T & A Cafe in Salinas [Spreckels Historic District]
Today's the last day of the season for T & A Cafe in Spreckels. Open right now until about 2pm or the food runs out. Then on hiatus until April 2013 when the produce season ramps up again. This is my mom's favorite truck stop.
My recent post about T&A: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/876022#7685668
T & A Cafe
1 Harris Rd
Took Mom to her first T & A Cafe pizza night on January 25, 2013. Last November on their last day for the 2012 growing season, T&A invited Mom to join a pizza night to which she replied, "I'll come if I'm alive!" She is going on 93 and enjoyed her first T & A pizza night.
We arrived at 5:15 & the place was half-full. (1 large party of about 16?); within 15 minutes, only one long table for 10 was vacant (where the row of video games usually is). People were waiting for tables when we left at 6:15 and the outside patio even had stalwart diners! Good thing there was a heater out there.
Mom ate all the first offering -- a chicken, cranberry with brie slice -- before I could get a taste! Her slice had a more crispy crust than mine as they tried to keep up with demand (small roll-around clay oven). Nice crispy romaine salad (of course). The two servers were busy but the pizza was served hot.
Had forgotten it was BYOB & didn't bring anything to drink; they had wine glasses and ice out.
Other pizza offerings were potato, bacon and onion; beet & goat cheese with arugula; sausage, fennel and mushroom; pear with blue cheese, and sun dried tomato, mozzarella, basil.
She's hoping to be able to do another one.
T & A Cafe re-opened for the season two weeks ago. Mom and I were there for opening day.
I had the smoked pulled pork on ciabatta sandwich, $7.75, served with pineapple slaw and housemade potato chips.
Mom had the old standby, 1/2 pound Angus burger with sweet potato fries. Cooked to perfect medium-rare, as always.
We also attended Pizza Night the first week. $13 per person (including tax and service), AYCE, including green salad. The pizzas are thin crust, baked in the gas-wood fired combo oven.
You can help yourself from the buffet line or if sitting inside, a server brings the pies around.
Some interesting combos:
Pulled pork and roasted corn
Roasted pear and blue cheese
Italian fennel sausage and mushroom
and my favorite,
Andouille sausage, potato and spicy shrimp
The toppings were very tasty, but all of the crusts were soggy on the bottom and wet in the center despite the scorched topsides.
I ate there coming home from northern California and was dissapointed that the burger didn't stand up to your experience. The meat was ok but nothing special, the bun and produce were shockingly just supermarket quality. The fries were dry and without much pototo flavor.
I'd like to try T&A Cafe again--have any recs from the menu?
re: toodie jane
How disappointing! Was the burger overcooked? Here's what I said about it in the link in my original post above:
"For a lunch time burger, T & A Cafe *grills* a half-pound, freshly ground Angus burger, $6.50. T & A stands for Tanimura & Antle, the big grower-shipper, and the cafe/truck stop will close for the season next Friday. Default is pink inside, medium-rare, and the short-order cook gets it right every time. Comes with fries, potato salad or green salad, but I suggest paying the upcharge for sweet potato fries. "
Here's Mom on opening day this year with her burger and sweet potato fries.
One of us gets the burger almost every time we go. Sometimes "naked" without the bun like this (to show the grilled patty and garnishes),
Whether the produce is "supermarket quality" may have to do with how you feel about iceberg lettuce. I like iceberg if it's as fresh as can be found in Salinas. At T & A, it's not shredded but rather cut into crunchy wedges. Make no mistake, Tanimura & Antle is a conventional grower. It supplies its branded Artisan Lettuce line and Artisan red onions to Trader Joe's and Whole Foods, as well as other supermarket chains. What's served here in the cafe is likely days fresher than what's in the stores.
I would have to disagree about the bun. It is no where near the balloon bread style of supermarket burger bun. It's got the yeasty flavor of a true rise and is quite dense in order to not fall apart from the juicy 1/2 pound burger patty. Sometimes it's not toasted adequately, was that the problem?
We skip the fries and get a side salad or the sweet potato fries instead. Yes, they're not good.
We usually get a quart of the homemade soup to take home. Typically we order a burger, a hot sandwich or sometimes a salad, and the daily special. Remember, this is a TRUCK STOP, and the primary customers are truck drivers from across the continent. I feel T & A Cafe does a terrific job at made-to-order from scratch, short-order cooking at a value price point.
re: Melanie Wong
it's been two months now, but I can still remember the sense of disappointment and wasted calories. The bun had no yeasty flavor or home made crumb, It was mushy and flabby. It tasted like supermarket quality--that random stale slightly chemical preservative "taste". Maybe they'd run out of house made buns--it was late in the day. I really wanted to like this place, I'll go again and give something else a try, but was hoping for something less diner-like. Yes, agree the prices were very reasonable.
re: toodie jane
Some how my words got colored in a way that set you up for disappointment, I fear. This is a TRUCK STOP, as I stated in my original post with a menu that's more limited than even a diner. So if you hoped for something else, this is not your place.
I never said that the buns were house made, because they are not, so let's not confuse folks. But I do believe they're better than supermarket style. I don't know who bakes the hamburger buns. The ciabatta roll on the sandwich noted in my post from opening day is from La Brea bakery.
Finally, prices are only reasonable if the quality is what one expects for the money.
re: toodie jane
On way back from Cambria last Saturday, 3 of us had the hot pastrami/Swiss on grilled rye -- DH forgot and got fries (meh), sis-in-law and I did the thicker cut sweet potato fries (worth the up-charge). Rye was slightly under-grilled (5 of us arrived 25 minutes before closing and Efraim was starting to break down kitchen to clean) but generous pastrami as usual. DH finished all of his; we gals each took a foil-wrapped half back to Oakland and I enjoyed mine reheated & grilled more crispy in a cast iron skillet that night before heading out to view The Bay Lights. The last half sandwich was reheated the same way for a light lunch for DH and me the following day.
Quick service, tasty fare, generous portions --T & A is a great truck stop with free wifi and a clean women's restroom. They post their daily special and the soup on Facebook and follow up with a photo as time permits. Mom tells me she wants to try the pulled pork sandwich, but I've not been successful in getting one for her.
I frequently get a chopped salad -- born and raised in Salinas, I enjoy getting sweet, crunchy but juicy Iceburg not normally found elsewhere. The portion I take back to Mom's serves as a side salad for us at dinner that night.
Breakfast fare ordered by others looks good, but I tried for myself so can't recommend anything in particular. If you want milk for your coffee, ask at the counter; the bottle is kept in the drinks cooler.
Pizza has good toppings but their oven can only do one at a time. Many locals prefer the crust softer and more blonde than i do so I'm out of luck there. Hope you have a better experience next time.