Harris Ranch; Coalinga, California

San Francisco really isn’t a steak town. Having grown up in Chicago, which IS, the whole time I was living in SF I kept wondering where a girl had to go to get a decent one (seriously in SF you pay a lot for very little when it comes to steak). That place as it turned out, was — according to all my friends — Harris Ranch, an actual cattle ranch (and the largest one on American’s west coast) about halfway between SF and LA off of California Route 5, that is also a store, a hotel, and a gas station.

IMG_5540.jpgThe thing that first strikes you any time you drive past Harris Ranch is that it’s something of an oasis in the desert. IMG_5542

The owners really have built something very grand out here in the middle of not very much, and I often wondered what the cost of it was in terms of their water bill.IMG_0444This is particularly true during the summers when California is traditionally completely dry (seriously, for those who don’t know, it is HIGHLY abnormal for California to get any rain during the summer months), and this is especially true these last few years which have been a growing drought; the greenness of the place really shocks your eyes.

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That said, all along the way I kept seeing signs alongside the road saying things like, “is water wasted when it’s used to grow food?” And “This dust bowl courtesy of the federal government.” There’s apparently a political war going on between the conservationists, the farmers with regards to the water issue… but I don’t have the time or energy to delve into it here. (It’s important to remember that while the cities of California vote mostly democratic, the rural farm areas, such as where Harris Ranch is located tend to vote Republican.

IMG_5539That said, Harris Ranch clearly understand who their customer base is…. namely the rich customers who commute between SF and LA, some of whom are willing to put their money where their mouths are in terms of their concern for the environment by buying insanely expensive electric cars.IMG_0436

That said, there’s something new at Harris which wasn’t there last time I visited… a BBQ option at cheaper prices being sold out of the gas station part of the place.

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Plus a selection of their steaks to go again, from the gas station’s mini-mart. IMG_0445If however you go to the main building (a really gorgeous hacienda type building), you’ll find not only a much bigger gift shop, but a butcher shop section in the gift store that’s about twice as big as what’s in the gas station — with more cut options, sausages, etc.

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In this building there are also three different restaurants. The first is a bar, which offers up alcohol and slightly cheaper cuts of meat.

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The 2nd is a family style restaurant, which is walk in, but again with the slightly cheaper cuts of meat, and a wider menu (to appeal to families) with kids, etc., where you can buy things ‘ala carte

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And then the third option is their high-end restaurant, which normally requires reservations, has only their best cuts of meat, and the main comes with a selection of sides, a soup, etc. (NOT ala carte).

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THIS is where I opted to eat, because in addition to better cuts of meat, which I wasn’t going to eat, it had a wider sea food selection. I got a bowl of gazpacho

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For my drink I had their watermelon iced tea, and then for my main I ordered their scallops dish, which is intended to go ON TOP of the steak… and their vegetable platter.

The Soup was very good… and then I waited 45 minutes for my mains to show up. Finally (when my iPhone’s battery was starting to fail) I called over a waiter and asked “how many hours am I going to have to wait for my main dish?” The waitress who had taken my order over heard, ran over, apologized and then told me it was all her fault, she’d forgotten to put the order in. Her manager then came over said they’d have my food out in a jiffy, and that my bill was on them…. SO they screwed up big time, but as the food was free, I can’t complain too much…

That said, I was pretty unimpressed with everything I ate… So Harris, is great for the steaks but seems to have to get its act together otherwise.

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Apparently they also breed horses

map won’t load: It’s here:  https://goo.gl/maps/2toyjvjLsnE2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ole’s Big Game Steakhouse & Lounge: Paxton, Nebraska

Located just off of Interstate-80, Ole’s big Game Steakhouse and Lounge,  is a taxidermist’s heaven with over 200 big game trophies that has been Paxton, Nebraska institution since 1933, and one that almost gives Cabela’s a run for its money (in its attempt to be a monument to death).  It is the endeavor of a local guy, Rosser “Ole” Herstedt, and stands as both a restaurant and a showroom for 35 years worth of his hunting expeditions to every continent. Any spot on its walls not taken up by a dead animals is covered with photographs and mementos brought home from his world-wide safaris.  Ole is now retired, and the resturant is now under the ownership of some guy called Tim Holzfaster (according to their brochure); that said, the food is… meh.

