Long, long ago, in a space of time after dirt was discovered but before Interstate 5, there were only two-lane roads. Incredible, yes, yet it’s true. Femme de Joie saw it with her own two eyes. She traveled those roads often whenever the de Joies went on a weekend trip . Mostly the trips were modest ventures, as the crow flies: Crater Lake, Lassen Park, Reno, Eureka. But if the crow is not flying, if the crow is driving a Ford Falcon on a two-lane blacktop with thousands of other travelers, in those days before roadside towing service and emergency phones, then it’s a much different – and much longer trip – than it is now.
For one thing, cars overheated a lot more then than they do now. Auto air conditioning was in its infancy and it generally resulted in hoses bursting at very inconvenient places. The de Joies spent more than one hot Sunday afternoon in a very, very long line of cars crawling along what is now Interstate 5, creeping through the Sacramento River Canyon between Redding and Dunsmuir as we all slowly passed some unfortunate family and their sizzling car.
That’s why the Giant Orange stands were very popular, not just in California, but anywhere it got miserably dog-tired hot in summer. They were absolutely everywhere along Highway 99 (I-5’s predecessor). It was so wonderful to come across one of those funny round orange buildings as you drove along California’s Central Valley, and go in and get a cold orange juice.
Times change, freeways and off-ramps and McDonald’s came in, and nowadays if you’re driving on an old highway, maybe you will see an occasional forlorn Giant Orange stand boarded up. There are still a few in business, resurrected as restaurants – there’s one just north of Redding that is now serving Mexican food, and it must be a puzzler to younger folk who wonder why the place serving tacos looks like an orange. A green orange.
Joe’s Giant Orange has been serving up breakfast and lunch since 2006. Colorfully painted booths and wall murals inform the diner that this place specializes in Mexican dishes – though there is plenty of American food available as well. Service is friendly and fast.
Ham and cheese omelet, $8.99
Tender eggs folded squarely around generous portions of mild cheese and diced ham – not a breakfast that’s breaking any new ground, but a constant favorite. Filling and non-greasy with crisp hash browns alongside, this was better than some more expensive versions.
Arizona Enchilada Omelet, $9.99
While the name is a little confusing – nuthin’ really screams enchilada about this – chile verde draped over a folded egg omelet does bring Tex-Mex to mind. Femme de Joie loved the verde’s tartness and shreds of pork laced throughout. This is not a spicy-hot sauce so chiliphobes can enjoy it without fear.
House-made beef tamales seemed on the dry side. While the filling was flavorful and abundant, it was also on the salty side; a bite of masa and filling together made us wish for some badly needed sauce. Fortunately, the house-made salsa is quite good and was necessary to resuscitate the tamales and give them a bit of oomph. Refried beans were also house-made, creamy and smoky. The rice was undistinguished.
Enchiladas Colima Style, $9.99
The house-made enchilada sauce was evidently salted in the same way the tamale filling was. Femme de Joie admits to an unholy passion for salty foods, but this overdid it even for her. Too bad, because the rest of the dish – freshly prepared pork filling and not too much cheese – was really delicious.
A side order of fresh green salad was crammed into a small soup bowl, a plating that makes M. de Joie start twitching: instead of forcing greenery into a too-small container, put that salad on a plate where it won’t fall off.
We did love a vanilla milkshake ($3.99) made with real ice cream (that may sound obvious, but there’s a reason McDonald’s calls it a shake – so as not to imply anything by the title) with the metal can plopped onto the table alongside the glass for a second serving, as every devotee of Fifties-style diners knows it should be.
Overall, we enjoyed Joe’s Giant Orange. It’s a truly local place, mainly patronized by regulars who know each other and think nothing of sharing their opinions of the Raiders with you at length as your food gets cold. While we might not drive north every day to dine, if we were headed thataway and were feeling peckish, we’d stop in. Femme de Joie is curious, though: is the water in the first toilet in the women’s restroom always heated, or was that just a temporary interesting feature?
For more on Giant Oranges or to buy one for your own front yard, see http://www.agilitynut.com/food/oranges.html
Joe’s Giant Orange, 3104 Cascade Boulevard, Shasta Lake City, CA 530-275-9582. Breakfast and lunch. Open daily 6:00 AM to 3:00 PM. Vegetarian options. No alcohol. Parking lot. No checks.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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