Spencer’s Restaurant – Palm Springs, California

Spencer’s Restaurant in Palm Springs

Dean Beck: What do you have against preachers?
Clay Spencer: It’s what they preach against I’m against.
Dean Beck: I’m afraid I don’t understand?
Clay Spencer: They’re against everything I’m for.
They don’t allow drinkin’ or smokin’, card playin’, pool shootin’, dancin’, cussin’ –
or huggin’, kissin’ and lovin’. And mister, I’m for all of them things.
~Spencer’s Mountain

In the family-centric 1963 movie Spencer’s Mountain, hard-drinkin’, hard-lovin’ Clay Spencer (brilliantly portrayed by Henry Fonda) dreamed of building his wife Olivia (the stunning Maureen O’Hara) a beautiful home on a piece of land he inherited on Spencer’s Mountain.  My dream was a bit less ambitious.  My dream was to take my Kim to Spencer’s Restaurant at the Mountain, “one of the all-time great restaurants in the city” according to The Infatuation, an online recommendation service.  To be named an “all-time great” bespeaks of Spencer’s longevity and to the sustained love the Palm Springs dining public has for this treasure set in the historic Palm Springs Tennis Club area at the base of the San Jacinto Mountains just a few blocks west of downtown Palm Springs.

The dog-friendly patio in which The Dude held court

Named after the owner’s dog (an award-winning 110-pound Siberian husky), it stands to reason that Spencer’s would be dog-friendly and indeed it is.  In Palm Springs, our “dog-friendly” experience has come to mean friendly diners making a fuss over our debonair dachshund The Dude.  He could probably run for mayor and win (it would help that he’s almost the same height as Sonny Bono, a former Palm Springs mayor).  No candidate would ever kiss as many babies (or adults) or garner as much bipartisan support (plus, his honesty is refreshingly impeccable).  Two patios–one enclosed by glass but no roof–provide an outdoorsy feel with towering ficus and fig trees providing shade and natural beauty.  Even without our Dude, there’d be no better place to dine at Spencer’s.

Though categorized as a fine-dining restaurant, Spencer’s is synonymous with stylish elegance and comfortable informality, self-described as “Featuring Four Star American Cuisine with a French – Pacific Rim Influence in a Casually Elegant Atmosphere.”  Locals have recognized Spencer’s for having Palm Springs’ Best Sunday Brunch, Best Outdoor Dining, Best Power Lunch, Best Wine List, Best Chef, Best Caterer and Most Romantic.  They’ll tell you “Spencer’s is Palm Springs’ “it” place for any occasion.”  On an average week, Spencer’s draws more than 2,000 guests.

Spencer’s Hot Appetizer Sampler

Lest, I be remiss, Spencer’s serves the very best cup of coffee we’ve ever had at a restaurant, a fragrant blend of pure indulgence and sinful pleasure.  Brewed by Douwe Egberts out of the Netherlands, it’s a combination of strong Robusta beans and aromatic Arabica beans which come together in a symphony of flavor that swaddles you in a cloud of aromatic delight.  Two carafes weren’t nearly enough.  Though Douwe Egberts is available online, we were apprised that Spencer’s has a special (translation: expensive) brewing machine which makes the perfect cup every time.

With  appetizers ranging in price from $12 to $32, Spencer’s Hot Appetizer Sampler is practically a steal–three appetizers for thirty dollars (as of the date of our visit).  We’re not talking about bottom-shelf stuff, here.  This is a winning troika: Chinese Style Kung Pao Calamari tossed with a cilantro sweet and spicy chili sauce, Sauteed Crab Cakes (Maryland blue crab meat with heirloom tomato, lemon butter sauce, capers and tiny greens) and Coconut Shrimp.  Never have we had calamari as tender and fresh.  It was wholly devoid of the rubbery quality some calamari has.  Only one thing was wrong with the sauteed crab cakes and that was that there were only two of them.  Only in Corrales at the home of Larry McGoldrick, the professor with the perspicacious palate, will you find crab cakes this good.  The coconut shrimp was a bit on the unremarkable side, but the same could be said about virtually all coconut shrimp.

