That’s Mr. Daniels and ONE tented Casino.

Driving in this day was beginning to take on a very slow crawl. What the hell? Why is traffic going so dang gum slow? Who the hell? . . .  Why? . . . What? . . . There’s a dang gum bus up ahead that doesn’t know where it’s supposed to be going . . . and why do I have this southern draw to my writing? Oh, that bus belongs to the band. “That must be Mr. Daniels himself”, I say to my wife. That bus up ahead was slowly inching its way into the casino parking lot and we were stuck behind it. I had a feeling Charlie would be moving kinda slow nowadays but didn’t realize his bus would be assuming the same comfortable pace. “Let’s go damn it,  I gotta show to go to”, I again think to myself. Perhaps I was more interested in getting a cold beer before the show began.

This story actually begins with an old t-shirt I now currently reserve to use for sleeping. I stared at it one day wishing I had a newer version of the Charlie Daniels Band (CDB) Volunteer Jam concert black shirt. Instead the grossly faded and tattered remnant was to remain in its place in the drawer for future nightly dreaming. “Hmmm”, thinking to myself I decided to take a gander at the Internet and see if I can find out any tour information about the CDB and if they are expected to do a show anywhere nearby. I’m again thinking I have probably seen the CDB about a dozen times and I never miss a show if they are near; but my search on the internet revealed a lifeless website devoid of tour information and current stories or products for sale. I kind of just blew that off for a few weeks until I saw that shirt again. Then I performed the same website search ritual as stated earlier.pauma2

That t-shirt story continues. One day while driving home from work, I happened upon a small sign garnishing the expressway I frequent on my commuting travels. The sign read “Casino Pauma – Charlie Daniels Band – Feb 28”. WHAT??? I had just months before been concerned after the second website search for tour dates revealed nothing. I had thought Charlie Daniels’ health may have been faltering and restricting his ability to tour. I hadn’t seen nor heard much of anything accept for a television commercial I saw in the recent past.

Once I saw the sign I immediately began making plans to purchase tickets for fear this may be the last time he comes around. He’s 79 years old and many musicians of his caliber begin to significantly taper their appearances around that age. I was very happy to find tickets still available  at a venue I have never been to before, and I was hoping to have a time to find another great place to see a show nearby my home.

I live about 20-25 minutes from 5 Indian gaming casinos, some of which I had written about before after attending various events, shows and restaurants. This time was my wife and I’s first trip to Casino Pauma, as it remains the only casino in the area still in a circus-type tent structure. Living in this area for so long, we’ve witnessed most of them having already transformed to brick and mortar structures over the years. We also experienced their music venues change from parking lots to building structures, from building structures to bigger building structures and a little vice versa; some for the better and some for the worse.CDB

Inside of the casino there are three selections of food establishments and two bars. The pizza and sandwich deli offered fresh made individual sized pizzas that I have been told were very good. The deli also offers some kind of pretzels and a host of pre-made/pre-packaged sandwiches similar to what you may find at the school cafeteria. The Café is toward the back  from the main entrance next to the  buffet and another bar area. I never made it back there to that area other than to help my wife initially find the café. We mainly held tight to the Red Parrot Lounge bar just inside the main entrance. It was a very busy bar especially since it’s just inside the main entrance and everyone hits there first. There’s a small band stand for the nightly music and dancing and that’s where we found ourselves hanging and pre-gamming for the big show.

Now you are probably wondering why seeing CDB is so important for me. Let me date myself back several years and several venues in which I have seen Charlie Daniels perform. My first was at the San Diego State Amphitheater, unmistakably probably the best outdoor music venue ever in San Diego. My older brother had taken me when I was about 17 while he was attending the university. At that first appearance, I had really enjoyed the show that began with a solo guitarist kicking off with a very powerful rendition of Pure Prairie League’s “Amie”. I remember that day vividly as I was young enough to holler out a country “Whoooot” that even Charlie looked up over his microphone with a big hearted smile during that show.

