If Heaven was made of Chocolate –Old Town Temecula’s Sweet Shop
by Terri Lyn Jones
One day I picked up my youngest daughter from her new charter school at noon. I told her we’d have lunch at a restaurant in Old Town Temecula because I need to write about it for The Paper. She told her friends, “We’re going out to lunch because my mommy’s a writer.”
We walked up and down the sidewalks as I pointed out the restaurants I already reviewed. Since this was the only time I had company for a review, I let her choose the site. She twisted my arm and said, “Let’s have ice cream for lunch!” I kicked and screamed for a while but I gave in.
We opened the door to a plethora of sweet treats, lollipops and bulk candy displayed like an old time general store. One shelf held only British items (including sponge pudding called Spotted Dick) next to the fudge counter. If heaven was made of chocolate, this fudge would make up God’s throne.
We decided we’d wait for the fudge after the ice cream. The Sweet Shop serves Cascade Glacier. My daughter goes for any flavor that has the most Day-Glo colors, so she chose Cotton Candy. I have a soft spot (and I sit on it) for Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups so I chose chocolate mixed with peanut butter. Each cone was only 3 dollars each – less than your everyday cup of corporate coffee.
After we sat down, another mom and daughter ordered the same flavors we did. We surveyed the window which displayed old metal lunch boxes like Wizard of Oz and the Beatles Yellow Submarine. Vintage signs cover the wall advertising Frozen Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups (genius!) and a row of pine trees with one fallen that reads, “Who cut one?”
Once we ate our frozen paradise, we sampled different fudge made with mint, toffee, caramel and Snicker bars. I bought 6 squares for about 14 dollars to ship to a friend. Though the fudge is perishable, the lady serving us said she mailed the fudge to Alaska and it kept. My friend was grateful. When she got it, she couldn’t stop eating it though it was only 8 a.m.
The Sweet Shop employees are the nicest, patient people which makes me visit the Shop almost every time I’m in Old Town. After a little arm-twisting, of course.
Published in The Paper, October 22, 2010
You’ll Love Saying CHIMI-CHANGA too: Rosa’s Cantina in Old Town Temecula
By Terri Lyn Jones
At noon last Sunday I ordered a “Chimi-Guel (Chimichanga)” for $7.07 from the counter of Rosa’s Cantina. I chose it over items like tacos, burritos and tostadas because I like saying it: CHIMI-CHANGA. It’s like that Seinfeld episode where they all love saying SALSA.
The cantina is located on the corners of Front and Main in Temecula. These streets sound like something out of a grade school storybook where the town is so safe the kids can walk by themselves to the candy store after school. Those days are long gone but quick service is not, especially at Rosa’s Cantina.
Behind the counter it was so hot you could fry an egg on the air alone. Many bodies sped by each other in a small space grilling, frying and taking orders. I don’t know how they survived the heat and got the food out so rapidly. I commend them highly for that.
At the salsa bar I got the Salsa Fresca because the diced tomatoes, onions and cilantro looked fresh and cool. I also got the mild salsa because I was too timid to try the hot salsa or the green tomatillo. Perhaps if I was pregnant and overdue, I’d go for the hot stuff.
This CHIMI-CHANGA is not for the faint of heart. It’s a fried burrito with two dollops of sour cream, cheddar cheese and guacamole. This is a dish for the weekend where afterwards you go home and unbutton your pants in front of the boob tube. It’s not a lunch where you go back to work for four hours.
Steam rose from it as I cut a small piece. Steam continued rising when I was done. I couldn’t finish it, I would have been there ‘til Tuesday. The sour cream and guacamole did a nice job cooling it down, like an ice pack on your forehead on a 100 degree day.
It looked so good that a lady next to me, who came for the breakfast buffet, asked, “What are you having?” I thought, yay! Another opportunity to say CHIMI-CHANGA! I yelled back, “CHIMI-CHANGA!” She skipped the buffet and ordered one. She loved the shredded beef.
The beef reminded me of Sunday dinners when Mom cooked pot roast. I got wistful for home as I looked out my corner booth at Front and Main and the crowd forming. I looked down and noticed the accessories that decorated my CHIMI-CHANGA matched the colors of the Mexican flag: red salsa, white sour cream and green guacamole.
