A Gold Diggin’ Blonde ale and Angus beef that “cuts like butter” are on the menu at a handful of restaurants with big changes in the works.
This week’s news takes us up the hill to a brewery in Oakhurst and two nearby restaurants – one of which has reopened after being closed for two years. That may seem far to Fresnans, but we have readers there and it’s an easy trip for a special occasion dinner. And I can tell you from experience, a cold beer after hiking past the waterfalls at Lewis Creek is one of those happy moments in life.
South Gate Brewing Co. is celebrating its third anniversary of running a brewery and restaurant in converted Chevy dealership at 40233 Enterprise Dr.
“We’ve been at this for three straight years and come to the realization that it’s time to make it bigger,” says Casey Hawkins, who owns the business with his wife Lindsay.
So they’re expanding their dining area and kitchen, which will allow them to beef up their menu.
Construction is already underway and is ahead of schedule – that’s a rarity – with completion slated for mid-July. The expansion will double the dining space and give diners a good view of trees and mountains.
When it’s finished South Gate will still do the same casual dining it does now, where customers order a beer and food at a counter and take a number to their seats. But it will also have full-service dining, where customers are seated by a host in the new section and given a more traditional dining experience with a waiter or waitress.
The restaurant specializes in pub fare now (salads, sandwiches, etc.) and that won’t change. But, the expansion gives them more room in the kitchen, which means they can do more catering jobs. Sunday brunch will also start in August, with Hawkins promising a brunch that’s “unique to South Gate.”
The expansion will also allow them to add some “more sophisticated” food to the menu, perhaps tri-tip or smoked salmon, Hawkins says. The restaurant will also beef up its vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free options.
Up the hill
Farther up the hill, two restaurants are getting reinvigorated with a new chef and new menus. One of them, the Branding Iron restaurant at Sierra Sky Ranch in Oakhurst, has reopened after being closed for two years of renovations. The rooms at the ranch have reopened too.
The Buffalo bar and dining room at Narrow Gauge Inn in Fish Camp is owned by the same the company as the Branding Iron.
A new chef, Greg Carroll, is the new executive chef at both. He moved here from Ohio, with previous jobs at the prestigious Columbia Club in downtown Indianapolis and restaurants in the Caribbean and Moscow.
He’s a chef who’s big on local ingredients, California wines and desserts made in house.
So what’s on the menu?
At the Narrow Gauge’s “casual fine dining” restaurant, you can start with a martini from the eight or nine options on the martini menu, such as passion fruit or blackberry.
They’re served at the Narrow Gauge’s dining room and the Buffalo Bar on the same property – and yes, there really is a buffalo, notes Caryl Carper, director of sales.
“There’s a big ol’ buffalo head,” she says. “His name is Buffy. He’s hanging right in the middle of the bar.”
The restaurant gives out free little bites to whet your appetite, such as figs wrapped with prosciutto. And when you leave, they give you a piece of fudge wrapped up nice and pretty.
The menu features lots of fresh seafood, including ahi tuna and sea bass, that is trucked in from San Francisco.
“It immediately comes to my restaurant. It doesn’t even touch their facility,” Carroll says of the company that delivers it. “It’s amazing to me that we’re getting that quality of seafood in Oakhurst and Fish Camp.”
For dessert, there’s individual-sized key lime pies, cheesecake, and on the same plate, a mini chocolate pecan creme brulee and a vanilla creme brulee. The ice cream accompanying the desserts is Ben & Jerry’s, from Vermont, where the chef was born and raised.
The Branding Iron at Sierra Sky Ranch is a steakhouse. It serves that Angus beef that cuts like butter and doesn’t charge extra for side dishes.
One highlight: The restaurant makes a seafood appetizer served on a unique, two-tiered dish with King crab legs, smoked salmon and mussels and more sitting on crushed ice.
“It’s just flying out the kitchen,” he says. “The presentation is awesome.”
Reservations are recommended. The Branding Iron/Sierra Sky Ranch is open from 5-9 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday. Call (559) 658-2644.
The Narrow Gauge is open for dinner starting at 5 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday. Call (559) 683-6446.
Three chain restaurants
Three chain restaurants are opening locations in the Valley – two you’ll probably find familiar and one that’s a first for the central San Joaquin Valley.
The latest Dickey’s Barbecue Pit opened in Fresno last week. It’s at the Park Crossing center at Friant Road and Fresno Street that is also home to Sportsman’s Warehouse. Already open in that same building are Jersey Mike’s Subs, Habit Burger and a nail salon.
The area now has five Dickey’s from Fresno to Hanford. The restaurants have all kinds of slow-smoked meats on the menu (but no tri-tip since it’s Texas barbecue) and a free-with-your-meal vanilla soft-serve cone.
Blaze Pizza opened a build-your-own-pizza restaurant last week at Visalia Mall next to Union Bank. It joins locations in Fresno, Tulare and the chain appears to be headed to Fowler and Herndon avenues in Clovis, too.
And last but not least is the first Wayback Burgers headed for Fresno County. Technically in Firebaugh, the restaurant is at 46365 West Panoche Road where it crosses Interstate 5.
It’s slated to open this summer. Wayback Burgers makes all kinds of burgers (including a triple triple with nine patties), sandwiches, hot dogs, hand-dipped milkshakes and house-made potato chips.