Menuplease: Savory Spoon – the Price of Nonprofit

The phrase “tote-bag hell” was first coined during the 1970s for those interminable weeks when public television programming was interrupted every six minutes to beg the viewers to pledge money. In exchange, the pledger received a “token of appreciation” – a tote bag or a coffee mug. Tote bags and coffee mugs are now apparently passe – instead, the lucky donor gets a CD/DVD of Live from the Andorra Opera House, Peter Lemongello Salutes Allan Sherman!  Even a die-hard Peter Lemongello fan must surely be aware that no matter how shiny and new that DVD may be, it’s just an enticement to get you to send money for the greater good.

There’s been a restaurant of some kind in the courtyard of the Hartnell Castle for many years. Femme de Joie knows she dined there a few times, but it was so unmemorable she cannot recall now if it was Mexican, Chinese, or what. Savory Spoon opened in that oft-abandoned spot in late 2011. M. de Joie immediately filed it away in her soon-to-close-due-to-bad-location file cabinet. But it didn’t close; it prospered and grew from being open three days a week to six days. Good things were heard about the food and the pay-what-you-can Mondays. It was time to drive east on Hartnell to visit.

The dining room features perhaps 20 small tables (no booths) topped with butcher paper; a cup of crayons is provided. Also on the tables are small pepper grinders and salt grinders – a very nice touch. Collections of vintage menus and kitchen tools make more interesting wall decor than the usual starving-artist paintings found in small cafes. It was perhaps half-full and not crowded on any of our visits.

M. de Joie was surprised at how varied Savory Spoon’s menu is. There are numerous vegan options (including seitan) as well as gluten-free dishes (though Femme de Joie did not ask whether cross-contamination measures are taken).

VLAT (Vegetarian bacon, lettuce, tomato & avocado) potato salad, $11.00

When vegetarian meat substitutes were first widely available, most of them were on the disgusting side. M. de Joie remembers a booth at the Shasta District Fair circa 1970 that was handing out fake steak bites. She has blocked out exactly how nasty that bite was. There’s been a lot of progress since then, and this sandwich was a good example. Crisp and smoky veg bacon stood in for the real porker product. Matched with local tomatoes and buttery avocados, this was a healthier take on the classic with a strong resemblance to the real thing. On the side, potato salad was good enough to be compared to homemade – this definitely did not come off the Sysco truck. However good the food was, we did expect more food for $11.00.

Monte Meat Burger (brown rice, legumes, mushrooms & vegetables) with chipotle sauce, side of cod chowder, $12.00

It’s easy for most restaurants to offer a veggie burger by just defrosting a Boca or Garden burger, but kudos go to anyone who makes their own. The Monte Meat burger had a meat-like texture (it held together rather than falling into sorry lumps like many veggie burgers do) and taste (though again, it isn’t going to be mistaken for ground chuck). Femme de Joie was rather taken aback at the size, reminiscent of a kiddie burger at a fast-food place, though the homegrown yellow tomato soothed some of the disappointment. Chipotle sauce was very mild and bland. Cod chowder was full of vegetables but a bit short on actual cod, though it had the fishy taste of a cod swimming in the cauldron.

Strawhouse Morning Blend coffee, $2.50

Savory Spoon uses a lot of local food purveyors, including coffee from Strawhouse on Highway 299 at Big Flat. Why would you get coffee from a wide spot in the road on your way to the coast? Because this is exceptionally good coffee and worth the extra trouble.

California omelet (bacon, tomato, avocado, blue cheese) with red house potatoes and rye toast, $9.00

It isn’t that easy to find a really good breakfast in Redding, but Savory Spoon does them right. A tender omelet with a harmonious combination of fillings (blue cheese on an omelet? Yes, please) was the centerpiece. Red house potatoes were a delight – not burned or underdone or out of a freezer bag, seasoned lightly, they made the plate complete. Rye bread from The Oven Bakery in Mount Shasta was a surprise – toast is often just on the side to take up room, but fine rye bread is actually worth eating. A nice touch was jam served in tiny bowls rather than the peel-away plastic tubs.

