Hungry chickens and people alike gather in front of a blue-green building with a bright yellow sign saying “Sunflower Cafe.”
Located in Old Town Fair Oaks, Sunflower Cafe (10344 Fair Oaks Blvd.) is in a rural and rustic setting.
Many who frequent the cafe enjoy the “hipster” feeling of the area and the atmosphere of the vegetarian/all-natural Sunflower.
And a number told me they like Sunflower Cafe not because they are vegetarian like myself, but because they maintained healthy diets or were not heavy meat eaters.
I began my meal with an apple and banana smoothie ($3.89), which surprised me with a rather sharp taste.
After a few sips, though, I began to enjoy the refreshing sweetness.
I decided to try the avocado and cheese sandwich ($5.89) next.
Unfortunately, I was unaware that practically all the dishes are served with lots of sprouts and by the time I realized that, it was too late.
Once I got past the sprouts, though, the sandwich was fairly good. In between two slices of multigrain bread, it included lettuce, tomatoes, American cheese and sprouts. Nothing out of the ordinary, though.
The tostada ($5.39), on the other hand, was much more flavorful. The juicy tomatoes tossed with bell peppers and wrapped in a soft corn tortilla topped with sour cream and cheese were delicious.
I didn’t try Sunflower’s famous nut burger ($5.69) until my second visit, but was glad I did.
It was by far the best dish I had there—topped with onions, tomatoes and lettuce mixed with a sauce, it was a bit sweet and very crunchy.
One may think that since Sunflower Cafe is a vegetarian restaurant, there would not be a lot of options.
On the contrary, the variety is startling.
This cafe is worth the drive out to Old Town Fair Oaks.
Sandwiched amidst the uninviting liquor stores and gas stations at the corner of Arden and Eastern, Kilt Pub (4235 Arden Way) seem like the only welcoming place around.
The pub advertises itself as a Celtic sports bar. However, minors are welcome to eat before 10 p.m.
The pub fare is largely heavy classics from Ireland, Wales and the English county of Cornwall.
Comfortable booths line the walls, and dartboards add a bit of entertainment while you wait for the food.
When my Buffalo Wings ($7.95) arrived, I was disappointed. The little flavor the wings offered was overwhelmed by salty sauce.
But then I dug into the fish and chips ($12.95), recommended by teacher Daniel Neukom, and I forgot about the previous disappointment.
The battered cod was fresh, fried to perfection and relatively free of oil.
I opted out of the accompanying tartar sauce and stuck with garnishing the fish with lemon.
The hot french fries, although salty, provided a break from the fish and added variety to the entree.
I also sampled a bit of the Shepherd’s Pie ($11.95). Each layer was another delicious mouthful of filling English comfort food.
Melted cheddar cheese covered the fluffy mashed potatoes. After digging through, I reached the hearty beef and peas.
Despite being full, I longed to try something adventurous. The specials menu seemed like a good place to start.
So I tried the Guinness Stew (also called Goulash).
The dumplings and beef made for another filling menu item. The dumplings were mushy, and the beef was tender.
Owner Alice Polednik, who is Czech, incorporates European cuisines such as Czech Schnitzel to add variety.
Polednik explained that she gives more familiar names such as Guinness Stew to more exotic dishes like Goulash to not deter locals from ordering them.
Nestled in the heart of Midtown, Cafe Marika (2011 J St.) is the epitome of a mom and pop place.
Don’t let the worn-out blue awning scare you away; the exterior is no reflection of the food’s quality.
The Hungarian cuisine prominently features paprika and rich sauces with traditional Hungarian homemade spetzels (an Eastern European pasta).
And the real live mom and pop themselves, owners Louie and Eva Chruma, have been married for 37 years. They opened the restaurant in 1990, after fleeing the communist Czech Republic where they were born.
The couple both received European culinary degrees, although Louie does the cooking, and Eva takes care of the dining room.
These are very manageable jobs seeing as there are only five tables and several bar seats.
With such a small restaurant there is exponential service and practically no wait at all.
Lunch is served with bread and butter, and there are five dishes offered for $7.25.
The Breast of Chicken aux Champignons is a creamy and very filling lunch option.
It features chicken breast and mushrooms in a paprika sauce over a bed of spetzels, with pickled cabbage on the side.
The Spicy Chicken Paprikash features chicken thighs cooked in a spicy paprika sauce with carrots and peas served over spetzels and with pickled cabbage on the side.
Dinners range from $12.50-14.75 and include soup or salad, the entrée and a dinner roll with butter and dessert.
Because it’s such a small restaurant, they only accept cash and checks, and are open for lunch 11 a.m.- 3 p.m. Monday through Friday and dinner 5-9 p.m. Thursday through Saturday.