#281: Shawarma Stackz

4:35PM, 8/17/2022


On Wednesday I had myself all worked up for a post gym visit to a place called Wicked Star (Thai/Vietnamese Fusion) located near Chipotle and AT&T by the Galleria, but surprise surprise, they’ve apparently been gone long enough that there is no trace! I pulled up my list to find a backup plan, eventually realizing the backup plan was right in front of me in the same building. Shawarma Stacks was the answer.

I knew nothing of this place prior and I have to be honest that a lot of the gyro/kabob/shawarma/etc places feel pretty similar to me. I wasn’t super thrilled (and was still reeling from Wicked Star closing since I had already picked out what I wanted earlier in the day) but at 4:30PM I headed in. Last time I was here this was still Blast 825º Pizza. I recall the place feeing big and modern at the time (this was 8 years ago) and it still retained that. The large space is a bit more partitioned into 2 distinct dining areas and the kitchen. Now hanging from the center of the already visually interesting ceiling are a bunch of colorful lanterns.

When you first walk in you turn to the right and have a long walkway to the kitchen side of the store. In this walkway are three large panels with the menu (identical to the take-out paper menu’s three main panels if I recall). I stood here for a while going over all my options. For entrees you can build a pita (baked in house), a bowl (with a base of Basmati rice) or a salad (organic spring mix topped with tomatoes, red onions, bell peppers, kalamata olives and feta cheese with a vinaigrette dressing). Protein options for all three include falafel, chicken shawarma or steak shawarma. Fifteen toppings and 6 sauces make up the add-ons here.

Feeling mildly overwhelmed and unsure what direction to go I decided to pick out one of the “Stackz Originalz”, a collection of three pre-configured pitas and one salad. I went with The O.G. Pita (Inspired by the original Syrian style shawarma. Our steak shawarma pita, stuffed with shredded lettuce, parsley mix, tomatoes, pickled cucumber and Tahini sauce)[$11]. Looking to the sides menu, a lot of it is pretty standard stuff – pita chips, falafel, hummus. A couple things jumped out at me. The first were the Stackz Fries (French Fries topped with tomatoes, red onions, bell peppers, kalamata olives, pepperoncinis, feta cheese and choice of sauces)[$5 half / $8 full]. You can also add falafel or shawarma to these, which made them sound pretty good. The second item was Halloumi Cheese Stix (Imported Halloumi Cheese fried and served with our house baked pita, specialty Fig Jam and Cucumber-Yogurt sauce)[$9.50]. I decided on the Halloumi Cheese Stix as I was totally unfamiliar with these.

With that I stepped around the corner and, now in view of the staff, was greeted and someone met me at the register within a few seconds. I added a fountain drink to my order, paid and headed over to the fountains. They serve Stubborn brand soda, and even had a sugar free cola, which was the first I’ve seen of it (and it was quite good). Another interesting note on the fountains was how you pour it. Instead of a button or lever they have draft style handles that you pull, which I thought was kind of fun.

My food was out in no time, under five minutes I think. My initial reaction to the Halloumi Cheese Stix was that they looked like steak fries, and that there weren’t a whole lot for almost $10. After doing some reading about this cheese and talking to a coworker from Lebanon about it, I’ve decided that the pricing is actually fairly normal. The pita looked a little flat, but that was deceiving in the basket. Once I lifted it up I could tell there was quite a bit inside.

Starting off with the cheese I tried a bite on its own. It’s a medium-firm cheese with very mild, slightly salty flavor. The outside was just barely crisped up. These were decent, but they really shined with the fig-jam. The jam was dense and I had to be carful not to break off the cheese when scooping some up. It was delicious and very sweet, which went really well with the saltiness of the cheese. The cucumber-yogurt sauce was quite good as well, but man that fig-jam, I’m still thinking about it a day later. I would totally get this again. I should mention that I didn’t really touch the pita these came on, partly because I already had one with my entree, but also I wasn’t really sure what to do with it anyway. My coworker told me about how his mother would wrap the cheese up in pita along with some peppers as a snack. I’ll have to give that a shot next time.

Moving on to the pita. I should preface this by mentioning one of the few places I’ve had shawarma is Eat A Pita in Rancho Cordova. I probably first went there to try it after seeing that post-credits scene from The Avengers where they are all chilling in the shawarma shop getting a bite to eat after the battle of NYC. That shawarma is so intensely seasoned and delicious, I had yet to try it anywhere else for fear of being disappointed. Big mistake, this shawarma was just as good. Now I need to get it everywhere. This pita was great and, like I said, huge. I didn’t even finish it, which is rare for me since my stomach is a bottomless pit most of the time. The pickled cucumbers were a really nice addition to the flavors here. This was nicely constructed and had a bit of everything in each bite.