Biscuits and gravy, $8.00/$5.00

House-made sausage gravy isn’t on the dieter’s list, but this gravy was worth at least a taste or two. Not overly salty or greasy, creamy gravy had plenty of sausage bits (unfortunately, a bit of gristle too). It would have been nice to have the gravy served on the side rather than poured over the biscuit so the biscuit could have remained unsoggy.

Tofu scramble with potato, red bell peppers, onions, mushrooms, with hash browns and rye toast, $9.00

Scrambled tofu? It’s been a staple of vegetarian & vegan breakfasts for years, and is worth exploring if you’re looking for a low-fat alternative to eggs. Colored with turmeric to look like eggs, tofu takes on the taste of whatever it’s cooked with. This was a pleasing mix of vegetables with soft tofu curds. It’s been a mission of Amico del Signore to find really great hash browns, and these were pretty close to potato Nirvana: very crisp, nongreasy house-made shreds of browned potatoes.

The food is delicious with so many nice touches, and the undertaking of the Savory Spoon is noble and in line with everything M. de Joie agrees with. It is located in an underserved area for restaurants and also attempts to serve the disenfranchised population. Savory Spoon has so many good things about it – ingredients sourced from local purveyors, dedication to high-quality organic foods, gluten-free and vegan options, a pay-what-you-can day on Monday for the poor & indigent. Having said all of that, Femme de Joie found this to be by far the most difficult review she has ever written.She walked out of Savory Spoon feeling uneasy, unsettled about some niggling little discrepancy, something that just wasn’t sitting well with her. It finally came to her, not in an enlightening moment of shimmering clarity, but after hours of boring Amico del Signore with existential questions and general angst. It’s the pricing.

Take the coffee, Morning Blend, retailing at Strawhouse for $13.00/pound. It is very good coffee and a very good deal at $2.50. But Cheesecakes Unlimited in Redding serves coffee for $2.79, Clearie’s for $4.00,  a French press of coffee (2-3 cups) at Moonstone costs $5.95. Wines: Savory Spoon has a nice selection of primarily local wines. A bottle of Burnsini 2009 Tehama Red sells for $24.00 at Vintage Wine Bar but $18.00 at Savory Spoon. The food pricing seems askew: a large spaghetti lunch (including garlic bread but not soup or salad) costs $15.00 but a 1/3 pound Prather Ranch bacon cheeseburger (including a choice of sides) is priced at $12.50. Chicken and dumplings at dinner is $15.00,  more than meatloaf ($14.50). And at breakfast, a bowl of cream of wheat or oatmeal seems sky-high at $7.00, compared to an English muffin with meat, Cheddar, and a fried egg for $5.00. Should a seitan sandwich cost more than a Reuben? Why do inexpensive pasta and chicken cost more than beef? Why is a simple bowl of hot cereal more than a ham-egg-cheese breakfast sandwich?

M. de Joie wondered what’s wrong with the chicken if the pasta costs more? Why do pancakes cost more than an omelet? There must be something she is missing here. It would seem logical to her that a nonprofit restaurant capitalize on the same things that for-profit restaurants make money on – i.e. the huge markup in beverages – so that the other menu items are not so far out of line with other restaurant menu pricing. Does getting a cup of coffee for $2.50 make up for a seven dollar bowl of oatmeal? At what point does “It’s for a good cause” trump actual value?  Like the DVD sent out by PBS in exchange for a donation of $120, is it enough to keep people coming back for more, or will it eventually dissuade consumers?

These are questions M. de Joie does not have a satisfactory answer to, but thus far the customer base seems quite happy with the food at Savory Spoon – and in the end, that is what will keep it alive.

Savory Spoon, 1647 Hartnell Avenue #1, Redding, CA 96002. 530-222-7200. Open Tuesday-Saturday, 9 AM – 8:00 PM. Sunday brunch from 9:00 AM – 2:00 PM. Community Monday, 12:00 noon to 4:00 PM; pay what you can. Cash and cards. Beer and wine. Vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free options. Parking lot. Website at www.SavorySpoon.org

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.

