Thursday, June 2, 2011


I have a great little routine going. On most Wednesday afternoons, I head up to the cabin and do a little work, water the plants that were planted in the spring, that sort of thing. Then I get a wonderful night’s sleep all alone.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I love my wife and my doggies. But things can get cramped with two humans, a large dog and a little dog, even in a King Size bed. So sleeping alone one night a week is incredible. Plus, I seem to sleep really well up there. The cabin is at 4800 ft, so perhaps it is that slight elevation that accounts for the great sleep. I don’t know, but I don’t question it.

Well this last Wednesday around 4PM I was passing through the town of Ramona, with a trailer attached full of lumber. I wanted to grab a burger, but had to be able to park somewhere with the trailer.

I noticed a Wendy’s on the right, with a wide side-street. Easy parking, and I’d be able to keep an eye on the cargo.

When I first had the idea of a “Burger Wars” series of posts, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to do the old “Big Three” (McDonald's, Jack-in-the-Box, Burger King). As far as I was concerned, they were all has-bens who had their day in the sun. Wendy’s would fall in that category.

But on the other hand, I do hope to have advertisers and a possible national audience someday, which would mandate doing the big chains. Because a person in Iowa couldn’t go to the little independent burger joint in my one-horse town.

Fortunately, all the big guys are introducing premium burgers to try and win back market share which has been waning in recent years. So that gives them a burger I can put against the independents and it would be a fair match-up. Problem solved.

Now to the location of today’s piece – Wendy’s Old-Fashioned Hamburgers. I was surprised to learn via Wikipedia, that as of March of 2010, they were the third largest chain behind McDonald’s and Burger King. Many of there locations have closed in my Southern California area, so I thought they were on the way out.

Plus, the corporation bought out a chain called Baja Fresh a few years back. They paid $275 million for them, and sold them several years later for $31 million. Sounds like one of my business deals.

So at 4PM I entered the Wendy’s on Main St. in Ramona, CA. A very well-groomed man pleasantly greeted me. After about 10 seconds I realized he was…….an Interior Designer. Now, don’t get me wrong. I have nothing against Interior Designers. I’ve had many friends over the years who were Interior Designers. I’m certainly not an Interior Designer-a-phobe.

And I will say, he was very competent. Then a saw a manager who also looked like a competent worker. I wondered if both these guys had been displaced from other industries that are suffering from the recession. If so, it just goes to show with every dark cloud there is a silver lining. The silver lining here is that even though aerospace workers are getting laid off from their careers, it is making the fast-food industry much more enjoyable. Nothing like a worker who understands you, and gets your food to you fast and piping hot.

So I ordered the Double Baconator Combo Meal. I was asked if I wanted small, medium or large. I ordered medium (I was so proud of myself for over-riding my knee-jerk “large”.) The total was $8.79. I guess the days of a five dollar combo meal are long gone.

The food was served right away. The fries were fresh-cut with sea salt. I was surprised at how good they were. I think the population has gotten tired of fries (I know I have). Because everyone seems to be doing something to kick that side item up a notch.

So I unwrapped my burger. It was two ¼ pound patties (although they looked bigger; I think they use a small bun), 6 strips of bacon, 4 slices of cheese, and sauced with mayo and ketchup.

On my first bite, the well-done bacon melted in my mouth. The flavors all blended together quite well. I took some notes in between a few bites of the burger and an occasional fry dipped in ranch dressing. I think my note at the table on the burger summed it up perfectly – “Burger good, but didn’t blow my socks off.”

Average would be how I rate the entire experience overall. Average price, average (for fast-food) ambiance, average food taste.

I’d probably return if I were passing by and suddenly wanted something decent and filling. But I doubt I would make a special trip to this location. Sorry Dave – R.I.P.

Lew B.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

How many guys? Five

What did you do this Memorial Day Weekend?

