. In this particular case, I opted for a double hamburger with a small side of fries, for $5.60.

When I visited Evie’s the burger meat was listed as “Kobe beef patties”. You can find my analysis of the “Kobe beef burger” scam here. I’m happy to see that since I ate here, the menu now lists the meat as “our special blend of select beef.” I don’t know what that means, but you’re not getting overcharged here, so I don’t really care (as long as the burger tastes good!)

Food came pretty quickly, about as I expected for a half-full burger place around 1 PM on a weekday.

My first impressions of my meal were what evoked the images of the roadside joint – simple food served in the red-striped boats. Thin broiled patties with sesame seed buns and thick golden fries. Brought back memories of a roadside place near my home in Connecticut in the 90s.

So with all this nostalgia, how good was the actual burger?

My double hamburger had its ups and downs. In hindsight I wish I’d ordered a double cheeseburger, due to the cooking of the patties.

Often, people will press the spatula down on the burger patty while it’s on the grill to cook it faster. The problem with this practice, especially with thin patties, is that all the good stuff is getting pushed out of the burger, and you’re left with a dry, overcooked flimsy thing. Unfortunately, that’s a NEGATIVE memory I associate with roadside drive-ins, so my nostalgia was augmented in this regard. The patties were definitely thin. They had that nice charbroiled taste on the outside, but the inside was pretty clearly overcooked, and quite dry. I can’t help but think a spatula was pushing them up against the grill for too long.

As a result, the burger was quite bland – the nice char on the outside just couldn’t compensate for the grey interior. Unfortunate, really. Some cheese would definitely have mitigated the dryness and blandness, but ultimately I’d just prefer a properly cooked burger. If the patties were cooked properly, with some cheddar cheese melted over them, I could see a huge improvement in my opinion, since I’m a sucker for a bargain, and the prices here are second to nothing but In-n-Out.

Sizewise, I have a big appetite, so the second patty is a must in my book, as a Big One isn’t really very big. A Double Big One, however, is a good size, and I recommend the double side of cheese added to it. You can see for yourself in the above picture that the portions aren’t very big; that said, they’re more than fair for the price.

Not too much to say about the fries. They’re pretty standard thick cut fries. If I had my guess, I’d say they’re frozen, but you can escape with that if they’re fried well. They were fried well, but were quite lacking in salt. Yeah, big deal, so I salted them on my own at the table, but shakin’ them up in a silver bowl with some salt really would’ve elevated all that soft potato inside the fried outside, since they pretty clearly understand how to fry potatoes to perfection!

There’s not much in the way of service, since you order at the counter, and the only real interaction after that is the serving of your food in those iconic red striped boats, but I get the feeling that Evie’s is a family affair, and the staff seemed to enjoy what they were doing.

It was a quick lunch, but I like what Evie’s represents, and I think there’s some potential here. It seems like they have a pretty loyal following, and for people who do live out in the back of Walnut Creek, this is one of a couple good restaurants nearby. I don’t think I’d come back again unless I’m in the area, but if you’re feeling nostalgic for simpler times, I’d definitely recommend Evie’s to you.

The Last Bite:

Burger Rating: C+

Overall Experience (sides, service, cleanliness, price, etc.): A (fantastic fries, memorable service+experience): B-

Keep on nomming!