School Street Bistro Brings Southern Flavor to Northern California.
Louisiana to Lodi… No, we’re not talking about MapQuest directions. That’s the direction of the flavor found at School Street Bistro in downtown Lodi. “We wanted to be a small neighborhood restaurant that has the family environment like the old television show Cheers,” says Trisha Akiyoshi, owner of School Street Bistro. “We want to serve our guests an excellent quality of food in a casual environment.” All menu items are cooked fresh in-house, including steaks cut to order.
Akiyoshi and her husband David spent a combined 40 years working at the Robert Mondavi Winery, an experience that definitely influenced the School Street Bistro, which opened in July 2002. “We have Southern food with a touch of California,” explains Trisha, who is originally from Oklahoma and spent significant time in her childhood in the South with her grandmother. “We started doing just California cuisine, but everyone was doing that. My son served as chef and when he left, I had to go with what I know.”
What the Akiyoshis know is how to combine a casual, unique ambience with an equally unique menu. The bistro’s brick building was the first Chrysler dealership in Lodi nearly 90 years ago. The restaurant is decorated with lithographic wine photos from the turn of the century, along with an antique mirror from a popular San Francisco bar in the 1880s. “We try to bring Southern hospitality to California,” Trisha says.
That hospitality and flavor can be found in the Wild Alaskan Snow Crab Tater Tots and the Baby Spinach Salad served with deviled eggs and pecan smoked bacon, topped with onion rings. To accentuate the tater tots in a southern style, they are served with spring creole dipping sauce. “I love experimenting with food,” Trisha shares. “My background and experimenting with food and wine combinations at Robert Mondavi makes me not scared to think out of the box and create recipes that I grew up with. We have access to such great food and seafood here, and it really fires up the imagination because I am passionate about trying flavors.”
Even more flavor can be found in longtime favorites like The “ORIGINAL” Bacon-Wrapped Meatloaf, Smoked Gouda Macaroni and Cheese, and School Street Steak and Truffle Fries. One of the most popular appetizers is the Barbecued Shrimp with onion rings, which is served on top of coleslaw. In true Southern style, the coleslaw is made with sweet vinegar and oil. Additional menu highlights are the Chippewa Shrimp with Goat Cheese Grits, Jambalaya Pasta, and Southern-Style Mississippi Catfish coated with crushed toasted pumpkin seeds. “We have changed the menu through the years to keep things fresh, but we always will have our favorites based on customer demand,” Trisha assures.
The lunch menu offers lighter fare but is equally unique. A variety of sliders are offered like hamburger, meatloaf, chicken and vegetarian. All sliders are served with salad and potato string fries. They also serve a popular Triple Garlic Shrimp Po’ Boy sandwich served California style. Other po’ boy sandwiches are spicy chicken and barbecue club, which are served with onion rings and pepper jack cheese. A vegetarian po’ boy is also offered with roasted vegetables and cheese. “I have always been into how flavors taste in your mouth, and that helps me a lot with the development of our recipes,” she says. The recipes are also developed by the same chef that they have had for the past six years, who is also a local Delta culinary school graduate who started as an intern and has grown with the restaurant and learned to cook Southern food.
The Southern flavor can definitely be found in the dessert menu. The Southern Pecan Bread Pudding is served with caramel sauce, and the Mississippi Mud Brownie with vanilla bean gelato is also popular. For St. Patrick’s Day, the bistro served Mint Chocolate Pie with cream cheese and a mint layer of chocolate on top. Along with fresh fruit desserts, dessert and wine specials are offered all week. “We get really positive feedback on all of our items,” Trisha concludes. “We often get asked if we are going to expand to another restaurant, but I want to keep things the way they are. I can get around and talk to tables and see people I know, and that adds to the customer experience and entertaining our guests.”