I ate burgers. Friday I was at the 3rd St. Grill (see previous post). Sunday I buzzed on over to another place I like – Five Guys Burgers and Fries (

I had thought the only location here in the county was down at Liberty Station in Point Loma. Had I consulted the web-link (which I provided for your convenience; you’re welcome), I would have seen they have a location near UTC in the Costa Verde Plaza Shopping Center. Actually it appears there are 4 or 5 here in the county.

Anyhoo, Point Loma was the one we’ve been to 3 times now.

We decided to hit the Koby’s Swap Meet, since it is down in the same area.

After buying a 3 dollar belt, and a 4 dollar hat, we arrived in the area at about 12:10PM. I knew the church called The Rock (mammoth place, huge following) has services at 8AM, 10AM, and noon. So I was kind of surprised that large amounts of people were still heading over there even at ten past the hour. I guess their Lord isn’t overly concerned with punctuality.

The menu is glorious in its simplicity. Big burgers, little burgers, hot dogs, fries, big sodas, little sodas. Oh, and a few veggie sandwich options for those folks who don’t understand that we have both molars and flesh-tearing front teeth for a reason.

One of the first things that greet you upon entry is a big tub of peanuts. They have little trays to scoop some into. The first time I was there, I sat down with the peanuts and begin throwing the shells onto the ground. After my forth or fifth shell casing, my wife (who was more observant that I) point out that nobody else was throwing them onto the floor. I looked around and realized she was right. I quickly scooted the shells under the table with my shoe.

But I have since learned the error of my ways.

We didn’t get fries on this visit. The first time we ordered a small serving of their “Five Guys Style” and a small serving of the “Cajun Style”. (Side note – I knew a lady whose dad was from the swamps of Louisiana. The term ‘Cajun’ used to be a put-down. It meant you were illiterate, uncouth, swamp trash.)

Be warned – a “small” serving means they take a small cup of fries, put it in a brown bag, then pour a huge amount more on top of it.

So getting a small order of each meant we got a huge bag of fries. We had so many, that we ended up taking a bunch home. My goat got to enjoy them several hours later.

The second time, we had learned our lesson, and got one small order of the Cajun Style. Still a huge amount, and we carried a bag out the door. A homeless guy on the corner got those extra fries.

The reason we didn’t get any fries on this visit is that we just don’t care for them that much. When they are first served, they are good. But as they sit, they get really heavy. The menu brags about the fact that they use pure peanut oil. Maybe that oil gets heavy as they cool. I don’t know. Besides, with the free peanuts, you can just make that your side.

Also on this visit, I didn’t get a hot dog. I love their bacon-cheese dogs. The only reason I passed this time because we had a big funnel cake at the swap meet moments before this visit.

So Mrs. Babblings and I each got a big bacon-cheeseburger on this visit. Their patties are kind of small, but they use two of them for the large burger.

You name your toppings at the counter. I had lettuce, tomato, grilled onions, and jalapenos.

When my number was called, the young girl called me “sweatheart” and “hun” (short for honey). It didn’t sound fake (some people can say it and it sounds natural; she was one of those people). At first I thought, “Wow, that young chick digs me.” But then I caught my pear-shaped reflection in the window and realized she was probably just being nice.

The burgers are freakin’ delicious. You get yummy melted cheese in every bite.  It appears that they use four slices.  It’s a race to get the burger consumed before the bakery-fresh roll is destroyed. But that’s what the extra napkins are for.

The bill was $15.85 for the two burgers and a fountain soda (that we shared). I am having to re-cast my thoughts of what is high-priced. I think my bachelor years of the late 80’s and early 90’s (when I lived on burgers) have caused my brain to be somewhat stuck at that level.

The ambiance is a little on the loud side (Those darn whipper-snappers and their loud rock-n-roll!).

All-in-all, we have enjoyed all three visits. And I am very excited to learn of the location a little closer to us. Can’t wait to hit that.

If you haven’t tried Five Guys yet, what are you waiting for – get in there!

Lew B.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Where You Least Expect It

After a particularly rough week in the salt mines, The Babbler’s Wife and I were heading up to the cabin.

