Deep Dish Diplomacy
Hey, Australia. Are we good? We had a weird phone call followed by a weird meeting and now it's awkward. But look, we made your favorite: meat pies! For those unfamiliar, meat pies are the wings and nachos of the land down under. They are at once a comfort food and the portable meal that launched a thousand hooligans.
Unlike when restaurants whip up Asian salads and iffy Cinco de Mayo taco bowls, an actual Australian consulted on the recipe for Slice of Humboldt Pie's (828 I St., Arcata) Australian meat pies ($3.50 empanada, $7 individual pie, $28 family size). Blending in among the hot case of empanadas and pot pies, the antipodean favorites are stuffed with saucy ground Humboldt grassfed beef, minced onion and peppers. The flavor is ketchup-y in a good way, reminiscent of the sweet tomato sauce of a sloppy Joe. And unlike that quintessentially American sandwich — the engineering flaws of which are proclaimed in its very name — the filling is tidily contained in Slice of Humboldt's irreproachably buttery, flaky crust.
One can easily imagine it as a late-night drinking snack, a morning hangover helper or something to tuck into when you're jet lagged after a 22-hour flight. Cheers, mates.
Pressed for Cuban Sandwiches
The plot twists and sudden shifts of international politics have never come at us with such breakneck speed. Sure, you can hop a flight to Cuba now but who knows in a month or two? Stockpiling Cohibas in your bunker humidor now might not be a bad idea. And you'll need a local back-up supplier for Cuban sandwiches in case the travel ban kicks in again because going through Canada is just going to make you feel bad (we see your shade, Trudeau) and Florida just looks overwhelming.
No regime — not even Castro's — lasts forever. Indeed, Bar Fly is no more and The Vista Del Mar has risen in its spot (91 Commercial St., Eureka). New management has made over the institutionally seedy back room, added to the menu and kept the place's deep fryer game strong. The Cubano sandwich ($12) at this bar of the people comes on a fittingly proletariat aluminum tray. Sliced roast pork butt, ham, Swiss cheese, mustard and pickle are all panini pressed on a homemade roll. This version skips the contentious salami and the bread is not technically Cuban but, like all good Cuban sandwiches, it is a savory combination of tart and meaty flavors — like the combination of a picnic and a Sunday dinner. Chase it with a Cuba Libre and toast.
Back to the Shack
Surfside Burger Shack (445 Fifth St., Eureka) looks more or less the same — like a colorful, well-used surfboard with a few dings in it. Walking in off the street, you might not guess it's under new ownership. After a deep inhale, you might just think the place is back on its game after a year or so in decline.
The new owners have stepped up Surfside's grassfed beef game with fresh rather than frozen meat but stuck to the basics of the shop. The Southwestern Swell ($8.95) comes with the usual avocado, lettuce, tomato, onion and mayo, along with a controlled burn of pepper jack cheese melted over grilled pickled jalapeño slices. Before you freak out because you can't see any avocado, attempt some surfer chill and look under the patty for a mashed schmear — the only reasonable solution to the dilemma of sliding slices. The heat is mellow enough that you can return to work without changing your shirt. For $2, add a split serving of slightly dark hand-cut fries and onion rings, which are as much of a draw as the burger. Fresh fries with skins on, after all, taste not just like fries, but potatoes rendered crisp. The hand-dipped onion rings are puffy, crunchy life preservers, just as you would hope. It's no wonder — look upon the serious fellow at the fryer, dropping in one heavy circle at a time and not looking away for a moment. You have our admiration, sir.
And finally, in a world gone mad, reason has prevailed in this one corner: There are at last milkshakes ($5), tall and thick enough to demand a little work for that first sip. Get thee behind me, secret Starbuck's menu of ridiculous frozen concoctions. I will have a milkshake. In chocolate, vanilla or strawberry.
— Jennifer Fumiko Cahill is the arts and features editor at the North Coast Journal. Reach her at 442-1400 extention 320 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @JFumikoCahill.