There aren't many places that would lay claim to serve something called "ugly fries," and even fewer that would brag about it.
An eatery that does boast of its hard-to-regard spuds is Renee's Sizzling Sandwich Shop in Oceanside, a place that stakes its reputation on the supreme edibility of its skin-on, French fried potatoes.
This might seem to be a small potatoes claim to fame, which in fact, it is. The restaurant, a tip from a reader who waxed enthusiastic about the "steak combo" sandwich, may not rate a special trip, but it is a good, rare example of an old-fashioned sandwich shop that prepares foods fresh to order and is worth a try if you happen to be both hungry and in the vicinity of Mission Boulevard.
Renee's style is on the casual side, to say the least, although orders placed at the counter will be delivered with an enthusiastic smile, an offer of such condiments as jalapeno peppers and no evident expectation of a tip. The place occupies a storefront in yet another strip mall, this one graced by the presence of batting cages, which may account for some of the wall-mounted sports memorabilia, which range from bumper stickers extolling the thrills of surfing to a banner decorated with autographed shoe soles from a winning soccer team.
To dive right into the cuisine, which one perforce must, since there are no preliminary diversions here, pick up one of the hot pink menus at the counter and run down the list of sandwich specials. The hottest numbers all revolve around the theme of thinly sliced steak grilled Philadelphia style, which can be had with onions, mushrooms or bell peppers or with all three of them plus mozzarella cheese.
This particular sandwich, served on a choice of a 6-inch or 12-inch roll (the latter would have to be for really huge appetites), has most of the virtues of a Philadelphia steak-and-cheese and some of its failings: The meat is chewy and fairly flavorful, and the onions and peppers add a good, sharp accent. The cheese and mushrooms disappear in the general rush, however, and the sandwich is greasy--tradition may call for it to be greasy, but greasy it is, so much so that one of those famous, all-American, foil-packaged "moist towelettes" would be a welcome supplement to the paper napkins.
Other hot sandwich choices include Polish and Italian sausage subs, a BLT, ham and cheese and the dreaded tuna melt; there are also hamburgers in all varieties (including one with Ortega chilies) that are good enough to make one pine for the days when the corner tavern served the best lunch in town, and the golden arches had yet to be erected.
None of these, of course, is quite complete without a plastic basket of ugly fries. Skin-on spuds generally lack charm and are notable for their toughness, but Renee's takes the trouble to fry these signature spuds to a fine crispness and they are, to be brief, quite tasty. They also arrive in quantity and, once again, a caveat applies that a large order would appeal only to a truly healthy appetite.
As unassuming as it may be, Renee's does mark a return to the old-fashioned breakfast and lunch counter by serving what it calls "eye opener" breakfasts between 6 a.m. and 11 a.m. None of these were sampled for this column, but the list is appealing. It opens with such Mexican specialties as machaca (highly seasoned shredded beef), chorizo with eggs and huevos rancheros (all served with beans and tortillas) and continues with various egg dishes, French toast and buttermilk pancakes.
RENEE'S SIZZLING SANDWICH SHOP
3320 Mission Blvd., Oceanside
Hours: Open 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday; closed Sundays.
Cost: Sandwiches range from $2.95 to $5.30, breakfasts from $1.75 to $4.50.