Overall I came away extremely pleased with this place. A far cry form my initial mindset when I first headed in. This appears to be the only one of these, and it’s very cool to have it here in Roseville.


#280: Handel’s Homemade Ice Cream

5:30PM, 8/3/2022


This week I ate so much junk food, and Handel’s made up a good portion of it. I sense a lot of salads in the coming week to compensate. On Wednesday I stopped at this ice cream place across from the Galleria (right next to Buffalo Wild Wings). They originate in Ohio and have expanded to 10 states. This location opened about a year ago. I think I’ve been here once before. I don’t recall what I ordered though. I arrived at about 5:30 and it was about 102º, perfect.

Inside the space is quite large. Half or more is behind the counter, chilled storage for their many flavors, and more space behind them, I assume where they make it. I’ve dabbled in ice cream making and the scale here is impressive. I can’t imagine the batch size they work with. On the menu I found the perfect item for this visit, a 4 scoop sampler [$6.75]. I decided I would pick 1 scoop from each of the 4 main ice cream categories on the menu (Chocolate, Specialty, Fruit & Vanilla). Including the basic flavors and some other specialty options (vegan / ice / sherbet) there were 50 flavors to choose from today.

I went with: Chocolate Peanut Butter Brownie (chocolate ice cream with Reese’s Peanut Butter® ripple and brownie chunks), S’mores (graham cracker ice cream with marshmallow ripple, chocolate chips, and mini marshmallows), Strawberry Cheesecake Chunk (cheesecake ice cream with strawberry ripple and cheesecake chunks) & Oree-Dough (vanilla ice cream with Oreo® cookies and cookie dough pieces).

In general, I really love the overall consistency of this ice cream. They keep it just cold enough to keep it solid because it’s very soft and almost fluffy in texture. I ended up taking most of it home, where I keep my freezer about as cold as it will go, and the ice cream was solid as a rock when I pulled it out the next day. Flavor-wise it held up well though.

Chocolate Peanut Butter Brownie – The chocolate ice cream base here really dominated the flavor of this scoop. The brownies stood out well in terms of texture next to the soft cream. I think it could have benefited from more peanut butter. What was there simply got overwhelmed by the rich chocolate ice cream.

Strawberry Cheesecake Chunk – This one was delicious, and it was the one I was least excited about (I’m not so much into fruits with my sweets). The ice cream had a great cheesecake flavor to it and the strawberry ripple, which seemed almost syrupy, was a nice bright contrasting flavor. The cheesecake chunks sort of blended into the ice cream and I didn’t notice them that much.

Oree-Dough – While still good, this was my least favorite of the four. It just didn’t strike me as particularly special next to the others. There was plenty of cookie dough chunks and pieces of Oreo cookies though. I think the vanilla ice cream (which I am generally a fan of; “vanilla is a flavor” -Nick Wiger) is the weak link when right next three very good bases.

S’mores – The star of the show for me. I kind of blew right past the description of this and didn’t realize the ice cream base itself was graham cracker flavored. The color took me by surprise. This was amazing and really captured that mix of ingredients well. The marshmallows were still nice and soft, which I was really impressed by, but the marshmallow ripple did most of the heavy lifting for that flavor.

At work on Friday they had an ice cream social thing (a shockingly rare event from my company for its employees) and it turned out to be catered by Handel’s. So once again I was eating more ice cream. I went with the S’Mores again (it’s that good) and also tried the Mint Chocolate Chip (mint ice cream with chocolate chip specks) which was nice, bright (both in color and flavor) and as refreshing as a dairy-based desert can be.

All in all, Handel’s is a solid ice cream shop. They don’t do any sort of crazy or fancy stuff, just straight up good ice cream scoops.


