Thursday, January 17, 2019

German Food That Will Make You Say Oom-Pah!


Jagerhaus
2525 East Ball Road
Anaheim, CA 92806

We are always on the hunt for places to eat before we go to a Ducks game, but coming from South OC we are usually relegated to picking up fast food and eating it in the parking lot quickly so we can make it inside to see the puck drop. The traffic gods were especially kind to us on this particular Wednesday early evening, as we made it up to Anaheim in a record 35 minutes during rush hour, which allowed us plenty of time to try Jagerhaus.

Jagerhaus has been here as long as I can remember. I did a little research and found out that this restaurant has been in business since 1979, so this year marks their 40th anniversary of serving the people of Anaheim, which is a big milestone for any place of business. In that time they have only had two owners. The original owner retired in 2000, and Sandra Schwaiger has been at the helm ever since. She mainly handles the front of the house duties, while three chefs, who were trained by the original owner take care of the cooking duties.

With only a handful of German restaurants dotting OC, I always found it odd that Jagerhaus and the Phoenix Club, another restaurant serving German cuisine, are within two blocks of one another, but there must definitely be a market for it since they have both been in business for so long. Breakfast is the busiest meal at Jagerhaus, with their most popular items being the German pancakes and an omelet that features sauerkraut and bratwurst, something I will definitely need to come back for.

For now, it was dinner that I needed to help give me the energy to cheer on our hometown Ducks. Jagerhaus, which sits at the end of a long strip mall right near the Ball Road exit of the 57 Freeway, has quite an impressive menu. They offer plenty in the way of German favorites and items you just don't see on menus anymore, think rabbit, elk, deer, boar and a roast ham hock that you need to call in a day in advance to have it held for you. It had been a long while since I last had a proper German meal, so I was excited to see how I'd enjoy Jagerhaus and their German cuisine.


I always get excited when a bread basket arrives at our table, usually because I'm very hungry and this is not something that you have to buy. Okay, I'm a little cheap. The bread or I guess  I should say in this case, rolls, were very good and soft, but what made these for me was the European butter that came out with them. European butter with its richness always makes everything taste better. They were really nice about asking if we wanted refills of the rolls, but we politely declined because we had our food coming and I did not want to be overly full at the Ducks game. 


You can't get more German than a Large Soft Pretzel ($3.50). I'm not really into pretzels because I find them hard and dry, but this was not like an American pretzel. It was soft and pliable, lightly salted on top, and made even better with their special blend of mustard. This pretzel will ruin you for anything you call a pretzel from your local mall.


Entrees come with two sides, and Katie selected this Dinner Salad as one of her selections. I have to say, for being such a simple salad with iceberg lettuce, some shredded carrots, and red cabbage, this was very tasty. It came out very cold, was good sized, and what I liked the best was that it was dressed well, with plenty of blue cheese incorporated on each item. One of my biggest pet peeves about salads is that there's never enough dressing. I know I'm probably in the minority on this point. Dressing just makes veggies taste better and this was a very well made blue cheese dressing. 


We might as well finish with Katie's meal this evening. She selected the Stuffed Chicken Breast ($20.95). This very tender, fried chicken was filled with broccoli and cheese and then perched on top of gravy. Katie was pleasantly surprised with how great this tasted. For her side item, she went with Spatzle. This was both of our first times having this German staple. Spatzle is pasta and at Jagerhaus it's covered in a mushroom gravy. Katie said it took some getting used to, but once she did it was very comforting.


When I see that something on a menu is listed as the most popular, I'm usually drawn to it. That's what happened when I spied this German Combo ($21.95) listed as their most requested entree. I had to have it. This plate contains a trio of sausages, a Nurenberger bratwurst, knackwurst, and polish sausage, and is rounded out with a grilled pork chop. All of the meats were delicious here, with their different flavors and textures. I liked the polish sausage the best, with its rich meatiness and slight smokey tinge to it. The other sausages were terrific as well. The pork chop was nicely grilled and tender, not anything like what my mom used to cook for us growing up. Those chops were fried to a crisp. I went a very traditional route with my two side items, sauerkraut, and German potato salad. The sauerkraut was fine and helped cut the richness of the meats. I believe this was the first time I've had real German potato salad, which is served warm with bits of onion and bacon in it. This has ruined me for the cold potato salads I've had my entire life. This warm version is so much better. I'm now a convert.