We have found that eating on Friday evenings (as this was) can be challenging. For one thing, once we are at the cabin and have the dogs settled in, there just are not that many places nearby to eat at. There are six restaurants within a 15 minute drive. Two are really expensive (one insanely so). One I got horrible food poisoning in on New Year’s Eve Eve of ’09. That leaves three, that over the last seven years we’ve kind of burned out on.

Sometimes we will eat in Poway around 3:30PM. That has the advantage of us still being local while the kid level goes down at school.

If we grab a bite to eat in Ramona, it has to be fast-food, since we can’t leave the dogs in the car.

I was commenting about different places I wanted to stop at for my “Burger Wars” blog posts. Mj suggested we stop at a little trailer on the far east side of Ramona (the last thing before you leave town) that appears to be a hot dog stand. She thought maybe that would be some good fodder for my pen. I laughed and said, “I want to do reviews of places with good food. Not some rickety dump. But, I guess with the dogs in the car it will be easy at least.”

The property where this little “burger stand” was located at used to have an Italian Restaurant on it. I had always meant to stop in. The place looked like it was falling down in disrepair, but I had heard from more than one person that the food was incredible. Well, they closed (another victim of the recession) before I had ever stopped in.

The property sat dormant for about 4-6 months, and then I began to notice some activity. Somebody appeared to be fixing the place up. Not long after that, what appeared to be a single-wide trailer was dropped off out front.

Well, fast-forward to the Memorial Weekend Friday. We pulled up to the trailer. I was impressed with how well they had fixed up the property. Up close and at a stand-still, you notice it better than when flying by it at 55 mph.

I went up to the counter while Mrs. Babblings stayed in the car with the little Babblets. The name of the joint was The 3rd St. Grill. I guess it was lucky for them that they were able to find a place on the corner of 3rd & Main. Otherwise, that name wouldn’t have made sense.

A couple of cute young ladies were there, which is always a plus in Mr. Lew’s world (one was just leaving, actually). A fellow who I guessed (correctly) might have been the owner was also in the trailer.

The menu was straight-forward. (

I ordered two of the “Not Your Mama’s Bacon Cheeseburgers”, a ½ order of shoestring fries and a ½ order of sweet potato fries.

They had a cooler out front with canned sodas, Snapple, that sort of thing. I grabbed a couple of Coca-Cola Zero’s. (Boy the wonders of modern technology, it tastes just like regular Coke.  Amazing.)

Did you know if you made a sugar water drink for your hummingbird feeder but used artificial sweetener, it would kill the hummingbirds? Yup. They would drink it, but their little hummy bodies would not process the stuff, and they would starve to death. Just another of the tid-bits of useless knowledge that swims around in my head.

But I digress.

So while I was waiting for the burgers, I chatted with Jim, the owner. He was about my age. And like me, he seemed to be all over the spectrum of different life experiences. I would love to sit down with this guy sometime and just chat.

One thing Jim said, and I agreed with, is that the “Gourmet Burger” market is exploding right now. Folks are trying to cut back, but still want something nice. The Gourmet Burger fits that need. It’s much cheaper than a fancy sit down meal, but still delicious and a cut above traditional “factory-style” fast-food.

The total cost of our meal was $21.73. A few years ago I might have though that was a tad high for 2 burgers, two small sides, and 2 beverages. Nowadays it seems to be the average.

So I took the food back to my waiting family.

The shoestrings and sweet potato fries were served with a side of Ranch Dressing. Nothing unusual to report there.

As I got our burgers out of the bag, I pleasantly noted that they were heavy. I like heavy food.

The first thing you notice is the Ciabbata Roll. It was nice and firm, but fresh. As I was to discover, a girthy bread like this was needed. The juices and sauce would have destroyed a regular bun before you had even gotten it out of the bag.

