Salinas’ Italian saviors, an amazing mom-and-pop, plus hot chili.
Thursday, September 17, 2009
Fear not. Italian restaurants can save Salinas. And not just with marinara and meatballs, but righteous rock.
This is good news for a restaurant scene that absorbs closure rumors regularly and has recently seen an anchor evacuate (RIP Hullaballoo, going the way of other super spots Zocalo and Penning Farthing) and an Oldtown pillar lose its point man (with the resignation of Steinbeck Center’s Steve Hoffman).
Exhibit A: Giovane’s (444 – 6717) is serving up more than a pudgy selection of pastas and tasty brick oven pizzas with homemade sauce – they’ve got a steaming pot of diverse reggae, rock and independent music every weekend. Friday, boisterous rockabilly bands The Cranks, The Booty Chesterfield Trio and the Pop Bottle Bombers blow up; on Saturday, Soy Disco brings a unique indie-Latino sound that has been scorching L.A. to San Juan Grade Road (see story, pg. 38). Local artists tell me that the good vibes, welcoming owners and just-enough stage make it an great place to play, and that’s paying off for local music fans and casual cannoli connoisseurs alike.
Casa Sorrento (757-2720) already had legendary lasagna, pizza pies that Salinas-based server Gary Vandendries – who works at the remarkable Marinus (658-3595) – calls the best in the county, and probably the coolest old-school bar surface in town. (Owner Mike Hackett got the 33-foot-long, turn-of-the-century wood majesty for a bargain price at a San Francisco auction.) Now their already industrious night life is getting livelier after bringing in longtime area booking vet Steve Vagnini (who also helps Sly’s) to schedule things like jazz every Wednesday, and Hippo Happy Hour starting this Thursday with a local classic rock band, drink specials, and the 104.3 FM team broadcasting live and doling out schwag. Friday and Saturday rotate regional rock acts, R&B and dance music like the Money Band, Nu Horizon and Johnny Clay Band. Every other Sunday, variety acts with Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra, Liza Minnelli impersonators show up. Next one is this Sunday, Sept. 20, with the Rat Pack. And Elvis is in the building Sept. 27 and Oct. 11.
Nearby, Hackett’s Old Town Bar & Grill (758-6600) fills a key need for Salinas too – I stopped in there recently for lunch during the Airshow and the people were nice, the draft beer cold, the food OK (go burgers over the piadines). Its happy hour is 2-7pm: $3 drafts, $4 well drinks and $10 pitchers. Thirsty Thursday is half price drinks and apps all night, and this season they’ve got the full NFL package broadcasting all the games Sunday. And Hackett’s stoked about upgrading the patio and the menus to include more Mexican, tapas and “gordo margaritas” for $7. Still more exciting: He’s says he’s negotiating with a Palo Alto family to acquire the long-dormant El Rey on the corner of San Luis and Main, hoping to convert it into “Salinas’ own little version of the Catalyst.” Whoa. I hope the hype is right.
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The old-school mom-and-pop corner store lives. And at Buena Vista and Shafter in the Pacific Grove neighborhood known as Del Monte Park (wedged between DLI, Pebble Beach and Forest Avenue), that’s a beautiful thing.
The shop is smaller than many Pebble bathrooms and hard to find unless you’re looking for it, but it’s where Charlie Daniels and his equally gregarious wife Shirley ran the joint from 1982-1992 and reacquired it this year.
The couple essentially runs the open-daily Daniels Corner Market (644-0456) themselves and lives in a modest house out back. Charlie, 78, flinches when it’s called a convenience store – “It’s a small grocery store!” he says – and they back it up: They have everything you need, nothing you don’t, from coffee to wine to baking soda to fresh Red’s Donuts to smokes to Lotto tickets to pasta sauces.
But the best part might be the fact that they make thick sandwiches to order – by hand – for less than five bucks. That’s a tasty anachronism itself.
The homemade machinations took a minute, but we made out with some screamin’ salami sandos and bomber BLATs. Satisfaction was unanimous.
“It’s so much fun to be back,” Charlie says. “It really is.”
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Tough to see everything Tony Tollner and team have gone through of late – losing longtime business partner Bill Cox, then founding Rio Grill friend-legend Selby Henderson, then Tarpy’s Roadhouse’s own Eric Sassman. It does help put the closure of Willy’s Smokehouse last week in perspective, and it’s good to hear TT genuinely re-energized to lift top spots Montrio (648-8880), Tarpy’s (647-1444) and Rio (625-5436) even higher… A block from Montrio, Terranova Fine Wines (333-1313) has plopped a pretty white-marble wine bar in its downtown shop across from the Marriott. Now, in addition to good deals on a worthy range of storied and “discovery” wines, visitors can taste selections of three local stars, Joullian, Manzoni and Mer Soleil (five wine flights of red or white run $12; a combo of six is $15)… Food & Wine Harvest Carmel coming up quick – Sept. 26-27. TomatoFest was an institution, but this has celebrity chefs, demos, kids activities, dozens more wineries and chefs and runs significantly less. 622-7770, www.harvestcarmel.com… 16th Annual Carmel Valley Chamber Chili Cook-off: Wednesday, Sept. 23, Holman Ranch, margaritas, wines, salad, desserts, dancing and buckets of chili – best professional chili (watch out – Bernardus and Cal can bring it), amateur attempt and peoples choice to be awarded among them ($27-$32, 659-4000). Spicy.