Andrew Carnegie was a Scot who emigrated to America and made an enormous fortune in steel. In 1889 he wrote an article titled Wealth, promoting his view that with great wealth came great responsibility. When he turned 65 in 1900, he began philanthropic works with his amassed millions, including funding the construction of 1,679 libraries in the United States. One of those was built in Redding in 1904 where Library Park now lies. It was demolished in 1962.
Just west of that long-gone brick edifice, on the southwest corner of Yuba and Oregon, was the old three-story Western Hotel. (In those days West Redding was chockablock with hotels and boarding houses.) The third floor was removed after a fire and the hotel apparently continues as residence rentals to this day. The ground floor hosted some offices; a place called Cafe Filosophy briefly occupied 1600 Oregon Street before the Carnegie name came around again.
When Carnegie’s opened in 1998, there weren’t many places for lunch within walking distance of the courthouse or the many associated offices nearby. Though more restaurants have opened up since then, it’s still very popular and usually fills up during the noon hour. Service is friendly and efficient.
Cashew chicken salad sandwich on whole wheat rye bread with tomato basil soup, $11.99
The menu says the cashew chicken salad consists of chicken, celery, green onions, cashews, raisins, and mayonnaise, but all Femme de Joie could taste was raisins. She likes raisins to a point, but this was overwhelming. Maybe she got the scoop of salad where all the raisins were hiding. Maybe whoever made the salad went bonkers with the measuring cup. It was impossible to taste chicken or cashews or anything but raisins. She did pull out a small pale green square of vegetation that at first seemed to be cucumber; on closer inspection it proved to be celery which was a bit squidgy and past its expiration date – leading M. de Joie to feel that the day’s chicken salad had been mixed with some older chicken salad. And raisins.
Carnegie’s is justifiably famous for their tomato-basil soup, a lightly creamy tomatoey blend with an herbal hint. It would have been even more delightful if it had been hot.
Half order of chicken Caesar salad, $8.99, with Cheddar ale soup, $3.49
A half-salad was a generous portion, quite enough for lunch. Chopped Romaine and tender bitelets of moist chicken were tossed with a lemony dressing and showered with feathery shards of Parmesan cheese, making a light meal feel as hearty as if it had bits of steak in it. Cheddar ale soup tasted like exactly both – the salty mineral graininess of Cheddar as well as the bitter bite of ale. It might appeal to adults more than children with those grown-up strong flavors. If it had been hot, it would have been excellent.
Reuben sandwich on whole wheat rye with potato salad, $11.99
One of the few grilled sandwiches on the Carnegie’s menu, the Reuben was packed with mild and lean pastrami and a nice icing of melted cheese. However, Femme de Joie noticed something was not quite right. Prodding around with her fork, she deconstructed the sandwich and eventually found what she was looking for: an extremely thin scatter of sauerkraut threads mashed into the mustard. Perhaps Carnegie’s customers leave most of the sauerkraut behind and so they’ve decided to tone it down, but a Reuben without sauerkraut, or with virtually none, is an ordinary pastrami sandwich. Potato salad on the side was delicious, made with red-skinned new potatoes, slightly sweet and freshly made.
Carnegie’s is in an appealing casual space with lots of light from tall and wide windows as well as a more intimate upstairs seating area. The menu is kept simple so that service is fairly fast even when it’s busy; portions are fair for the price. But there are some problems in execution – lukewarm soups and sandwich fillings that miss the mark. Those aren’t big things individually, but after three consecutive meals with a noticeable flaw in each, Femme de Joie wonders if anyone in the kitchen is getting feedback from customers or if people are just eating and silently acquiescing. It wouldn’t take much to straighten the problems out – a little attention to detail and voila! Really good food.
Carnegie’s, 1600 Oregon Street, Redding, California 96001. 530-246-2926. Open Monday & Tuesday, 10:00 AM to 3:00 PM, Wednesday through Friday, 10:00 AM to 9:00 PM with limited menu. Cards and cash; no checks. Vegetarian and vegan options. Beer and wine. Street parking.
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.
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