According to my stats, someone from my hometown, Gresham, Oregon, United States, searched for Izzy Covalt using Bing.com 53 minutes and 36 seconds after midnight EST. Izzy’s (named for co-founder Mrs. Covalt), a pizza buffet, is one of those increasingly rare regional chains that no one outside of a state–and possibly a geographic neighbor or two–has ever heard of. As much as I enjoy American chain restaurants abroad, I do love place specificity in a world where borders (and you know, hindrances like human rights violations) no longer prevent mediocre barbecue ribs from being served in Myanmar.
I am also shameless about my love of old Portland nostalgia. On the what-homegrown-brands-are-left-in-Oregon beat, I can only think of the aforementioned Izzy’s, as well as Elmer’s, Taco Time, and Shari’s, which will be the heart of this discussion. (Carrows and the now-dead Lyon’s also belong to this third-tier category but are Californian.)
Shari’s is like a local Denny’s but pie-centric, and being more of a suburban fixture, rare in accommodating round-the-clock schedules. Shari’s is where those who are trying drink cup of coffee after cup of coffee with dinner because it’s the only acceptable vice remaining to them. Shari’s is where I went after senior prom, which I didn’t take very seriously and consequently have little fodder for Throwback Thursdays. I’m not sure that anyone purposely goes to a Shari’s–2002 was the last time I found myself approaching a Safeway parking lot housing the familiar low-slung concrete building topped with curved, clay shingles. It was the only place open near my mom’s mobile home park by the Nike campus where I could continue catching-up with an old pal who I’d met for Indian food in a “transit-oriented development” i.e. high-end ghost town in Hillsboro.
I definitely did seek out a Shari’s on purpose during my recent-ish visit to the Bay Area to hang out with distant cousins I’d reconnected with on Facebook. I had also recently reconnected with Shari’s on Facebook. Pretty much all I use Facebook for is reconnecting with brands and people from my past.
The two converged when one cousin, Angie, noticed my posting and informed that there is a Shari’s near her home in Cotati, a small town in Sonoma County more known for its hexagonal layout than wine, where my sister and I were planning to spend a few nights. I passed up an opportunity to eat at an In-N-Out (yes, better than Shake Shack), the other option I was given for an after-church (my sleeping in) meet-up. This was serious business.
Despite its generic looks, Shari’s is not stuck in the past. Even the most uncool of chains make some attempts to be on trend. To wit: Shari’s advertises items made using Sriracha when Taco Bell acts like it’s cutting edge for adding the hot sauce in late 2014. Like Elmer’s, Shari’s has also starting touting local, seasonal credentials while remaining anything but artisanal, an attribute I guarantee the average diner could give a rat’s ass about. Shari’s is so Northwest, or rather just so un-NYC, that when I asked for seltzer and then corrected to club soda, our server said she’d have to check if they had “fizzy water.” As reads the website copy, illustrated by a snowy peak that I’m pretty sure is Mt. Hood:
Shari’s is committed to our Pacific Northwest roots. We source our foods and ingredients from regional farms and suppliers whenever possible. Our never-ending pursuit of fresh, regional ingredients extends across the great Northwest as we seek the sweetest berries, the freshest veggies and the choicest cuts of meat. That’s good for our local economy. And it’s good for your family.
Ok, but this Shari’s is in Sonoma County, one of six in the state of California.
Let’s not dwell on that.
Some time in the not so distant past, this Shari’s replaced Baker’s Corner, a restaurant I’d never heard of (same too, the nearby Black Bear Diner) My cousin’s husband was a regular there (and at least one of my second cousins worked there) and is now a regular at Shari’s, despite a menu change, and orders an off-menu skillet that he claims has its own button on the register (I did not fact check this!). Frankie also has his own table.
I looked for clues indicating family resemblances over this week. The fresh, unopened bottle of Olive Garden salad dressing laid out for our first dinner hit me over the head with “hospitaliano.” If I had any reservations about staying with blood-related semi-strangers, it disappeared upon realizing that I could finally use “When you’re here, you’re family” unironically. I would not, however, ever order a burger well-done, and I’d never heard of ordering fries cooked to the same degree of doneness, though I’ve since discovered it’s not all that unusual. People like their fries crispy and golden. If anyone had ordered steak fries, I would’ve had to have walked out, though.
Me, I settled on a nice little 1,100 calorie french toast crafted from three cinnamon rolls bathed in caramel sauce. If anything, the plate of sweet spirals made me impervious to the hard sell we were given on pies at the end of the meal. I half-seriously considered getting one to go, as suggested, but I knew I’d be eating at a Guy Fieri establishment for dinner, and that level of excess was a bit much for even me.
If you are fortunate to come across a Shari’s in your day-to-day life, please do have a slice of Velvet Chocolate Silk pie for me.
Shari’s * 301 Rohnert Park Expressway, Cotati, CA