Palo Alto Weekly

Eating Out - March 5, 2010

Shop Talk

by Daryl Savage

SOUL FOOD AT THE TRACKS ... A big change is taking place at 109 California Ave. in Palo Alto, the site of numerous coffee shops throughout the years. The last shop, Plantation Cafe, abruptly closed in June 2008 and the corner of California Avenue and Park Boulevard has sat vacant ever since. Enter Anthony McFadden, a local businessman who had an auto detailing shop for 15 years. "It was time to retire from detailing and open a restaurant," he said of his soon-to-open Mac's by the Tracks. But opening at this particular location was a stretch. "This place had no kitchen so I had to build one, and no natural gas so I had to add a gas line," McFadden said. Mac's by the Tracks is one of the latest restaurants to go into Palo Alto, but McFadden is certainly not new to soul food. "My grandma was a great cook. I grew up with the pressure cooker and the black cast-iron skillets. That's the kind of equipment I'll use here. It will be a newfangled kitchen with old-fashioned ways," he said. And plenty of comfort food. "It's an itch that needs to be scratched. People want greens with meat in it. They want mac and cheese with real elbow macaroni, not the scalloped kind. And they want real fried chicken," he said. As far as a signature dish for the restaurant, he said: "I'll let the people decide. But personally I'm a catfish man. I love deep-fried catfish, made the old-fashioned way."

ONE DOOR CLOSES, ANOTHER OPENS ... That's the way German-food aficionados might view the turn of events in the restaurant business. It looks like Esther's German Bakery and Cafe, at 987 San Antonio Road on the Los Altos/Palo Alto border, may be picking up the slack created when Elbe's, Palo Alto's only German restaurant, closed two months ago. For two years, Esther's was open only for breakfast and lunch. It started serving dinners this week, with an expanded menu featuring traditional German supper fare. "People have been asking me for a long time to open for dinner and I finally decided to do it," owner Esther Nio said. "I've done my best to try to keep reasonable prices. With this economy, who can afford a big dinner?" Despite the extensive menu that includes such items as schweinshaxn and rouladen, Nio says her best seller still is basic bratwurst.

SLIDERS HIT DOWNTOWN ... CharStyle:>A modern-day diner is about to open its front door in downtown Palo Alto. The Sliderbar Cafe at 324 University Ave. is restaurateur Ashwani Dhawan's latest venture. Applying the concept of old-fashioned sliders to popular culture, Dhawan will be serving the all-day slider. "We'll have sliders for breakfast, sliders for lunch and sliders for dinner," he said. But these are a sharp contrast to the sliders of the 1950s. The term "sliders" is thought to have originated at White Castle, a chain of restaurants known for its small square burgers. The burgers were on the greasy side and as a result, they would easily slide down the throats of the customers. White Castle even trademarked the name of its burgers, but spelled it as "Slyders." Dhawan's sliders could be viewed as several steps up from the original — nothing in the cafe will be fried. "We are going to bake our fries, chicken wings and onion rings," Dhawan said. "We use Niman Ranch beef and everything is organic," he said. In addition, breakfast sliders come in different styles. "We have the Mediterranean breakfast slider, the Italian breakfast slider and the California breakfast slider," he said. Breakfast sliders start at $1.99. The narrow 1,600-square-foot site, which is half the former Gleim the Jeweler spot, will seat 45. Dhawan said 1 percent of all sales from the restaurant will go to local charities. He also owns Mantra, a 4-year-old Indian restaurant at 632 Emerson St. in Palo Alto.

Heard a rumor about your favorite store or business moving out, or in, down the block or across town? Daryl Savage will check it out. She can be e-mailed at shoptalk@paweekly.com.

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