Thursday, October 6, 2011

“If it’s Funky, We’ll Find It”

I wish I could claim authorship of that quote but instead it comes from Guy Fieri, host of Food Network’s Diners, Drive-ins and Dives. And while he wasn’t specifically referring to Giusti’s Place in the California Delta (a region that we didn’t know existed until three years ago), he may well have said it following his visit to this truly funky place.

But find it we did. We drove from Napa to Rio Vista to meet up with Chuck’s cousin Barbara along with her two sisters and their husbands. That’s Barbara at twelve o’clock in this photo, and going clockwise, we have Dick Allsing, Karen Allsing, Pat Lik, and Henry Lik. Pat and Henry were in town from Carlisle, PA for the christening of their new grandchild.

So off to Giusti’s (pronounced “juice-tees”) for lunch. Thankfully, Barbara was leading the way. Finding this place with our GPS would have fried the brain of the “Lady Who Lives In the Dashboard.” We pull in. One problem. Giusti’s isn’t open that day. “Why” is a convoluted story that I won’t bore you with here. We went somewhere else that day.

It wasn’t too long thereafter that Chuck, Barbara, and I made another attempt. This time we were successful.

"Giusti’s is a century-old family-friendly roadhouse about a half-hour south of Sacramento. According to the restaurant’s website, Egisto Giusti emigrated to Walnut Grove just after 1900 and soon after set up Millers Ferry Saloon, soon to be known as Giusti’s. The nearly century-old establishment is currently operated by Egisto’s grandson, Mark Morais. His mother Dolores was a Giusti. His daughter Katie is the fourth generation to work at the restaurant; she works as a waitress and hostess” (

“A lone roadhouse surrounded by farm fields and a fish-rich river, Giusti’s isn't really on the way to anywhere. The ramshackle building is a destination eatery with a wood-plank porch that squeaks when you walk to the front door. Its lot is packed with pickup trucks every evening. You enter through the bar room, which is spectacularly decorated with well over a thousand farmers’ caps hanging overhead like some sort of multicolored tapestry, their crowns advertising every brand of fertilizer, tractor, seed, and tool that makes a country gent feel loyal” (Michael Stern at

I agree with everything Michael Stern writes here except for the word “ramshackle.” I prefer to call it “weathered.”

The lunch menu at Giusti’s is short and changes daily. On the day of our visit, the entrée choices were salmon filet, fettuccini with either Alfredo sauce or pesto sauce, grilled prime rib, smoked brisket, sirloin steak, St. Louis ribs, Caesar salad with chicken, and Dungeness crab and prawn salad. The sole appetizer choice was rare seared ahi tuna. All entrees come with Giusti’s homemade minestrone soup and a glass of wine.

The soup comes family-style in a blue plastic bowl and is filled with red and white beans, zucchini, carrots, and beef shreds in an herb-infused beef base. While I thought it was more reminiscent of bean soup than minestrone, I don’t care what they call it. I call it scrumptious. And, since we all ordered white wine, it came in a large carafe—enough for two or three glasses each.

Barbara chose the crab and prawns salad. And not a moment too soon. Just after she placed her order this item was erased from the chalkboard. Usually, you find Dungeness crab salad served with Louis Dressing (or sauce) which, while an entity of its own, resembles Thousand Island or Russian dressing. “Although many cooks use these dressings interchangeably, the Louis Dressing is less sweet than the other two, the Thousand Island Dressing usually contains green olives and the Russian dressing calls for pimento. Further, as with many fish salads, the Louis recipe includes a lemon, either as a wedge on the plate or as juice in the dressing ( I think it’s also similar to some Louisiana remoulade sauces. Here, reflecting the Giusti family’s Italian roots, the crab had been dressed with a very light oil and red wine vinegar dressing. Whatever dressed the crab, it was a very large portion of sweet crab meat surrounded by four jumbo prawns.

Chuck asked about the smoked prime rib which he learned was the prior evening’s prime rib leftovers smoked to reheat. Since it would come medium to medium well, he opted instead for the eight-ounce sirloin which proved to be an excellent choice. The sirloin was about two inches thick, seasoned with garlic and other flavors, and cooked perfectly medium rare. This was an excellent piece of meat and Chuck objected strongly when I tried to snag a second piece from his plate.

After being assured that the ahi tuna would be served rare, I chose the ahi tuna appetizer (Since I was not ordering an entrée, we had to pay extra for my portion of the wonderful minestrone soup) that came with a small cup of wasabi-infused soy dipping sauce. First, this was a colossal piece of fish. With a side of fries, this would have been an entrée-sized portion in most restaurants. Second, the tuna came rare as promised. Third, it had the buttery texture and sweet mild flavor that makes rare tuna one of my favorite fish choices.

It was funky. We found it. We dined there. Finally. And we thoroughly enjoyed this 4.5 Addie “Dive in the Delta.”

The California Delta, located roughly between Sacramento on the north and Stockton on the south, is known as a boater's and fisherman's paradise. Across the road from Guisti's is a pier (above) for some of their boating diners, and down the road are some homes on the water.

sing about 1,000 miles of waterways, the Delta is a labyrinth of sloughs with names like Potato Slough, Whites Slough, Snodgrass Slough, Lost Slough, Georgiana Slough, and Steamboat Slough. Some of the waterways include some unusual examples of "wild" life along with the abundant and more typical examples of wildlife.

As we traveled along one of the many levees in the Delta, passing through small towns Locke and Isleton, we have come to think of the Delta as a photographer's paradise, also.

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