By MIKEY HIRANO CULROSS
Rafu Travel Editor
BAKERSFIELD.–I’ve often dreamed of opening a classic American-style diner in my wife’s hometown in Japan. You know, burgers and malts, table booths and red and white tile checkering the walls, and oldies pumped out of a neon jukebox.
Should I ever have the wherewithal to realize that vision, I’ll keep in mind a place I visited last week, that in many ways shares that same vibe. And it’s in Bakersfield.
Yeah, Bakersfield–Buck Owens’ town, farming mecca with a few oil fields still churning out black gold.
The Moo Creamery is a labor of love on several levels for Richard Yoshimura and Jessica Pounds, who schooled and toiled down south in Los Angeles before following their hearts and dreams back to her hometown.
“We worked together at a restaurant in L.A., got married, and came up here to visit her folks,” said Yoshimura, a graduate of Gardena High School and UCLA. “She was looking to open up a place and here, in Bakersfield, it’s definitely a lot easier to open up a business.”
While Yoshimura, 37, trained to be a pastry chef at the California School of Culinary Arts in Pasadena, Pounds, 28 and also a UCLA alum, was getting her training on the job, learning all facets of the restaurant business at high-end establishments such as Clementine in Century City and the Border Grill in Santa Monica.
“She is one of the rare individuals in the restaurant business who can do it all. She can cook, she can formulate a menu, run the numbers, perform customer service and handle anything else that needs to be done. Like Roberto Clemente in baseball, she’s a five-point player,” he said.
While working together at MILK, the pair discovered they had the same longing for a burgers and ice cream joint, which helped serve as a jumping off point for their relationship. Bakersfield seemed to be a casual, yet vibrant area for their new place, without the pretensions that often swarm restaurant openings down here in Hollywood land.
“There’s a lot of community support and what I really love is when you look around in here, it’s all families,” Yoshimura explained. “We can create this great family atmosphere, and that can be tricky in L.A.”
On this particular evening last Saturday, the Moo Creamery was indeed filled with a local cross-section–little leaguers, fire department staff extended families and a few young dating couples.
“People here are particular,” Yoshimura added. “They know what they like to eat and they want it to be good. As long as we support the community and provide the best customer service and the best value and best food for them, they will support us. We have some regulars who come here daily.”
What keeps ‘em coming back as much as the breezy and relaxed atmosphere are the unusual goodies that are only found here. As the name would imply, ice cream is the specialty of the house, and that can entertain all sorts of creativity.
“If it’s for kids, get them the Peppermint Oreo,” Yoshimura recommended. “For the grown-ups, get them the Guinness. That’s popular.”
Not only is Guinness on tap, the fine folks at Moo have a Guinness ice cream, a scoop of which tops a frosty glass of the legendary British ale for a float. For those with alternate allegiances, there’s Newcastle and red wine ice cream as well.
Yoshimura said that most people who don’t like beer still like the Guinness ice cream. Personally, I can’t stand beer, but the ice cream is mighty tasty, although I preferred the black licorice scoop.
I ordered what seems to be the local favorite, the Elvis milkshake. The menu claims, “The King would be proud,” and I agree. As a former soda jerk, I consider myself something of an expert on shakes and malts, I must report that this one is nothing short of inspired. Vanilla ice cream, banana, peanut butter, marshmallow and–wait for it…bacon.
Yoshimura explained that the origins of their ice cream with the porky flavor began as something of a joke.
“It’s my wife’s concoction, it was invented almost as a dare,” he said. “Some colleagues were talking about how bacon makes everything taste so good, and she thought she could make bacon ice cream taste good. She had a small, commercial-grade ice cream machine in her apartment. She whipped up a batch and took it to work and it was amazing. That’s definitely going on the menu, I told her.”
I also had the Moo Burger, their standard and most popular. It’s just how you’d want it made at home: a thick, juicy patty, just the right size, a tasty original sauce and a slightly sweet and spongy bun. Also the humble homemade pickles, served on the side, are perhaps the tastiest I’ve ever encountered.
Yoshimura was proud to explain how practically everything they serve is made in-house, joking that he’s up at 4 a.m. everyday milking the cow out back.
They also do their best to support the local farms. From the almonds and oranges for ice cream to local beef and produce, the sources are nearby and in season.
“We don’t serve anything that’s out of season,” he said. “We just began serving strawberries yesterday, in fact. We’re just now getting strawberries that are good and sweet.”
A pastry chef by trade, Yoshimura said he’s grown to love the friendly neighborhood environs of Bakersfield, since opening their restaurant on Christmas Eve 2008.
“We do try to push the envelop a bit, but we work within our parameters and try to provide something this town hasn’t seen,” he said.
He didn’t seem terribly homesick for L.A., either.
“Another great thing about this town: no traffic!”
Moo Creamery is at 4885 Truxtun Ave., Suite B, in Bakersfield. Open 7 days a week. Call (661) 861-1130 or visit www.moocreamery.com.