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Get Grubbin at The Lunch Box

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By Denise Ortuno Neil                                                                    rsz imag1873 1

Get grubbin on tasty sandwiches and salads at The Lunch Box in Palm Desert. All offered at reasonable prices.

In a secluded little spot in the industrial area off Joni Drive in Palm Desert, sits an awesome little sandwich shop. The interior is cheery, featuring an adhered white picket fence against a colorful painted mountain scape wall. Opened 5 years ago by Kari Kniegge and her business partner Steven Brock, The Lunch Box has been on the radar of local sandwich lovers and even visiting foodies who are in the loop.

Kniegge’s love for sandwiches started as a child, when her mom had a sandwich shop of her own in North San Diego. Kniegge learned the ins and outs of the business, and waited until the time was right for her to open one of her own. While living in the Coachella Valley for over 20 years, she ripened her skills in the restaurant industry. After some time, she came face to face with and excellent opportunity to open a place her own. Although not easily seen by mainstream diners, the little spot is very well known to the multitude of businesses and those working in the Joni Drive area.

Their menu is a combination of some sandwich recipes from her mother, and some of her own creations. But there is a mainstay in all of the recipes, they are made with the freshest of ingredients, from high quality meats and vegetables, to homemade dressings and soups, and top notch breads from Bosch Bakery in Thousand Palms.

Speaking of the bread, one of the reasons that makes The Lunch Box’s sandwiches so good is what they do to the bread. On the sandwiches that don’t require toasting, or being pressed to melt cheese, the bread is steamed. That’s right, I said steamed. I didn’t even realize that it was a thing that you could do to bread, but apparently it is, and makes an amazing impact on a sandwich. The bread is steamed in a special bread steamer, and makes the bread super soft. It’s especially beneficial when used on sour dough, which can have a tendency to be a little on the hard/dry side.

When I asked Kniegge which one of the sandwiches was her favorite, she quickly pointed out that they all are. However, she did hone in a couple (most come with mayo, tomato and sprouts), one being the Pocket Full of Fallbrook, which is an homage to the decorated capital of avocados. The pocket refers to the pita bread which is steamed and filled with sliced avocado, jack cheese, tomato and alpha sprouts. The California Split is also a crowd pleaser, and one that I had the pleasure of trying. It is served on steamed sour dough bread, with alfalfa sprouts, tomato, bacon, jack cheese and avocado.  The sandwich was very well constructed, which is important as the filling to bread ratio needs to be balanced (I’m a stickler for it). All the ingredients married well together, as Kniegge said, this popular sandwich is like a super charged club. The bread really stood out to me. I’m telling you, that steaming of the bread thing is incredible, and brought a creamy element to the sandwich. So good!

Other sandwiches include the Turkey Terrific, with sliced turkey piled high on steamed squaw bread with alfalfa sprouts and tomato. The Cheese Makers Grilled Cheese, with sharp and jack cheese, tomato and red onion. And one sandwich that I will be trying on my next visit is The Missile, this taste adventure has pulled pork, thinly sliced ham, pickles, yellow mustard, BBQ sauce and Swiss cheese, all smash grilled on a French roll, can’t wait! There are many more sandwiches to choose from even some hotdogs as well.

Of course paring a sandwich with some comforting soup, or some chili is always a good idea. And The Lunch Box offers some fantastic soups, such as Beef Stroganoff, Garlic Mash and Chix Tortilla (offered mainly in cooler months).  

The Lunch Box also offers salads as well if you’re not in the mood for a sandwich. Salad selections include the Postal Salad, which has romaine, avocado, turkey, feta, cucumber and house made croutons. As well as their Chin-Chik Salad, with chicken, purple and green cabbage, carrot shreds, green onions, cilantro, chow mein crunchies, tossed their own peanut-sesame dressing. Plus others.

And if all of this weren’t enough for the little nook, they also offer limited breakfast from 7am to 10:30. Patrons can get a quick egg sandwich, burrito or bowl with jack cheese, ham, bacon or turkey. You even can get a special bagel named after her mother, Jan’s Bagel (toasted bagel with cream cheese, red onion and tomato). Sandwich prices start at a mere $6.95, which is very impressive.

For excellent well priced sandwiches, salads and more, The Lunch Box is the perfect answer. As Kniegge says, “We just want to continue to provide quality food at reasonable prices”.

The Lunch Box is opened from 7am to 3pm, Monday through Friday and is located at 74-868 Joni Drive #1a, Palm Desert, 92260

760-610-1136

Gyro Steals the Show at Athena's

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By Denise Ortuno Neil                                                                 rsz imag1798

Athena Gyro in Palm Desert offers tradional Greek favorites, with their delicious Gyro stealing the show. 

