When reading posts about the Central Valley by people such as myself who live here, passers through should realize that everything I say is graded on a curve. If you have just come from the Napa Valley, please understand that what might be only average or fair there may be best of class here. Just as a Zagat's food rating of 27 in LA is only a 21 or 22 on a San Francisco standard, an excellent or superb in the Valley may be a "barely edible" in Manhattan or the Bay Area. Still, it's excellent FOR HERE, and if you're here and hungry, that's what counts.
Two luncheon visits recently to Max's Bakery and Deli on the NE corner of Bullard and West in Fresno. The menu is bistro fare, and if you have lived here for six months or more, will seem like a breath of breeze on a sweltering day.
The bread, in violation of a Central Valley ordinance carrying the death penalty, almost has a crust. We can expect this to evaporate over the coming months until they wil have the same Subway Sandwich bread as everyone else east of Altamont Pass. The bread was served with an excellent oil and vinegar dip.
The crab cakes were unexceptional, but still, they were crab cakes. I remember the ones at Howard Johnson's thirty five years ago when I worked there as being much better. That could be a youthful pallate and the rosy glow of memory, but I found a Howard Johnson's about 8 or 9 years ago and had fried clams again and THEY were as good as I ahd remembered. The accompanying pineapple cole slaw was cooling and pleasant, with enough individuality to be interesting. The penne pasta with chicken putanesce was excellent. The tomato bisque was mixed, the salad was very good, big and filling. The soup was tasty, but the crust limp with little taste. Nowhere near as fine as that used on Balducci's beef Wellington.
The creme brulee disappointed my dining partner greatly, but I was less displeased. The custard was too thick and too bland, and the crust too thin and not hot enough, served in too deep a dish. Not perfect, but I have had far worse. The long search to find another creme brulee as good as the one we had at the Gold Coast in San Francisco some years ago has made me fatalistic on the subject.
The deli part of Max's has many things that look good. Unfortunately, they are take out only, and we usually have a full day ahead of us when we arrive there.