If you want international cuisine, you don’t have to go further than Old Town Temecula. Mexican influences exist just at this corner alone. As the Bank of Mexican Food and Rosa’s Cantina stand across from each other, I see a corner possibly replicated in Mexico City or Barcelona, Spain.
The crowd got bigger as I got ready to go. A nice lady asked if I was ready to leave. I said yes but she said, “No rush, my party is ordering food. There’s not a table left in the place.” She sat across from me and said a relative was in the musical Fiddler on the Roof at the community theater and they came here to eat. As I walked out, a line formed from the restaurant to almost Front Street, each person bearing the heat and wait to eat the Mexican food voted Best in Temecula.
Published in The Paper, September 16, 2010.
Since the days of Great Gatsby: Swing Inn Café in Old Town Temecula
By Terri Lyn Jones
On a recommendation from a reader, I visited the very busy Swing Inn Café on a Sunday morning in Old Town Temecula. I got the last single seat left at the breakfast counter. This diner has served hungry eaters since “The Jazz Age” in 1927. Aside from the prices, it seems nothing else has changed.
Like many other restaurants in this district, you feel as if you’ve been invited into someone’s home. Swing Inn is not terribly big in area. They serve people quickly, something unheard of on busy days in chain restaurants.
You can also get to know your neighbors at the counter if you’re the talkative sort. Customers sit close together for good opportunities to strike up conversations. But there are plenty of tables and booths if you’re not the counter type.
Their menu has a copy of a menu from 1870 on the back. Items like Porterhouse steak sold for 20 cents for breakfast and supper. Remember when people ate steak for breakfast? Back then, supper was dinner and dinner was lunch, where you could order salt codfish for 10 cents and apple pie for 5 cents. To say “those were the days” is an understatement price-wise. Also included on their menu, Harold (Andy) Anderson writes a few facts called Historic Temecula, Part of the Old West. I discovered the word Temecula means “The Valley of Joy.” Anderson also states “one of the original cowboy towns of the Old West. There were many shootings, killings and bank robberies.” COOL! I didn’t know walking around Old Town Temecula was like starring in a Clint Eastwood movie.
But I digress. To keep the cost of my meal reasonable, I ordered ice water and an item called “Chili Size” with beans, cheese, onions and garlic bun for $5.99. A diner isn’t a diner unless it can make stellar chili. I barely noticed time pass when they served me. It’s a perfectlysized portion for a light lunch (or should I say dinner?) The bread was soft and chewy, just the way I like it. The chili came with a jalapeno pepper and burger patty underneath. The ratio of beans to beef was just right. Yes, they definitely passed the chili test. With tax and tip my total was $7.81.
Though the Giant Cinnamon Rolls for $4.99 tempted me, I walked next door to the Rancho Fruit Market for a fresh dark chocolate dipped strawberry (picked daily) for $1.50 and enjoyed it on a bench outside. I watched all the day-trippin’ motorcycle riders fly by, a little envious of where they were going in the fresh air. Chances were they just ate at Swing Inn Café.
Published in The Paper, August 26, 2010
The Best of Europe without the Attitude: Old Town’s Cafe Daniel
By Terri Lyn Jones
Café Daniel is a corner place in Old Town Temecula along a raised boardwalk shared with other businesses. The exterior looks like something out of Little House on the Prairie with its creaky wooden floors. Inside is a cozy busy café with Italian gelato, wrapped-up muffins and cookies for sale, and busy workers preparing the sweet and savory thin pancakes.
According to their brochure, Café Daniel makes everything fresh daily and only uses organic ingredients. Their menu consists of Italian-style Paninis, sandwiches, soups and salad in addition to crepes and coffee. I visited the café three different times to sample their best items.
My first time, I ordered the cold wrap lunch special for $8.95: Turkey Crepe with a free lemonade. It fulfilled its promise as nutritious and delicious. The fresh vegetables were stacked so high I’m sure I got my five full servings for the day. However, there was only one slice of turkey which didn’t balance out the greens. The Italian dressing added a nice flavor to it all. It was good and good for me. The service on Saturday was quick at lunch time which I appreciated.
