The Grand Event That Wasn’t
By Antoinette May Herndon
What can I say? It’s a matter of ethics. How far can one allow tender memories and past loyalties to weigh in against a disaster evening capped by food that was in some cases inedible?
It was love at first sight for me at Wendell’s. Charles took me there on our first Calaveras County date nearly nine years ago. Though Charles had driven often to my house in Palo Alto, where I’d reveled in showing him the sites of Silicon Valley’s boom town, I’d yet to see his stomping grounds.
Charles was a mountain man with a lion for a neighbor. I was a city lady. He’d acquainted himself with my world: art galleries, coffee houses, and theaters. Now the time had come for me to see his house way out on Sheep Ranch Road and, more importantly, meet his dog.
“What’s her name,” I asked, and was surprised to hear the three-year -old dog had none. “I’ve been waiting for the right woman to name her,” Charles said. The golden retriever- shepherd mix walked up and offered me her paw. My heart melted. “Chloe. Her name is Chloe.”
Getting back to Wendell’s, we had a lovely time that night. What ended up being my all time favorite table is adjacent to a window overlooking a fountain with hills and valleys shimmering in the sunset.
Before long Charles and I were engaged and had bought a house on Center St. just down the road. Between his family and my friends we had a lot of guests. Center Street is narrow. Where would they all park?
“No problem” Roxanne Hertzig, who owns the place with her husband, John, assured me. “Tell your friends to just park in our lot.” How nice is that!
We’ve had many, many excellent meals at Wendell’s in the past eight years. So many that when we used to drive up
to the front, the bar tender would spot us and have our favorite drinks waiting at our window table by the time we sat down.
You can imagine how devastated we were when the restaurant closed a little over 18 months ago. For a time we thought the place would never re-open, would be colorful piece of Mok history (and Herndon history) gone forever.
What a thrill then at the July 4th parade when Chef Bobby Souza tossed packages of ribs to eager bystanders by way of announcing that Wendell’s was back in business as Bob-B-Cue.
The Grand Opening was to be less than a week away. I immediately made reservations and invited two of our closet friends Ginger and Barry Griffin, to join us. Table for four, 7 p.m.
What a joke! The place was a mad house. People were jammed body to body in the foyer, the bar was packed, the noise overwhelming. Barry was an audacious commando, who braved his way into the blasting bar and emerged with four drinks. Let me tell you my martini was the best thing I had all night.
We were thrilled at last to be summoned from the foyer where we’d been packed like sardines. Yes, an hour after our reservation there was at last a table for four waiting. From where we were placed, we saw that the dining room was taken up by two very large parties. It was another hour before we were able to place our order. The young staff was working very hard but some of them were clearly inexperienced and others were trying to do too much for too many.
Barbecued food is the new specialty and many of the selections on the menu looked enticing. I ordered the St Louis ribs with a side of cole slaw ($12 with the side.) I chose honey sauce for the topping.
It was really awful. There was so little meat between the ribs that I could find nothing to cut into and what
there was looked very dry. We took it home to Chloe and even she needed Charles to hack out sections with a meat cleaver. I had some of the cole slaw but it had no dressing. I guess you can surmise that a few shredded pieces of cabbage and the olive in my martini was dinner that night.
Barry chose the St. Louis Ribs also. He went with two sides ($14) BBQ beans and cole slaw. Barry’s ribs were more maneuverable than mine—not the best he’d ever had but still food.
Charles opted for smokehouse turkey, another disaster. It was so dry he couldn’t get a fork into it. He didn’t get one bite! Charles had asked for two sides with his turkey, grilled veggies and baked sweet potatoes. Instead they turned out to be corn and yam. The price for turkey and two sides was $14.
Ginger fared the best at our table. She opted for beef ribs with a side of fruit ($12). Ginger took pity on me sitting there speculating on what a sad, undernourished life my pig must have had prior to becoming ribs and gave me a nice thick beef rib. It was meaty but not as tasty as I might have hoped. But, you know, beggars just can’t be choosers and that’s exactly how I felt.
What can I say about Bob- B-Cue at Wendell’s? Perhaps they were victims of their own success. Clearly they weren’t prepared for a crowd. Hopefully, the food and service will be better another time. The only way to find out is to go back again. And that’s just what I intend to do.
VITALS: Corner of Hwy. 49 and Center St., Mokelumn Hill. Phone: 286-1338. Open daily 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Credit cards accepted.
Wednell’s has an inviting exterior.
Wendell’s drew an impressive crowd on opening night
Ginger and Barry Griffin got into their ribs.