It might seem as incomprehensible to newcomers and young folks as journeying from Missouri to California via covered wagon, but once upon a time there was no Interstate 5. Instead, that ribbon of highway known as State Route 99 flowed through the center of California and right through the center of towns like Burbank, Sacramento, Yuba City, Red Bluff, and Redding. You didn’t have to take an exit to get to a gas station or a motel or a store: they were lined up right next to the road. When Interstate 5 was more or less completed in 1968, those businesses along 99 that depended on high traffic volume were left to sink or swim. Many of them did sink, along with their neighbors, and formerly prosperous areas of town deteriorated like drywall left out in the rain.
There are those who shut their eyes and lock their car doors driving though the blight. And then there are those who see opportunity with the many vacant buildings and low rent. Think of Racha Noodle and Kanya Gardens, two fine restaurants that might not have been able to initially afford uptown rent but which have prospered and earned success. Now we add Sweetie’s to that group of entrepreneurs.
You might have seen the barbecue wagon parked next to Eddy’s Pub on Market Street – that’s Sweetie’s barbecue they use for catering.Their brick-and-mortar restaurant is the space where Denny’s, the Lime Tree, and AJ’s came and went on South Market Street.
As soon as you walk in, you realize this is not your average coffee shop. A sign near the front door advertises local tomato Benedict, line-caught salmon, and free-range eggs. Patrons range from nearby workers on their lunch hour, families with toddlers, and quite a few retirees, all enjoying the good food at low prices.
Amico del Signore ordered the local tomato Benedict – eggs Benedict sans ham, substituting fat slices of very ripe, very juicy tomatoes that actually came out of a local garden instead of being bounced around in the back of a tractor-trailer all the way from Calexico. Topping it was a house-made Hollandaise, smooth and lemony without the salty taste of packaged mix. The friendly waitress (who, it turned out, was the owner) told us that her husband makes the Hollandaise to order – even though that’s more trouble than using a prepackaged mix or can, she said the customers react positively to it. Hash browns were also house-made, with a crunchy exterior and creamy interior.
Mipas is eggs scrambled with tortilla chips, and Sweetie’s version was light, tender, and fluffy. Little speckles of egg white indicated the eggs are fresh – not scrambled-egg mix. A light amount of melted cheese enhanced the mix of flavors and textures, as did a small dish of salsa and pickled Jalapeno slices. This can be ordered with sausage (as pictured here), ham, or bacon, or with beans.
After that initial breakfast, Femme de Joie and Amico del Signore were eager to return for lunch, to see if it was as good as breakfast. It was.
The house-smoked pulled pork sandwich really showed off the owners’ barbecue chops. At first glance, both A. del Signore and M. de Joie thought the sandwich might be dry, as there was no sauce on the meat or offered on the side. But one bite told the story: no sauce was needed. The pork was permeated with real smoke flavor – not from a bottle – and super-tender. Served on a house-made sweet potato roll, this was one of the best examples of fine barbecue available around the North State.
Mediterranean spinach salad with grilled salmon is the kind of dish you wouldn’t expect to find in a diner. As the owner told us, they strive to use fresh and high-quality ingredients, and the presence on the menu of line-caught salmon (not farmed, which is often mushy-textured and lacking in flavor) showed they mean business. Fresh baby spinach leaves combined with tomato, cucumber, pitted Kalamata olives, thin-sliced red onion and a light scatterling of feta cheese was a great base for the buttery grilled salmon.
Rhubarb is considered by many to be a somewhat old-fashioned ingredient like gooseberries or elderberries, and you don’t often see it offered in restaurants. But Sweetie’s served up this luscious strawberry-rhubarb shortcake with a base of house-made yellow cake and a generous amount of not-too-sweet stewed fruit topping, made from homegrown strawberries. A winner and a serving that’s big enough for two.
The South Market area might one day make a reversal of fortune. Perhaps in the not-too-distant future, yuppies will start moving into this unfashionable area because of low rents and then open up boutiques and chi-chi cafes, and raise all the rents. Before that happens, drive down to Sweetie’s and enjoy breakfast or lunch in a comfortable atmosphere.
Sweetie’s, 3105 South Market Street, Redding, CA 96001. 530-244-2269. Open daily except Monday, 6 AM – 3 PM. Parking on-site. Cards, cash; no checks. No alcohol. Serving breakfast and lunch. Vegetarian options. Website at http://www.sweeties-catering.com/index.html
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 email@example.com.
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