So many restaurants have preciously clever names, or names so obscure or confusing they don’t mean anything until the managers explain them. On the other side of that is Meat and Potatoes in Auburn, which has as straightforward a link to its lunch and dinner menus as possible. “It says we’re going back to basics,” said co-owner Michael Smith.
Three veteran diners and I found it across the street from the vintage Placer County Courthouse in a creaky, two-story, architecturally fascinating structure. It’s composed of two buildings, one of brick built in 1880 as a residence and one of wood added a century later to accommodate the White House restaurant and bar.
In 1998, Latitudes restaurant moved in with a menu that featured a different international cuisine each month. Latitudes closed, and M&P opened in December. The kitchen is manned by co-owners Smith and John Pearson, formerly of the French Gulch B&B-dinner house. George Smith, Michael’s father, is the third co-owner.
We walked through the dining room (filled with eye-catching decor without being fussy) to a table on the deck, dominated by a greybeard oak tree. It’s ideal for an al fresco lunch, despite the roar of traffic from nearby Interstate 80. Thank you, Harley-Davidson.
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Our personable server, Brittany, started things with a round of Arnold Palmers (freshly brewed iced tea and lemonade), followed by housemade soup (curry-seasoned veggie with bits of beef) and a surprisingly good salad with tasty croutons that “aren’t like little rocks for a change,” one lunch pal remarked. The addictive, well-seasoned french fries are a frozen product that could easily be mistaken for house-cut (which are available on request).
We loved the dripping, two-fisted Feel the Heat burger, loaded with lettuce, tomato, grilled onions, jalapeño and pepperjack cheese, and burnished with an unidentified “hot and spicy sauce.”
The burger would have taken second place on our ranking to the Ole Diner Hot Beef, but ... The thinly sliced prime rib is served as a gravy-covered open-face sandwich with a mound of excellent mashed potatoes and house-made gravy. Unfortunately, as well-textured and potentially delicious as it was, the massive mound of meat was way too salty on this day.
“The beef is cut from our leftover prime rib roasts, and we didn’t notice they were too salty until we were putting them away Saturday night,” Michael Smith said by phone later. “We said, ‘This is what we’ve been serving all week? It’s terrible!’ That’s not the norm, and we’ll fix it.”
We hope so, because when everything is in tune, that retro favorite (dating to 1400s France) easily stands up to more “refined” casual fare.
Next up: A 6-ounce boneless, skinless chicken breast dipped in tempura batter and deep-fried for the Crispy Chicken Burger. The coating saved the flavor-starved breast, lending great texture and some taste. “Bacon would give it that needed missing ingredient,” one lunch pal suggested. Another said, “If they made a Feel the Heat version of this Crispy Chicken, they’d have a winner.”
Sautéed fresh mushrooms were so succulent “they should be served with everything,” one lunch pal said. Hmm. Next time, we’ll spoon them all over the prime-rib sandwich.
M&P’s dinner menu ($12-$28) is more interesting and varied than the lunch menu ($5-$14), with the likes of pork tenderloin, rib-eye steak, garlic-mushroom chicken and steamed fish.
Downstairs is a marvelous bar of wood, brick and stained glass, made intriguing by a resident ghost – or so it’s said.
Looking for dessert, we left Auburn and pulled up at Machado Orchards, a few minutes away in Bowman. The 33-acre fruit orchard was founded by Azore Island immigrants Joe and Constance Machado, who bought it in 1926 when it was a much smaller pear and plum orchard. Now their descendants run the show.
The star of the farmstead is the from-scratch made-on-site fruit pies – peach, nectarine, blueberry, raspberry, boysenberry, marionberry, mixed berry and others ($16 and $17).
“We usually sell about 200 pies a day and maybe 300 a day on weekends,” said co-owner Shawnie Machado (with husband Gary and mother-in-law Barbara). “In the fall we’ll have apple, pear, plum and pumpkin pies.”
We bought slices of hot-from-the-oven peach pie (a la mode is an option) and wolfed them down, with many grunts of appreciation. We bought whole pies to take with us, for further research.
To get to Machado’s from Sacramento, continue on eastbound Highway 80 past Auburn to the Bowman exit (No. 122). At the end of the exit, turn left under the freeway. Go to the stop sign and turn right. Look for the windmill on the left. It’s at 100 Apple Lane on the Bowman Frontage Road, 530-823-1393. Orchard tours are offered in September. Its annual apple festival will be Oct. 17.
MEAT AND POTATOES
- Where: 130 Maple St., Auburn
- Hours: Lunch is 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays; dinner is 5-8 p.m. Tuesdays-Thursdays, 5-9 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays
- Food: ☆☆1/2
- Ambiance: ☆☆☆☆
- How much: $$
- Information: 530-887-8648, www.auburnmeatandpotatoes.com