Wild Mushroom Risotto

Long-time readers of Gil’s Thrilling…are probably tired of my ad-nauseum whining about the scarcity of life-altering risotto, the type of risotto which elicited a carnal response from one of George Costanza’s girlfriends.  Most risotto is passable at best, but more often than not, it’s as boring as an Al Gore speech.  Spencer’s gluten-free wild mushroom risotto (Aborio rice with sautéed wild mushrooms and Parmesan cheese) with grilled shrimp is the best risotto we’ve ever had that didn’t include lobster or some other ocean-based protein.  When prepared well, risotto has a rich, creamy and slightly chewy texture, with each individual grain of arborio rice standing out clearly and having a hint of a bite, rather than being soft or mushy.  Perhaps because preparing risotto can be a complicated process requiring painstaking monitoring, not many restaurants prepare it well.  Spencer’s version is terrific!

For me, “any other white meat” is preferable to a steak.  That’s especially true of pork chops.  Deciding whether to order Spencer’s honey-brined center-cut pork chops or the wild mushroom risotto was a delicious dilemma.  Fortunately, my Kim preempted me by ordering the pork chops which meant that with sufficient pleading, she’d share a bite or six.  Considering she declared this one “the best pork chop I’ve ever had,” she was surprisingly generous in sharing an inch-thick chopped sitting on a pool of red wine demi-grace and topped with a pineapple-mango chutney all served with  mashed potatoes and asparagus.  Where to begin?  The pork chop was moist, tender and devoid of sinew and fat.   I would gladly shampoo my hair in the red wine demi-glace just so its aromas would linger.  The pineapple-mango chutney prevented me from just grabbing the chop by its “handle” and devouring it like a troglodyte (or Philadelphia Eagle).

Honey Brine Center Cut Pork Chop

Spencer’s Restaurant on the mountain certainly earns its billing as an all-time great restaurant.  From an experiential standpoint as well as a culinary revelation, it’s a restaurant we’ll long remember and one to which we hope to return.

Spencer’s Restaurant
701 West Baristo Road
Palm Springs, California
(760) 327-3446
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 26 December 2017
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: N/R
COST: $$$ – $$$$
BEST BET: Chinese Style Kung Pao Calamari, Sautéed Crab Cakes, Coconut Shrimp, Wild Mushroom Risotto, Honey Brine Center Cut Pork Chop
RESTAURANT REVIEW #1017

Spencer's Restaurant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Cheeky’s – Palm Springs, California

Cheeky’s, the most popular breakfast restaurant in Palm Springs

Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw is widely credited with the aphorism “England and the United States are two nations divided by a common language.”  My Kim and I had no idea just how different the Queen’s English is from the English spoken by the colonists until we were assigned to Royal Air Force Fairford.  As part of the newcomers orientation, we were required to attend a course in which those vast differences were explained.  Many of those differences were rather comedic, but we were warned, “if Yanks aren’t careful, we could perpetuate the dreaded “ugly American” stereotype widely held in some parts of Europe.”

We learned, for example, that if an American serviceman walks up to an English lady and introduces himself with “Hi, I’m Randy,” he’s likely to get slapped in the face.  Randy has an entirely different connotation in England where it means “frisky.”  Similarly, we were instructed that if we were to hear an English citizen declare “I’m going to suck on a fag,” we shouldn’t take offense or feign being shocked.  It actually means he or she is going to smoke a cigarette.   For us, the term “shag” described a cheesy carpet found in the back of a van.  In England, shag is a verb which (as Austin Powers later taught us) meant “to  have sex with someone you don’t know.