I have seen the CDB cruise up the Mississippi River on top of a river boat. That day the boat parked directly in front of my wife and I as we were seated along the bank of that majestic waterway. I’ve seen Charlie playing along side of greats like the Marshal Tucker Band at Pala Casino’s outdoor Starlight Theater, again arguably one of the best music venues in San Diego. I have seen the CDB perform at several festivals and county fairs throughout the years. I search the band out if they hear or read they are local and even if I hear of them playing where I am traveling about the country. The CDB is the kind of musical performer that has always touched my heart singing about deep-hearted American and country stories, patriotic melodies and always showing his very strong support for America and the military. Charlie Daniels is probably the first country and western musical performers I have followed throughout my entire life. Now I find that there are so many more of the old style country singers that have run with very deep roots in the Americana themed tunes.

pauma1Casino Pauma is just a bit different than the other gaming casinos in the North San Diego region in that it is the only casino that is still currently in a tent, the only casino that doesn’t have an outdoor lounge area and the only casino that reverses its name after the word “Casino”. It’s not called Pauma Casino, like Harrahs, Pechanga, Pala or Valley View. It’s called “Casino Pauma”. I’ve always just known it as such and it’s always just been that way as far back as I have known.

Casino Pauma’s concert venue is actually a separate tent from the casino itself and you must pass through this white tent corridor to get in; they look like the kind you buy at Costco. The inside of the concert venue reminded me of a elementary school multi-purpose building as if I was getting ready to watch a Christmas play with the other 800 folks (815 seating capacity) in attendance.pauma

The CDB started their show pretty close to the stated 5pm start time on this Sunday. I quickly noticed there was a lack of really quality sound since there were no speaker elevated off of the floor or stage area that is common for musical stages nowadays, so the sound never really got past the first several rows of seats. Not to say the sound wasn’t good, it just was noticeably inferior to the other concert venues at the other casinos that have performance stages.

Charlie Daniels never lets me down and always pays significant tribute to the military and often times other musicians he has performed with or left their mark on his soul over the years. His stories come at you quickly as he talks about what he feels and why he performs such songs on his playlist. This time he played tributes to Johnny Cash and Bob Dylan. His tributes always are well performed and well received. Charlie’s band has always been very energetic and deeply into the show as they perform a number of hits and cover renditions that pay tribute or have significant country stories to tell, like Legend of Wooley Swamp, Long Haired Country Boy and his abrupt finally this night, The Devil Went Down To Georgia. I accepted his no encore finish because of the small crowd that was sold out at 800 in this venue. I would have left early also. The crowd was still very appreciative and well entertained. We stood along the back and sides near the bars (no craft beer and limited spirits) most of the show without problem and quickly exited to head back into the casino for a seat at the inside bar.

pauma4Once back at the bar, we were again quickly served as the casino band began to gather again at the stage area. I passed by them briefly and Kyle (singer) mentioned that they had noticed that it was time to get their game on since Charlie’s show ended so abruptly. About 10 or 15 minutes into their first set and a very crowded bar had several folks around me, my wife and brother-in-law included all exclaiming “these guys” (referring to Kanan Road, the band) were really shredding up the classic and southern rock tunes. I was very impressed with their strong originals mixed with just the right covers to complete an evening of country rock. They really made for a great after CDB show party that night. Check them out at

Well, I never got that T-shirt replaced, but I did get this bitchen red-neck hat for bull ridin’ if I happen to go that route someday.

Get ‘er done!IMG_4516



A Cuban sandwich appears, and the Chef is nowhere to be found

New york on rye closureI had noticed recently there seems to be a lot of establishments offering a Cuban sandwich lately. I have even found myself attempting to give ‘er a go by preparing the first stage of my creativity, in hopes of having another opportunity to finish it (building and eating the sandwich) soon after the smoked Easter ham has been hacked up. Then all I’ll need to do is find the right Swiss cheese, Kosher pickle and proper roll since the mustard should be as plain as can be. Probably press it all between two cast-iron skillets. That’s my interpretation of a classic that has fascinated me since watching the movie “Chef”. The preview night of that movie in Orange County had the small group of us four scrambling toward an undisclosed Los Angeles location to hunt one down to satisfy our “gotta have”. Since then I have noticed more and more quick-serve and sit down eateries have the “Cuban” featured on their menu.

