The Wagon Wheel dishes out big platefuls of great American food.
Thursday, February 3, 2005
Leather saddles, weathered cowboy boots, iron horseshoes, tin coffee pots, rodeo posters, metal lanterns, and deer and oxen trophies are among the many western-themed ornaments that decorate the snug interior of the Wagon Wheel Coffee Shop. Against that western backdrop, chefs whip up meals in the open kitchen.
Wagon Wheel’s former owner Harry Curry acquired the restaurant’s memorabilia from customers during the 27 years that he ran the restaurant. In October 2004, when Curry sold the Wagon Wheel to Taresa Blair, who had been his manager for nine years, he asked her not to change anything. Today Taresa and her husband and co-owner Matt graciously serve customers and greet the regulars by name with the Western décor intact.
Starting at 6:30am, Wagon Wheel serves its hearty breakfasts. On a recent visit with my husband Laurent, I ordered a country breakfast consisting of biscuits and gravy with fried potatoes ($6.50) and a five slices of bacon ($4). Laurent chose the two-egg version of the eggs Benedict ($7.75) that also came with fried potatoes.
My gravy had so much crumbled sweet sausage in it that I really did not need to order the bacon. The light biscuits soaked up the rich gravy, which almost resembled a French béchamel sauce.
Taresa told me later that their gravy has won a Blue Ribbon at the Washington State Fair. I agree with the Fair judges that this rendition of this classic dish has to be one of the most delicious I have ever eaten.
The potatoes came fried in their jackets. I liked mine dunked in the zesty California Pepper Plant sauce made with jalapeños and red peppers that was on every table along with jumbo-sized bottles of Tabasco sauce. My bacon was very meaty and cooked just to where it started to get crispy.
Laurent’s eggs Benedict looked elegant when it came out with the poached eggs sitting atop ham and English muffins with Hollandaise sauce covering everything. The Hollandaise—made with egg yolks, butter, and a squirt of lemon juice—makes or breaks eggs Benedict. Wagon Wheel’s version has a slight lemon tang that melds the flavor of the egg and ham nicely.
New York in the 1890s is generally credited as the birthplace of eggs Benedict, but the city’s Delmonico’s Restaurant and the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel each claim to have created the dish. Delmonico’s claims that Mrs. LeGrand Benedict, a wife of the elite, was suffering from a case of ennui with the restaurant’s usual fare and negotiated this new dish with her waiter. According to the Waldorf-Astoria, a stock broker named Lemuel Benedict created the dish to fight a hangover. Whatever the origin, eggs Benedict does seem to have a therapeutic effect, even if just for its presentation.
Another American food item associated with New York figured among our lunch choices on a different visit to Wagon Wheel: The lox, bagel and cream cheese plate ($9.75), which I chose. Laurent ordered the quesadilla ($8.50), and our daughter Florence ordered a cheeseburger with salad ($8.25).
The word lox comes from the Yiddish laks. I was pleased to see it presented as the elegant dish that it is. The thin slices of mildly smoked lox had sour capers and ultra-thin slices of Spanish onion on top of them. I put these on my toasted bagel along with tomato and cream cheese and loved each creamy bite and the interspersed bursts of sourness from the capers. If you do not load up on the sour cream, this makes for a light, tasty lunch.
Laurent’s quesadilla filled his entire plate, and came with sautéed tomatoes, onions, green peppers, mushrooms, avocado, and Monterey Jack cheese. These fresh ingredients coalesced into a warm, savory filling. Laurent made some of his morsels even richer by dunking them in whipped sour cream.
Florence asked for a medium-cooked burger that turned out to be very juicy and still well-cooked. The cheddar on the burger still had a tang to it and made the burger delicious. However, Florence said the salad she got as a side with tomatoes, cucumbers, and thin Spanish onion slices was so good that she would order a salad the next time we came to the restaurant. There will definitely be a next time for us at this spot for local habitués and diners willing to make short drive to the mouth of Carmel Valley.