Dessert was our last hurrah at Jagerhaus, and I needed to give their German Chocolate Cake ($6.95) a whirl. This was fine, obviously, homemade but with a lot of desserts from around the world, it was not as sweet as I would have liked. The cake was moist, but the icing is where this lost me. It was kind of drab and did not have the sweetness I was looking for. Maybe apple strudel or bread pudding next time.

Even though we did not finish with a bang at Jagerhaus, I have a feeling that we will definitely be back before Ducks games, traffic willing, and for sure breakfast sometime. After our visit, it's easy to see why Jagerhaus has been around for so long. German food is the real deal of comfort food, with its delicious sausages, gravy, and side dishes. Service on this evening was very attentive and things kept progressing well enough that we had plenty of time to see the puck drop at the Ducks game.

Out of five hunting lodges, (because the name of this restaurant translates to hunting lodge), five being best to zero being worst, Jagerhaus gets 3.5 hunting lodges.

For more information about Jagerhaus, head to their website here: http://www.jagerhaus.net/index.html

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Real Deal Italian Comes to Rancho Santa Margarita


Cibo Italiano
29941 Aventura Suite 1
Rqncho Santa Margarita, CA 92688

I used to have a policy that I'd wait a year before reviewing any new restaurant. My main reason for this was because I had heard the misleading stat that 90 percent of all new restaurants closed within the first year of being in business, and I did not want a blog full of restaurants that you'd never get the chance to try because they had all been shuttered. This stat is, of course, false, because who would take a chance on something when you only have a ten percent chance of success. Okay, besides the millions of people that play the lottery.

The real percentage of restaurants closing in the first year is only 17%, the same as new insurance agencies and brokerages. This has to be good news for the owner of the latest restaurant we visited, which had only been open for a week when we walked through the door. We were out this way picking up the mail for Katie's vacationing parents and decided that we'd give the new Italian place in town a try, Cibo Italiano.

Cibo, which means food in Italian, is run by Chef Gisella Kaplan. She's been in the catering game for a long while, and also had a stint working at the Honda Center, in the food and beverage department with the excellent Chef Jojo Doyle. Chef Gisella was born in Italy and her cuisine explores the many regions of Italy, not just focusing on one part of her beloved homeland. She has some big plans for her place, envisioning it as part Italian deli and bakery, gourmet Italian grocer, and of course cafe. She's also offering a take and bake option, which on the night we were here was lasagna, but I see now on their Facebook page that Cibo is offering a good looking Beef Braciole, which you rarely see on menus in OC.

Speaking of the menu, the early menu at Cibo Italiano featured lunch and dinner items. Lunch was available from 11 to 2 pm, and dinner service begins at 5. I'm not sure if they close in between the two, or if you can order off the lunch menu at dinner, or vice versa, but I'm sure that will all be sorted out as this restaurant grows and matures. The lunch menu has a good number of salad options, along with six sandwich choices. The dinner menu features a quartet of appetizers, pasta and risotto dishes, and the more substantial chicken, meat and fish entrees.

Ordering is done at the counter, and then the food is brought out to you at one of the ten or so tables that dot the comfortable and well-lit dining area. Let's take a look at what we had on this, one of the first weeks of Cibo Italiano being in business.


Everything is made from scratch here at Cibo, and that includes their bread, which we got to try two pieces of. The bread was very fresh, had a good hard crust around it, and was soft and pliable on the inside. According to their Facebook page, Cibo is now offering their baked bread for sale, and it comes out of the oven fresh at 4 pm.


A Side Salad came with my upcoming entree. This came nicely plated with sliced tomatoes, cucumbers, shredded carrots, red onion, and mixed greens. Very nicely plated and fresh produce, but there was barely any dressing on this. It was as if they added the dressing with an eye dropper. I should have gotten more dressing, but our entrees came out rather quickly after our salads, and the salad got pushed to the side when our entrees arrived.


Katie was really torn between either the carbonara and what she eventually got, this Homemade Pappardelle Pasta with a Bolognese Ragu ($16.95). I really enjoyed the couple of bites that Katie allowed me to have of this. The ragu is made with grass-fed ground beef and organic pork and takes hours to make. The pasta is fresh and the combination of both the pasta and ragu made this plate a winner. Katie called this heavenly, and would not hesitate to get it again.




Unlike Katie, I had no doubt what I was going to have for dinner on this evening. The  Porchetta Wrapped in Pancetta ($18.95) would be sat in front of me on my initial visit to Cibo Italiano. This plate came with three slices of porchetta, some asparagus, baby red potatoes, and what I believed to be a fig sauce spooned over the porchetta. On the whole, this dish was very tasty, but there were some bites of the porchetta that was a little dry and the temperature of the meal itself was lukewarm at best. Even with these minor issues, I'd still get this entree again.

