BY PETE TITTL
It's always good for a city's restaurant scene when local entrepreneurs find a concept with promise and tweak it until it's successful. Two popular casual operations, Juicy Burger and Lengthwise, just opened their second and third stores respectively, and both look like a continuation or even an enhancement of the things that helped them succeed in the first place.
Juicy Burger opened in the old Dewar's location at the corner of Hageman and Calloway, in a shopping center that's already busy with successful food operations such as Cubbie's and RJ's. Like its downtown version, it has a Dreyer's ice cream counter, though here it seems more natural, located near the door rather than on the other side of a wall. The atmosphere is '50s diner, though the free jukebox in the corner was not yet operational when we visited in mid-November. The mural on the wall features signs of old Bakersfield places such as Stan's, which I've heard of but never got a chance to visit. Freddie's Top of the Hill is as far back as I go.
We went on a night when the location was celebrating Juicy Burger's two-year anniversary with $2 cheeseburgers, which was perhaps unfair.
There was a line two-thirds of the way to the door, but with their clipboards holding order slips and a hostess working the line to help people decide what they wanted, it was a smooth-running system. I watched the crew working in the back (you can see the kitchen, just like at the downtown location), and the food was at our table 12 minutes after I paid for it at the register.
And the product is as good as it is at the flagship restaurant. The fresh-cut fries ($1.99, or $3 with a drink if you make it a combo) are irresistible, being thin, crispy and fried in peanut oil (those with peanut allergies should beware). If you want something different, get a 50/50 of regular fries and sweet potato fries ($3.99). The beef is always juicy, the buns toasted, and I love the 14 different sauces you can choose from, especially spicy mustard, tabasco ketchup and chipotle barbecue.
My companion's friend from work was there and she noted there is no pork served at Juicy Burger, in the hot dog or even the bacon (which is turkey bacon). I hadn't noticed that before. I did notice there was no AT&T service there for some reason, and one panicked man was moving around near the restrooms trying to send a text.
The new Lengthwise is even more impressive. It faces the south entrance of the CSUB campus, near Toro Sushi, just a short drive from the Icardo Center where the volleyball, wrestling and basketball teams compete. Looks like CSUB just got its home bar, and the Lengthwise owners are wisely playing up that connection, even listing the basketball schedules on the wall. There's a patio with heaters, lots of TVs turned to sports and already the place is jammed. There's a very social vibe, and it has the kind of local connection that neighboring Applebee's strives for but that this place pulls off with a more natural aplomb. There's a huge picture on the wall of the CSUB swim and dive team one of the years they won a national title. It's easy to forget that CSUB once had amazing swim and dive teams.
The area near this restaurant was one of the last places you could find a parking spot for the neighboring movie theater on a weekend night, but I think those days are over. It's back to parking near Carl's Jr. Folks were circling in their cars.
It's always frustrating to visit, in a good way. There are so many items on the menu that I already love but I feel compelled to try new things.
My companion selected the "Turkey Boy" club sandwich ($9.25). It was amazing, served on house focaccia beer bread with ham, bacon, cheddar cheese and roast turkey that was the real thing, Thanksgiving leftover breast meat. It's huge; even sharing with me she took half of it home.
To better compare with what we'd enjoyed at Juicy Burger, I skipped past the things I love such as the Centennial Ale fish and chips, the tri-tip sandwich, the amazing chili, the pulled pork or the chicken strips and got a bacon cheeseburger ($9.25). It was flatter and not as juicy as its competitor, but probably much larger (8 ounces spread over the same large square focaccia bread my companion was served). The bacon was too subdued, not particularly smoky, though the cheddar was a presence.
We happened to visit on a night when the news was breaking about the demise of America's snack cake, the Twinkie, which Lengthwise serves deep fried with ice cream and syrup ($8.45). We passed out of respect for the dearly departed.
We did not pass, however, on the beer. They have 11 on tap, their "liquid buffet" of the seven beers they make and guest beers such as a Firestone Union Jack IPA, which was medium dark and fairly strong.
I love the Lengthwise beers. As at Eureka!, you have a lot of variety, including Monkey Fist IPA, Tangerine Wheat, Mammoth Brown Ale and Wyder's Pear Cider.
Though we sat at the bar, where you can get served, most of the customers at tables were lined up at the two cash registers in the center of the bar to give their orders, pay and get the number that would eventually be exchanged for food. The system is in place at the other Lengthwise locations, so if you're a veteran you've been trained.
There was a lengthy delay to get the food, but it was worse for the gentleman sitting to our right, who was making jokes about who ended up with his food. We didn't share. Not with meals like this.