Contributing columnist

The Grill Hut is on track for a big change -- literally. The barbecue favorite has closed its prior two locations, on Ming Avenue and in the Auto Mall, and reopened in the cool Amtrak dining car that used to house Burger Depot on White Lane.

Thursday was the big grand opening, a day later than scheduled due to a water main break, said Patty Waldo, whose family owns The Grill Hut.

"It's been bonkers today," said Waldo in a phone chat during a rare lull Thursday. "When we turned on the 'open' sign, our Grill Hut fans started flocking through the door. Everyone went home full and happy, probably to take a nap."

The family has renovated the inside of the car, brought to Bakersfield from Santa Barbara about 12 years ago, Waldo said. The family also resurfaced the outside patio area, which seats about 50. The capacity inside is 48, she said.

Also new for Grill Hut fans are additions to the menu like ribeye steak and macaroni and cheese. An application for a beer and wine license has been filed as well.

"We're adding as we go. Week to week we'll introduce new items."

But the old favorites are what attract what Waldo affectionately calls the restaurant's "cult following."

"I would say our most popular item is the pulled-pork sandwich. Our version is very lean and it has just taken off. We can't make it fast enough. Our pulled-pork salads are popular, too."

Hours for now are 10:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Thursday, and 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday, though Waldo notes the restaurant might soon open on Sundays when the breakfast menu is unveiled. The Grill Hut is located at 6801 White Lane.

Basque-ing on the beach

It shouldn't surprise us that with the popularity of Basque restaurants in Bakersfield and the tendency for residents of our fair city to flee to the Central Coast throughout the year that you could find such cuisine in places like Shell Beach, home to the newish Alphy's Basque Chateau , which recently hired Bryan Mathers as head chef. Menu changes followed, including nightly specials, and live entertainment was added on the weekends.

The restaurant, which opened in April, is adding an a la carte option for those not up for the full Basque entrees-with-setup experience (sacrilege in these parts!). Happy hour specials (2-6 p.m. weekdays) include pulled pork sliders for $2 on Thursday and a paella plate for $4 on Friday. Specials include roast leg of lamb (Tuesdays), a barbecue sampler (Thursday) and roast half chicken dinner with mashed potatoes, gravy and green beans on Sunday.

Alphy's Basque Chateau is open 7 days a week: Monday through Thursday, 2 p.m. to 10 p.m.; Friday, 2 p.m. to midnight; Saturday 11:30 a.m. to midnight; and 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Sunday. 1527 Shell Beach Road, Shell Beach 93449. Phone: 805-773-6280. Fax: 805-773-6285.

New and different

KC Steakhouse is continuing its impressive early-bird specials, 4:30-6 p.m. Monday through Saturday; $13.50 for six different entrees, which change over time. My favorites are the filet mignon (6 ounce) and the top sirloin (8 ounce). Another good option is the lemon chicken breast with mushroom sauce. Adding dessert is only $4 more ... Another restaurant taking value meals to a new level is Pyrenees , which has started weekday specials that offer some exceptional values. In the past I wrote about that great New York steak Thursday special ($12.95), but others worth trying include prime rib on Tuesday ($14.50), the roast lamb sandwich on Friday ($13.50), and the garlic fried chicken on Mondays ($8.50). Here's hoping they keep these going ... Earlier this year we wrote about Sheila G's Brownie Brittle , a fantastic brownie/cookie product invented by laid-off corporate employee turned entrepreneur Sheila G. Mains. At the time it was available only over the Internet but local Sam's Club and Costco stores are now carrying it ... Red Robin has brought back a couple of temporary items, the Gingerbread shake (with graham cracker crumbs) and the Jim Beam burger, a bourbon-glazed burger patty topped with caramelized onions, bacon and melted Swiss cheese ... BJ's Restaurant & Brewhouse has added a top sirloin and lobster entree to the menu ... El Pollo Loco has expanded its shredded beef offerings to include tacos, bowls and quesadillas ... El Torito now has a Skinny Cadillac Margarita and new chicken specials with mole sauce ... New and interesting at Trader Joe's : dark-chocolate covered Triple Ginger cookies.

What was that wine again?

Reader Jill Gaul wrote to ask about a wine we mentioned in a column earlier this year. "You wrote a review lately ... near the end of the article you mentioned a glass of wine you ordered and, after, you mentioned a Pinot Noir you like better. I misplaced the article and would love to know the name of it and if you know where to get it locally as an Xmas present for my sister, a Pinot fanatic. Your help would be greatly appreciated; love reading all your articles."

I'm hoping she's referring to the excellent Pinot value we found at Chef's Choice Noodle Bar downtown, a Fog Dog for only $25 a bottle that night. You can't even get it for that price through Internet retailers. Fog Dog is a label from the Firestone Vineyards Sonoma County. Wine Spectator loved that wine. Hope your sister likes that red.

Hottest jelly on the planet

One of the odd items that's really taking off in the food world is Jenkins Jellies Hell Fire Pepper Jelly , a "mostly organic" concoction that has been embraced by all sorts of celebrity chefs. Chef Mario Batali called it his "condiment of choice" and warned it's highly addictive. Actress Gwyneth Paltrow wrote in her food and lifestyle blog, GOOP, "In this day of factory-made/farmed almost everything, how wonderful to come across products that are artfully and lovingly made by hand ... my absolute favorite being Hell Fire Pepper Jelly (I am obsessed with it and spread it on everything)."

Now the product has inspired a cookbook, "Sweet Heat: Cooking with Jenkins Jellies Hell Fire Pepper Jelly" by the two women who created the company, Hillary Danner and Maria Newman . The recipes include Raging Roasted Chicken, Double Deviled Eggs and even drink recipes. The webpage for the company is, and the hard-cover book can be ordered from the publisher at List is $15.95. You can buy the jelly in L.A., San Clemente and other cities, but there are no Bakersfield retail outlets at this point. It is available on the Internet, of course.