Our server shows off his “cheeky” shirt

As we discovered over time, a one-hour course isn’t going to cover everything.  For example, a  friend of mine coaching a youth soccer team once told the English mother of a promising player “your son has a lot of spunk,” a statement she found extremely offensive.  My friend couldn’t understand her agitation until someone explained that in England “spunk” actually means er, uh…you’d better look it up.  I experienced a more harmless misinterpretation after asking a grocer where I could find napkins (for wiping hands and face) and was directed to the feminine products aisle.

Two of the terms we found perplexing (until we figured them out–long before Michael Myers introduced the terms on Saturday Night Live) were “cheeky” and “cheeky monkey.”  Cheeky means “disrespectful in speech or behavior” and a “cheeky monkey” is someone who acts in a way which shows they don’t take a situation seriously; they’re monkeying around.”  We had thought cheeky was an adjective to describe the posterior (derriere, buttocks or booty, if you prefer) and wondered why mothers would refer to their children as “cheeky monkeys.”

A flight of bacon

When restaurant impresario Tara Lazar was asked why she would name her uptown Palm Springs restaurant “Cheeky’s,” she replied “obviously, because I’m a smart-ass.”  That irreverence is only one of the reasons Cheeky’s is widely considered the very best restaurant for brunch in the Palm Springs area.  It’s reflected in an avant-garde menu so unlike the menu at other area restaurants which have held on to the past seemingly because to do otherwise would be to tarnish the era of Frank Sinatra, Cary Grant and other denizens of the desert.  It’s even reflected on the shirts in which wait staff are attired–shirts which depict monkeys monkeying around, doing what monkeys do.

Cheeky’s has a no reservations policy.  It’s strictly first-come, first-served.  Place your name on a list and wait.  For fifty-minutes in our case.  We generally don’t want more than ten minutes, but any restaurant for which hungry patrons queue up in uncharacteristically cold sixty-eight degree weather at nine in the morning, bears exploring.  Our debonair dachshund The Dude didn’t mind.  He held court for his many admirers, some of whom had come even further than we had to partake of this unique brunch restaurant.  Others were locals who regaled us with their gushing tales of Cheeky’s unbelievable brunch entrees.

Duck Confit Hash

Cheeky’s is open from Wednesday through Monday and only from 8AM to 2PM, serving breakfast all day and lunch after 11:30AM.  The menu is changed weekly which might mean if you fall in love with a dish, it may not be available the next time you visit.  The breakfast menu is a bit irreverent, too.  Departures from the conventional aren’t wholesale (no deep fried chicken feet parmigiana, for example (thank you, “8”)), but you will find many of the “usual suspects” aren’t prepared the way you’re used to having them.  Buttermilk and fresh corn pancakes, for example.

One “must have” item according to the coterie of Colorado travelers we befriended on line was the flight of bacon.  It’s similar to a “beer flight” in which a number of small beer glasses are presented to cerevisaphiles, each holding a different beer.  A flight of bacon is worthy of an Erica Jong novel as it would cure any fear of bacon you might have.  Our flight–five strips of beauteous bacon–consisted of Beeler Apple Cinnamon (Rachael Ray’s favorite), Eggnog (it was Christmas season, after all), Buttered Rum (ditto), Jalapeño (with a pronounced bite) and Nodines smoked (from Connecticut).  All were quite good, but for our money, the honey-chile glazed bacon from Albuquerque’s Gold Street Caffe remains the undisputed, undefeated champion bacon of the world.

Custard Cheesy Scrambled Eggs

Our server’s most enthusiastic recommendation was for Cheeky’s duck confit hash with white Tillamook Cheddar, mushrooms, potatoes and two poached eggs.  The duck confit (cooking the meat at low temperature in its own fat) alone made this hash different.  What made it special was the mellifluous melding of ingredients.  This wasn’t a thrown-together jumble of stuff.  It was a contrived attempt to put together several items that go well together, very much reminiscent of French preparation.  Success!  This was easily the best hash dish we’ve ever experienced though the little devil over my right shoulder persisted “if only it had a bit of green chile.”

