Restaurant: The Hoosegow
Address: 2864 Ray Lawyer Drive in Placerville
Hours: Open Monday through Saturday from 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.
The Hoosegow is a Placerville institution. When I moved here almost four years ago, it was the second restaurant I visited and I was impressed with not only the “down home charm” of the place but also the food, which was excellent.
The original owners, Jim and Karen, built their reputation on making their customers feel welcome (most of whom became regulars) and their “award winning chili.” Recently, there has been an ownership change, so I thought it was time to go meet the new owners and see what, if anything, they decided to change.
Taking over such a landmark can be daunting, at best. You have the regulars who want it kept exactly the same, but as an owner you feel the need to put your stamp on a few things by adding and subtracting menu items in the hopes of making it your own while not alienating those that put the place on the map in the first place.
So you do it slowly and subtly, a bit at a time, to ensure everyone is appeased. The first thing we notice is that nothing has changed with the décor — yet.
But it is our collective opinion that maybe a few aesthetic changes would be good. I mean, I get the iron bars serving as the walls to the booths. This is the Hoosegow, right? Leave those.
But what is that television shelf above the kitchen with the flowers on top doing there and what purpose does it serve?
My lunch companion noticed that there are no less than five different types of wood on the walls, which gives one a feeling of disorientation as opposed to a unity of concept.
In other words, the new owners would do well to give the place a minor overhaul — it’s definitely the time.
I mention these things to give you an idea of the overall experience, which includes the décor. Sometimes the décor is overlooked in food reviews but it is important to the overall dining experience in my humble opinion.
The menu is a far trickier proposition. Many items on the menu are beloved by the regulars, especially the chili. The good thing about it is that the menu is compact enough that a change here or there would make an impact for the better.
New owners Aaron and Brenda Harter and their daughter Larissa know what to add and what, if anything, to subtract.
For example, he’s adding clam chowder in fresh baked bread bowls and will be eventually adding some gourmet hamburgers, something in my opinion the Hoosegow has needed on the menu for eons.
Aaron is even offering his own, chunky chili recipe to the menu, and so far it has been overwhelmingly accepted by the locals, but for now is unfortunately only available on Fridays and Saturdays. He plans on making it a staple eventually.
The rest of the menu is how you remember it: 14 selections of cold sandwiches, 10 of the hot sandwiches, four combo sandwiches (including the house specialty The Hoosegow — ham, pastrami, salami, Monterey jack cheese and all the fixin’s — home made soups and salads and, of course, the locally famous selection of hot dogs.
The new owners, while anxious to put their own stamp on the Hoosegow, realize that the regulars they inherited, in addition to the ever popular menu items they enjoy, are of paramount importance, and they will strive to make these folks feel as they always have when visiting their establishment: happy, welcome, content and satisfied.
Change is good, though, and I for one am looking forward to witnessing the positive changes Aaron and his family make in the months, and years, to come.
The Hoosegow is open Monday through Saturday from 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., attire is still casual (thank goodness) and it is located at 2864 Ray Lawyer Drive in Placerville, right next to Raley’s. The phone number is 530-626-4722.