Friday, May 11 2012 10:30 AM

PETE TITTL: Not quite as good, but still worth checking out

By The Bakersfield Californian

BY PETE TITTL

Contributing columnist

Related Info

HIGHLAND CAFE

2201 N. Chester Ave.

829-7885

thehighlandcafe.com

Hours: Food served 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Reservations not accepted.

Prices: Appetizers, $6.95 to $11.95; soup and salad, $3.95 to $11.95; hamburgers, $6.95 to $10.95; sandwiches, $8.95 to $11.95; entrees, $12.95 to $21.95; child's plate $4.95.

Payment: MasterCard, VISA, American Express and Discover accepted. Personal checks not accepted.

Dress: Casual

Amenities: Wheelchair accessible; full bar service; few vegetarian options.

Food: Three sars

Atmosphere: Three sars

Service: Three ad a half sars

Value: Three ad a half sars

Next week: Applebee's

pftittl@gmail.com

Sometimes people treat me like a food superhero. When they spot trouble, they send an email insisting I check out such- and-such a place. "It's gone downhill; it's nothing like you said anymore." Stuff like that.

Such reports came to me regarding the Highland Café in Oildale, which I praised twice last year, in a roundup of the best hamburgers in town and as one of the best fine-dining restaurants despite its humble tavern atmosphere. So I donned my cape in a phone booth and tried flying to the 'Dale. When that didn't work, I just drove north on Chester.

If the food had slipped, the crowd I saw apparently hadn't gotten word. On a weekday night there was a friendly group there, eating, drinking, enjoying life. The flat screens were tuned to the Speed Channel, with a fascinating show on how they send cars off cliffs in movie stunts. The menu looked pretty similar, with a few prices adjusted up or down a buck or two. I was lured to the specials on the white board, where the beer-batter fish and chips ($12.95) seemed worth trying, as well as the German chocolate cake ($4.99). My companion opted for the Cobb salad ($11.95).

I'd say things have slipped a tad, but it's still an above-average restaurant at worst.

My companion's salad featured grilled chicken breast, great greens, bacon crumbles, gorgonzola and a blackberry vinaigrette that was perfect with this mix of flavors and textures. The fish and chips were hot and crispy, but inside the batter, the fish was incredibly bland, washed out and lacked the nutty character of those we've enjoyed at Coconut Joe's and Westchester Bowl. It was fresh, not fishy in the least, but as bland as tofu. The fries were fresh cut, limp, dark and lacking any starchy sweetness.

By the way, my fish came with a salad that had homemade croutons and a "spring mix" of greens that were far fresher than what I usually find in stores. My waitress insisted it came from a nearby grocery store; in any case, a fantastic bonus with my meal.

The German chocolate cake -- a sheet rather than the layer variety -- was disappointing, lacking pecans in the coconut frosting. It was no match for my buttermilk and butter-rich version, something I seldom can say when comparing my work to what I find in restaurants.

I went back again to try the hamburgers to see where those ranked compared to the mouth-watering creations I tried last year. I ordered a burger with cheddar cheese and bacon, and everything but the bun was exceptional (I've been having bad luck with buns lately.) The cheddar slice was thick and perfectly melted, the half-pound patty juicy and smoky. I got the fresh-fried chips instead of French fries and I highly recommend them. Almost too hot to eat when brought to the table.

My waitress, Julie, was just excellent in so many ways. She was consistently attentive and friendly to all her customers, and knew about everything on the menu, including that Sierra Nevada was the beer used in the batter for the fish and chips. She's definitely a waitress worth requesting when you visit.

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