My Kim isn’t always as willing to take as wide a departure from her favorites as her mad scientist of a husband.  There’s no way, I thought, she won’t send back scrambled eggs that aren’t crispy on the bottom–despite the menu forewarning of “custard” scrambled eggs.  Custard scrambled eggs are much more “creamy” and soft than conventional scrambled eggs.  To the uninitiated they may even appear underdone.  Call these eggs decadent, absolutely delicious and addictive with cheesy notes reminiscent of Southern cheese grits.  The custard cheesy scrambled eggs are served with maple sausage (or three slices of bacon) and Deb’s cheddar scone.  The scone is magnificent–light and flaky yet substantial and beckoning for the housemade strawberry jam.

Buttermilk and Fresh Corn Pancakes

Though we both ordered an entree, there was no way we could pass up sharing the buttermilk and fresh corn pancakes, the type of savory and sweet entree we love.  On reflection, we agreed the combination is a natural.  Corn may be a vegetable, but it’s got glorious sweet notes that should marry well with pancakes and the Vermont maple syrup on our table.  The corn didn’t make just a perfunctory appearance on the pancakes.  It was plentiful and it complemented the syrupy, buttery buttermilk pancakes very well.  My friend Bruce “Sr Plata” Silver would love these pancakes, easily some of the best we’ve ever had. 

England and the United States are indeed two nations divided by a common language, but Cheeky’s is a great unifier, bringing together breakfast and lunch items together in a spectacular manner.  Cheeky’s is a wonderfully irreverent restaurant.

Cheeky’s
622 North Palm Canyon Drive
Palm Springs, California
(760) 327-7595
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 28 December 2017
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: N/R
COST: $$
BEST BET: Buttermilk and Fresh Corn Pancakes, Duck Confit Hash, Flight of Bacon, Custard Cheesy Scrambled Eggs
RESTAURANT REVIEW #1016

Cheeky's Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Sherman’s Deli & Bakery – Palm Springs, California

Sherman’s Delicatessen and Bakery, a Palm Springs Mainstay

Not everyone appreciated my friend Bob’s stark honesty as much as I did.  For nearly twelve years, Bob was my most trusted source for information on the Santa Fe dining scene.  He was also a huge advocate for my writing, even when his reaction to one of my particularly “long way around” missives was “what?.”  From a style perspective, he was a “get to the point” guy while your humble blogger sometimes (okay, okay, always) takes a circuitous, raconteur’s route to get somewhere.   Bob often chided me for not liking cumin on New Mexican food, once telling me “when you fault a place for cumin it immediately moves up on my list of places to try.”  Perhaps because of the scarcity of just-off-the-boat seafood in our landlocked state, he frequented Pappadeaux which I told him for my tastes should be renamed “pappa don’t.”  For years I tried getting Bob to submit comments to the blog (“to elevate the dialogue” I pleaded), but he preferred our one-on-one conversations.

Our differences of opinion extended far beyond restaurants.  A former executive at Universal Studios, Bob couldn’t understand my high regard for the irreverent comedy Blazing Saddles.  His tastes were far more artistic and less sophomoric.  We didn’t always agree on which candidates for political office were the lesser evils, but concurred that the lesser of two evils is still evil.  One thing upon which we always agreed was the dearth of real New York style delis in the Land of Enchantment.  It’s a subject about which we commiserated frequently.  Having lived in both Los Angeles and New York, Bob missed the piled high pastrami and behemoth brisket sandwiches offered by delis at both conurbations.   When we last broke bread together (he finally talked me into joining him at Pappadeaux), he confided his desire to escape Santa Fe’s winters and move to Palm Springs which he told me had a number of authentic delis, the type of which he loved and knew I would, too.  

