The newly opened Brown Bag Burger Bar in Caruthers is chock-full of character — both the place and the people who work there.
From Fresno, it may seem a little far to travel. But Fresno is part of the story here. The burger joint is owned by the same people who own The Painted Table, a busy catering company that operates out of the former Daily Planet restaurant next to Tower Theatre in Fresno.
The burger bar is a little place, with just a few tables and bar seating that opens up to the outside. It serves burgers wrapped in brown paper with names such as the Flaming Volcano and the Roy Rogers. Salads, sandwiches, hot dogs and milkshakes are on the menu, too.
Behind the counter is curly haired Maria (pronounced Ma-RI-ah) Jones, who is a natural charmer. Place an order with her and somehow it turns into a conversation about dipping your fries in milkshakes or good names for babies. Owner Rod Hansen calls it the "Mayberry mentality."
"She has just fit right in," he says. "I get people saying, 'I don't know who that girl is, but she's just so nice and so fun.' "
The burger bar opened in late February at 2382 W. Tahoe St. — smack-dab in the middle of downtown Caruthers, population 2,497. If you're wondering why a successful catering company known for weddings and cocktail parties opened a burger joint 17 miles south of its home base, there's a story behind that.
Hansen grew up in Caruthers. His dad is still there and runs Herb Hansen Real Estate next door to the burger bar. The elder Hansen owns the building and has rented the burger bar space to a string of restaurants that didn't last.
"Last summer he just said 'Guys, look, do you want to try to do something with it?' " recalls the younger Hansen, who owns the business with Jeromie Garza.
They did. It was actually a bit of a homecoming since the pair had served coffee and food from a converted San Francisco trolley car about six years ago before their catering business took off.
"It's nice to see people that I haven't seen in years," Hansen says. "They remember me from when I was a little brat."
This time they took one aspect of their catering business — a burger bar — and turned it into a restaurant that would appeal to small-town residents.
Now the menu is full of burgers like the Roy Rogers, which comes with an onion ring on it, cheddar cheese and the chefs' "coka cola" barbecue sauce that has the soda in it. Another barbecue sauce has whiskey in it. The Flaming Volcano burger has chili, cheddar cheese and red onion.
Any burger can be made with a vegetarian patty or a gluten-free bun.
There's a Frito Yacht — like a Frito boat, but with salad — and a tri-tip sandwich.
And one item that surprised Hansen with its popularity: the milkshake.
It's made with real ice cream and other ingredients. So the "Rod special" milkshake has real peanut butter, chocolate and bananas in it.
There's a sense of playfulness and experimentation that's easier to come by in a small kitchen than at a large catered event, Hansen says.
"A lot of our customers will just come and say, 'Hey can you make this?' and we'll say, 'We'll try,' " Hansen says.
So when some Girl Scouts walked in the door selling cookies and suggested the restaurant create a Thin Mint milkshake, they bought some and made the shakes for customers until the cookies ran out.
The Brown Bag Burger Bar is open from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. It gets busy, so call your order in ahead of time if you can.
More details are available on the restaurant's Facebook page.
You may know this biker bar as Sheri's Roadhouse, but it hasn't been called that in a while. The Roadhouse at 20023 Auberry Road has new owners and changes are in the works.
Wade and Rhonda Haines bought the place recently and have been doing lots of painting. New signs are going up.
They plan to bring more entertainment, including live bands and car and motorcycle shows. They're improving the outdoor area by adding gas fire pits and a bar. And bar food — think hot wings and nachos — is on the way, too.
New chain restaurants
Two new-to-us chain restaurants will be coming to the Marketplace at El Paseo, the new shopping center at Herndon Avenue and Highway 99. These were both recently confirmed, though it could be a while — as in a year — before they open.
Menchie's Frozen Yogurt will open a location there, according to retail broker Lewis Smith. Menchie's is a Southern California-based frozen yogurt franchise that offers 70 toppings — from cookies to kiwi.
The company says it offers gluten-free, vegan and high fructose corn syrup-free options.
Pieology Pizzeria also has signed a lease for a space in the shopping center.
This is another California-based chain and it's growing rapidly. At least three Pieology locations are in the works, including one in Fig Garden Village and another at the Campus Pointe at Fresno State.
The pizza joint lets customers create their own pizza, with four cheese options and 17 toppings.
No specifics are available yet on opening dates, but I'll keep you updated.