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The Great Food Search: Chain Diners

IN THE May 25 ISSUE

FROM THE 2013 Articles,
andFood Fun,
andReedley News,
andTerrance V. Mc Arthur,
andThe Great Food Search
SECTIONS

by Terrance Mc Arthur

Our roving food critic Terrance Mc Arthur continues his search for great food in Sanger and the surrounding communities.

Where do you eat when you don’t want to cook? Where do you go when you want good, old-fashioned food that isn’t in a paper bag? There are the family-style diners, where you can get bacon and eggs or a steak dinner, open up to 24 hours a day. This Food Quest explores a sampling of these restaurants. The goal was to choose simple, basic food that would show the strengths and weaknesses of each chain.

We went to Denny’s, Brooks Ranch, Perko’s, and IHOP (International House of Pancakes). There are other places we could have gone (I’m rather fond of the Black Bear Diner), but time and money were factors, here (I didn’t make it to Carrow’s; also, Kings River Life had previously reviewed the Blossom Trail Diner near Sanger, which had been considered as another place to go). At each one, we ordered a breakfast platter of two eggs (over easy), hash brown potatoes, link sausages and toast (boring, perhaps, but we weren’t looking for something out of Iron Chef America), and a chicken-fried steak entrée.

DENNY’S (536 Academy Ave., Sanger):
Started by Harold Butler in 1953 as Danny’s Donuts, Denny’s has more than 1,700 worldwide branches. Using the Build Your Own Grand Slam option, I received two over-easy eggs, hash browns, two sausage links, and two slices of whole wheat toast for $6.49. The Country Fried Steak was offered with “rich country gravy” and two sides (in this case, grilled Red-Skinned Potatoes and Sautéed Spinach [no longer on the menu, but our server offered it as an option]) and Dinner Toast for $11.59. Because I am now older than I ever planned to be, I received a 20% AARP discount.

The Country Fried Steak from Denny's in Sanger.

The eggs broke open nicely with a soft yolk and the hash browns were deemed soft, dreamy and yummy. The meaty-tasting sausage was tangy, but not too spicy. The country-fried steak was not soggy, but it could stand up to lotsa gravy, and there was lotsa gravy. The beefsteak’s edges were a little crunchier/crispier than necessary, but the potatoes were seasoned to perfection, and the Dinner Bread had a rich garlic taste. The spinach was buttery and colorful; Popeye would have loved it!

BROOKS RANCH (1620 E Manning Ave., Reedley):
In the past, I’d had some disappointing experiences at Brooks Ranch, so I came in with low expectations. I was surprised and pleased. The Country Mornin’ Breakfast for $8.45 included two eggs, potatoes, four strips of bacon or four sausage links, and a choice of pancakes, biscuits, or toast. The Chicken Fried Steak for $10.45 came with soup or salad, a potato choice, hot vegetable and Ranch Toast.

This hearty barley soup is from Brooks Ranch in Reedley.

The Beef Barley Soup oozes down your throat with onion and carrot flavor sunk into it, a comfort food that truly comforts. The gravy with chunks of sausage has a subtly peppery taste over a crunchy coating which conceals soft, delicate meat. Friendly corn (the server had said the vegetable would be green beans) sits next to a very soft baked potato, and the thick oval of toast is good for mopping up the gravy. It was a carbohydrate festival, which is why a green vegetable would have been nice. The eggs were good, the sausage peppery and the hash browns were soft and buttery, with a yellowish glow. Could they have been made with Yukon Gold potatoes? There were four types of jelly to slather on the rye bread: Yum!

PERKO’S (625 S Clovis Ave, Fresno):
Perko’s has changed to a newspaper-style menu that is hard for some people to follow, but Black Bear Diner fans will enjoy it. The secondary dining area has televisions showing sports, and a set mounted toward the main area has rotating views of the parking areas, so you can watch your car while you eat. There is an ice cream counter by the checkout where you can get a cone for the road. The restaurant seems geared more to the senior trade. The food was all right, but I would happily like to mention that the breakfast had four sausages, not just two (Carnivore alert!).

IHOP (1100 Shaw Ave., Clovis):
Enough jokes have been made about the International-ness of the House of Pancakes for me to not bother with them. The Quick Two Egg Breakfast for $9.29 offered two eggs (oddly enough), hash browns, two bacon or sausage, and toast. The Country Fried Steak was eight ounces of beefsteak “smothered in gravy,” mashed potatoes and Steamed Broccoli for $10.99. We added a salad for $1.99.

A basic (yet hearty) breakfast from the Clovis IHOP.

The hash browns were crispy on the outside, with a soft interior. The eggs were good and soft and the sausages were lightly spicy. The salad featured HUGE tomatoes and airy croutons that were easy to stab, although the near-opaque Italian dressing should be applied in small amounts (strong stuff!). The coating of the spreading-all-the-way-across-the-platter steak had a hearty crunch, but was not overcooked and the tender meat still had life to it. The gravy outshines the potatoes, even though it can be hard to tell where one ends and the other begins.

AND NOW:
What can I tell you? These are not places for special-occasion cuisine. They serve food in a timely manner at a reasonable price. I was pleased by the Denny’s staff offering an off-menu option, the size of the meat at IHOP, being able to get rye bread at Brooks Ranch, and Perko’s Parking-Lot Cam for the Paranoid. The place that would bring me back for the test dishes is…Brooks Ranch, although I admit to sneaking into IHoP for Chicken Florentine (or Garden Stuffed) Crepes. Happy eating!

What’s up next? Donut shops! Which ones would you recommend?

Check out more food articles and more of Terrance’s Great Food Search column in our Food Fun section.

Terrance V. Mc Arthur is a California-born, Valley-raised librarian/entertainer/writer. He lives in Sanger, four blocks from the library, with his wife, his daughter, and a spinster cat.

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