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BY PETE TITTL Contributing columnist
Covenant Coffee has taken over the small cafe at the Bakersfield Racquet Club downtown. The first order of business? Bringing back Carol Bianco, the popular creative force who ran the kitchen operation for decades.
I've heard from so many readers over the years who were addicted to her taco salad with its special sauce (which my editor compared to a good French dressing). They say Bianco was a casualty of one of several internal changes at the downtown landmark, which, over time, has seen many experienced restaurateurs try to run the coffee shop. Enter Randy Martin, of Covenant, who had the good sense to bring back Bianco.
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"She's shared all her recipes except the taco sauce -- she'll make that for us and we'll buy it from her," he said in a phone interview. "The amazing thing is she kept all her things from her years there in storage, paid for it, and gave it all to us. She said it's such a blessing -- she knows God's hand is in this."
Covenant, the Oildale coffee shop that hires former foster children as a way to help them get a good start on adult life, will keep its North Chester location up and running.
As for the new venture, Martin said Bianco told him that 80 percent of her business in the old days came from non-members who just enjoyed her food.
"We're bringing back all her old popular recipes, like the tuna salad sandwich," he said. "She's been here every day, training the kids. We're hoping to continue to build on that, make the restaurant a destination again."
The BRC has been hopping, what with the Bakersfield Open, which concludes Sunday. Starting Monday, the cafe will be open for its normal operating hours, 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Saturday.
"We may extend that to snacks in the evening, depending on member interest. We're also bringing over all the Covenant coffee drinks and some of our popular breakfast items, like the breakfast sandwich made on the cheese bagel."
World's spiciest pizza
Read a great story about a creation called Death by Pizza, created by James Broderick, owner of the Little Italy Pizza Co. in Sleaford, England. That British baker teamed up with an Indian chef to create a pizza that is 30 times hotter than the fiery habanero pepper! The pizza was so spicy it made one customer's tongue bleed. Broderick, in a video, said the secret is in the sauce, which is 2Â½ times more potent than the pepper spray used in self-defense canisters. The pizza costs $19.89, has two cheeses, onions and jalapenos on top. No one has been able to finish one by themselves, but if you do it in half an hour with no more than a pint of liquid refreshment and can keep it down for 15 minutes, you will be paid $33.15 and get your picture on the "Wall of Flame."
The video is available on YouTube.
New Sonoma wines
There are a lot of impressive wines from the Sonoma-Napa area that I run across, but two reasonably priced varietals worth a special mention are the 2011 SIMI chardonnay and Pinot Noir. The chardonnay is balanced, light on oak and more complicated than most with a bit of smokiness. Perfect with roasted chicken or grilled pork loin. The Pinot has heft and a lot of fruit notes (guava and green apple) and would be perfect with a spicy rock shrimp. You can buy them at most local grocery stores, with the chardonnay at about $18 and the Pinot about $24. They're the sort of wines that taste as if they should be priced much higher.
New and different
Coco's Bakery Restaurant has a fresh banana caramel and peanut brioche French toast combo for $8.99 for a limited time. It's one of many new offerings using the bread, including a three-cheese brie melt. The chain also is offering four different dark chocolate pies ... Marie Callender's Restaurant & Bakery has added a Tuscan shrimp pot pie ($13.99) to its savory pie lineup. As for the sweet pies, the chain is offering $5 off any whole pie for dine-in customers through March 31 ... Boston Market is cutting the amount of sodium in most of its products, including mashed potatoes, gravy and stuffing ... There's a sign between the Chipotle on Stockdale Highway and the bike trail promising a new restaurant called Pie Squared Pizza ... Since it's Lent, just about everyone is rolling out seasonal fish filets, including Carl's Jr., Farmer Boys, Popeye's and Freddy's Frozen Custard & Steakburgers . One intriguing twist: Carl's Jr. is offering a grilled cod option instead of the standard fried filet ... Starbucks has added three new items to its list of breakfast sandwiches: egg and cheddar on toast, vegetable egg and fontiago on multigrain ciabatta and a ham, Swiss and egg sandwich on a croissant bun ... Opening date for the Bakersfield store of the Firestone Grill has been moved back to November, and it will be somewhere on California Avenue, according to the San Luis Obispo restaurant's Facebook page ... Flame Broiler has a happy hour special (2 to 5 p.m. daily): a mini chicken with veggies bowl and a regular fountain drink for $3.99.