Chef MovieThe movie “Chef” is about an aspiring chef on the verge of becoming great in this current social media age. That chef, played by Jon Favreau (also the director) taught his son how to make a Cuban sandwich as part of his roots inspired menu aboard the newly created food truck he had set up after being ousted by the General Manager and Owner (Dustin Hoffman) of the restaurant that began to make a name for him. In the movie, the food truck “El Jefe” now serves up Cubans as a staple of the food that Chef Carl Casper had grown up with. I thought the movie to be fun, entertaining  with nuances of the restaurant business that seemed fitting at the time of my culinary education. I still enjoy the the movie today.

Well, a recent notification on social media about a restaurant closure nearby where I work had me scrambling to wish the owner and chef the best of luck last week. It seemed they had just opened that brick and mortar restaurant less than a full year ago. I’m not sure of the circumstances that evolved around the restaurant closure, but the restaurant had started first as a food truck making authentic New York style deli sandwiches with modern culinary twists from various inspirations the chef had brought along the way. That chef is how I first met the staff at New York on Rye. I met the chef and once wrote a story about his operation  I was very happy when they decided to open a brick and mortar delicatessen and their then truck commissary just down the street from my daily workplace. Don’t get me wrong, the sandwiches were probably not the best thing for my weight and health (grilled Pastrami, Corned Beef, grilled Rueben and the grilled Corned Beef Hash burrito) but they were the certainly the best . . . and probably still are the best Jewish style New York deli sandwiches in San Diego.

After reading about their brick and mortar closure I decided to pay a quick visit in transit to another work location while they still had their food truck outside the store front before seeing their customers off. When I visited that day I had noticed they added house-smoked regulars of brisket and pulled pork to the menu. I know these are popular menu items from BBQ venues and trucks in the San Diego region but I didn’t expect to see them from a New York deli. I also know that New York on Rye once had a smoke trailer they had experimented with in the past, but had abandoned that idea before opening the place in Miramar. Another item I noticed on their menu was a Cuban sandwich. Now I don’t ever recall seeing this on their menu, nor did I eat there too often (read above . . . ), but I would have eaten the Cuban had I known they had one, and Chef Rich Huarte would have probably pointed it out, since I have had almost everything else on their menu at one point in time by his recommendation.

Well I think the Cuban sandwich has permanently created an opportunity for me to look for this food truck again in the future. I didn’t get to eat one this day, since I had little time having to make haste and get to my meeting in another area of San Diego; you see the New York on Rye truck was just setting up after some required inspections that day, and I just had poor timing and couldn’t wait around. I did learn of my Chef friend Rich was no longer with the team, opting to return to his roots town on the East Coast with the store closure and be closer to his family. Damn East Coast people . . . come out to California, then go back . . . then often times come back to California scratching their heads saying “what was I thinking . . . it’s cold back there”. Also, meeting Rich was my very first introduction into the food truck business. He helped me understand the “gourmet” food truck idea. Hopefully I’ll have a chance to find him out East someday when I visit the Big City area. Gonna miss you Rich. You’re a fine Chef.


The Cuban sandwich that is on this menu appears to be part of a series of sandwiches that is featuring the smoking of meats they have recently added as part of their sandwich menu. I am not Cuban so I make no claims to the authenticity of my personal recipe desire for this particular sandwich. My understanding of this concoction of the Cuban sandwich is traditionally made from”smoked” ham, “roasted” pork, Swiss cheese, dill pickle and plain yellow mustard on a Cuban roll. New York on Rye has the pork “smoked” and pulled (as Wikipedia claims . . . is ok). My assumption is this is alternatively a good interpretation of the original and I am very much looking forward to trying this sandwich. I have had most everything else on the menu, so I know I won’t be disappointed. But how does it stand up to the competition?


I don’t know . . . ask the competitors. There seems to be no lack of them lately.