Speaking of “sauces”, my wife and I couldn’t quite figure out what the delicious sauce was that they put on this heaping half-pound burger. Upon consulting the menu, I saw that they sauce is called a “Bucked Up Mayo”. And they did let on that Horseradish was one of the secret ingredients.

As I bit into the burger, the first thing I noticed was the fresh tomato. It tasted like it had just been picked out of the garden. I am not a fan of store-bought tomatoes, but the ones you grow yourself are so sweet and delicious. The slice that was on my burger was just like that.

Mj commented on the delicious bacon that topped the burger. Jim had told me it was a Smoked Applewood.

I commented to Jim that the little burger stand was cute, and asked if he owned the building (that looked like a home) behind it. He said they did, and they were planning on opening a specialty coffee and drinks area back there.

For folks who don’t want to sit it their car (as we did), there is a very nice area with pic-nic style tables between the stand and the main building.

All-in-All, we were blown away. Mostly because of the incredible burgers and the reasonable price. But also, because I was totally not expecting it.

I can 100% recommend this establishment if you ever find yourself in the back part of Ramona. Heck, I personally think it is worth driving over here just for these burgers.

Of all the hair-brained schemes in my life, this idea of reviewing burgers and posting the results on my blog has got to be one of the better one.

Lew B.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Introductions of a Lew

Since I scraped all the old writings from my blog to start anew, the introduction article also got scraped with it. So here is a new piece talking a bit about little ol’ me.

I work and manage two preschools with a total child count of 70+ kids and a staff of about a dozen ladies. The age range of our children is 18 months to 6 years old.  The age range of our ladies is..........well, never mind.

I am sometimes asked how I got into childcare as a profession. Some say, “Oh, have you always liked working with children.” Um, not so much.

The truth of the matter is, none of the career paths I chose seemed to pan out. Plus, being married to a gal who ran one school (then we opened a second a few years ago), I just began to help out over the years more and more.

Eventually, as the other things I was doing began to fall away, and we opened the second school I became an official “Kindergarten Cop.”

As a young man I started washing dishes at 14, then worked in retail for about 5 years (K-Mart, Big Bear Supermarket, Sav-On / Osco). I did a stint in the Sony factory for about a year. I did some work as a security guard for a few years.  Worked at a storage facility for a while. 

But the bulk of my work history involved working in hotels and restaurants.

When Mrs. Babblings and I began dating, I was working as a bartender and room service waiter at the Del Mar Hilton. I was tired of the whole restaurant scene, and ready for something new. But I also hated to throw away nearly 15 years of my work history.

Well, a few months back, some corporate spies for Hilton had come through the hotel. The industry term for them was “spotters”. They pretend to be customers then write reports for the higher-ups. I remember saying to Mj, “I wonder who does that type of work for little independent places. It seems a fellow could start a company and do ‘secret shopping’ for smaller outfits.”

So as I was suffering from restaurant burn-out, one day the little lady suggested maybe I leave the industry as a regular employee and try to start my own business doing the secret shopper thing we had talked about a few months back. Since she was the major bread-winner in our household, we concluded that we wouldn’t go broke if my little room service income stopped coming in.

And that is how LB Spotter Services was born. I did that for nine years. Never made a huge amount of money, but we went to some fun places. Catalina, Palm Springs, Primm Nevada, and Westlake Village, just to name a few.

I also did stand-up comedy for a couple of years during that period. And while being on stage is certainly a rush, writing is my true passion.

After phasing out of the Spotter business and stand-up, I got into Real Estate, both as a Realtor and buying properties for the empire of the Babbler’s Wife and myself. Yeah, that worked out well.

So these days I do side work as a Notary and am the administrator of the smaller of our two schools.

These past few years have been challenging, as they have for us all. But for the most part, life’s been good to me, so far (as Joe Walsh once said in a song).

Even though this piece wasn’t funny, per se, I hope you got something out of it. If nothing else, perhaps new readers now know a bit more about me.

Lew B.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

A burger with a view

Okay, so I’ve revamped the blog and am going to try something new.

