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Sat11172018

Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

When I heard that the San Francisco-based PlumpJack Group had purchased the legendary Ingleside Inn and its Melvyn’s restaurant following the death last year of longtime owner Mel Haber, my feelings were decidedly mixed.

On one hand, Melvyn’s is an institution. The old-school recipes, the tableside prep, the … uh, past-normal-retirement-age maître d’s—these things make Melvyn’s a Palm Springs classic, unlike any other restaurant in the valley.

On the other hand … Melvyn’s, located at 200 W. Ramon Road, has a lot of room to improve. Both the food and service in recent years have been wildly inconsistent, and it seemed management was doing little to reach new customers.

Turns out that Melvyn’s new executive chef, Jennifer Town, shares a lot of the same opinions.

Town, a graduate of the New England Culinary Institute, has an impressive resume, to say the least. She was the head chef for the Italian Olympic Team (!) and worked at The Ritz Carlton, St. Thomas, before coming to the desert to help open the Ace Hotel and Swim Club. Before starting at Melvyn’s, she spent the last several years wowing customers at Michael Holmes’ Purple Room.

As the PlumpJack Group works on a property-wide renovation, Town has spent the last couple of months working on Melvyn’s menu—not renovating it, but making little changes here and there. She said she’s very cognizant of how beloved Melvyn’s is in certain circles.

“My first month or so here, I did not change the menus at all,” she said. “I looked at the recipes of all of the old favorites, and worked on making sure they’re made consistently.”

While she didn’t change the menus, she did start making little improvements. Examples: She updated the mushrooms in the steak Diane. She removed the sherry from the veal Ingleside. She bumped up the quality of the blue cheese used in salad dressings. She started ordering higher-quality beef, from Creekstone Farms.

“I am making tweaks and adding extra flavors,” she said. “My goal is for customers to notice that the food is better, but they can’t pinpoint the changes.”

She said customers should also not expect any wholesale changes to the items on the main menu; about 90 to 95 percent of it will remain the same. She does plan on adding a few things that weren’t offered before at Melvyn’s, such as a scallop dish, a Chilean sea bass and perhaps a halibut entrée.

Fans of Melvyn’s tableside prep have nothing to worry about, either: It’s not going anywhere.

“It’s such a spectacular show,” Town said.

Having said that, she did say she’s working on making sure the food cooked tableside, like the food made in the kitchen, is more consistent.

“No matter who you order from, you should get the same product,” she said.

The one area in which she’s making big changes, she said, is the bar. Don’t worry; the martinis and the old-school piano vibe will still be present, and the full menu will still be offered. However, sometime in October, she’s planning on introducing a brand-new bar menu, featuring a dozen or so appetizers and lighter dishes, including deviled eggs ($7), a grilled flatbread ($12), crab cakes ($15), a burger ($15) and steak and pom frites ($20). Yum.

Town said the staff has so far been very welcoming to her and her vision for Melvyn’s.

“Generally speaking, most are excited,” she said. “Change is hard, but they can see where they needed to make little changes for the better.”

Published in Features & Profiles

The weather is starting to cool down in the Coachella Valley—so it’s a perfect time to explore what the craft-beer industry has to offer at local beer festivals. They are the perfect place to experiment, meet fellow craft-beer enthusiasts and even get involved in the community!

For the third year, the Palm Springs Air Museum is combining two things that you may not normally think go together: flying and beer. The Props and Hops Craft Beer Festival commences on Saturday, Nov. 22, at the Air Museum, a picturesque venue with gorgeous views. General admission costs $35.

I am on the festival’s board, and this year, the beers on offer will range from one-off seasonals to perennial favorites.

All three local breweries will be pouring their award-winning beers. Babe’s Bar-B-Que and Brewhouse will be pouring its Belgian Vanilla Blonde Ale, which just took home a silver medal from the granddaddy of all beer events, the Great American Beer Festival in Denver.

Coachella Valley Brewing Co. will likely be pouring its newest seasonal offering, Condition Black. It’s an imperial black IPA offered every Veterans Day. Another possible offering is the new Saison L'Automne, a fall farmhouse ale with yams, pumpkins and spices.

La Quinta Brewing Co. will have on hand the popular Indian Canyon IPA, the Poolside Blonde and the brewery’s fall/early winter seasonal, the Tan Line Brown. The brewery will also bring either its new barrel-aged porter, or the Sand Storm Double IPA.

Of course, other breweries from Southern California will be on hand, including Lost Abbey/Port Brewing, Stone Brewing, Hangar 24, Lagunitas, Ballast Point, Firestone Walker, Black Market, Refuge Brewery and Golden Road Brewing.

Homebrewers are making an ever-increasing mark on the industry, and the festival will highlight these beer-making champions with the third annual homebrewers' competition. Led by local Coachella Valley Homebrew Club president Brett Newton, the Beer Judge Certification Program-certified competition will only be limited by imagination. Bring your tasty concoction, and get some expert feedback from certified beer judges! Entries must be received at either Coachella Valley Brewing in Thousand Palms, or MoreBeer in Riverside, by Nov. 8. Brewers must bring three unmarked, unlabeled 12-ounce bottles, and the winners will be announced at the festival. Prizes include gift cards, a 70-liter Speidel fermenter from MoreBeer, and, of course, mad respect from fellow craft-beer drinkers.

This year, the festival is offering beer-lovers a chance to literally combine flying and beer: For an extra $175, experience a Cicerone-guided tour of beers while in the sky above the Coachella Valley. This rare beer-tasting will be held aboard a vintage DC3!

The festival will include more live music than last year, with performances by The Anonymous Five, the Independent´s own All Night Shoes, and Long Duk Dong.

The big brain behind the event is an ale-loving, craft beer advocate, Brent Schmidman. He’s the man responsible for making Schmidy’s Tavern into the loved craft-beer spot that it is today.

“We’re always trying to push the envelope with the event and to bring something new,” he said.

Schmidman said he’s excited about some breweries who are new to the festival this year.

“The first two that come to mind are Avery and Three Weavers. Avery is an amazing brewery and makes some insane beers—crazy wild sours and barrel-aged beers that are hard to get. I'm also excited about Three Weavers Brewing, a new brewery from Inglewood. They’re already making a big buzz in the beer scene.”

Yours truly will be hosting a special beer dinner on the night before the festival at the Purple Room in Palm Springs. Join me on Friday, Nov. 21, at 6:30 p.m. for an intimate dinner featuring several Southern California beers. Executive chef Jen Town will be preparing the menu, and together, we’ll pair the food with the perfect beers. Tickets are $55, and capacity is limited to 100 people. Don’t miss out!

Whatever you do, don’t be intimidated if you’re a beer novice. Volunteers, brewers and other festival attendees will be happy to guide you toward amazing beers with which you may not be familiar.

The craft-beer revolution continues to gain momentum, and festivals like Props and Hops are a perfect way to experiment with new and trending California beers. Who knows? You may just find a new favorite.

Get tickets and more information at www.PropsandHopsFestival.com.

Published in Beer