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Publication Date: Friday, August 29, 2003

Sky high Sky high (August 29, 2003)

Alice's Restaurant is worth the trip

By Anthony Silk

You can get anything you want at Alice's Restaurant. And there hasn't been an owner named Alice since 1972.

But Alice's, perched atop Skyline Boulevard in Woodside is worth the drive. The small wooden building is almost 100 years old, having started as a general store for the loggers. It became a restaurant in the '50s and was bought by Alice Taylor in the '60s, who renamed it after herself and Arlo Guthrie's song about a different Alice and a different restaurant. It changed hands once again in 1972, when it was bought by Rick and Amanda Rogers.

The couple sold the restaurant a year ago to Andy and Jamie Kerr, who were looking for something new to do after selling their printing business. The Kerrs are both La Honda natives and used to frequent Alice's as children.

They've kept the basic, homey feel of the place, with its cowhide booths, and its walls decorated with neon beer signs and deer trophies. But they've also added a waterfall in the back, plenty of landscaping and a nearly complete back room that offers additional seating.

Not that you'll want to spend a lot of time indoors. Sitting in one of the tables or picnic-style benches anywhere on the wraparound porch lets you drink in the beauty of the blue sky and green fir trees while quaffing a morning coffee or evening glass of wine. And whether you're looking for a simple meal, or something more upscale, Alice's is ready to serve you.

Appetizers are mostly finger food and include the basics such as Buffalo wings ($8.95) and chili cheese fries ($8.95). My favorite, though, were the onion rings ($4.50).

For our first dinner foray, my companion and I decided to try the sandwiches. She opted for Alice's cheeseburger ($7.50), made with one third of a pound of sirloin and topped with lettuce, tomato, onions and cheddar cheese (Swiss and Monterey Jack were also available). Although the burger was juicy, it lacked the smoky, charbroiled flavor that I prefer. Still, Alice's offers plenty of options to jazz it up, including the BMW ($8.50), with bacon, sautéed mushrooms, Worcestershire sauce and Jack cheese, and the Hog ($10.95), made with two patties, avocado, grilled onions and cheddar.

By the way, if you notice the reference to motorcyclists, there's a reason: Alice's seems to attract them. With their helmets off, most of the riders look like CEOs.

My first meal was the barbecue chicken sandwich ($8.50), which was a perfectly grilled chicken breast covered with a tangy, but not overpowering, sauce. It was quite delightful.

Other sandwich choices include a turkey club ($7.95) and the veggie special ($6.75), made with melted cheese, sprouts, avocado, tomato and grilled mushrooms served on whole wheat. The latter seemingly aimed at the other "biker" crowd -- those that pedal their way to the top of the big hill.

On our return visit, we changed tactics and went for the specials.

My companion chose the honey-mustard pork chops ($16.95), three thin chops covered with a rich gravy. Although the meat was on the tough side, the sauce was wonderful, immediately enveloping you with aromas of the robust mustard mellowed by the sweet honey.

Surprisingly, the two sides of rice and vegetables were bland and did not measure up. A few more dashes of fresh herbs would have helped immensely.

I chose the chicken Parmesan ($15.95), which was a family meal in itself, with three full chicken breasts and an overly generous helping of marinara sauce. Like the pork chops, the chicken was somewhat overcooked, leaving it tough. But the sauce was superb, with a heady flavor of ripe tomatoes and just enough garlic and onions to give it some zip.

Sadly, the same couldn't be said for my side of garlic mashed potatoes, which tasted mostly of pepper and could have benefited from an infusion of the bulb.

A variety of desserts are available, all for $3.50. These come from the Prolific Oven in Palo Alto.

Although dinner was hit-and-miss, breakfast that weekend was an all-out success.

After a refreshing drive, carefully dodging the many bicyclists working their way up the barely two-lane road, we settled into a small table on the porch under a big green umbrella. Although a fairly complete breakfast menu is available every day until 2 p.m., the weekend brings a few specialty dishes as well.

We started off with the cinnamon coffee cake ($3.50) (not from the Prolific Oven), a huge, deep, layered square of moist cake and a crunchy, sugary topping. The cake was fairly ordinary, perhaps needing a touch more vanilla, but the topping was infectious, filling the air and my mouth with butter and cinnamon.

I decided on one of the staple breakfast items, the Rick's ($7.75), named after the former owner. Here three eggs were delicately scrambled with ham, mushrooms and onions, and then topped with melted cheddar cheese. It was a well-executed mix, lightly browned and fluffy. It came with a side of country potatoes, diced spuds grilled to a rich brown.

For a different combo, try Alice's omelet ($8.25), made with avocado, bacon, tomato and Swiss cheese. For the really hungry (perhaps those who have just biked up the mountain), I'd recommend the steak and eggs ($12.95), which is just two eggs scrambled and served with a 10-ounce New York-cut steak.

My companion ordered the eggs Benedict ($8.95) off the specialty menu. Sandwiched between the traditional muffin, ham and poached egg was a grilled sausage, all topped with Hollandaise sauce. Everything was right with this meal, from the perfectly poached eggs to the lemony sauce to the rich sage flavor of the sausage, which added a wonderful complexity to the dish.

Service at all three meals was warm and friendly, as one would expect at a family-owned restaurant. But who wouldn't be cheery breathing in all that glorious fresh air?

Alice's also has a nice selection of beer and California wines ($15 - $50 per bottle or $5.25 - $9.50 per glass).

With the hustle and bustle of life in the valley, there come times when we need to escape to the hills to clear our minds. If you decide to venture up, I can think of no better respite than Alice's, where a homey meal in a peaceful setting awaits

Alice's Restaurant

17288 Skyline Blvd., Woodside; 851-0303

Hours: Mon. - Sun.: 8:30 a.m. - 9 p.m.


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