Friday, February 24, 2006
Don't Have A Cow, Dude: Harris Ranch, Coalinga, CA
Everyone who's ever made the trek up Highway 5 from L.A. to Northern California has smelled the smell. You're about 200 miles away from home, sitting behind the steering wheel or comfortably in the passenger seat minding your own business, perhaps singing along to your favorite 80's hair band CD when suddenly your car fills up with the foulest stench ever imaginable to man. You hurriedly reach over to the A/C controls making sure the recycled air setting is on. And to your right, the source of the odor that suddenly hit you and your passengers like a ton of bricks: a literal sea of cattle basking in the hot sun awaiting their demise.
We don't like the smell, no. But we are curious about the restaurant located just up the road, yes. Being that close to a slaughterhouse, the meat must at least be fresh right?
Last weekend, we just happened to be at that 200-miles-past-L.A. mark when we saw the Hanford/Lemoore turnoff, and guess what? It was almost lunchtime, so we turned off...straight to Harris Ranch, home of the steakhouse-just-down-the-road from Fresno County's infamous slaughterhouse. Fortunately for us, the usual stench did not knock us out when we opened the car door; it was a cold morning, so the cow fumes had not baked enough to permeate the air.
We walked into the Spanish hacienda-looking inn and were quite impressed with the well kept grounds. Tons of sunlight spilled through its many windows and bounced off its wood beamed ceiling and ceramic tile floor. People young and old were everywhere, whether shopping for beef souvenirs at the gift shop or waiting for a table. There are actually a few eateries at the inn, some more casual than others, and because we were in our most casual long distance driving duds, the family friendly Ranch Kitchen seemed like the best option for us.
After waiting about 10 minutes, we were led into the large farm themed dining room filled with travelers and families and seated at a booth along a wall dressed with frilly country floral curtains. The usual family restaurant fixings are present--soups, salads, sandwiches, grilled and griddled entrees--so there's nothing much that distinguishes Harris Ranch's menu from say, Marie Callendar's or Cocos' menus except for, well, beef. And that's exactly what we were there for.
What we really would have loved is a steak but it wasn't even noon yet, and we were afraid that that much meat wouldn't be too bowel friendly, especially since we still had a long drive ahead of us if you know what I mean. So no "Harris Ranch Restaurant Reserve Beef" for us...no filet mignon, no New York striploin, no prime rib. A burger, though, would be a much better choice. Not quite as heavy and still some beef.
As opposed to their California Burger which had both bacon and avocado and their Gorgonzola Burger with (duh) gorgonzola and caramelized onions, both Isaac and I ordered the Ranch Burger which was just your basic no-nonsense cheeseburger--cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, pickles, onion and special sauce. Sounds easy enough right? Well you'd think. The "1/3 lb. USDA Choice natural Black Angus Beef" was of good quality and had that nice charred beef taste, but the rest of the burger was crap. The buns were cold and un-toasted, they forgot to put cheese in both burgers, and mine was missing the onions. The steak fries were OK but nothing special--just wedge fries seasoned like curly fries. We complained to our waitress, who was really apologetic and offered to have them remade, but we didn't have time so we just ate it. Literally.
You're not giving beef a good name, you know.
I'll have to admit that despite the poor lunch experience, I'm still a wee bit tempted to come back just to have a real steak and give Harris Ranch another chance to redeem themselves. If I do then surely you'll read about it in the future. If not, no big deal. After all, what good is good beef if the food around it sucks? We had a cow, and it wasn't worth it.
The Ranch Kitchen at Harris Ranch
24505 West Dorris Ave.
Coalinga, CA 93210