I am going to try and write stories that are humorous but may also have marketable value. There is a thing in the blog-o-sphere called Monetizing you blog. That means you let advertisers post ads in the side columns. They pay you for each click your blog gets.

But part of the hook there is that the story has to be something that an advertiser would want their product or service seen on. So that is one aspect of the new & improved blog.

Also, it was pointed out to me by several people that as the owner of a couple of pre-schools, my naughty humor was probably not the best thing. I felt this blog had no direct tie-in to the schools the wife and I run, so what was the harm? But other voices prevailed, so I’ll keep it clean. The funny thing is, I’m not really an overly vulgar guy. But the minute you tell me that is off limits, that is suddenly all I want to write about. But fine, I’ll keep it clean, whatever.

And lastly, the stories have to have some funny, so you, the reader, want to read them. I can promise the posts will be at the very least mildly humorous, but hopefully once in a while you will laugh out loud (or “lol” as all the young hipsters say).

So let’s get started.

I will be doing subject groupings for my stories. The first set will be “Burger Wars”, where I will have several posts on one of my favorite subjects – cheeseburgers.

This evening I met up with friend and fellow blogger Aaron ( ). We meet about once a month at a bar and grill near his work. That place is known to you common folk as Hooter’s.

I know what you are thinking – risky subject for a guy who just got done telling us he was going to stop doing risqué types of posts. But hey, I stopped drinking on 5-8-95 but still go to bars on occasion. That’s just how I roll. I’m all about the danger, baby.

Anyway, we met up at about 4:30PM, right in the middle of happy hour. Aaron is the designated drinker, and I’m the eater. So he was working a draught brew, and I had my Diet Pepsi, on the rocks.

We always share an order of loaded tater-tots (aw, how cute; just like a married couple). He had Maui Tacos and I had a ten-piece of the hottest boneless wings they’ve got (remember, Danger-Lew) and a Western Burger.

As previously mentioned, this post is part of the “Burger War” series, so I’ll just focus on that part of the food.

As far as price, it is probably near the top with a total cost of $12.92 ([burger only] 10% tax and 20% tip factored in).

But the other thing they will rate at the top for is ambiance (careful Lew). I guess I don’t need to get into much detail there, other than to say the view is better than the Jack-In-The-Box that stares out onto Poway Rd. We’ll just leave it at that.

As far as the taste, I give this burger a strong “average”. I have had it at least 6 times at this location, and it is always the same. Don’t get me wrong, it’s good. And since I am always hungry when I get it, that helps. I’m just saying it isn’t really anything to write home about. As with all burgers that called themselves “Western”, it had the BBQ sauce, bacon and cheese. But unlike most, that have a large onion ring or two, this one has “onion strings”, which is nice. Gives it a more even spread across the patty.

While enjoying the food, I tried to do some tongue-in-cheek racial humor intermixed with a true story. I sensed it didn’t go over too well. So I quickly tried to back-peddle by doing a little Jew-Bashing (I’m Jewish, so don’t get your panties all bunched up).

I always have a coupon for a free entrée in my wallet. Usually I beat my friend there, get settled in, and get the coupon out. But since he was already there, it threw me off my game. Then I didn’t remember it until the bill had already come. Admittedly, I could have given it to the server then. But she was kind of snotty, and I feared she would sneer at me very subtly. And I didn’t feel like being looked down on for what would have been a top savings of $4.00

The coupon is for a free entrée. And you can’t give it to them right away. I learned the hard way if you order a few wings or an appetizer before the main entrée, but present the coupon right away, they will only deduct a dollar or so off the cheap appetizer items. So wait until you’ve ordered all your food. That way they will take off an entrée, as the coupon says. (Another one of life’s lessons given to you free of charge.)

All-in-all, a very nice time with my pal. As far as the actual burger, I rate it a solid “six” (with 10 being the best).

Until next time, just remember – (ground) beef, it’s what’s for dinner.

Lew B.