A News Cafe, founded in Shasta County by Redding, CA journalist Doni Chamberlain, is the place for people craving local Northern California news, commentary, food, arts and entertainment. Views and opinions expressed here are not necessarily those of

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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18 Responses

  1. Avatar Jeannie says:

    Thanks for such a fair-minded review of vegan options at Savory Spoon. Restaurant reviews commonly focus on animal-based options, so it was refreshing to read this one. As the organizer of a vegan meetup group in Chico, I know that a lot of people are starting to eat less meat for various reasons, even if they don't go full-on vegan. It's wonderful to have restaurant options. Thanks again!

  2. Avatar Doreen O. says:

    My hubby and I had a very similar, unsettling feeling from The Savory Spoon, but it wasn't so much the pricing. It was in décor, cleanliness & food quality. I had some vegetables that were prepared to perfection (and I am picky about my veggies), but my hubby was really disappointed in his sandwich. We were both disappointed in our dessert we shared–it seemed slapped together, but I loved my main dish (although I can't even remember what it was). I truly appreciated the gluten-free options. Our table and tableware were nice and sparkly clean and we loved the butcher paper/crayon idea. However, we were almost directly under a vent that had elderly dust-&-crud tendrils hanging from it. There was a little gathering of vintage-looking furniture in an area for guests waiting to be seated, but the world's largest & ugliest giant mushroom-thing a few feet away. I spent 75% of my time at dinner trying to figure out exactly what the theme of the restaurant was. I concluded that it was "Early Yardsale" or possibly "Let's take the Best and the Worst Out of this Garage." Still, I thought the butcher-paper art & comment display was very upbeat and unique.

  3. Avatar Handouts Don't says:

    Savory Spoon has had several minor health violations over the last couple of inspections, but no major ones.

  4. Avatar c says:

    The meatball sandwich is the best in town.

    That being said, I went there with friends at 7:45 one evening, and there was a couple behind us – all of us were turned away at the door, and they said sorry we close at 8pm. We said, it is not 8pm yet and we already know what we will order – no dice. They turned away 5 people because they wanted to leave at 8 sharp…

  5. Avatar Breakfast Guy says:

    My wife and I recently had breakfast at The Savory Spoon. The omelets, potatoes, toast and coffee may be the best in Redding in my opinion. The overall cost seemed a little higher than average but for me, that's OK as long as freshness and quality are there and they were.

    The dining room and rest room were reasonably clean. Only the mirror over the sink could have used a quick wiping off with Windex.

  6. Avatar KarenC says:

    There is no excuse for health violations. You either run a clean restaurant or you don't.

    • Avatar Handouts Don't says:

      Anyone can (and should) go visit the county's restaurant inspection site.

      http://www.co.shasta.ca.us/EHI/frmPubInspViol.asp

      There is no cost visit this site.

      It can be a little tricky, as you have to know exactly how the name is spelled. For example Sue's Café may not produce results if the business is actually Susan's Restaurant Café – or something like that.

      Anyway, go check it out.

      Interestingly, one of the mainstream news media outlets here does not allow comments about restaurant inspections. I guess they don't want to alienate their advertisers at the risk of honest journalism.

      Any food establishment can be found at the site if it is inspected including our hospitals and county jails. Schools are here too.

      Bon Appétit!

  7. Avatar Kay Wilson says:

    I've eaten at the Savory Spoon on Mondays and the people look like regular middle class people — there was no one who had been thumbing a ride on an off-ramp or a young mother with three kids looking for a free hot meal.

    When the marijuana coops were going to close the truth came out, the daughter had a marijuana co-op store in the Hartnell Castle. According to the paper, money from the co-op subsidized the "charity" meals and they were afraid that if the co-op closed, the restaurant close also. Just because they give free meals, does not mean it is a non-profit business. The free meal program is not reaching the truly needy and the rest of the week people are "gouged" by the high prices. Suggestion: not have free Monday and normalize the prices.

  8. Avatar Canda says:

    My one experience eating at Savory Spoon was pleasant and positive. It's been awhile, so I can't remember what I ordered, but I thought the menu offered a good variety of dishes. I enjoyed my meal, and don't recall it being a small portion. I usually can't eat a whole entree at a restaurant, and appreciate lighter portions of food.