It’s a debate of sorts on how to actually pronounce the delectable sandwich. Is the “G” leading the word, or is it silent? The answer is no, and yes…kind of. You are not doing a dance, so get the gy-rate out of Gyro. The easiest way to pronounce it is to sound it out a bit, YEE-roh. There you go! But in honesty, whether you can say it correctly it or not, it won’t change the fact that the Gyro is a fabulously hearty and delicious sandwich. And with a name of dish headlining the name of your restaurant, it better be good, and at Athena Gyro, it absolutely is.

Athena Gyro opened in the Bristol Farms Shopping Center Palm Desert in July 2016, and sits in the funky roundish building at one of the entrances of the center. It had been a long time dream of owner Alper (“Al”), to open his own restaurant, and after putting his savings into action, he finally did. As a lover of history, Al decided to name his restaurant after Athena, the goddess of wisdom. The charming restaurant reflects Al’s Greek and Turkish heritage, with many of his recipes passed down from his family, but with his own twist on them making the dishes uniquely his.

The Gyro is undoubtedly the star of the menu, and is offered in two different ways. Guests can either order it as a sandwich or served open faced with rice and the pita on the side. Al’s Gyro's are traditional, made with layers of seasoned lamb and beef placed on a Gyro Spit, and cooked rotisserie style with a heated lamp. Al’s Gyro meat does differ, as he likes to place onion and tomato at the top of the cone, which adds another level of flavor to the meat. The meat is then shaved off, and placed in the pita bread with red onion, tomato, romaine lettuce and tzatziki sauce. Al offers either lamb or chicken Gyros.

On my visit to Athena Gyro, I of course had to try the Gyro. I ordered mine as a sandwich on the appetizer side which comes with Spanakopita (phyllo dough filled with a feta cheese and spinach mixture). My Gyro sandwich was put together well, with the right ratio of meat to vegis, to pita. The pita was light and pillowy, lovingly hugging the filling. The meat was savory, with the addition of the tomato and onion dripping complementing it nicely. It was a very satisfying Gyro, one that I would happily order again.

Athena Gyro has more than just the sandwich. Al also has other mainstay Greek dishes on his menu which include, Mousaka (eggplant, potatoes, ground w/meat sauce topped with tzatziki sauce and baked), Kebabs (chicken or lamb) and even Falafels, plus many other items. Al’s favorite dishes at his restaurant include his soups, the Avgolemono (lemon, chicken and rice) and Fakes Soup (red lentil soup, made Al’s special way). He also points out that he makes a pretty mean Lemonade (lemons, Valencia oranges, Mexican limes, mint and a secret ingredient), which they actually make twice daily to keep up with demands. Of course his Baklava has become a crowd pleaser as well.

Athena Gyro is opened daily from 11am to 9pm, and their prices are very moderate. They offer a Lunch Special of a Gyro with a side of soup or salad and a beverage for only $8.99, as well as a Happy Hour from 3pm to 9pm with discounts on wine/beer and appetizers. On weekends make sure to ask about their featured specials which can range from Lamb Chops to Shrimp dishes.

Whether you’re in the mood for a meaty Gyro, Kebab, or other Greek favorites, Athena Gyro will delight you with their savory Greek dishes again and again.

Athena Gyro is located at 73-121 Country Club Drive, Suite E-7-8 Palm Desert, 92260

For more information visit www.athena-gyro.com

 

Loving India Oven

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By Denise Ortuno Neil                                                                     rsz india oven

I am in love with India Oven! It is where aromatic flavors await, in a quaint and cozy nook in Cathedral City, offering mouth watering, traditional cuisine of India. 

When I recently wrote my review about Tony’s Burgers, and mentioned the Indian restaurant that was part of the eclectic cluster of eateries in the same shopping center, India Oven is what I was talking about. For over 10 years the tiny restaurant with amazing food owned by restaurateur, Vijay Kaushal, has been delighting those in the know. Resulting in a loyal following.

My “tiny” description of India Oven is by no means an exaggeration, as they only have nine tables. But the minimal seating adds generously to their cozy ambience. Upon entering, there is no mistaking that you are in an Indian restaurant, as the smell of curry hits your nose with pinpoint precision, it’s absolutely wonderful, almost comforting. The hues of alluring red in the décor palate, along with the piped in melodic Indian music, sets the stage for a memorable dining experience....maybe even a romantic one(wink, wink). 

