“Old School” sounds dignified. “Hopelessly stuck in the ’60s?” Not so much.
Well, dignified or not, I clearly conjured up the wrong picture of Karen’s Bakery and Café in Old Town Folsom from the description: biker hangout.
Bikers? You mean Hell’s Angels? A dark den of big-bellied, bearded, barely-housebroken brothers-in-crime throwing back the brews?
Well, hardly. That would be the ancient history department of the “old school.”
As it turns out, Karen’s is indeed a biker hangout. But no Harleys. No sleeveless leather jackets with winged skulls on the back.
This is a different kind of cyclist-friendly. A bright, cheery place where a throng of lyrca-clad pedalists find themselves sitting next to tables of girls’-day-outers or shiny young locals on a quick lunch break.
They are all at home at Karen’s — the nutrition and fitness-crazed alongside cravers of triple chocolate mousse cups and homemade, frosted, cream-filled ho-hos.
Before we get to the food, a word about Karen’s and cycling. The café is not just a magnet for would-be Tour de Francers. This May, it will be in the shadow of the real thing.
The Amgen Tour of California, America’s most prestigious professional cycling race, featuring Olympic medalists and champions from around the globe will kick off its second of eight stages right down the block from the restaurant.
I’ll call it the Karen’s stage, a time trial featuring world class riders, one-by-one, racing the clock on a 12.6-mile course. This is the first year Folsom has hosted a race stage. And Karen’s will be right in the middle of it.
You’d rather be in the saddle than on the sidelines? Across the parking lot on the other side of Karen’s is Bicycles Plus. There, you can fill all your biking needs, including rentals for anyone intent on spending an afternoon on the bike trail that runs along the American River Parkway nearby.
Whether you are a world-class cycler or simply a world-class eater, you will enjoy Karen’s.
First, it’s the right blend of energy and leisure. The kitchen is active. The servers are brisk, friendly and efficient. The line at the counter moves quickly as guests make their selections, get holders affixed with their order numbers and find tables. But the dining experience is relaxed and unrushed.
And the menu offers an array of well-prepared meals and treats divided into a breakfast segment till11:00 and lunch from then until 2:30 (with the ho-hos among the items you can get throughout the day).
Let’s start with the most important meal of the day. Here’s an option that is patently not your old school breakfast cereal. Nothing 1960’s about carbonara oatmeal laced with pancetta, green onion and Parmesan beneath a softly-boiled egg. Same goes for the warm housemade ricotta topped with smoked raisin compote.
You will also find steel cut oats, tarts, scrambles, braised eggs in salsa verde, and quiche. Or browse the bakery display for coffeecake, muffins, scones and a variety of pastries that will make you forget more traditional nutritional pursuits.
We chose to avoid the breakfast decision-making by arriving after 11:00, which presented its own challenges. The display case was filled with grab-and-go sandwiches like curried tuna, turkey and brie, as well as salmon pasta, ginger mango rice and Brussels sprout salad.
All tempting. But we never got there. It was hard enough trying to decide from the menu entrees.
Together, my wife and I shared the cauliflower soup, half pound burger with sautéed onions, lemon aioli and spinach pesto, and the slow-roasted pork in tomatillo and cilantro salsa served with a poached egg, black beans and corn tortillas.
With apologies to the carb-counting cyclers sitting at the outdoor tables on the other side of the big picture window, ours was an excellent and satisfying lunch. Especially the oven roasted steak fries that accompanied the burger. Thick. Steamy-hot and crispy. A perfect pairing with the side of pesto that came on the plate.
Karen’s calls them small delights. Butterscotch budino, tiramisu cups, mints, truffle cake slices, lemon bars, brownies and macaroons. Had you at butterscotch budino? Hold on. How about a ho-ho, a refrigerated dessert they call, “our tribute to the classic (only better) with a hint of dark rum.”
And did I mention tebirkes, their traditional Danish pastry? Or the cascade of cookies? And that’s not even a fraction of the choices.
Old and New
So there you have it. In the heart of historic Old Folsom is a decidedly new school restaurant, bakery and catering business with a decidedly old school ambience in a pleasant modern setting.
So you can be stuck in the 60’s (1960 or 1860 which is around the time Folsom got its name). No matter. You will still enjoy Karen’s, an experience that never gets old. The cycling part? That’s up to you.
Karen’s Bakery and Café is located at 705 Gold Lake Dr. in Folsom, CA. Open 6 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekdays and 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturdays. Closed Sunday. Website is Karensbakery.com.