Cibo Italiano is, of course, going to go through some growing pains, as they had only been open for such a short time when we visited, but I believe there's enough promise at this restaurant/Italian grocer to warrant future visits. The food here is authentically Italian, and freshly made, which is something that is very rare in these parts. I can't help shake the feeling that Chef Gisella might be a little too ambitious with her restaurant starting out, as she's making fresh bread, grab and go dinners, serving both lunch and dinner at the restaurant, baking Italian cookies and desserts, as well as stocking Italian groceries. It made me tired just typing all of that. With all that being said, it will be interesting to see how this restaurant evolves in the near future, and if she'll find people that will help her with the workload she's created for herself. I think it's going to be a delicious ride. 

Out of five laptops, (because in Australia there is a mini-chain of coffee shops with the same name as this restaurant, and most people use their laptops in coffee shops), five being best to zero being worst, Cibo Italiano gets 3 laptops. 

For more information about Cibo Italiano, head to their website here: https://www.ciboital.com/

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Leaving Las Vegas...After a Great Breakfast


Eggslut
3708 South Las Vegas Blvd. 
Las Vegas, NV, 89109

Our 24 hour trip to Las Vegas was coming to a quick end. After the drubbing that our Ducks took the evening before, at the hands of the hometown Vegas Golden Knights, not to mention the bad luck we had in the casinos, we could not get home soon enough. Breakfast was needed to be eaten first though, and I dragged everyone to a place I have wanted to try forever, Eggslut.

Eggslut is located at the Cosmopolitan Hotel. Just take the escalator from the casino to the second floor, and you'll be in foodie heaven. The Cosmo is becoming the premier food destination on the strip. Very well known restaurant concepts, such as Momofuko, Milkbar, Holsteins, Hattie B's Hot Chicken, Lardo, and Ghost Donkey are all situated near, or inside the hip Block 16 Urban Food Hall, which like Eggslut is situated on the 2nd floor of the Cosmo.

Founded in 2011 at the Grand Central Market in LA, Eggslut is a chef-driven, gourmet food concept inspired by the egg. Their goal appears to be to make the best egg sandwiches out there and show that these sandwiches are not just for breakfast. The long lines at all of their five US locations, along with their lone international spot in Beirut, Lebanon seem to suggest that they have met their goal and it has really resonated with consumers. Needless to say, I was growing very excited for my initial visit.

When we arrived at the Cosmo at half past nine on a recent Thursday morning, we were met with a rather intimidating line of people that wrapped around the front of Eggslut and went halfway down a long hallway. We waited for twenty minutes to a half an hour, which gave us plenty of time to review and make our selections off of their rather compact menu. 

They offer six sandwiches and two specialty items, (a buttermilk biscuit and their namesake item, The Slut, which is a coddled egg served on top of a potato puree in a mini mason jar). Items hover around the $10 mark, but the tri-tip and egg sandwich will set you back $15. We ordered at the counter and then waited in awe as we watched the busy kitchen workers cranking out an endless amount of breakfast sandwiches for their hungry customers. It was really quite an impressive process to see and gave me an even greater respect for the kitchen workers that provide food to a very hungry public. After receiving our food, we searched for a place to sit and finally found a spot on the couches right near the giant crystal chandelier. Let's see what all the hype was about at Eggslut.


My mom will start things off for us on this morning with her Bacon, Egg, and Cheese Sandwich ($8.50). This sandwich usually comes with chipotle ketchup, but my mom subbed it out for mayo. The cage-free over medium egg, applewood bacon, and cheddar cheese combined to make this sandwich a winner in her book. She found this to be a very enjoyable sandwich, one that was worth waiting in line for, and she does not like waiting in lines.


Apparently, my parents want to get in the hand model game. Don't quit your day jobs guys. My dad tried the Sausage, Egg, and Cheese Sandwich ($8.50). For this one, they use a turkey sausage patty, which had a very good smoky flavor to it. The over medium egg and sausage is also joined by a slice of cheddar cheese and honey mustard aioli. No complaints from the big guy on this one, which is a good sign since he's a pretty picky customer.


Katie and I both got the same sandwich but made different modifications to it. Katie got her Fairfax ($13) with bacon and avocado added, hence the four dollar upcharge. She called this the perfect breakfast sandwich, with its fluffy eggs, crisp bacon, creamy avocado, and a sriracha mayo which did not overpower but had just the right amount of flavor to add. When I pressured her to come up with something she did not like about this sandwich she could not do it. Pretty high praise.


