Sometimes we discover a dish that's so different and tasty we have to point it out. That would be the French toast made with panettone at Dianda's Italian Bakery & Cafe.
Panettone is a centuries-old Italian tradition, a sweet bread studded with various fruits, imported to specialty stores during the holiday season (Corti Bros. Market still has some).
At the bakery-cafe, family patriarch Armando Dianda and his daughter, Sharise Dianda-Guiod, bake their own panettone year-round along with dozens of other luscious treats (almond torte and rum cake are house specialties). Their panettone is chunky with raisins and flavor bursts of glazed orange and lemon bits.
"I grew up in my father's bakery in San Francisco," Armando Dianda said. "Baking is in my blood."
Armando's wife, Sandy Dianda, cooks the French toast. "I slice the panettone an inch thick and dip the pieces in an egg batter (with vanilla)," she explained. "I fry them in butter and that's it."
Three crispy, dark slices of sautéed panettone graced my plate, with a cup of syrup and a ramekin of apple and strawberry slices and grapes ($5.50).
Sandy Dianda also whips up the silken, eggy frittata (crustless quiche), adding zucchini, spinach, onion, garlic, tomato and fontina cheese ($6.85). "I love the light texture," my breakfast pal said.
A cold case displayed a dozen cakes involving chocolate, fruits, frostings and creamy fillings. Atop the case were baskets of fragrant artisan breads, handmade by a freelance baker and delivered to the store on Fridays and Saturdays.
We had a hard time choosing among the flavors rosemary and sea salt, Kalamata olive with feta cheese and sun-dried tomato, polenta, roasted garlic-Parmesan and sourdough whole-wheat with five seeds ($5.50). We settled on two, which were crusty, rich and turned into fine French toast at home the next morning.
Dianda's Italian Bakery & Cafe, 10131 Fair Oaks Blvd. in Old Fair Oaks; (916) 966-3757. Hours: 6:30 a.m.-5 p.m. Mondays-Fridays; 7 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturdays; lunch is 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m.
Santa Cruz dogs in Roseville
The National Hot Dog & Sausage Council has an indicative piece of trivia: During "hot dog season," which it defines as Memorial Day through Labor Day, we Americans eat about 7 billion wieners.
Grabbing lunch "out of season" last week, we found a dog with heritage at Parker's Hot Dogs of Santa Cruz. John Parker Wilson opened the Roseville diner in 1997. "I have customers who have come here for years, and now their teenage kids are becoming regulars, too," he said.
Wilson's father, Parker John Wilson, and mother ran the locally legendary Parker's Jumbo Dogs concession stands in Santa Cruz and Capitola beginning in the mid-1950s. A privately owned meat company made the red hots according to the Parkers' proprietary recipe.
Today, Wilson's dogs are made from the same recipe by the same company. The hickory-smoked all-beef dogs are in natural casing, so they have some pop to the bite. The soft buns are from the premier Athens Bakery in Oakland.
"We lived in San Leandro and ran the hot dog stands in the summers," Wilson said. Years later, "My dad and I were going to do more, but I was in the the Air Force at the time and he passed away in 1975. I always wanted to open another one."
We sat on stools at the counter and watched wieners being pulled from the steamer and dressed up. The menu shows 12 variations on the hot dog theme, plus a Polish, a hot link, a turkey dog and a corn dog, with sides of chili, fries and onion rings. Toppings are standard, but we were surprised by sour cream.
"We make our chili from my mom's recipe," Wilson said. We tasted a back-bite of cumin and chili powder, but still livened up our bowl with squirts of Frank's RedHot cayenne pepper sauce.
"We're family-oriented and have a lot of fun here," Wilson said. "We're pretty proud of our hot dogs."
With good reason.
Parker's Hot Dogs of Santa Cruz, 1605 Douglas Blvd., Roseville; 916-786-2202, www.parkershotdogs.com. Hours: 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Mondays-Fridays, 11 a.m.-6 p.m. weekends.
By Allen Pierleoni