If you were driving down the road and passed this building, what would you guess it housed? A music hall? A BBQ restaurant? A steak house? A fine dining restaurant?
If you guessed any of the above, you’d be right.
Orange Blossom Junction, just east of Visalia in Exeter, CA, is a well-known music venue that emphasizes guitar music. Johnny Winter is scheduled to make his third appearance there in the near future. The smoker at the end of the porch is used for ribs, smoked prime rib (Saturday night), the smoked roast beef sandwich, and the BBQ chicken sandwich. Steaks can be served with either a red wine sauce or a brandy peppercorn reduction. Finally, Orange Blossom Junction has been named the “Best Fine Dining and Best Romantic Dinner” in 2007, 2008, and 2009 by the Foothills Sun Gazette.
When Doug and Luci Long bought the building they weren’t sure what they planned to do with it. One thing they knew – they didn’t intend to run a restaurant.
But a restaurant they run, and we are sure pleased that they do. The pairing of Doug and Luci with Chef George Quilty is a magical combination. Chef Quilty has twenty-five years experience in restaurant kitchens and at the age of twenty-eight went to Paris to study French cooking techniques. His path to Orange Blossom Junction involved a family relationship (his mother and one of the owners' mothers were sisters) and untold stories involving the Grateful Dead and chocolate truffles.
We pulled into the restaurant’s parking lot at about 12:30 p.m. on a Saturday afternoon. There were no other cars in sight and, if it had not been for the “OPEN” sign in the window, we would have assumed it was closed. When we were shown a seat in the comfortable bar area, we were the only diners, and so it would remain for the duration of our meal.
The menu includes appetizer, salads, pastas, steaks, chicken entrees, seafood, and sandwiches. We knew we didn't want a full meal – although the Dillon Chicken and Shrimp (seasoned chicken and shrimp on a bed of green beans sautéed with sesame oil and soy and served with onions, mushrooms, and sesame seeds) sounded wonderful. All of the sandwiches were glazed with an orange BBQ sauce, and my allergy to oranges eliminated that possibility. I was tempted by the Cat’s Meow salad (a HUGE “entree” sized bed of fresh local greens) to which I would have added grilled salmon. And with the salad I would have ordered the Bleu Cheese Ice Cream as an alternative to the more traditional salad dressings.
But after a further review of the appetizers, we had our game plan. Appetizer Number One was an order of the Almond Prawns; four butter flied shrimp coated with panko crumbs and almonds, set on a small bed of mashed red skin potatoes, and served with a tequila-lime butter sauce. We were lucky to have started with this dish since its delicate flavors would have been overrun by the intense flavor of the dish to come. The shrimp were cooked perfectly with a crisp and crunchy crust covering the tender, juicy, and sweet prawns. And the tequila-lime butter was perfect with just enough acidity to brighten the dish’s flavor.
Appetizer Number Two was the Spicy Steak on a Stick – eight large cubes of tender and juicy steak served with a schezwan sauce and served on a large bed of the house’s homemade potato chips. The sauce was an intense reduction and the soy took on a pleasant sweet flavor that meshed with the flavors of the chilies, garlic, and ginger. This intense sauce also coated the potato chip bed.
Appetizer Number Three was an order of these same potato chips and came with a dish of artichoke and sun-dried tomato dip. I had thought that the best restaurant made potato chips were at the Atlantic Hotel in Berlin, MD (seen in the movie The Runaway Bride). But these were far superior. They didn’t just crunch – they shattered when bitten into. Almost half of the order returned home to be eaten that night, and they still retained their crispness.
Orange Blossom Junction makes all of their salad dressings, sauces, ice creams, sorbets. In fact, they make all the desserts other than the cheesecake. I don’t remember all of the ice cream options that noon other than peanut butter. Sounded intriguing, but instead we chose the sorbet sampler with servings of black plum, champagne peach, very berry, and coconut sorbets. Wow!!!
A special "wow!" to taking a small taste of the coconut with a small taste of either the black plum or the very berry. Double wow.
The restaurant’s web site describes Orange Blossom Junction “Great food made with creativity and love” and a “…comfortable atmosphere that says dress up if you want, but not on my account....”
We agreed that this restaurant is reason enough to return to the Visalia area some day and give it our highest award of 5.0 Addies.
Our plans had included a return trip before leaving Visalia – that Bleu Cheese Ice Cream was calling to me – but circumstances intervened.
But that is a story for another day.