Biz Beat

Fresh pho dished up in Turlock

Brett Kee shows off his restaurant, Pho Americana, in Turlock, Calif.
Brett Kee shows off his restaurant, Pho Americana, in Turlock, Calif.

Several years ago, my friend and colleague Adam Ashton introduced me to pho. I’ve had it a time or two since, and I like it a lot, but I have to say much about the Vietnamese specialty eluded me.

Brett Kee said his Pho Americana is ideal for people like me.

“We are more than happy to help people with the menu,” Kee said. “We just want customers to come in and experience Vietnamese food.”

Kee opened Pho Americana earlier this summer on Crowell Road in Turlock, just a bit more than a stone’s throw from a former workplace. Kee worked at Stanislaus State for the student dining vendor, Chartwell’s, a couple of years ago before taking another job in Davis. At Stanislaus, when he made pho it would always sell out.

So, when Kee wanted to start his own restaurant, the location and the dish seemed a perfect combination.

“We’re kind of a nontraditional Vietnamese restaurant,” he said. “We didn’t want to scare anyone away.”

That means the menu is streamlined, with items that cook quickly but are still fresh. That’s good news for a student, professor or CSUS staff member on a break or between classes.

“I’d rather be waiting on a customer than have a customer wait on me,” Kee said. The restaurant is designed in a fast-casual setting, where diners walk in, make their order and get a number. The design is clean and bright, with polished wood walls and chalkboard painted surfaces behind the counter, where the menu is displayed.

The menu features pho noodle bowls, hot and cold, as well as sandwiches made from some of the meats used in the bowls. And even a garlic chili tofu that Kee said people who don’t like tofu will enjoy. A specialty is slow-cooked crispy pork belly. I tried that and it was wonderfully flavorful.

Cognizant of the college crowd he is aiming for, Kee installed a series of electrical plugs along a counter lining one wall. He also offers free Wi-Fi for those with homework or other pursuits. “If they want to come in and play Pokémon Go, by all means go for it,” he said.

Business since the restaurant opened has been good, “And school (at CSUS) hasn’t even started yet,” Kee said.

The location is turning into a restaurant row, with Vito’s Italian restaurant and Alcatraz Burgers also located along the strip.

“I view us as a destination hub,” Kee said.

Find Pho Americana at 3821 Crowell Road, and on Facebook. Call 209-427-2006.

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Like many home cooks in the northern San Joaquin Valley, I have a bottle of Sciabica’s olive oil in my pantry. Actually, two – the jalapeño is my favorite.

Clearly, the folks at Sciabica’s know what they are doing – the Modesto company is celebrating its 80th anniversary this year.

To mark the occasion, on Aug. 26, Sciabica’s will host a “Farm to Farm to Fork to Flavor” event. A news release described a “farmers market-style event” that will include local companies such as Fiscalini Farmstead Cheese, Oak Barrel Ice & Creamery, The Food Fix, Bauer’s Skillet Grill, Dust Bowl Brewing Co., Silkwood Wines, Rodin Farms, Paul’s Rustic Pizza, Dale’s Gourmet Kettle Popcorn, Alison’s Almond Brittle, Edith’s Gourmet Baking Co. and Nicolau Farms. Attendees can sample and purchase food, listen to live music and watch demonstrations by chefs Dana Johnson, David Bradford and John Surla.

“My family has enjoyed supporting our community for 80 years,” Jonathan Sciabica, the company’s vice president of sales and marketing, said in the release. “It’s our way giving people a chance to discover the amazing local companies who craft delicious foods and beverages by showcasing them at one location.”

The event runs from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Sciabica’s headquarters, 2150 Yosemite Blvd. For more information, go online to