I’ve owned many brands of vehicles in my driving lifetime and I’ve found few car dealership service departments I could trust, so I often sought out a trustworthy, factory-trained independent mechanic to do the work. What too many dealerships did in my experience was what occurred with an Acura I owned when it needed some work done while out of town.

They created a long list of suggested repairs that were “vital” and totaling over $3,000. By the tone in their voice, I feared they’d be calling the automotive equivalent of CPS on me over my neglect if I rejected their advice. I deferred, got done what I needed done to get back on the road and took the list back to my factory-trained local mechanic, who scoffed at it and suggested we defer. Years later nothing happened to require any of the repairs, and life was good.

Then there’s Bill Wright Toyota, which is a completely different operation under the leadership of Beau Shepherd. It’s always busy for a reason. They do good work and you can trust them. I’ve owned various Toyotas over the year and told them things like “check the belts and hoses.” Tell that to some dealerships and you’ll come back with an empty wallet. Not here. I recently went in because my hatchback trunk wouldn’t lock. I feared the repair because the part was about $500. They worked with it and fixed it for free. It’s why I keep going back, and it's why this year Bill Wright had to open a new service-only facility south of the sales center with about double the capacity — just to handle the satisfied customers.

It’s a beaut. The waiting room is huge, and has permanently labeled TVs for both CNN and Fox News in separate areas to keep everyone on the political spectrum happy, as well as an ESPN TV area for those who avoid politics. There are free doughnuts and coffee and bottled water, and an entire restaurant serving breakfast, lunch and dinner called the By the Way Cafe. I’ve been in Bakersfield long enough to remember Bill Wright doing his own commercials and signing off, “By the way, I’m Bill Wright.”

We had to go for both breakfast and lunch as the menu is pretty extensive. Breakfast is served mornings only, and we visited on a Saturday when the waiting room was pretty full already. Four of the five boxes of free donuts were wiped out but few customers were visiting the restaurant. Their mistake. My companion ordered an Americano ($2.50) and the chilaquiles bowl ($8) with country potatoes and roasted jalapenos (the other option is a habanero salsa, and that’s chancey whether you’re getting your car fixed or not). I chose the coconut-banana smoothie ($4.50) and the Dagwood ($8), a breakfast sandwich, with Tater Tots.

To sum it all up, the food was good enough that we’d drop in even if not scheduled for a repair. My companion thought the Americano on a level with the famous chain that has outlets everywhere, possibly because the cafe roasts the beans on the premises. Both breakfasts were served in rectangular aluminum trays lined with paper, and the chilaquiles had guacamole, sour cream and eggs scrambled with some chorizo and typical Mexican spices as well as pico de gallo. The tortilla chips beneath it all had a moderately spicy red sauce, and the country potatoes were dark and in small chunks.

The smoothie was so good I wondered why I’d never tried a coconut-banana smoothie before. The French roll for my sandwich was grilled and toasted, featuring a hash brown layer, eggs scrambled with bacon, ham, sausage and hot link, all diced into incredibly small pieces with a bit of cheese. Overall it was a really classy sandwich made special by those roasted jalapeno discs (what vegetable isn’t improved by roasting?) and the Tater Tots which were ultra crunchy. I know this processed potato product is in other restaurants but too many serve a limp, lifeless variety. Not here.

Atmosphere was a plus too with simple white metal tables and chairs, a small counter and cool coffee house music playing softly in the background. A great way to start the day, really.

We went back for lunch/dinner where they have burgers, sandwiches, pizzas and barbecue as well as drinks. Things were even better. This time I ordered the Philly cheesesteak ($9) and while I found it to be an exceptional, creative variation on an American classic, I’m glad no one from the City of Brotherly Love was on the premises as they would take great exception not only to the lack of “Whiz” (Cheese Whiz, an admittedly disgusting product) but the restrained use of cheese overall. The good features: the beef was fried with garlic butter and almost pulverized, you had red and green peppers and onions that were superbly caramelize, on a toasted French roll. A great sandwich, and an inspired twist, really. But if you’ve been to Philly and enjoyed what they serve there, your affection for it may not come close to mine.

My companion selected the barbecue sampler platter ($11), with pork ribs (a bit overdone and dry), chicken, hot link sausage and tri tip that were in much better shape, much juicier. While I won’t be postponing any trips to Bubba’s, Salty’s or Angry Barnyard over this food, it’d be perfect if you’re truly hungry. The fresh fried potato chips she got with it were pretty dark.

In short, I’d stop here even when not scheduled for a repair. By the Way Cafe can be recommended for a fine dining experience.

Pete Tittl’s Dining Out column appears here on Sundays. Email him at pftittl@yahoo.com

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