Lucky for me, the major Basque restaurants in Bakersfield are within a 3 block radius. Wool Growers is a local favorite and institution among the community.
Any diner at a Basque restaurant knows what they're in for; lots of food. However, quantity isn't necessarily quality at all Basque establishments. As a regular eater of Basque food in Fresno, I've seen the quality go up and down over a 30 year period of eating at a couple places in town, namely The Basque Hotel and the Santa Fe Basque.
Leading off the feast at Wool Growers is a tri-fecta of soup, pinto beans and a warm salsa-like concoction. Soup is a standard at all Basque restaurants it seems. The soup here is a cabbage soup, heavy on the broth with some carrots and onions in it. I can't really describe the soup more than that. The soup is served hot and it's seasoned with salt. Straightforward stuff.
I spiked my soup with the warm salsa-like mixture. I say salsa-like because it was probably more accurate to call it a spicy tomato stew, however the implication was to use it as a condiment like one would use salsa, rather than to eat the tomatoes as a dish. It tasted like warmed, canned stewed tomatoes with minced jalapeno's. Judging from a later dish of cold marinated yellow/greenish barely red tomatoes, this salsa-like substance came from a can.
The pinto beans were quite tasty. If they did come from a can, as that salsa probably did and the green beans that arrived later, I couldn't tell. The beans were firm and whole and the sauce was flavorful. I didn't sense any canned saltiness, but I could have been fooled on this one.
The next round of three, pickled beef tongue, under-ripe tomatoes, and green salad hit about a .666 batting average. I've already discussed the tomatoes, under-ripe and really not worth eating, basically called out on strikes to continue the metaphor. The green salad was tasty. The lettuce was bright and cheery and not iceberg, which is a change from tradition at most Basque restaurants I've been to.
The beef tongue was the stand out. I happen to like tongue (insert shameless sexual joke here). The seasoning was salty and herbal, not spicy in any way. Nor was it dill pickle-like. If anything the picked tongue was tossed in the same vinaigrette the salad and tomatoes were. I liked it and finished the plate of tongue.
Spaghetti at a Basque restaurant? No I was not going to eat it. I'm sure people like it, but in my case, if I did eat it, I would have had to evaluate it and no one would want to read that review.
On to the roast lamb. While I didn't approve of the manufactured "gravy" that was poured over the lamb, the actual meat was flavorful and moist. I don't understand why a phony gravy enriched with flour needed to lessen the lamb. The lamb was seasoned on the edge nicely and had sufficient moisture to taste the way a proper roast lamb should. Good. Good in an old-school way. However, there was no way to remove the gravy, just deal with it.
As for the remaining sides of French fries and green beans; the French fries were a bit to soggy for me and the green beans, as already mentioned, were from the can. Yes, that is a coffee cup rather than a wine glass in the photo. I had to drive back to Fresno that evening and chased my entire meal with coffee and water fully expecting a postprandial haze after this feast.
I couldn't see Wool Growers 30 or 50 years ago serving as many canned or pre-prepared items. Just one too many canned items or ingredients, like the green beans that have become an afterthought simply for volume rather than quality. A shame really, considering Bakersfield is another classic Central Valley town with access to a wide range of produce. While the Wool Growers is an institution in Bakersfield and I mean no disrespect to such a venerable old-school restaurant in the local area, based upon my experience, I would take a pass on Wool Growers and favor Noriega's on my next Basque food adventure in Bakersfield.