Not everything is about subtlety. As moving and understated as the narrative gaze in a French film may be, once in a while you want a blockbuster. It's the same with food, and this month we threw on the 3-D glasses and indulged in the gastronomical equivalent of an action movie marathon.
Pie takes a backseat to cake, largely because of its limited decorative possibilities — fancy latticed crust can't compete with buttercream roses and fondant zoo animals. If pie is going to do battle with cake, it can't show up as an elegant little sliver (don't bring a tart to a pie fight). It's got to be some serious pie.
My money's on the triumvirate of cream pies at Toni's (1901 Heindon Road, Arcata). (Scoff if you will at the truck-stop vibe, but the Thai truck took home best cooked oyster at the fest last year.) The crusts and fillings are made from scratch — that means flaky layers you actually want to eat all the way to the edges ($3.99 slice). The pies are brimming with great heaps of milk chocolate filling (take a break from dark for just a minute, will you), coconut filling with big shreds of the stuff, and vanilla custard with slices of fresh banana. On top of each broad wedge are peaks of whipped cream — which beat gummy fondant any day.
The cream pies are especially good in pairs (coconut + chocolate; banana + chocolate; coconut + banana) or all together (because what if there is no afterlife and this is it?). This means you may have to form an unsteady alliance with your fellow diner(s) and order all three. Your level of intimacy will determine whether you dart around from plate to plate with your fork or divide the pieces and slide individual portions gingerly onto your own plate. Either way, keep your friends close and your pie closer.
A reader wrote in with a tip about the wet burrito at Tasty Tacos (3943 Walnut St, Eureka), saying the green sauce and the marinated chicken are amazing ($9). What the tipster didn't mention is the enormity of the thing, which the menu calls the biggest burrito in town. When it arrives, smothered in a perfectly tangy green tomatillo sauce, as promised, it makes the plastic fork in your hand look like a baby's. Passing it across the table is like dragging a body.
Inside the blanket of soft tortilla are the usual suspects: rice, beans, cheese, sour cream, lettuce, salsa and beans. But the juicy, shredded chicken is all my informant promised it would be, slow-cooked in a verde sauce — the recipe for which the cook will not even share with her husband and business partner.
Maybe you're planning to split it with a friend. Maybe you've just finished a triathlon. Maybe you're just wearing loose pants. But something has shifted in your mind to allow you to order a burrito that could conceal an army, should you ever need to breach the gates of Troy. But perhaps today is not that day.
Turn instead to the namesake Tasty Taco ($4). The large corn tortilla is freshly made — all soft and thick with ragged edges and grill marks — and flirts with being a Greek pita. Go with the green sauce and the chicken here, too, and enjoy the zing of the burrito while still being able to walk out of the shop unassisted.
We look at chocolate as a luxury, as a sinful indulgence. But back during the French and Indian War, it was part of a soldier's rations. Nutritious, medicinal and as necessary as a pouch of tobacco. And a good deal of the scheming, plotting and fomenting for the American Revolution happened over cups of drinking chocolate.
Over at Old Town Coffee and Chocolates (211 F St., Eureka), you can nurse a half mug of sipping chocolate like a revolutionary ($2.95 for a small). It's not hot cocoa, and no marshmallows are required. Instead, it's thick, warm, not overly sweet and all that you hoped the chocolate fountain at your cousin's wedding would be. It is deeply satisfying enough to be dessert, but socially acceptable as a coffee break order. You can even get it with a shot of espresso (50 cents extra) — "Look at me, nose to the grindstone, fueling up for more hard work!"
Do not feel ripped off when you see the small portion in your mug — you could go with a large ($3.50), but not everyone's chocolate tolerance is high enough to withstand a full mug without cocoa-drunk-dialing all of his or her exes. Those colonials knew to take it easy with the stuff. The Historic Williamsburg website quotes the 1770 Virginia Almanac's cautionary words "warning 'the fair sex to be in a particular manner careful how they meddle with romances, chocolate, novels, and the like,' especially in the spring, as those were all 'inflamers' and 'very dangerous.'" Hear that, ladies? Crack open a novel and drink up.
I only ever see the plumes of smoke shooting up from the behemoth of a barbecue stand at the Eureka Veterans Hall when I've already eaten. So when we drove by on the way to lunch, I hollered at my colleague to pull over, which she did, Transporter style. Bracing.
There are no sandwiches, no sides and no scales. What the Wild Oaks Grill does have is tri-tip, bacon, ribs, pork belly, brisket, yard bird (chicken) and pig ass (pulled pork). And sometimes, the notorious Chicken Bombs ($10). Those are chicken breasts stuffed with hot sausage, pepperoni or shrimp, along with cream cheese and jalapeno peppers, then wrapped in smoky bacon and barbecued.
The bacon alone is worth it — thick cuts of the meaty stuff on all sides — and it keeps the chicken underneath juicy. The red circle of sausage in each slice and the soft, pale green pepper are enough to give your face a little color, but the dollop of cream cheese cools things off a bit. The shrimp-stuffed bomb is a little more uptown — the cream cheese melts into the little bay shrimp like a sauce, and it's not as spicy as the sausage variety. Both are going in our Hurt Locker of deliciousness that almost killed us.
Proprietor Rob Dunn hauls his converted 1960s boat trailer/Santa Maria-style grill to Hoby's Market in Scotia on Tuesdays, the Veterans Hall in Eureka on Wednesdays, the 76 station at 2698 Central Avenue in McKinleyville on Thursdays and the Country Club Market in Eureka on Fridays. And judging from the pack tucked in the bib of his overalls, when he's not standing over a billowing stack of meat and a burning pile of split black oak, he's smoking a cigar.