Posts Tagged ‘Oakland’

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…

 

Rico’s Diner

My friend Pete invited me to check this place out back in October, but we couldn’t make it work until now. His claim was that Rico’s is better than my favorite burger place (which he quite enjoys, too) – Val’s. Why haven’t I written about Val’s yet? I couldn’t tell you. But this entry is about Rico’s Diner.

Rico’s is located in Downtown Oakland, fairly close to Lake Merritt. It’s a little diner amongst a bunch of tall buildings. Kinda cool actually.

I let the expert tell me what to do. In this case, it ended up being a cheeseburger, fries, and a peanut butter milkshake. Burger and fries is $8, milkshake is $4.25. $8 is a price I can deal with. But spoiler alert, the peanut butter milkshake is one of the absolute best tasting concoctions I’ve ever had.

Being the cheapo that I am, I was concerned when a milkshake was served to me with no refill tin for over four bucks. Internally I was thinking, this better be good. But I knew Pete wouldn’t let me down. And, I had a sip. It was a creamy fresh rich peanut buttery feeling in my mouth that I never wanted to end. Perfect texture, too – no spoon required, yet it felt nice and thick. Yeah, yeah, that’s what she said, I get it.

So naturally, you finish the shake pretty quickly. But it’s rich enough where you realize that the portion size is right. The key, as Pete says, is not to drink it too fast, and save some for when your burger comes. Which I kinda succeeded at.

So, now for the actual meal.

While it’s clear the the shake stole the show, I still enjoyed a very good lunch. My first note, unfortunately, was that the burger was well past the medium I had requested. It still had a lot of good taste, but was lacking a the juiciness factor that makes the best burgers the best. If it was at medium, I don’t think it would have had this issue.

Now, the burger was served on a good bun, and Pete confirmed afterwards that it was in fact an Acme bun. Auto bonus points for nice buns, am I right?

I have to make this review based on the burger I was served, but I bet next time if it’s cooked correctly, I’ll be singing a more positive tune.

To finish off the meal, the fries were good, but probably the least memorable part f the meal (pardon me while I daydream about the milkshake some more). May get garlic fries next time.

I think Rico’s has an additional vegan menu or something, but in case you missed the memo, this blog does not cater to herbivores. Though I’m sure my good friend Jesse would be thrilled to learn that there is a vegan pulled pork sandwich made with seitan. And when I say thrilled, I mean he’d be frightened.

I definitely want to come here again, and suspect I’ll meet Pete for lunch again not too far in the future. Will ask for the burger to be rarer next time, and I bet I’ll walk away even more satisfied.

All in all it’s a cool joint, and I recommend it to anybody who is searching for that perfect unpretentious milkshake. Seriously. It was so good.

The Last Bite: 

Burger Rating: B (will be moved up if cooked right next time – stay tuned)

Overall Experience (sides, service, cleanliness, price, etc.): A-

Keep on nomming!