On my visit to India Oven, I called beforehand to make reservations, even in the summer it seemed prudent. Come to find out, reservations are highly suggested, and as Kaushal said, “Reservations are important, in season there is usually a line, with up to a 45 minute wait”. So yes, when you plan to go to India Oven, make a resi. Seems that they fill up more in the latter part of the evening in the summer, so our desired time of 6:00, wasn’t hard to award.

I love to try new places, but for some reason, I was extra giddy about being at India Oven. It just felt like it was going to be extra special, and it was. Although my boyfriend was more familiar with dishes from India than I was, we still needed some guidance from our server. I always find it beneficial to ask for help from servers, they are the connection between you and the menu. Our server Aida was fantastic!

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We started with an Assorted Platter for an appetizer. The platter came with Vegetable Pakoras (fritters), Samosas (light dough filled with potatoes, peas and spices), and Paneer Pakoras (cheese fritters with lentil batter), accompanied with a mint or tamarind sauce option. The flavorful Samosas were our favorite out of the three, with the Paneer Pakoras coming in second (anything with cheese always gets my vote). For our dinner selection, Aida suggested that I try one of the Chefs Specialties of Murgh Makhani which incorporates pulled Tandoori Chicken in a special butter gravy.

My boyfriend went for the classic Lamb Vindaloo which is Lamb meat cooked with potatoes in highly spiced gravy with diced tomatoes and chili peppers. We rounded our selections out with an order of Garlic Naan. I must mention that when you select a main dish at India Oven, they will ask you what level of heat you would like, mild, medium or spicy. Now, there are some restaurants where the levels aren’t true to the levels, when medium is actually a mild and so on. But at India Oven, they are true to the levels. I ordered a medium, thinking that they would be lax on the level. They were not lax at all, and medium was just that….let’s just say I wouldn’t want to go to the spicy level, not if I would want to really enjoy tasting anything. I am more than happy with cruising at medium.

Our main dishes came out in lovely metal bowls, with a side of Basmati Rice for us to share. I dived eagerly into my little bowl, and yum, yum, yummed all the way. My Murgh Makhani was delicious with a capitol Icious! The sauce was rich and buttery, beautifully draping the chicken, with just the right amount of heat for me. I seriously could not get enough. My boyfriend’s Lamb Vindaloo had a distinct taste, with the flavor of Lamb really coming through the complex spices. It was slightly more full bodied and aggressive than my dish. Both were excellent! The Garlic Naan that we ordered, served as a supporting role to our dinner. Although the Garlic Naan was awesome, I think that with the strong nature of our selected dishes, plain Naan would have been a better choice, as it wouldn’t have competed with the other strong characteristics of the dishes makeup. rsz imag1739

There were so many other menu items that we wanted to try, such as the Saag (fresh cooked spinach in aromatic spices), Lamb Curry (Lamb prepared in traditional curry spices), and a myriad of others. But I guess that it just means that we need to go there again, and again. I have no problem with that!

India Oven is opened Tuesday through Sunday, and daily in season. They serve lunch from 11:30 to 3pm and dinner from 5pm to 9pm, 9:30pm on Saturdays and Sunday. Their prices are reasonable, and they do offer wine and beer as well as other beverages. Takeout orders are also available.

Dining at India Oven is a flavor adventure in traditional cuisine of India, wrapped up in quaint and cozy environment, all right here in the Coachella Valley. A definite new love of the Palm Springs local!  

For reservations call 760-770-3918, and for more information visit www.india-oven,com

Cool Down with a Nitro Coffee at SIP!

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By Denise Ortuno Neil                                                                 rsz nitro coffee

Lattes, Cappuccinos, Mocha’s, Frappuccino’s…there are a myriad of coffee concoctions available out there in the coffee world. But Nitro Coffee on tap? What in the coffee world is that? My caffeine curiosity into this growing coffee craze was soon satisfied after a visit to Sip Coffee House & Juice Bar at the Heritage Court Shopping Center in Indio.

Kerry Anderson has owned the local coffee spot for over a decade. It is a great place to pop into for a quick bite, coffee drink or juice specialty, or to sit and relax, while enjoying any of the above. Recently, Anderson has added a new menu item to her list of goodies, Nitro Coffee. Nitro Coffee came on the scene a couple years ago, and is quickly becoming available at coffee spots everywhere, including right here in the Coachella Valley. The coffee is actually cold brewed coffee that is put in a keg and infused with nitrogen, then poured out of a tap. The result of this process produces a smooth coffee, with a creamy texture, it even has a head on it. It is sort of like a Guinness, without the alcohol….delicious!