My second visit, I could care less about my diet and ordered the Peach Melba for $8.95. This heavenly creation was made with fresh peaches and raspberry sauce wrapped up in a crepe with a scoop of vanilla gelato on the side. I enjoyed my treat on a quiet weekday afternoon. If you’re in the mood for an ice cream lunch (and frankly, who isn’t?), try the fruit crepes. At least you’re getting your Vitamin C.
My meal with latte including tip equaled $13.20. Fresh organic ingredients might make the meals a little costly, but it’s a lot cheaper than flying to Europe when world-class crepes are served right here.
Published in The Paper, August 19, 2010
Lunch Savings at Temecula’s Bank of Mexican Food
By its name and appearance, you know this building did not start out serving authentic Mexican food. According to their website, the building opened in 1914 as the First National Bank of Temecula. It was also the site of the first bank robbery in Riverside County in 1930. It became a restaurant in 1978.
The history and old photographs decorating the walls intrigued me enough to try the cuisine.On my quest to find inexpensivesive authentic meals in Temecula, I struck gold at this quaint restaurant on the corner of Main and Front streets. I wandered into the Bank of Mexican Food on a Monday to check out their lunch specials.
I sat down and not even a minute later, my server placed warm tortilla chips and salsa in front of me. I ordered ice water, served quickly with a lemon slice. This may not seem like a big deal, but when I’m saving money by not ordering tea or soda, I like subtle touches like lemons in my water.
I ordered the #8 special: Mini Bean Burrito and Taco with ground beef with beans and rice. If you like cheese (and as a former Wisconsinite, I do), you’ll love this dish. Shredded cheese is tucked nicely into the taco with shredded lettuce and diced tomatoes. Melted cheese decorates the burrito and beans.
The taco shell was beautifully misshapen as only a fresh taco shell can be; no straight edges like Taco Bell. After a few bites, it is perfect size for dipping into beans or salsa. This is what I call “mashability.” Can all foods blend together and still taste wonderful? Of course. Not every type of food is like this. But this Mexican food has a perfect mashability factor.
I was not there long. In fact, I ordered my food at noon and I was done, paid up, and in my car by 12:30. This is why The Bank makes a great place for weekday lunches. You can conduct indoor lunch meetings without competing with loud music. If you’re not there on business, enjoy the patio bar outside.
Total cost: $8.65. The Bank is no strain on the wallet.
You Had Me at Merlot – Sunday Afternoon at Cowboy Bistro in Temecula
This is the first in a series of restaurant reviews in Temecula where Erle Stanley Gardner penned his Perry Mason mysteries on his ranch many years ago. And it’s the town where Ronald Reagan praised its volunteer spirit. Soon it will be known for inexpensive authentic one-of-a-kind meals, particularly in the Old Town district.Last Sunday, I visited Cowboy Bistro at 28500 Old Town Front Street across from bike rider hangout Mad Madeline’s Grill. On this 100 degree plus day, two large fans cooled patrons off. There was no A/C and I didn’t miss it because the fans kept everyone comfortable.
It’s a cozy little corner with a wine bar selling Long Shadow Ranch wine (I guess cowboys don’t drink just whiskey). Its low ceiling reminded me of the basements of my Midwestern upbringing, so it was like visiting a friend.
In one corner, a gorgeous painting of Johnny Cash graced the wall with band equipment. Guitars and cowboy hats decorated the other walls. A gift shop called Cowgirl Palace sold cowprint bags and quirky signs like, “You had me at Merlot.”
The wine bar was quiet and relaxing, unlike the crowded wineries on Rancho California road. There was no shouting to carry on conversations since they played music at a respectable volume. That day they showed a DVD of Bob Marley and the Wailers, always good background music in my book.
When it came to order, my goal was to keep my bill under ten dollars. I ordered ice water and chose the Bounty Hunter with salad for $6.95. One cook prepared all the meals and he delivered them all to the patrons. My salad was made of spinach, feta cheese, almonds, cranberries and a creamy raspberry vinaigrette dressing. The Bounty Hunter was four slices of flatbread with organic tomatoes, melted mozzarella cheese and fresh basil. Even though I’m not a vegetarian, I was delighted.
According to my server, Cowboy Bistro is barely a year old. If they keep up the great atmosphere and service, they will enjoy great success in years to come.