Editor's note: The restaurant is currently closed, as are many others, to help slow the spread of the coronavirus.
I have been told by a reader that, in my obsessive affection for Cope’s Knotty Pine Cafe and Milt’s Coffee Shop, I am missing another worthy North of the River breakfast-lunch-dinner restaurant: The Sugar Mill on North Chester.
That particular location has been home to a few restaurants over the years. (I was convinced it was once a Perko’s — aren’t all these buildings former Perko’s?). I’m sure the last time I visited it was a waffle place, so I thought I’d check it out. Get the chile verde skillet I was told, and the advice was good. This humble breakfast-all-day coffee shop has a good crew, decent food and large portions, a worthy successor to the legendary, late Friendly Cafe, which was located a short distance south of that on Chester Avenue.
(We interrupt this review for a brief observation. Driving there in early March we went past Snow Road and couldn’t believe how many photographers were working in the almond orchards with families, couples and friends. It’s become a real Bakersfield thing, as we’ve noticed on social media, to use the white backdrop of the spring bloom as a great photo background. Fascinating.)
We stopped first for breakfast on a Saturday morning and the place was jammed, almost no empty seats (just like Milt’s and Cope’s). I let my companion order the chile verde skillet ($11.75) while I selected the tres tres omelet ($12.25), officially confirming that The Sugar Mill is a bilingual restaurant. Three meats, three cheeses. I get it.
Lots to like here. First of all, the skillet is actually not presented at the table in one of those metal cast iron pans. They trust that you get it and give it to you on a regular plate. The menu bragged that the chile verde was the best in town. Hype, but it was still decent as my companion noted the high quality of the pork chunks even if it wasn’t particularly spicy (a mega bottle of Tabasco is on each table if you need more heat). The meat and melted cheddar were spread over some excellent cowboy potatoes that were soft inside and crunchy outside. A few red and green pepper chunks in the mix. If you eat this whole plate and are still hungry, I need to meet you.
My omelet featured the most minutely diced bits of bacon, ham and sausage folded inside a three-egg omelet shell with Swiss, cheddar and American cheese, the Swiss and American slices on top. It was quite satisfying and perfectly created, with the diced meats blending the flavors through every bite. The hash browns on the side weren’t quite up to the crispy, buttery version at Milt’s; my companion noted the oil taste that just wasn’t as appealing as what we get at the Oildale competition. But that was mitigated by the amazing biscuit and gravy that I got on the side instead of toast.
Many praise the B&G at Zingo’s and other local places, but The Sugar Mill has amazing biscuits — very dark brown on top, to an impressive depth and crispiness, and there is no doubt these are homemade gems. My companion in particular praised the black peppery notes of the gravy, and the biscuit itself was the first thing on the breakfast table to disappear. If you’re a big B&G person, you must check out this version.
We went back for dinner and got a chance to try the blaze burger ($11.25) and the French dip ($11.75) sandwich, available with two types of french fries: steak or regular thin cut. Our favorite was the burger, which is made with grilled onions and jalapeno strips as well as Swiss cheese — a good combination. My companion appreciated the toasted French roll on her sandwich but thought the au jus dipping sauce was weak.
The decor is praiseworthy because there are a lot of photos from 1930s Bakersfield — think “The Grapes of Wrath” days — with labels that include times and dates and there are wood-burned Sugar Mill planks on the top of each booth divider. It’s clean, Fox News is on the TV and the employees are bustling. There is an extensive senior menu (60 and younger) for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and those prices do include beverages.
Pete Tittl’s Dining Out column appears in The Californian on Sundays. Email him at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter at @pftittl.