The first time I walked into Taylor’s, Gott’s Roadside in Palo Alto’s Town & Country shopping center last fall, I was super excited to order my all-time-favorite Ahi burger. Maybe I’d even splurge and order a side of sweet potato fries!
From the time construction started and the “Coming Summer 2013” sign appeared in the window, I was counting the weeks. Even after the opening date slipped into fall — and seemed like it might slip into winter — I kept the faith. So on that cloudy, grey fall day when I saw the front door wide open, my stomach did the happy dance. Yes, finally!
I walked right in and up to the counter, ignoring the wall-sized menu and legal-sheet-sized paper versions in a galvanized metal pail. Nope. I knew exactly what I wanted. How disappointed was I to find out that the restaurant wasn’t quite open yet — and that I’d actually walked in on a staff training session! Oops. Opening Day was still about three weeks away. The thought of jumping in the car and fighting afternoon traffic and city parking to get my fix at the Ferry Building started an internal tug-of-war that lasted the rest of the day. I decided to bide my time and wait for the Town & Country location to open. It was a loooong three weeks.
I’ll be honest: I just can’t get used to calling it Gott’s. To me, it will always be Taylor’s Refresher. The Palo Alto location, now open about six months, is the fourth in the growing Gott’s empire. The original location is in St. Helena, on Main Street, right before you cross the bridge into downtown. (Other locations are at the Ferry Building in San Francisco and Oxbow Market in Napa.)
Taylor’s Automatic Refresher was opened by Gott brothers Joel and Duncan in St. Helena in 1999. The concept was a classic 50’s style drive-in with upscale Napa Valley burgers, thick milkshakes made with Double Rainbow ice cream, and a decent wine-by-the-glass selection. (Not to mention a pricey corkage fee that brought criticism from the locals.) On a hot summer weekend afternoon, the line of cars waiting to get into the parking lot was long and slow. The wait was always worth it — especially if you could score a picnic table in the back, away from the road. For me it became a must-stop location during any trip to the Wine Country.
When I moved up to St. Helena to attend the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone a few years later, Taylor’s would turn out to be a saving grace. Despite a hefty tuition at one of the nation’s finer culinary schools, student meals left something to be desired. Let’s just say the student-meal program had some major kinks that needed to be beaten worked out. On the days we couldn’t take the third re-run of walk-in leftovers that had seen better days, someone would stand up and announce a Taylor’s run. Lifesaver!
The weekends that I stayed in town, I’d treat myself to an Ahi burger and — if they hadn’t run out yet — the sweet potato fries. That was the thing then: the sweet potato fries weren’t on the regular menu. They were only available on weekends, and when they ran out, well, you were S.O.L. As a “local,” I learned to call ahead for my order and skip the line, gliding over to the pickup window, while hot, hangry tourists waited in the ordering line for up to 30 minutes. (Trust me: been there, done that.)
So how did Taylor’s get to be Gott’s? The Taylor family owned the original burger spot, which opened in 1954 with the name Taylor’s Refresher. When the Gotts leased the place from the Taylor family so many years later to open their version, they did so with the agreement that the Taylor name would stay in place. Which it did — until 2010 when, after a disagreement between the Gotts and Taylors over trademarking resulted in legal action on both sides. So, in 2010, Taylor’s was renamed Gott’s. (Want to know more about the dispute? Check out this article from the Napa Valley Register.)
What else has changed in 15 years? Burgers are still the heart of the menu, but there are some additions — salads and fish tacos — that provide more options for the non-meat eaters. Sweet potato fries are available all the time now, and there are seasonal menu specials as well. What hasn’t changed? You still get a pager to let you know when your order is ready. Orders are still delivered on stainless steel quarter sheet pans and “napkins” are actually paper towels. The quality of the food is still excellent. You can still find parking near the restaurant (although you might have to wait a bit to get a good spot). The Ahi burger is still my favorite. And without fail every guy I know loves the Western Bacon Blue Ring burger. (No idea why. I’ve just learned to accept it as a fact of life.)
What will you love about Gott’s Roadside in Palo Alto? Lots! The restaurant sources high-quality, local-ish ingredients — Niman Ranch beef and Mary’s Free-Range Chicken, for example — and the results are simple, yet delicious, fresh, and craveable. With a family-friendly environment and something for every taste (yes, vegetarians, too!), you can keep the kids and the grownups happy. Let the kids choose what they want from the Kid’s Menu and enjoy a milkshake on the side. Grownups can indulge in burgers (beef, turkey, or veggie), chicken sandwiches, and salads (if you must).
True to its Napa Valley roots, Gott’s is not just a basic beer-and-burger place. Wine lovers will find a thoughtful, reasonably priced assortment of wines by the glass, half bottle, and full bottle. Some of my favorites: St. Supery Sauvignon ($8/glass) and Merryvale Starmont Chardonnay ($12/half bottle).
Wanna get fancy? There’s also Rombauer Chardonnay ($24/half bottle) and Shafer Cabernet Sauvignon ($50/half bottle). For you beer drinkers, Gott’s offers a good selection of draft, bottled, and canned beers. Craving that PBR or a Lagunitas IPA with your Double Cheeseburger? Either way, Gott’s has you covered.
Got room for something sweet after the burgers and fries? Head back to the counter and order a classic Black-and-White (chocolate and vanilla, so good!) or seasonal milkshake, ice cream in a cup, root beer float, or fountain soda.
I have to admit that the original Taylor’s Automatic Refresher will always hold a place in my heart. And yet, Gott’s Roadside in Palo Alto brings a bit of the Wine Country to the 650. Whatever you want to call it, it’s still the home of one of my favorite dining experiences. Good food and good times. So, if I ask you to meet me at Taylor’s, you’ll know what I mean.
Have you been to the newest Gott’s Roadside location? What did you eat?
What: Gott’s Roadside
Where: Town & Country, 855 El Camino Real #65, Palo Alto, CA 94301
Hours: Sun-Sat: Breakfast 7am-11am; Main Menu 10:30am-9pm
Bar: Wine, beer