I also added bacon to my Fairfax Sandwich ($11.50). Quite simply, this sandwich was magical. I was really blown away with the lightness of the scrambled eggs, the crisp bacon, and the Sriracha mayo that came on this. I was so enamored with the way the eggs were done here that I scoured the internet when I got home to find a copycat recipe for the way they do their eggs at Eggslut. Thanks to the website Chowhound I found a good recipe here but have not tried it yet. The bun was well crafted, stayed together, and did not get in the way of the insides of the sandwich. I really found myself savoring this sandwich, eating it way slower than I usually do.

I have to admit that the hype for Eggslut is definitely warranted. This was the best breakfast sandwich I have had, and I do look forward to coming back here and eating my way through their entire menu in the very near future. Even though this is not the most convenient of restaurants, with its long lines and lack of seating, I think even my parents will be back here when they make it back to Vegas. Yes, the prices are way higher than what you'd normally pay for a breakfast sandwich, but this is Vegas and when you are on vacation you feel a little better paying a few dollars more for a higher quality product that you can't get just anywhere. This breakfast made the Ducks loss to the Knights the evening before way more palatable. 

Out of five shrimp, (because Las Vegas goes through 60,000 pounds of shrimp a day, more than the rest of the US combined), five being best to zero being worst, Eggslut gets 4 shrimp.

For more information about Eggslut, head to their website here: http://www.eggslut.com/

Sunday, January 6, 2019

A Bewitching Breakfast at HEXX


HEXX Kitchen and Bar
3655 South Las Vegas Blvd.
Las Vegas, NV 89109

It was time for our annual trip to the desert to watch our beloved Ducks take on the upstarts from Las Vegas, the Golden Knights. Last years trip with my parents did not go exactly the way we had planned. Not only did we have to deal with watching the Ducks lose in overtime, but we also had the displeasure of having to eat at Wahlburgers, per my mom's request.  She's a big fan of the reality TV show, we were not a fan of their below average burgers and tourist trap surroundings.

This trip was going to be different. Even though our Ducks had started off with a bunch of injuries, I had a feeling they were going to beat the Knights, who themselves had been struggling near the bottom of the standings. I also made the executive decision that I'd be picking the places we ate on this trip, so that meant no chance of getting caught in a restaurant that would wind up being one of the worst we ate at last year. At least that's what I had hoped.

We got into Las Vegas a lot earlier than we did last year, so I decided that a brunch spot would be an excellent choice, as we could walk it off getting back to our hotel and get the added bonus of taking a quick nap before the hockey game. I had never heard of HEXX before, but it intrigued me because it had over 2,500 reviews and a four-star rating on Yelp. Pretty impressive on Yelp, where most people just like to rant and complain.

HEXX is located at the Paris Hotel, right across from the Bellagio Fountains, and right next door to another of my favorite Vegas restaurants, Mon Ami Gabi. HEXX is in the former Sugar Factory space, and the kitchen is helmed by the former Sugar Factory Executive Chef, Matthew Piekarski, who developed the menu at HEXX along with Chef Matthew Silverman. They came up with a menu that features American classic cuisine and integrates contemporary influences into them.

They definitely had their work cut out for them, as HEXX is open from 6am until midnight seven days a week. They serve brunch until 4pm, and also feature lunch and dinner menus during the day. We had no problem getting a table at this sometimes very busy restaurant because it was midweek when we were here, and I had quickly made a reservation on OpenTable once we landed at the airport.

We loved the vibe once we were seated in this very large restaurant. It kind of felt like it had an updated country club feel to it. There were a lot of white fixtures and walls, a nice patio that I imagine would get a lot more use when the weather was a bit warmer, and comfy tables and chairs. The menu is separated into starters, entree salads, sandwiches, brunch items, and pizzas. Prices hover right around the $20 mark for most entrees, with the most expensive thing on the brunch menu being the Steak and Eggs, which will set you back $25. Pretty reasonable prices for an upscale breakfast joint on the strip. Let's see if the food impresses as much as the atmosphere did.


As I have stated numerous times on this blog, I love having both a sweet and a savory item for my first meal of the day. At HEXX that meant that I'd definitely be trying the Twisted Sticky Bun ($9) to start off with. This pastry featured toasted pecans, a very light cream cheese frosting, and a generous drizzle of caramel sauce on the roll and on the plate. This was a nice start to our meal here, and yes, I did share. One of the lightest breakfast pastries I have had. The roll itself was light and airy, the cream cheese did not overpower, but still had a sweet taste to it, and the pecans added a nice crunch. Really solid, and way better than what you can get at your local Cinnabon.



