One of the best surprises of eating on the road is coming across little gems. It wasn’t that Nancy’s Airport Cafe happened to be the closest place at mealtime. It was mentioned in an article in the latest issue of a bimonthly AAA magazine published in Northern California, called Via, in which a food critic wrote about the best eats along US Interstate 5 between Sacramento and Portland. (As an aside, my wife happened to pick up a copy at the Stockton AAA when I picked up a tour book, a happy coincidence since we were on this very itinerary.)
Nancy’s is a classic diner, located in a small town (Willows) and situated at the edge of a little-used municipal airport. The wind was blowing stiffly outside, the skies gray as if rain were on the horizon. Once we stepped inside, the waitress greeted us warmly. It is a local favorite, evidenced by the many town folk who were eating here. The restaurant has been open for 40 years and our waitress has worked 22 of them.
Since it was lunchtime, we ordered one of the specials of the day and a customer favorite, Crispy Cheese Ham Sandwich (☆☆☆), which we shared, and a boysenberry pie a la mode, which we also shared. What was so special about the sandwich? Shredded cheddar cheese is sprinkled on a hot griddle, then fried until crispy, topped with thin smoked ham slices, and the works scooped on top of thick sandwich bread. The sandwich can be topped with lettuce, slices of tomato and onion, and pickles, and then folded over. A very tasty treat.
The pie slice (☆☆½) arrived with THREE scoops of vanilla ice cream. Other than a doughy crust, the pie was a very good one.
Pies, in fact, are a specialty here. Aside from ours and the lemon meringue pie recommended by the Via article, there were banana cream, coconut cream, strawberry cream, blackberry, blueberry, apple and peach. Our waitress recommended any of the burgers (made with Angus ground beef). Other customer favorites are the smoked beef tri-tip, fried chicken and broasted chicken.
Nancy’s gets kudos for friendly service (which our waitress called ‘entertainment’), homey atmosphere, and solidly prepared comfort foods. This is what road food is all about.