The only other thing that has me quirking . . . no, not twerking; is the pursuit of the mighty dollar and the experimentation with menu ideas. I know, as a chef, that you must and will always be experimenting in the kitchen with different flavor profiles, affinities and sometimes culinary mistakes; but I also believe in purity of the roots that begins the inspiration of an idea. I really liked the idea of New York on Rye being an authentic New York style Jewish deli. The owner said to me the first moment I met him, “We’re real Jews making real Jewish food”. That stuck with me to this day. I don’t recall the Cuban or the smoked meat sandwiches as being part of any Jewish deli I remember.

new york deli on rye



What’s in your gas station?

IMG_4330I have actually been remotely acquainted with the owners of When Pigs Fly BBQ in Vista, CA for some time. Having worked along side of Dale and Tammy during a couple of the annual Valley Center Music Festivals, their BBQ event helped blend the sampling of terrific barbecue (BBQ) with excellent music to benefit the music programs for the Valley Center/Pauma School District. These events have in the past featured up to 50 BBQ competition teams, musical artist from around the globe, local musicians and bands from the San Diego area and the Valley Center High School Jazz Band. During one of these festivals, Dale came by the “green room” one day to sample my signature menu items of Teriyaki Chicken skewers and Native Oak Grilled Leg of Lamb. I remember Dale telling me my food was excellent and that most people don’t usually know how to cook lamb, and that mine was perfect. Well today, it was my turn.


A couple years back, they had extended the gas station they owned to accommodate a larger kitchen for catering BBQ. The wife and I had always just passed by thinking, “I wonder” as we would claim that the Picasso-like contrasting colors of the building were going to set off political alarms and building code violations in that area of town. Recently one day, I had wondered why we have never stopped by to check out the joint, say hello to Dale and sample their cuisine. We figured, there were other favorite BBQ places and restaurants in town that we frequented, why not check it out. I am, of course, a customer first . . . and everyone deserves a fair CritDicks review.

IMG_4327Immediately upon exiting my vehicle I noticed an area near the self-serve automated drive-through car wash with a nice little spot to enjoy a rest and/or your BBQ. The area had both a ceiling fan and a gas heater for those chilly California evenings (something like that) but the area was right next to the car wash entrance so I don’t know if that would be loud. I didn’t stick around to wait for a car to enter and test the noise level. I did make my way into the store and was immediately served by a very knowledgeable young man that provided a good overview of the menu selections, how it was to be ordered, and any additional options that were to my liking. The inside of the restaurant/food mart was clean and well maintained. The back of the house was all very brand new and had a slight smoky odor of the BBQ process that they had established here. I questioned the two staff members as to their operation and they gave me quick knowledgeable answers and I received my food promptly and without delay. I didn’t stick around too long as I had to fight my way back through traffic so I could get home to try some of this BBQ before it cooled off too much. IMG_4329

My full-rack order of pork ribs were meaty and delicious as were the three-bone 1/2 rack of beef ribs. I ordered my meats with the sauces on the side so I could taste the spices and rub. I thought the beef ribs were very tender and some of the best I had ever had, but not fall-off-the-bone as if they had been sitting in BBQ sauce all day. I like mine a bit al dente.  We had also tried their coleslaw that my son thought it to be very good;  and we also tried some of their mac & cheese that has a hint of smoky flavor that struck me as unusual since I have never tasted a mac like that before. It was good, but different. IMG_4328I did ask one of the staff members if they served a grilled chicken because their menu didn’t offer chicken other than a pulled chicken for sandwiches. The answer was that their grilled chicken is only served as a catering option. Not a big deal to me because I usually avoid BBQ chicken from such establishments because it usually results in a poor experience. A poor experience was not on the menu today as everything was fresh and delicious when I got it home.

Now I’m not going to tell you these are the best damn ribs anywhere, because I am not a big BBQ dude with years of grillin’ experience on an open pit or something stupid like that.  What I will tell you is that BBQ is often times as personal as salsas, spaghetti sauce, BBQ sauces and pizza. This is some great food within a very short distance from my home and there are not many, if any, to choose from; and When Pigs Fly has a stout history of winning competitions – BIG competitions – that has allowed them to establish themselves amongst the top of the BBQ playing field. They’ve been doing right for several years and they finally brought it home to us here in Vista.


So I gotta ask you, “What’s in your gas station?”



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