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The moment you walk into the restaurant the first thing you see is the Polar bear, which is posed as though it just killed a seal pup. And every one of the pieces comes with a little plaque telling you where and when it was killed (and what it is).

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Along the right wall of the place (from where you enter) there’s a full bar, with a little gift shop selling branded itemsIMG_4045

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Note the Rocky Mountain Oysters: otherwise known as testicalsIMG_2412

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I ordered the chopped buffalo steak, a sweet potato and cowboy beans (which I was told are like baked beans but with barbecue sauce)….and a sarsaparilla

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Based on taste, chopped buffalo steak was mixed with beef, and had way more beef than bison…. and, on top of that it had the fat ground into it…  so it was really really fatty (under the steak was actually a POOL of the crap)… thus utterly defeating the health benefit let alone the flavor value of Buffalo, so I don’t suggest it.  The baked beans were tasty as was the roll… However, my server – who admittedly was towards the end of his first week of working there and as of yet hadn’t tasted most anything that was on the menu (which is kind of part of the job, but is on the heads of the ownership to make sure he was given the chance). When I tried to talk to them about that they clearly didn’t give a shit… so ‘customer service’ isn’t their priority.

All said and done, go for the circuses, but unless you’re getting food that really basic, and your expectations of that food aren’t very high… you might be disappointed if you eat there.

Abraham Lincoln’s home in Springfield, IL

The Abraham Lincoln Home (the only home he ever owned) is a national historic site in Springfield, IL, and a must see for anyone from the state (see below), or anyone interested in his life. It is actually a preserved district that allows you to see his neighborhood as he would have, and contains: a visitors center, his home, and collection of preserved neighbors’ homes that surrounded his (although only the interiors of a few of those homes are accessible, and those constitute more museum space, than presenting them as they were) ….  Entrance is free to the public … i.e., your tax dollars at work.

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To preface this, I was born and raised in Illinois, I am in my early 50’s and this is the FIRST time I have been to my state’s capital, Springfield, IL. SERIOUSLY! Everyone else in my school went on the Springfield class trip, but not me. I didn’t get to go on the Washington, D.C., school trip either. My parents always complained that the cost was too high and that they’d take me, but they never did. It’s kind of embarrassing.

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The first thing to know is IF you drive your car, be warned, the parking lot on the property will charge you $2 an hour (in leu of an entrance fee), and you have to tell them how many hours you want to stay there and then put the receipt on your car’s window or be ticketed. That said, IF you come on a weekend street parking is free (not weekdays), and I came on a Saturday, and had no trouble at all find a spot no more than a block away from the site. Also, are a handful of covered parking lots not more than a block or two away, and the one I found (1 block away) was only $1/hour, with a maximum charge of $5 for the whole day, but you must have exact cash (which I didn’t) and it didn’t take credit cards.

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After you park, you head into the visitor’s center (this is where you pay for your parking if you used their lot), and ask for your free ticket for a tour of the house. I asked them why there was no fee (Andrew Jackson’s home in Nashville for instance was NOT free… nor was the childhood home of Mrs. Lincoln in Lexington, KY). And they said, IN UNISON, a spiel about how “Robert Todd Lincoln donated the family home… under the condition that it would forever be well maintained and open to the public at no charge” (while putting together this blog I found it pretty much word for word on the Wikipedia site). The Tours start every few minutes and the tickets are just to keep the groups at manageable numbers.