    The price inconsistencies you mentioned are puzzling. I'll have to give Savory Spoon another try and see if I notice the same thing.

    I really like all the art created by diners at Savory Spoon. As a teacher, that appeals to my sense of homey. I enjoy people being able to share their creations.

    Thanks for the review, and the reminder that I must plan to dine there again soon.

  9. Avatar CoachBob says:

    When a restaurant sends people away because is "close" to closing….they don't deserve to be in business. Obviously, they have no real business sense. There are some very sad comments above. Too bad.

  10. Avatar Annie says:

    Have to agree: uneven is the word for the Savory Spoon experience. We went twice, I think. Once my husband's veggie burger was burned. Not just extra brown, actually burned to the point of being inedible. And yet not really cooked inside either. It should have been comped but was not. Maybe we didn't fuss enough? Another time my son's mac and cheese, though obviously housemade, was not baked through. It tasted truly awful at the restaurant, when it should have been hot and at its best. Took the leftovers home and baked them in the oven until they were properly gooey, and it was some of the best mac and cheese ever. So whoever was in charge of the baking end of the business did not do his/her job. Some other things we had were good, some were so-so. Overall, we thought it was pretty pricey to have such a hit and miss food experience. I'd try it again, but I'd say it is lacking in professionalism. Seems like it was started by someone who loved to cook, and had a good idea (local, charitable)…but falling short on execution in a very difficult business.

  11. Avatar Christine says:

    Talk about the Pen is Mightier when it comes to cowards here. The bigots are always the ones who seem to have so much to say.

    I am so happy to finally have a restaurant that supports the farm to fork luxury we have here in California and am happy to pay for my overpriced toast of it means paying for bread grown and produced in my backyard by our neighbors.

    This is a mom and pop run place, who mind you the owner was also fighting cancer, so if you do not like the way they do business then provide direct feedback to them if you feel so inclined but most of all do not give your business. But do not try to drive others away and create a movement against them, that goes so far against the small town values that our neighbors of Redding should be showing towards one another.

    Look around. This town is hurting for thriving small businesses. This town's economy got hit hard by the recession by the lack of diversity in our economcic developments. We cannot afford to not be supportive of the few small businesses we have. And we especially cannot afford to not support the few restaurants that simply want to offer good food to the community.

    Rather than being melodramatic and making this fuss about the prices, make a small constructively critiquing note on price comparison – but do a FAIR comparison to other restaurants that go to great lengths to use quality ingredients like Moonstone Bistro and not compare it to places about as good as Denny's (East or West of the 5) and claim compared to Denny's the prices are so gouged. That is just bad journalism and frankly just being a bad individual in a small town where as should be looking out for one another. Shane on you.

  12. Avatar Christine says:

    (excuse my typos as a result of using a mobile phone!)

  13. Avatar Christine says:

    I am glad that makes you feel like a bigger person. Can't say I am sorry I didn't exactly bother to proofread or spend time on a comment on a sorry little internet publication trying to use pieces like this melodramatic review to gain some readership to add to its meek exposure. I will however put the time in to continue to try to support establishments that are assets of Redding's economic development. This piece does the opposite of that. Sad considering the publication itself is also a small business that heavily relies on community support.

    • Avatar CoachBob says:

      I don't think you bothered to think out your position, either. Owning/running a restaurant is NOT a social welfare job. You either provide good food…good service…or you suck! If you charge a ton and don't do either or both of the above, then you have no clue and don't deserve to be in business. We don't OWE it to this, or any other restaurant in town just because they're mom/pop or because the owner has cancer. Again, if the food/service suck, the restraurant sucks. It's really simple.

      • Avatar Handouts Don't says:

        Excellent post! Well thought out, well articulated just like all of my post are.

        Good job.

        The bottom line no matter if it's a local restaurant or chain boils down to one thing – is the food good. For me, price is not as important of issue however I would not pay $8 for a bowl of oatmeal either – no matter how organic or local it was.

        A lot of people poo poo the chains. Let's not forget chains employ people in our community and provide opportunity as well. Some are better than others when it comes to food. Personally I think Famous Dave's gives local competitors a good run for the money.

        The bottom line – is the food good!