A graffiti-scribbled train was chugging by when we pulled into the parking lot in front of the Country Gables Cafe – not surprising, as Roseville has an ongoing relationship with the Southern Pacific Railroad.
“If the taggers are going to keep spray-painting the train cars, I wish they’d at least do something more imaginative than just their names in tall letters,” said a lunch pal, eyeing the procession. “Maybe something along the lines of Wayne Thiebaud.”
We went inside and grabbed chairs at the counter. The dining room was jammed, the Sunday-morning crowd spilling onto the patio. Evoking the 1970s were the lighting fixtures and well-arranged country-kitsch themes of roosters and teapots. A poster titled “Love Rules” offered good advice: “Live happily ever after.”
We were there last Sunday morning because the Roseville/Granite Bay Press Tribune gave the neighborhood cafe its Best Breakfast award in 2012. Rushing servers dashed here and there, balancing five loaded plates at a time as they delivered skillets, omelets, benedicts, waffles and “combos” (pork chops ’n’ eggs) to eager diners at tables and in booths.
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The original reason Country Gables got our attention was its house specialty and best-selling dish, Broaster chicken. That’s a dish rarely seen hereabouts beyond Gourmet Alley at the California State Fair, and inside the occasional gas station mini-market, and more’s the pity.
I’d gone to the cafe last Friday just for that dish, and even got a look at the $12,000 Model 1800 Broaster pressure fryer, filled with canola oil. The cafe sells Broaster chicken by the plate and in family packs of four, eight, 12 and 16 pieces with mashed potatoes and coleslaw, said Sukhi Sander, who with wife Raji owns Country Gables.
I settled on a fat leg and thigh with steamed veggies and cornbread, hold the potatoes ($7). The juicy, steaming-hot chicken was jacketed in a crisp, non-oily crust, with a deep, distinct flavor not found in any other fried chicken. It was everything my memories promised it would be. Note that the carrot-cauliflower-broccoli mix was crunchy and fresh; too bad the cornbread was floppy and dull.
Broaster chicken has big history. It was in 1953 that inventor L.A.M. Phelan patented and trademarked the stainless-steel Broaster pressure fryer. At the time, it was regarded as the machine that would revolutionize the way chicken was cooked. He began marketing it the following year, but the revolution never arrived. Still, there are thousands of outlets around the nation – mostly in the Midwest – that offer Broaster chicken. As for exact numbers, phone calls to Broaster headquarters in Beloit, Wis., and its California distribution center in Los Angeles didn’t help.
Just what is Broaster chicken, anyway? It’s free-range chicken that has been soaked in a proprietary marinade and then dipped into Broaster batter. To quote Broaster’s website ( www.broaster.com), “The chicken is placed inside the Broaster pressure fryer, designed to cook each individual piece ‘under pressure’ in the chicken’s own natural juices, limiting the absorption of cooking oil and driving the marinade deep down to the bone while searing the chicken with a golden, crispy-crunchy coating.”
How did Broaster chicken find its way into Country Gables? “Our restaurant burned down in 2009, and when we reopened in 2010 I wanted to bring in something nobody else in the area had,” Sukhi Sander said. “People come from (as far away as) Elk Grove just for the chicken. They taste it and get hooked.”
Though the Friday outing was for chicken, we couldn’t ignore Sunday breakfast, which for many is the main attraction at Country Gables. For others it’s the lunch menu, with burgers and sandwiches that go retro with tuna melt and hot turkey with gravy.
We went through an OK blueberry-pancake “sandwich” with an egg and narrow strips of not-quite-crisp bacon; and a slightly overcooked spinach-sautéed mushroom-jack cheese omelet with crisp-soft hash browns. Big portions join fair prices to make the cafe a near-bargain destination.
“It’s very evident the family has pride in their restaurant, and I like that,” the lunch pal said, referring to the Sanders and their daughter Preeti, who were working hard on site that day.
Such dynamics do go a long way, but so does a 16-piece pack of Broaster chicken.
The Cheesecake Factory restaurant-bakery chain (160-plus stores) does lot of things right, such as key lime cheesecake.
Moving away from fat and calories, though, is its SkinnyLicious menu, just in time for the approach of summer.
We checked out the menu at the CF at the Galleria in Roseville, and were impressed by the 50-item list of small plates, appetizers, flatbreads, salads and “specialties” such as chicken enchiladas and lemon-garlic shrimp ($4.50 to $18). They’re categorized by calorie count – “under 490” and “under 590.”
We settled on a chicken-mushroom lettuce wrap with shiitake mushrooms, green onion, ginger and garlic ($6); and a loaded burger with a major-size salad ($10). Both were better than good, and we felt rather svelte when we left the table.
Cheesecake Factories are at 1127 Galleria Blvd. in Roseville (916-781-3399) and 1771 Arden Way in Sacramento (916-567-0606). Visit www.thecheesecakefactory.com.