Coffee drinkers can either enjoy Nitro Coffee straight up, on the rocks, with or without cream (although it is already creamy), sugar or not. Whatever way you have it, you are bound to love it! Besides Sip’s excellent Nitro Coffee, they offer up a variety of coffee drinks, and juice specialties including smoothies, all made with fresh fruit. Sip also offers breakfast and lunch items such as their Croissant Breakfast sandwiches, Loaded Oatmeal (oatmeal, walnuts, chia seeds, brown sugar, craisins, fresh seasonal berries and banana), Burritos, Panni’s and fresh pastries baked in house daily (try a chocolate pastry with the Nitro Coffee, yum!!).

In addition to being a multi-facetted coffee spot, Sip Coffee House & Juice Bar also is the place to be if you’re into classic cars. Every first Saturday of the month, they host Car’s and Coffee, from 7am to 9am, where classic car owners and their vehicles converge to showcase their wheels while mingling over some of Sip’s coffee treats. No doubt including their fabulous, eye opening coffee on tap.

Whether you’re in the mood for an intricate creative coffee beverage, regular cup joe, or want to try their “wake you up fast” Nitro Coffee on tap, Sip Coffee House & Juice Bar really does have what you need to satisfy your coffee cravings, plus a whole lot more.

Sip Coffee & Juice Bar is opened daily from 6am to 5:30pm and located at 44-100 Jefferson St., Suite 302, Indio, Ca 92201

Tampico Meat Market, More Than a Market

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By Denise Ortuno Neil                                                                                              rsz imag1712

Oozing a home style feel, Tampico Meat Market in La Quinta provides specialty market items and with its in house kitchen, is a Mexican food gem!

Tampico Meat Market sits at the base of the La Quinta Cove, which suits the market, lending to its small town appeal. The spot has long been in market mode for several decades, but nothing like it is now. Opened three years ago by current owner John Atallah, the market has quickly become a local favorite, providing a quick shop, and excellent homemade Mexican food.

John Atallah is no stranger to markets, or taqueria’s, managing both businesses throughout his career. So when he came to know about the opportunity to take over the spot, he didn’t hesitate to acquire it. The market itself sells a variety of Mexican specialty items. Customers can find everything from fresh produce, to tortillas, homemade salsas, beans, beverages and so much more. The relevant meat case reminds customers that it is a meat market, offering an impressive array of meat, chicken and even seafood.

The market makes it easy for their customers to prepare dishes at home if they choose, with their pre-marinated meats. They have everything that you would need to make a very impressive Mexican feast in your own kitchen, you could even take the credit if you wanted (but who would do such a thing?). For those of us who just want to eat and go, Tampico Meat Market is happy to oblige with a viable menu of Mexican favorites.

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I came to know of the glorious food at Tampico Meat Market when my boyfriend brought home some food from there one evening. Knowing my love for pork inspired burritos, he gleefully brought home one of their Chili Verde Burrito’s. It was on the ample side, well enough for us to share. The pork was tender, and the Verde sauce was spiced perfectly…the whole burrito was lovingly balanced.

Since then, I have come to notice that the food at Tampico Meat Market follows a consistent balanced trend. I’ve had the pleasure of enjoying their chicken tacos, and most recently, the Carnitas Burrito (love my pork). When I ordered my Carnitas Burrito, I didn’t make any modifications, I just let them make how they make it. It came stuffed with the beautiful Carnitas, velvety beans, rice, onions and cilantro. All stuffed in a comfortably tailored flour tortilla. As I made my way through it, I couldn’t help but notice that I was making a yummy sound with every bite…that’s when you know that you’re into something good.

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There are many items at the Tampico Meat Market to indulge in. Besides the Carintas and Chili Verde Burrito, they have Chicken, Carne Asada, Chili Colorado, Al Pastor and for those who are adventurous, a Lengua Burrito. Their menu also features Tacos, Quesadillas, Tostadas, Sopas, Nachos and some seafood dishes. On Saturdays and Sundays, they even offer Menudo.

The market is opened daily from 7am to 9pm, with the kitchen closing at 8pm. Although there is some outdoor tables, the market lacks alternative seating, making it more of a to-go scenario.

Tampico Meat Market in the La Quinta Cove is a convenient little specialty market, and makes some of the best Mexican food in the Coachella Valley. It is a tasty gem indeed!

Tampico Meat Market is located at 78-100 Calle Tampico, La Quinta 92253                                  

760-771-2777                                                                                           

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