Menu Please: Old Mill Delivers Real Barbecue in Shasta Lake

If you live in the US of A, chances are good that you own a grill – according to the Hearth, Patio and Barbecue Association, 75% of Americans own a smoker or grill, and 61% of them use it year round. No statistics are known to exist on how many people refer to grilling as barbecuing, but it’s a safe bet that “most of them” is the right answer.

If you get home from work and start up the Char-Broil or set fire to some Kingsford Briquets to cook some tender steaks or burgers, that’s grilling. If you light a wood fire in a big ol’ half-barrel and pull up a cooler full of beer to while away some serious hours tending tough hunks of meat, you’re talking either barbecuing or smoking. It’s all in the technique and window-dressing won’t cut it: serious pitmasters know that anyone who talks extensively about their 50-ingredient secret barbecue sauce recipe is an unworthy poseur and amateur. Real barbecue is expensive and time-consuming; there are lots of restaurants with the barbecue name that just flood some cooked chicken with sweet gloppy sauce and assume you don’t know the difference, or care.

Femme de Joie had heard good things about Old Mill Eatery & Smokehouse in Shasta Lake and thought it was time to head north to check it out. It opened some ten years ago and was taken over by new owners in 2015. In a light-filled faux log cabin chalet on Shasta Dam Boulevard, they serve three meals a day to a variety of tourists and locals, grandpas in overalls and hipsters with flashy hair tints, business folk and families, all of whom come for the generous portions and real smoked barbecue. Service is helpful and friendly albeit sometimes a little leisurely.

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House-made corned beef hash and eggs, $12.95

Canned corned beef hash isn’t worth the time and effort to make it attractive and palatable; you may as well serve a fry-up of Alpo. Homemade is a different story. Old Mill mixed pink shims of house-smoked corned beef mixed with hash browns and crisp-fried, a bit on the salty side but both crunchy and tender at the same time. More hash browns alongside had a golden crackly top and moist insides to go with eggs cooked sunnyside up.

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Smokehouse breakfast with ham, $12.95

Very often the ham part of ham-and-eggs is a neat little soldier of a ham slice, uniformly cut from a pressed loaf, microwaved or held in a heating tray until needed. A nicely browned 8-ounce slice has some texture and character and heft as it was here.

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A large flaky biscuit baked in-house was a breakfast in itself along with peppery thick cream gravy redolent with bits of sausage. The biscuit was not quite baked all the way through, though, so the inside was a little gummy.

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Old Mill Cheese Steak, half $11.95, full $14.95

Skip the drive to Philly and get this one instead. On the lively and spicy side, luscious smoked tri-tip meshed with mushrooms, onions, and bell peppers in a coat of melted cheese. A really delicious and messy sandwich.

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Potato salad and dirty rice, $3.95 each

Side orders are done especially well at Old Mill. House-made new potato salad, a far cry from that weird yellow sweet paste sold in plastic tubs in supermarket refrigerator cases, was crunchy with celery, creamy but not mushy, and lightly peppery. Dirty rice was outstanding – often made with chicken livers and giblets, this savory, fluffy rice was chock full of smoked beef niblets and seasoned generously with cayenne.

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Smoked brisket sandwich, $12.95, side of baked beans $2.95, cole slaw $2.95

At dinner, full plates of smoked meats are available, but they can also be ordered as sandwiches for lunch. Smoked brisket, though on the salty side, was juicy and tender with visible smoke rings – lots of smoke taste here, though the amount of meat on the sandwich was a bit scanty. The house-made baked beans had a snappy vinegary tang with diced bacon flavor. Femme de Joie assumed the cole slaw would have a creamy dressing and was pleased to instead taste a piquant apple cider vinegar-based sharp dressing that paired well with smoky meats. A A tiny cup of barbecue sauce tasted of ketchup, sugar, vinegar, and liquid smoke; the brisket did not deserve to be sullied with it.

Though not everything was perfect, there are many good things going on at Old Mill Eatery & Smokehouse – enough to warrant a drive up I-5 to Shasta Lake. If you crave barbecue that isn’t coated with sticky bottled sauce, this is worth trying out on your way up to the dam (go have a look while there’s water in it).

Old Mill Eatery & Smokehouse, 4132 Shasta Dam Boulevard, Shasta Lake, CA 96073. 530-275-0515. Open daily, Sunday though Thursday, 7:00 AM to 8:00 PM, Friday and Saturday 7:00 AM to 9:00 PM. Parking lot. Cash and cards, no checks. Beer and wine. Not much for vegetarians to see here. Follow them on Facebook.

Femme de Joie
Femme de Joie's first culinary masterpiece was at age 4, when she made the perfect fried bologna sandwich on white bread. Since then she has dined on horse Bourguignon in France, stir-fried eel in London, and mystery meat in her college cafeteria, but firmly draws the line at eating rattlesnake, peppermint and Hamburger Helper. She lives in Shasta County at her country estate, Butterscotch Acres West. She is nearly always hungry. Visit MenuPlease for more or send her an email at femmedejoiefood@yahoo.com.
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10 Responses

  1. name says:

    How does their brisket compare with that of Sweeties?  (thank you for the review)

    • Femme de Joie Femme de Joie says:

      Dear Name,

      It has been a while since Femme de Joie visted Sweetie’s, so she can’t give a really accurate comparison – though she does remember that Sweetie’s also made pretty darn good brisket. Perhaps it’s time for a side-by-side BBQ battle?

      Thanks for reading and commenting,

      Femme de Joie

  2. Matt Grigsby says:

    Every one of your reviews is a work of art!  Beautifully crafted and fair and everything is so perfectly described it’s like a literary feast.

  3. Steve Towers Steve Towers says:

    The sides sound (and look) great! Potato salad and cole slaw typically get butchered at the local BBQ joints.

    Like many Californians, I’m guilty of calling my grill a barbecue—though I do use the correct verb. I grill my steaks, chicken, and veggies on the barbecue.

    A note on the afterword: “Cash and cards, no checks.”  A sure sign that you’re in a hardscrabble town.

    • Femme de Joie Femme de Joie says:

      Dear Steve,

      The excellence of the sides – especially the dirty rice and potato salad – was a very big surprise. Sides at BBQ restaurants are almost always just afterthoughts to take up room on a plate, which seems like a terrible waste of good ingredients.

      Increasingly it seems that “cash and cards, no checks” is the standard rather than the exception. It’s the age of austerity.

      Thanks for reading and commenting,

      Femme de Joie

      • Virginia says:

        Having had a small business at one time, even yeas ago too many tried to stiff the place.  Makes it a little hard for the honest people, but that is the world today!

        Your article was good, Doni, as usual.  Thanks.  Will have to give them a try!

         

  4. name says:

    Speaking of good Q – have you visited Smoked BBQ on Airport Road since the ownership change?    I have not been there for a while, and wonder if it is still the same, or better/worse.

    • Femme de Joie Femme de Joie says:

      Dear Name,

      We have not been there since it was sold so can’t say if anything changed. It was very good when Joe Catanio had it and hope it still is.

      Thanks for reading and comments,

      Femme de Joie

  5. Margy says:

    I love your reviews and even more would love to have a story or review on restaurants that offer  organic options.