Some folks know them as "guilty pleasures," but this column prefers to think of them as "go-to" dishes. You know the ones: You get an urge for a certain something and immediately turn to a longtime standby. With that concept in mind, let's explore some go-to's that keep on goin':
Each summer, the sign goes up at the landmark drive-in Whitey's Jolly Kone, heralding fresh peach milkshakes. Chunks of tree-ripened freestone peaches are blended with high-quality vanilla ice cream for an icy treat whose aroma is nearly as good as its taste and texture. They'll be around through August ($3.50 and $4).
Let's move beyond the shake to the menu board, which hasn't changed in 50 years, said co-owners Steve and Paula Ericson.
Lunch pal Roger Krum and I sampled some go-to's there last week: deluxe cheeseburger ($2.35), double deluxe chiliburger with bacon ($3.40), onion rings ($1.95) and deep-fried mushrooms ($2.50).
"I've been coming here for 20 years and it's always consistent," said Krum, former executive director of the Sacramento Jazz Festival (renamed Sacramento Music Festival this year).
Where: 1300 Jefferson Blvd., West Sacramento; (916) 371-3605.
For his spicy polenta fries with Bolognese sauce, chef Tom Patterson at Fabian's Italian Bistro transforms locally sourced white polenta into crisp french-fry-shaped bars seasoned with cayenne pepper, paprika, cumin, salt and sugar ($8.75). The sauce is thick with ground beef and house-made sausage.
Where: 11755 Fair Oaks Blvd., Fair Oaks; (916) 536-9891, www.fabiansitalianbistro.com
Linguini and clams
Raquel Bellizzi was talking about Italian food, one of her passions. She and husband Dominick Bellizzi co-own three Italian restaurants.
"When I was back in New Jersey years ago, pregnant with our son, it seems like all I ate was linguine and clams," she said.
The version at Dominick's Trattoria involves imported pasta topped with a load of fresh Manila clams and a rich sauce of white wine, clam broth, lemon juice, olive oil, butter, garlic and hot pepper flakes ($19). Add Parmigiano-Reggiano and cracked black pepper.
Where: Dominick's Trattoria, 8621 Auburn-Folsom Road, Granite Bay; (916) 786-3355. Their two other restaurants are Dominick's Italian Market & Deli, adjoining the trattoria, and Dominick's New York Pizza & Deli, 187 Blue Ravine Road, Folsom; (916) 351-0909, www.dominicksmarketdeli.com
It's always a pleasure to stroll into the stylishly decorated Land Ocean, where two appetizers are must-haves: tenderloin Wellingtons (puff pastry stuffed with pieces of filet mignon and mushrooms in brandy-peppercorn sauce, on a bed of bearnaise sauce, $12) and mac 'n' cheese (asiago, Parmesan and Vermont cheddar join elbow macaroni topped with breadcrumbs and broiled $5).
Where:2720 E. Bidwell St., Folsom; (916) 983-7000, www.landoceanrestaurants.com
Happiest happy hour
Happy-hour menus abound, but we always leave happiest after visiting Ruth's @ the Bar's "Sizzle, Swizzle & Swirl." It's a bargain-priced list of items served in the bar areas of both Ruth's Chris steakhouses.
The seven appetizers usually cost $8 to $15 each, but go for $7 across the board from 4 to 7 p.m. weekdays. Our favorites are the excellent prime-beef burger, lobster roll, lightly breaded and fried lobster chunks with spicy sauce ("Keep 'em comin' ") and seared ahi tuna.
Where: In the Pavilions center on Fair Oaks Boulevard near Howe Avenue, (916) 286-2702; and in Roseville in the Galleria center on Galleria Boulevard, (916) 780-6910. Visit www.ruthschris.com.
Clam-topped pizza is an everyday item in New York and New Jersey, but we're not there. Which is fine, as long as Cafe Vinoteca keeps making its (better) version.
We veered from the menu and had a special edition built this way: olive oil-brushed thin-crust shell topped with slices of fresh Roma tomato, peppery arugula, sautéed fennel, garlic and red pepper flakes, topped with plump clams and mussels. Want one like it? Ask for the "Bee review pizza" ($14).
Where: 3535 Fair Oaks Blvd., Sacramento, in the Arden Town Center; (916) 487-1331, www.cafevinoteca.com.
Only a prawn in the game
We love the fried shrimp at the little fish shacks in small towns along the Florida coast, but in California we'll settle for the jumbo prawns at Fins Market & Grill. The sweet, crunchy gulfers are shelled, deveined, lightly rolled in seasoned Italian breadcrumbs and fried in canola oil.
Get eight (with side dishes) for $18, with dill-flecked tartar sauce and a choice of side dishes. Or grab the summer special: 12 to 15 fried shrimp (smaller than prawns), handled the same way, for $10.95.
Be sure to specify "fried" or you may get "grilled" and what's wrong with that?
Where: 2610 Fair Oaks Blvd., Sacramento; (916) 488-5200. Two more Fins are at 8525 Madison Ave., Fair Oaks, (916) 967-0954, and 8680 Sierra College Blvd., Roseville (916) 783-5200. Visit www.finsmarket.com.
Tried and true
Cookie-cutter shopping centers have grown up all around the venerable Club Pheasant (since 1935). But once inside the retro retreat, we take comfort in being out of the river of time. Some things don't change, for good reason.
We sit at the bar and go for the house-made fried ravioli, stuffed with beef, cheese and spinach, with outstanding from-scratch hot mustard for dipping ($8.25 and $11.25). That's followed by one of the Pheasant's signature dishes, garlic filet mignon sandwich ($9.50 and $15.25).
Where: 2525 Jefferson Blvd., West Sacramento; (916) 371-9530, http://theclubpheasant.com