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That said, I told the staff member how just a few days ago I was at the Hermitage, the home of Andrew Jackson, and how they managed the same feat simply by setting up some chairs, and only allowing in at one time as many people as could comfortably sit in those chairs… a practice that is much greener, i.e., would save a lot paper.

Inside the visitor’s center there is a massive map of the historic district, with displays around the edges where you can press button to light up various houses or routes, with explanations of what it is that’s lit up.

IMG_1668.JPGThere’s also a movie on the history of Lincoln, and about his relationship to the historic site and the Civil war ………..

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……….which offers an overly simplistic view of the man; it’s what I like to refer to as the middle school version of Lincoln, the one that says he was against slavery (full stop).

[Begin rant] The reality is a lot more complex. Lincoln really didn’t like slavery, he thought it was a bad institution, and he wanted to contain it (keep it from spreading to new states)… but he never said he wanted to end it (He thought that would happen naturally) … At least that was his stance until the realities of the fact that Union was essentially losing the war and house might in fact become divided drove him to it.

Lincoln’s House Divided Speech made before he became President was actually very specific, but few folks bother to really pay attention to it:

“A house divided against itself, cannot stand. I believe this government cannot endure, permanently, half slave and half free. I do not expect the Union to be dissolved — I do not expect the house to fall — but I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing or all the other. Either the opponents of slavery will arrest the further spread of it, and place it where the public mind shall rest in the belief that it is in the course of ultimate extinction; or its advocates will push it forward, till it shall become lawful in all the States, old as well as new — North as well as South.”

So he was sure the Union would have to go one way or the other, all slave or all free, and he was very worried that it go all slave. That he could not abide.

In addition if you actually read the Emancipation Proclamation, which “freed the slaves” it actually doesn’t. It says any Confederate state that doesn’t end its rebellion by January 1, 1863 would lose the right to own slaves … which by default means that if the state DID end it’s rebellion, they could continue to own them… and by extension, the three slave states that had not rebelled, including Kentucky where he was born, could continue to own their slaves (at least until the 13th amendment was passed). AND, by doing so Lincoln ensured that the French and the British, would not come to the Confederacies aid (from whom both countries bought a lot of cotton) …. The British had publicly declared their support of the South’s right to secede. Keep in mind America pretty much owes its independence to French intervention in the our rebellion from the British.
… P.S., putting aside the whole slavery issue….  to this day lawyers STILL debate whether the South was within it’s right to secede from the Union, and very few believe Lincoln’s arguments for why they did not have the right were airtight (and most of them think Lincoln, who was a really good lawyer, knew it).
[End rant]

In addition to the movie and the interactive map the visitor’s center has a really good gift shop with a large selection of goodies

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Learning that Frank Loyd Wright’s son invented Lincoln logs led to a massive brain fart on my part that I blogged about (read here, it’s actually interesting I think)

And of course there a very large book selection about Lincoln and the Civil War (both written and recorded formats) … I bought a few of these useful things called BottleEze (they had them with Lincoln’s home printed on the sides) where you clip one end around the neck of your water bottle, and stick the other over your pants waistband, or in a tight pocket,

From time to time (you need to check their schedules) the historic site does special things, living history demonstrations. I was lucky enough to stumble onto one. The woman at the front desk told me that in the lecture room (adjacent to the movie theater) I would find Abraham Lincoln…. so I opened the door to find…

IMG_1669Martin Luther king talking to Abraham Lincoln and Harriet Tubman— apparently this is a regular event for the kids (who get to draw fake beards on to their faces before it starts).

I only stayed for a little bit because it was about time for tour to start (and you are supposed to be there five minutes before the start time.

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This was the first room we entered, the Lincoln’s divided living room area (there are big wooden doors that can be closed in the middle, if he needed to speak with visitors)

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IMG_1672.JPGOne of the things I learned, while listening to the tour guide gave us her introduction, wa that today is the anniversary of Lincoln being asked to run, in this room. The shelves against the living room wall are called apparently called whatnots — and I own some — they’re tucked away in storage till I settle down; my parents had a few of them, almost identical to these, and till today I never knew they had a specific name. (Last time I got this excited about a piece of furniture was when I visited Elvis’ kitchen Graceland and he had almost exactly the same interior design for his kitchen, down to the same brands of ovens and stoves).