The Perpetually Busy Main Dining Room

My friend Bob made it to Palm Springs six months before I did.  He passed away in June, 2017.  When we stepped into Sherman’s Deli & Bakery, I told my Kim “Bob is here and he’s happy that we’re here, too.”  I missed my friend and wished we were enjoying the pastrami together…although it’s a given we would have disagreed on something, perhaps whether or not caraway seeds have a place on rye bread (I’ll take the pro to his con).  Despite our differences of opinion, Bob and I were both, in his words, “your mileage may vary” guys.  We liked and respected one another so much that our differences just made for more interesting conversation.  

It’s unlikely we’d get much conversation in at Sherman’s. For one thing, it’s a very loud, very crowded restaurant. Both the interior dining room and outdoor, dog-friendly patio are rather on the noisy side. Besides, who wants to talk much when you’ve got a mountainous meal in front of you?  Were I able to get a word in, I would probably have mentioned that a framed photograph of him should have been hanging on the walls beside the numerous glitterati (Frank Sinatra, Bob Hope, Barry Manilow, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Rita Hayworth, Red Skelton, Marilyn Monroe and countless other celebrities) who have frequented Sherman’s. His retort would probably have been to remind me that his role wasn’t “star,” but “star-maker.”

Homemade Sweet & Sour Cabbage With Beef

Sherman’s is an old-fashioned kosher-style Jewish deli to which savvy patrons pilgrimage from all over the world.  Sherman Harris launched his eponymous restaurant in 1963 when Palm Springs was the playground for Hollywood icons.  Harris himself became a Palm Springs institution for his restaurant and philanthropic endeavors, earning a star on Palm Springs’ Walk of Stars on Palm Canyon Drive.  Today, Sherman’s is owned and operated by his children Sam Harris and Janet Harris who have carried on the famous Sherman’s legacy of great food and great customer service.  While Bob, an old friend, was the first to tell me about Sherman’s several years ago, confirmation on its greatness came from Loren Silver, big brother to my friend Sr. Plata.  Loren raved about the freshly baked breads and breakfasts.

When Food Network celebrity Guy Fieri roared into Palm Desert in his signature red hot Camaro for a taping of Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives (the episode first aired on May 12, 2017), one of his three area destinations was Sherman’s Deli & Bakery, albeit not the original, but a satellite just a few miles from the flagship.  In an episode entitled “Turkey, Taters and Dogs,” “Triple D” showcased Sherman’s turkey pastrami and latkes (more on these treasures below).  Fieri raved about Sherman’s delicious rye bread, up to 100 loaves a day baked  in-house.  He also helped prepare the turkey pastrami, a two day process (24 hours of brining followed by 24 hours wrapped up in spices, followed by it’s final destination: the smoker).

Corned Beef, Pastrami, and Turkey with Cole Slaw and 1000 Island Dressing

Having been privileged to serve as a judge for the Roadrunner Food Bank’s Souperbowl (the next event will be held on Saturday, January 27th, 2018  from 11 am to 2 pm.) on eight occasions, I’ve enjoyed some of the very best soups prepared and served by many of the Duke City area’s very best restaurateurs.  One soup never served to our esteemed panel has been sweet and sour cabbage with beef, a Jewish staple for generations.  It’s long been one of my favorite soups though I didn’t have a bubbie to prepare it for me.  Sherman’s sublime version is served hot and in plentiful portions.  Shards of beef, tender white cabbage, pearlescent onions and endless delicious define this elixir about which Sherman’s says “this outstanding soup is one that has made our reputation what it is today.”

Another soup not yet featured at the Souperbowl is an old-fashioned matzo ball soup, often considered the quintessential Jewish comfort food.  Made with chicken stock and matzo balls, a type of dumpling made by mixing chicken fat, matzo meal, water, and spices to taste, it’s a popular choice for Passover, but some of us like it all year-long.  Sherman’s matzo ball soup is served in a swimming pool-sized bowl and arrives at your table steaming hot.  It’s a soup so good you’d order it on one of Palm Springs’ many sweltering summer days.

