Monday, January 23, 2012

San Carlos Hall of Fame

What was your favorite restaurant growing up?  I have a few that I'd like to share and give proper dues to.  A while back I had a section of the site called "My Favorites."  This is an extended look at what that section was.  Note - a lot of these places don't have websites, so in those cases I've included a link to their Yelp pages.

Sky Kitchen located at the San Carlos Airport

Some of my earliest dining memories are from the Sky Kitchen, as it was just minutes away from the house I lived in until I was 6.  There was a nice waitress/co-owner named Susie, and she always hooked us up.  Or at least from the perspective of a 6 year old she hooked us up.  Anyway, my favorite meal growing up was a pair of scrambled eggs and French fries (or the occasional grilled cheese).  I was afraid of home fries at the time because they looked like vegetables, which are in violation of the Kid Dining Code.  As my taste buds matured, I would feast on their third pound cheeseburger which, and I still remember it today, was one of the best.  I dined there this past summer for the first time since 2004.  The retro decor and charm is the same now as it was growing up, so it was like going back in time to my childhood.

From Summer: ham and bacon omelette and home fries

Depot Cafe located at the San Carlos Train Station

For the longest time I thought the San Carlos Depot was abandoned.  It's one of the city's oldest buildings and you can see it in photos dating back to the Arthur Administration, so I was certain it was just standing there hollow.  But nope.  Inside there's a very respected and reputable cafe.  My dad and I were regulars here at least once a week back when Terry Mulholland was balling for the Giants.  It's here where I became well known for my fascinatingly large appetite.  Two scrambled eggs, bacon, and three bowls of cereal were my usual here.  One of my most vivid memories is coming in on a cold, damp Christmas morning.  The heat was on full blast and the fireplace was roaring.  Good times.

Picture taken by Christine "Sicy" V.

Vic's located in Downtown San Carlos

This was the place my dad and I would go after our one or two year run at the Depot.  It was usually Tuesday or Wednesday mornings, whichever was the late start for school.  A normal breakfast was scrambled eggs, a side of bacon, and two bowls of cereal.  Occasionally we'd get French toast.  Unlike the Sky Kitchen and Depot, which went for the retro diner atmosphere, this place had a modern decor.  Unfortunately, Vic's recently closed its doors after over 30 years in business.

Picture taken by Toro "Toroeater" E.

Sneakers located in Downtown San Carlos

Conveniently located right next door to Vic's, Sneakers marketed itself as a family pub and grill.  I mean, kids couldn't sit at the bar, which I once got busted for, but they tried to create an atmosphere that a family could feel comfortable in.  Man, Sneakers was awesome.  Favorite meal was the corn dog and fries and every so often the cheeseburger.  As a kid of about 13 known for an epic appetite, their food always filled me up.  They also put maraschino cherries in their sodas.  Baller.

What was also rockin' about this place was the giant movie theater screen where they'd show the Giants or A's or whichever local team was playing that day.  They've since scrapped that screen for individual TV's at each booth, which is a cool idea in theory, but the problem is you can't hear anything.  When you had the big screen you had the whole stereo system broadcasting the game.  Now they play music over the speakers and you've got 30 different TV's playing whatever the hell they're playing and it's a challenge to hear.

"Hey, Lou, go back and there cook me up the most unhealthy thing you can think of."  Bacon cheeseburger sliders with fries and ranch.

Chuck's Donuts on "The Other Side of the Tracks", San Carlos

Dad and I would go here on the weekends, usually Saturday morning, and it would usually be completely empty.  But for us that's a good thing.  The normal order here would be three (3) donuts (usually the sprinkled ones) and strawberry milk or hot chocolate.  Occasionally I'd mix in a chocolate/maple bar.  It's funny cause one time our whole family was going to SF for the day and Chuck's was en route to the freeway so we stopped and I requested my three donuts, which my mother vigorously denied.  "What??? Three donuts?  No!  You can have one!  Nobody needs three donuts!"  I was crushed and think I actually refused to eat my lone donut for a while in a childish anger.  Pretty funny.

Anyway, one day a sign was put up in the store's window.  Well, it was actually a sheet of paper and it said "closed for 60 days."  We figured they were remodeling or something.  Well, 60 days turned into 2 years before they finally reopened.  By then we had long since switched donut allegiances to the Donut House in Redwood City, but I'll never forget that sign and the odyssey that ensued with its random two year closure.

Picture taken by Jim C.  Somehow I don't think Chuck owns this place anymore

Donut House in Redwood City

As mentioned above, this became our donut oasis in the wake of Chuck's closure.  And the thing is - this was really a much nicer place.  From what I can recall, the donuts tasted better and were more filling than Chuck's and the folks who owned the joint were much friendlier than the ones at Chuck's.  As I went into my high school years it became more of a challenge to wake up early on the weekend, so dad was kind enough to bring donuts home.  The usual catch from here was two since they were so filling and occasionally a hot chocolate.  They would also slip in a few donut holes which was really cool.

Uptown Cafe in Downtown San Carlos

I think my dad would get coffee here at least semi-regularly, but my appearances were few and far between.  The thing that makes Uptown stand out, however, is that this one time I ordered a thick slab of rich chocolate cake for breakfast.  Yeah, my dad would let me order anything, really awesome.  The folks working the counter found it amusing and bold that I'd take on this cake this early in the morning, but I finished the whole thing and it was delicious.  Rich chocolate cake, frosting, and one of those thin mint chocolate cookies on top.  Unfortunately, like Vic's, the Uptown Cafe is no longer in business, but that chocolate cake will never be forgotten.

Couldn't find any pictures, so the logo will have to do

You know what stands out about all of these places, though?  With the exception of maybe Chuck's?  The service.  The service at all of these eateries was excellent.  They knew our names at the Sky Kitchen, Train Depot, and Vic's and we knew theirs: Susie, Mary, and Kelly.  The food was also excellent and there's nothing quite like that old school retro diner atmosphere in the morning.

If you're in the San Carlos area, I'd recommend checking out the places that are still around, specifically the Sky Kitchen and Depot.  You'll sense the aura and the history immediately.  And then you'll feel full after a good meal.

Thanks for reading!