That said, I asked the tour guide if in fact Mrs. Lincoln kept a bust of her husbands head in pride of place at the top of the whatnot… she smiled and said that it seems she did. When Lincoln was running for President a bust was made of his head and mass-produced for sale, and Mrs Lincoln is known to have displayed it in the living room. To which I said, “like a proud mama.” The tour guide agreed.

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This is the closest I will ever get to touching Abraham Lincoln. These banisters are original to the house.

This site gives you a good overview of the interior of the house

That said, according to the tour guide, very little of what’s in the house is actually original, although she pointed out to us every item that was. I found this one document which I think says the entire sum of original objects in the house is 48. The rest of the furniture pieces are similar or identical to things the Lincolns were thought to have owned, based on sketches that had been made of the rooms, or original items held in private collections. If you search on the internet you can see that the sale of Park passes, and the $2/hour parking fees are being used to slowly buy up bits and pieces of the Lincoln’s possessions from private collectors to return to the house.

That said, one original item that they were able to obtain, according to the tour guide, was Mary Lincolns personal toilet … oh and apparently the Lincolns slept in adjoining but separate bedrooms. (No, I’m not going to go there)
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After viewing the house, I walked around the “neighborhood” making a point of stepping into any of the houses that were open for viewing, and reading the various informational signs scattered along the gravel road.
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The contents of each of the open homes had a different focus… sort of like rooms in a museum, with each house constituting a museum room.
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This house focused on the various families who lived in the neighborhood and shared some information about each of them, how we know what we know (the evidence), and items found during excavations, etc.
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While this next house focused on what was involved in restoring this heritage homes NOT to meet modern standards but to re-create the historic ones, historic building techniques, etc.
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This open corner shows the exposed walls, as originally built, with buttons you could push that would create red laser dots of light on the topic being discussed… in this case, she’s pushing on the button for the Nails… and there’s a red dot on one of the nail heads. (As luck would have it the woman standing there’s father had been a builder so she was all excited about it and telling me stuff)
Another of the walk through homes, the between the lincoln home and the visitor’s center, had a detailed display talking about who the Lincoln’s bought their home from and for how much; and how when the they first bought it, it was only a story and a half (a great starter home for a young married couple); but then, as Lincoln became successful and influential, they remodeled it, taking off the roof and expanding it to two floors, etc. (not going to bother posting pictures of it)
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Walking around the neighborhood, it is a very pretty shaded lane, and I found that locals take advantage of it.
Most of the houses you could NOT walk inside of came instead with these interactive options, where you call a number and then listen to a description.
If you want a listen to it call:   +1 (217) 213- 3003   and then press 50#
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According to this guide, Springfield at the time of Lincoln’s having lived here was a fairly diverse population, with a large recent immigrant population which included quite a few African-Americans affluent enough to afford their own homes. (apparently, if you come with a group of children — or 15 or more adults, you can pre-arrange to have a park ranger guide you around)
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For instance, this currently empty plot (before the yellow house) is just a few houses away from Lincoln’s home and used to contain two homes — both of which were owned by a Mr. Jenkins, one of Springfield’s African-American residents (the 2nd home was for his sister). He was fairly prosperous (obviously) and was involved in the “trucking” industry, moving goods around the country.
Both the tour guid and recorded guide point out that he was on good terms with the Lincolns and transported them and their goods to the train station when they needed to move to Washington.
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The reflections on the glass made all my other shots utterly unreadable
That said, there’s also strong evidence that his home and his wagons were all part of the underground railway
To hear about all the details, call +1 (217) 213 – 3003 and then press 51#
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According to the guide this was one of the his wagons, and if you look carefully you can see air holes have been strategically drilled into the boxes
But for something REALLY cool, look below!!!
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Since in this case there was no home at the site (I’m going to take a guess that once the entire “district” and not just the Lincoln home, became a national park in 1971… and was turned into what is essentially an outdoor museum, that all of homes on the property that were not original to the Lincoln’s time period were removed. AS Jenkins’ home was a historically important one, the park service has gone to the effort of creating an artificial Reality tour using a freely available app, which is really kind of cool if you think about it. (I did find it in Apple’s app store, and tested it. IT WILL WORK, if you have your smart phone look at the picture above!!)
Another cool thing was how the locals take advantage of property. I kept seeing folks walking around in twos and staring at their smart phones, my brain went, Pokémon!! And I was right. They told me that the local bar was having a fundraising event that involved playing the game, and that as EVERY home and object had historic importance the park was a very rich Pokemon playing ground for the locals.
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The bar in question is less than a block away from the park’s visiter center (sort of kiddy corner from it) and there is a coffee-house, bar and restaurant, each in a separate house but all owned by the same people,  — I had eaten at the coffee-house, Wm. Van’s Coffee House, already that day. I’d had an avocado and tomato on whole wheat toast with an iced coffee before going to the Lincoln’s home. (You’d think that would be hard to screw up, but they used some sort of pureed and watered down avocado spread… kind of tasted like the stuff sold in plastic bags at supermarkets … instead of just spreading the real stuff)
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and was intending to hit the restaurant for dinner, so when they mentioned the bar’s name I knew which one they meant …
That said, Obed and Isaac’s Microbrewery & Eatery, was supposedly the best place in town. When I got there, I found the menu mostly consisted of unhealthy choices, everything deep-fried with a lot of carbs, etc … As a rule, anyplace that does the unholy triumvirate of salt, fat and sugar can make food that tastes good… it’s making healthy food tasty that requires skill.
I ended up defaulting to a grilled chicken & berry salad with blueberries, strawberries, candied pecans and goat cheese … and I had them substitute straight balsamic for the vinaigrette (i.e., it didn’t need more oil… the cheese, chicken and pecans already provided enough)
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Bender’s Tavern