My dad and I are usually pretty similar as to what we like to order, so I always have a backup entree just in case he orders what I really want. This happened at HEXX, as he got the Chilaquiles ($17) before I did. This version of my favorite Mexican breakfast came with chicken, sliced jalapenos, two eggs, avocado, sour cream, and asadero cheese, which is an off-white Mexican cheese, kind of like mozzarella. My dad got a little full and let me finish the rest of his meal. I liked this but felt the chips could have been fried a bit more and it was a little on the dry side. Maybe more of a sauce to tie it all together? The eggs were done over hard like my dad had requested and these particular jalapenos really packed a punch on this morning. Very spicy, just the way I like them. 




Both Katie and my mom got the same thing on this morning, which is a bonus for you, as it's less reading. They both got the Breakfast Croissant ($14 plus $2 with an egg). This breakfast sandwich usually comes with ham, but both Katie and my mom opted for bacon instead, and the kitchen at HEXX complied big time with their request, as they added at least four strips of bacon, if not more to this sandwich which also included some aged cheddar cheese and excellent home fries.  Not sure why they don't just automaticlly add an egg to a breakfast sandwich, but this was one of the better ones that my mom has had. She loved it, as did Katie.


With my dad taking my first choice, that left me with my second one, the HEXX Benedict ($16). This pretty traditional benedict came with two perfectly poached eggs and a good, but understated hollandaise sauce sitting on top of Canadian bacon, asparagus, and scalloped potatoes. This dish was delicious and well crafted, but I was hoping for a big pop of flavor. Probably my mistake for picking the most benign item on the menu. Next time the corned beef hash, meat omelet or HEXX burger will be my pick for brunch.


When I made our reservation online, I had made a note of letting HEXX know that it was my mom's birthday. They, in turn, gave her a  nice and festive Chocolate Mousse Cake. This was a very nice surprise, and an excellent send-off for our long walk back to our hotel, and our much-needed nap before the game later in the evening.

I was pretty impressed with HEXX on this morning. When we are in Vegas, Bouchon is usually our go-to place for breakfast. Bouchon is better, but it's also more expensive and a little more stuffy, so HEXX might become our spot on some of our visits to this desert oasis. I'd also like to come back here and give their dinner a try. See how they cook their steaks, and maybe give their burger a go. Service on this particular morning was very solid, as our server kept things moving along and checked on us regularly. This part of our short stay in Las Vegas started out better than when we had to eat at Wahlburgers, but the hockey game? Not so much.

Out of five chocolate bars, (because HEXX also makes bean to bar chocolate, which is available for sale at their adjacent retail space at the Paris Hotel), five being best to zero being worst, HEXX Kitchen and Bar gets 3.5 chocolate bars.

For more information about HEXX Kitchen and Bar, head to their website here: https://www.hexxlasvegas.com/

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

The Pizza of My Childhood


Brooklyn Pizza Works and Italian Restaurant
1235 East Imperial Highway
Placentia, CA 92870

This is a pretty nostalgic place for me and my family. I can vividly remember having my first slice of pizza at Brooklyn Pizza Works when I was a kid. I must have been about ten or eleven, so that puts it around 1982 or 83, and I had never had anything quite like it. It was not like the pizzas that we would normally get from Pizza Hut or Shakey's after soccer games. This is what my young self had imagined New York pizza tasted like.

My parents took the unusual step of deviating from our usual pizza haunts because BPW had won best pizza in OC a number of times from the Orange County Register in the early '80s. Since it was so close to our house my parents figured they had to give it a try. After that initial visit, it became the pizza spot that we would visit when we wanted an elevated pizza, not one of the chain spots that dotted almost every shopping center in North OC.

That was way before I had gone to New York and had pizza, but back then I imagined this pizza was pretty close. The new owner of Brooklyn Pizza Works, Irene had reached out to me on Instagram with the offer of free pepperoni chips, and since I had a visit with my family already planned, we decided to try BPW again to see if it was just as good as we remembered all those decades ago.

We arrived at BPW at 5:30 on a recent Saturday evening. This pizza place is located deep in the recesses of this shopping center situated on the corner of Imperial and Rose Drive. This once bustling center features a Chuck E. Cheese, a sushi restaurant, and Paul's Country Kitchen, which I hear has a pretty solid breakfast. Unfortunately for BPW, all of the businesses surrounding them were closed at this rather early evening hour, so unless you know that they are there, you probably won't just be happening by since they are not visible from the street.

