The holidays are long gone, and with them the best excuse for eating bad-for-you food and not feeling bad about it. As winter drags on toward spring, we're sick of dieting. With all the great restaurants, cafes and bakeries in the county, sometimes we just can't help ourselves. Here are some of The Tribune's features staff favorite guilty pleasures.
One of the best -- if not the best --burgers in the county is served at a tiny burger joint in Los Osos called Sylvester's (1099 Santa Ynez Ave., 528-0779). The beef patty alone, with its charred black shell, is worth the price of admission. The ingredient that takes it over the top --and over the scales -- is Sylvester's dripping sauce.
But for true burger aficionados, Sylvester's cooks up a hunk of beef that would make Homer Simpson shake in his boots. The 2-1/2 pound "Big One" burger is not for the easily intimidated (or for the cheap -- the sandwich is nearly $30). The restaurant's manager says only about one in four people actually finish the basketball- sized burger in one sitting. Good luck-- we only got halfway through the thing before giving up.
If you're in the mood for a slab of meat, strap on your bib and head over to McLintock's. The tri-tip is fat and flavor ful, but we recommend the rib eye for its beefy, charred flavor. Steak meals come with loaded mashed potatoes that stick in the belly. There are several locations in the county; call 800-866-6372 or go to www.mclintocks.com
If you're not in the mood for beef, drop by Tanner Jack's in Arroyo Grande (2796 S. Halcyon Road, 473-8485), where they grill up a scrumptious pair of 10-ounce pork chops topped with Fuji apples, along with a pair of sides like macaroni and cheese, onion rings or baked beans. And if you like your pork pulled, you can't go wrong with the pig sandwich at SLO's Firestone Grill (1001 Higuera Street, Ste. A,
783-1001), a toasted and garlic-buttered roll filled to overflowing with juicy, barbecue saucedrenched meat.
You could also try the western chicken sandwich at San Luis Obispo's Cool Cat Cafe (3165 Broad Street, Ste. 10, 544-8235) -- it's a soft, flaky bun stacked with a grilled chicken breast, onion rings, cheese, crispy bacon and covered in barbecue sauce. Try it with a chocolate Coke if you have a real sweet tooth.
Fries with extras
Animal-style fries are In-N-Out Burger's regular fries topped with massive amounts of grilled onions, pickles and American cheese melted on top. They sneak some thousand island dressing in, too.
The cheese keeps the French fries warm and moist. The grilled onions and the pickles add a nice, subtle tang to the rich, creamy fries and cheese. You have to eat them with a fork, and they are more filling than a hamburger. They remind us why America has an obesity epidemic. Yum!
We could go on and on about the big, fat hot dogs at the Hot Dog Factory in Morro Bay (898 Main St., 772-3819), but the chili cheese fries are to die for. Thick fries are coated with cheese and chili (no beans) to make for a decadent treat. Rare is the person who can just eat one of these and quit.
But if heavy meat or smothered fries aren't your thing, nothing quite beats a steaming bowl of creamy clamchowder, unless you're eating that chowder out of a sourdough bread bowl.
Rich and creamy
The legendary clam chowder bread bowls at Splash Cafe in Pismo Beach and San Luis Obispo (197 Pomeroy Ave., 773-4653; 1491 Monterey St., 544-7567) have caused many summertime visitors to wait in block-long lines. The hollowed-out bread loaf is grilled in butter and then filled with hot, creamy chowder.
It's a savory lunch and only costs about $5. Be warned however: It's easy to overeat.
For some, there's little more satisfying than sitting down to a simple plate of cheese, fruit and crusty bread. It's all about combinations: mixing the sweet and the salty, the pungent with the subtle.
At the newly enlarged Indigo Moon in Cambria (1940 Main St, 927-2911), artisan cheeses from the ample deli case -- on one recent weekend, Winchester gouda, English Cotswold and Sage Derby--are paired with nibbleworthy finger food, all for $9.
Olive bread echoes the herbal aroma of creamy orange English Cotswold flavored with chives. Soft, sweet figs and crisp Granny Smith apples answer the sharpness of aged gouda. Candied walnuts and red grapes wait their turn along with a glass of wine.
It's hard to pick a favorite at the French Corner Bakery in Cambria (2214 Main St., 927-8227).
There's the cream caramel cheesecake, so fluffy and light it actually lets off hisses of air when your fork sinks into the chocolate cookie crust. There are custard tarts topped with fresh fruit. There's "Chocolate Oblivion," a flourless cake suitable for even the most demanding chocolate-lover.
Yet our favorite treat at the French Corner Bakery is the smallest thing on the menu --a powdered sugar-coated cake about the size of a racquetball.
Delectably buttery and sweet, the Russian teacake's crisp exterior gives way to rich crumbles seeded with finely chopped nuts. And at $1 a cake, it's easy to indulge.
Visitors to the Madonna Inn's Copper Cafe in San Luis Obispo (100 Madonna Road, 543-3000) can barely make it through the front door without noticing the bakery's display of luscious cakes.
From German Chocolate to Pink Champagne, these fluffy cakes will satisfy any sweet tooth. Go big for your next birthday and indulge in a specialty cake with fillings like Bavarian cream or coconut pecan.
The cakes are big on taste and size -- one slice can feed four people.
Have you ever chewed ice cream? The ice cream at Cold Stone Creamery is so thick you can pull it like taffy. That's why the workers have to muscle it into your bowl or cone with some heavy-handed spoons. Each flavor is super rich (few are low-fat), and there are many toppings to choose from. There are stores in SLO, Atascadero, Arroyo Grande and Paso Robles.
In contrast to chewy ice cream is Calago's Dark Chocolate and Chianti Crema, a chocolate truffle you can almost drink -- "an adult pudding," says the chef. Liquid dark chocolate is infused with Chianti, then poured into a wine glass and topped with a healthy dollop of whipped cream. Dessert doesn't get much guiltier, or more pleasurable, than this. Calago is at 450 Marsh St., San Luis Obispo, 541-5393.