A trip to a food past: I came here based on a Yelp review that said (essentially), “Bender’s is probably the best restaurants in three counties.”  Happily, this turned out to also be a historic restaurant that has been in the same building since 1907, with a lot of the menu’s ‘favorites’ tracing back almost that far. For example, I can now check off turtle soup (an American classic that sort of disappeared from our menus) from those “have you eaten this?” food lists memes that float around the internet — not mock turtle soup mind you, but the real McCoy with actual turtle meat, which apparently has been on their menu for over 60 years. It was tasty, but I have nothing to compare it to so I have no idea if it was good turtle soup.

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… The thing on the side is sherry, to be added ‘to taste.’

They even still do Monte Cristo sandwiches (another item that’s mostly disappeared from US menus, that was once ubiquitous), but apparently only on Mondays. For my main I had a fairly decent crab cocktail (trying to loose some weight). Apparently, and I discovered this afterwards while researching the place on the internet, the automobile Blue Book used to suggest this place as a driving destination.

If you get there when the place isn’t busy, the manager will happily give you the historical tour. I was just walking around looking at the place and he walked right over and started giving me background information. For instance, I learned that the mural that’s in the bar was painted by a local artist in barter for free food and drink during the whole period it took him to paint it

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And, believe it or not, the bar area originally not only had spittoons on the floor, but also urinals!!! Standing right out in the open (uhg). Apparently, once the place started to get popular for it’s food (and not just the liquor) the owner purchased the building next door and created a ladies dining room with it’s own door, so that they wouldn’t have to enter via the main doors at the bar, and walk by guys with their dicks out…

(SERIOUSLY? This was a thing?)

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Found a more complete write up on the history of this place in a google book called “Taste of Ohio”