Exactly five years ago this month, my wife and I — along with our three dogs, two cats and one African Grey parrot — left Lodi and, with sadness, headed toward our new home outside of Pittsburgh. Not a day goes by that I don’t think fondly of the 25 years I lived in Lodi. Modern technology has helped. I read the News-Sentinel online and can email or text message my friends to stay current.
The other day while surfing on my television, I found to my great delight a History Channel special that featured one of my favorite Lodi haunts: A&W Root Beer. I was a frequent patron at A&W not only because of its floats but also for the other great food like the Coney dog and the double bacon cheeseburger, which are always delicious but even more so during summer holidays like Independence Day.
Most Lodians know that A&W got its start right here in town in 1919 when Roy Allen (the “A” in A&W) mixed up his first batch of root beer and sold it for a nickel. By 1922, Allen added a partner, Frank Wright (the “W”).
I phoned Pete Knight, the owner and manager of the Lodi A&W, to talk about root beer and what has made his restaurant such a success. Knight told me that he’s coming up on 40 years with A&W. Before buying the Lodi site, Knight worked at two other booming A&W stores, one in Napa and the other in St. Helena. The only jobs Knight has ever had have been with A&W.
On Independence Day, A&W will again host Cruise Night. Later in the summer, the 600th Lodi Cruise Night will take place, a testimony to Knight’s creativity and his ability to recognize and stick with a good thing and a customer favorite.
I’ve mixed up my fair share of root beer floats at home. What many don’t realize is that the variable isn’t the ice cream, but the root beer’s quality. But drinking a float at home doesn’t allow you to enjoy A&W’s ambiance or to visit with Knight and his 15 to 18 employees.
For readers who want a root beer treat that lasts longer than a float, try a root beer float cake. Think of it as a float in solid form that — since it uses 2 1/4 cups of root beer — packs a flavorful punch.
2 cups A&W Root Beer (do not use diet root beer)
1 cup dark, unsweetened cocoa powder
4 ounces unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch pieces
1¼ cup granulated sugar
½ cup dark brown sugar
2 cups all-purpose flour
1¼ teaspoons of baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
1. Heat the root beer, cocoa powder and butter over medium heat until the butter is melted. Add the sugars and whisk until dissolved. Remove from the heat and let cool.
2. In a medium bowl, whisk the flour, baking soda and salt together.
3. In a small bowl, whisk the eggs until just beaten, then whisk them into the cooled cocoa mixture until combined. Gently fold the flour mixture into the cocoa mixture. The batter will be slightly lumpy, which is okay. Do not over beat it, as it could cause the cake to be tough.
4. Pour the batter into the prepared 10-inch bundt pan and bake for 35 to 40 minutes at 325 degrees, rotating the pan halfway through the baking time, until a small sharp knife inserted into the cake comes out clean. If using a dark metal pan, decrease over temperature to 300.
While the cake is cooling, prepare the glaze.
2 ounces dark chocolate, melted and cooled slightly
4 ounces unsalted butter, softened
1 teaspoon salt
½ cup root beer
⅔ cups unsweetened cocoa powder
2½ cups powdered sugar
Blend with stand or handheld mixer until glossy. Apply to cooled cake.
I like my root beer float cakes for breakfast.
Joe Guzzardi participated in California State Fair and San Joaquin Fair baking contests for most of his 25 years in Lodi. Contact him at email@example.com.