#280: Vegan Plate

1:10PM, 7/9/2022


This morning I was repeatedly spinning a little random selector wheel app with all the new restaurant options and nothing was piquing my interest until I hit Vegan Plate. I instantly thought about Green Boheme and Baagan Cafe, both of which I enjoyed but ultimately did not end up returning to. Honestly, as a….Meatatarian (Meatasaurus? Man of the meats? Bear with me, I’m still work-shopping this) it usually something that looks particularly interesting to get me to go to these types of places (not counting going for this blog, which is one of the reasons I do it!). For all the obvious reasons (health, environment, animal welfare) I think it is a commendable lifestyle. I just don’t see myself giving up things like BBQ and sushi. I enjoy dipping my toes into this world once in a while and see how things are progressing.

I took a quick look at some photos online of the place and some food items and what I saw felt very ambitious. Sure, I’ve had burgers and cheesesteaks with Impossible’s beef substitute, and they are anywhere decent to pretty good. I’ve heard that chicken nuggets/ground patties can be done pretty well with soy, although I haven’t tried any that I can think of. But it was the shrimp. That’s what I saw that sealed the deal that I would be going here today. I’ve never seen this before and had to know if the taste and texture of a shrimp was something that could be approximated these days.

It was about ten past one when I arrived in the Hobby Lobby shopping center on Douglas at Sierra Gardens Dr. Two things struck me as I checked out the front of this building. I was surprised to see that the Jimboy’s was gone, and I realized that Vegan Plate now occupies the spot where Bo Bo Cafe was, which was just my 6th post ever (over a decade ago now, what a trip), and the first time I’d ever tried Vietnamese cuisine. I snapped some shots of the exterior and headed in.

The space is straightforward, a counter at center back for ordering, with a nice big black board menu that’s easy to read, and plenty of cafeteria-type seating to either side of the walkway that runs to the counter right down the middle of the room. A couple of wooden crate displays have some shirts and snacks for sale in the isle. There were just a few people in the dining room when I entered. The counter was unmanned but someone emerged right away once I got there. I said I was just starting to take a look at everything and he handed me a bound menu and said I could take a seat and come up and order whenever I was ready.

I knew I had to check out the Bang Bang Soy Shrimp (made of potato starch Konjac, Soy Protein Tossed with our house made sauce – 8 pcs)[$9.25] – as a minor tangent, I googled Konjac and it’s a root vegetable native to Asia, but I loved some of the other names it’s known by and had to share = devil’s tongue, voodoo lily, snake palm and elephant yam. I also decided to get the Soy Crispy Chick’n Sandwich (Patty is made out of Soy and Wheat. Veggies: Lettuce, Tomatoes & pickles – side of fries)[$14.95]. Beverage-wise they have a bunch of options as you’ll see in the menu photos. I went with the Tropical Sunrise, which looked like one of the lighter and more refreshing things available (orange juice, lime soda and grenadine with orange slice and cherry topping)[$5.95].

My food was ready and brought out in seven minutes, with the drink lagging behind a few more. After some quick pictures I took the first bite of the item that brought me here, the Bang Bang Soy Shrimp. What this dish seems to try to mimic is a battered, deep fried shrimp. Where most of those have a very light, crispy texture to them, this had a more substantial crunch to it. This first bite was good (insert George Takei “oh my” here), but the rest were even better. The rest of the pieces had something the first oddly lacked, and that was that, somehow, they’ve gone and done it and found a way to replicate the texture of biting into a shrimp. Well maybe not a whole shrimp but at the very least chopped pieces of shrimp within the battered shell. The flavor had a tease of heat right at the start but it never really turned into anything. The sauce was a little bit sweet. This was very good overall and while maybe not 100% convincing, if you were trying to fool me, it’s getting there.

The Soy Crispy Chick’n Sandwich was much more straightforward and exactly what I expected. The patty had a light crisp to it and it had a very convincing texture of ground chicken. The lettuce was nice and crisp, the tomatoes perfectly ripe and juicy, and the sandwich was finished off with some kind of Thousand Island type sauce. The pickles were kind of all in one spot but that’s about the only nitpick I have with this. I really enjoyed the bun, which was encrusted with nuts and was very rustic feeling. It both added a great texture to the sandwich and was strangely interesting to hold. The fries were the flat steak variety, which had me a bit worried at first. They were sliced quite thin which made them very crisp and they turned out to be totally awesome – with ketchup or without!

Last but not least, the Tropical Sunrise was just as tasty and refreshing as I had hoped. This was the only item that felt a little overpriced. It could have been a bit larger for that amount.

So this place totally blew me away. One of these days they’re gonna perfectly replicate a fatty BBQ beef brisket and the day that happens I’ll take that little voice in the back of my head telling me I should probably consider eating less meat a lot more seriously.