Corned Beef, Pastrami & Swiss on Light Rye

You might think there’s a shortage of beef across the Land of Enchantment considering the parsimonious portions of meats with which New Mexico’s restaurants adorn their sandwiches.  Clara Beller’s “where’s the beef” lament should be the battle cry of diners who have got to feel cheated by meats folded over so as to give the appearance of more meat.  A typical sandwich at Sherman’s has several times more meat than most sandwiches in Albuquerque.  The #17 (corned beef, pastrami and turkey with cole slaw and Thousand Island dressing on buttery, grilled light rye), for example, is a skyscraper-sized behemoth with perhaps as much as three-quarters of a pound of each of the three meats.  It’s really three sandwiches in one.  Understandably, my favorite was the pastrami which is sliced thin and brined beautifully with caramelized edges. 

My Kim’s choice, another wonderful sandwich was constructed with pastrami and corned beef with cole slaw on grilled rye bread.  Sans turkey, this sandwich better showcased the sweet tanginess of the cole slaw, a moist, creamy version.  It also gave us the opportunity to better appreciate the light rye with the caraway seeds my friend Becky Mercuri appreciates on New York rye.  Sherman’s rye comes unadorned, but you have your choice of mustard–either Beaver brand deli mustard or honey mustard.  Both are terrific.  Because Sherman’s sandwiches are so large, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to open your mouth wide enough to enjoy them as you would other sandwiches.  These are best enjoyed with knife and fork or deconstructed.  That pastrami is heavenly…where my friend Bob is now enjoying his.

Latka with Sour Cream and Applesauce

If the term “latka” conjures images of the television sitcom character Latka Gravas, you need to visit an authentic Jewish kosher-style deli…and soon!  Latka (more commonly spelled “latke”), traditional Jewish potato pancakes often served during Hanukkah, are a specialty of Sherman’s (which graciously shows how they’re made on this video).  Sherman’s latkas are the very best we’ve ever had!  Served with apple sauce and sour cream, the latkas are absolutely addictive, so good you won’t want to share them.  They’re crispy (almost caramelized) on the outside and fluffy and light on the inside.  Sherman’s thinks so highly of their latka that they offer a specialty sandwich in which a generous serving of Corned Beef or Pastrami is made into a sandwich with two homemade potato latkes in place of bread.  We had our latka on the side, but could easily see the appeal of latkes in place of bread.

My Kim jokes that my favorite part of “adultery” (her wordplay for adulthood) is not having to wait until after a meal to have dessert.  Indeed, it’s not uncommon for me to have dessert before enjoying any savory fare.  The temptation to do so was certainly rife at Sherman’s which has one of the most alluring dessert cases we’ve ever seen with slabs of beauteously frosted cakes, pulchritudinous pies, craveable cookies and sumptuous specialty items such as bobka, cannoli, sticky buns, cinnamon rolls and Boston Cream pie (which I blame for my “freshman fifteen” after having lived in the Boston area for two years right out of high school).  Sherman’s rendition is as good as many decadent cake slices I enjoyed in Boston.  Layered with custard and topped with chocolate ganache, the Boston cream pie is as moist and tender as any in the Bay State.

Boston Cream Pie

Sherman’s Deli & Bakery is an old-fashioned kosher-style deli, the type of which my friend Bob and I would wander in the desert for forty years to visit.  It’s an outstanding deli and bakery.

Sherman’s Deli & Bakery
401 East Tahquitz Canyon Way
Palm Springs, California
(760) 325-1199
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 27 December 2017
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: N/R
COST: $$ – $$$
BEST BET: Corned Beef, Pastrami, and Turkey Sandwich; Corned Beef, Pastrami & Swiss on Light Rye; Latka; Homemade Sweet & Sour Cabbage With Beef; Boston Cream Pie
RESTAURANT REVIEW #1015

Sherman's Deli & Bakery Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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