This fact was confirmed when we entered the restaurant. We were the only people in the place, and during our stay, only three other groups of customers followed us. We were met by the very personable Irene, the current owner of BPW. She showed us to our table and took our drink orders as we perused the menu. By my calculations, she and her family are the fourth owners of this place, which has not changed much in the way of decor. Old wood paneling, a wall of vintage license plates, and a dated feel to the dining room dominate the space.

The menu is pretty impressive in size at BPW. Plenty in the way of appetizers, salads, sandwiches, pasta dishes, bigger entrees, and of course pizza is available here. Prices are very modest, with very few menu items exceeding the $15 mark. There are plenty in the way of specials, and their website offers lunch and dine in specials. We were in a bit of a rush since we were going to be watching my niece in a school play, so we ordered pretty quickly. Here's how everything came out for us at this restaurant that will soon turn 40 this year.


When Irene got in touch with me she had sent me a coupon for free Pepperoni Chips ($7.95). These are listed on the menu as a must try. I kind of had a love/hate relationship with these. The pepperoni is deep fried and they were very salty. I did find myself going back to them every once in a while, so maybe I ended up liking them in short intervals. They were a little better when dipped into the provided marinara.


Katie and my dad both got Dinner Salads ($3.50) to start off their meals at BPW. This simple salad came with olives, red onion, sliced tomato, a few slices of pepperoni, and choice of dressing. Nothing earth-shattering about this salad, but the produce was fresh and this satisfied their salad cravings for the moment.


I could not get across the table quick enough to snap a picture of these Mozzarella Cheese Sticks ($7.95) before my niece Lillie could grab two of them from the plate, so just imagine this plate with two extra cheese sticks. These were fried well and came out hot, which is what you want in a cheese stick. Decent fried cheese here but not anything that made us go wild.


Most pizza places serve Chicken Wings ($7.95) and that was definitely the case at BPW. These appear to come six to an order, as this time I did manage to make it in time to get my picture before one of my adorable nieces took a wing off the plate. They appeared to be overcooked when looking at them, but the one I had was moist and juicy, with plenty of meat on it. The ranch dressing was good, but not really needed since these wings came out with a mild buffalo sauce which lacked any definitive spice.


There were eight of us on this evening, so we got two pizzas to share. I've always kind of felt bad for my dad when it comes to pizza. Like most fathers, he likes a lot of stuff on his pizzas, but the rest of us growing up liked just the basics, like pepperoni, sausage, and if we were feeling wild, onions. He had mentioned that this Medium Alfredo Pizza ($19.95) had sounded good, and before my mom could say no because of the mushrooms, we snuck this one by her. This white pizza came with alfredo sauce, my mom's nemesis mushrooms, onions, chicken and mozzarella. This was a very mellow, but enjoyable pizza. The alfredo sauce was not too heavy and they did not skimp on the toppings, especially the onions and mushrooms. There could have been a little more chicken on this, but I think my dad was pretty satisfied he got to have a pizza that had more than two toppings on it. Father's Day came early for the big guy.


So, that brings us to this Large Pepperoni and Sausage Pizza ($21.45). When this was sat in front of us I was struck by how evenly the pepperoni was spread across the entire surface of the pizza. The sausage was a little less prevalent, but there was some on each slice. This tasted pretty much like it used to when I was a kid. Kind of a cross between pizza types here. The crust was thin, but not crispy like a New York style pizza. They do offer a crust that is listed as crispy, so maybe that's the one to get if you are a fan of a crispy crust. The toppings and cheese are the stars here, and each bite gets a mix of cheese and pepperoni. A good sauce to cheese ratio makes this an above average pizza.

Brooklyn Pizza Works holds a lot of memories for me and my family, and I'm happy to report that they still make a pretty good pizza. Is this the best pizza in OC? No, it's not. I'd definitely rank it higher than the lower end chains like Domino's, Pizza Hut, or Little Caesar's, but not as good as the pizzas at nearby Tony's Little Italy, Terra Mia Pizzeria, Cortina's, or Giovanni's. Brooklyn Pizza Works is firmly in the upper middle level of the pizzas in OC I have had so far, and definitely worth a trip if you are in the mood for pizza and are in North OC. I will always be thankful to BPW for showing my 10-year-old self that there was more to pizza than what I was used to at Pizza Hut, Domino's, and the local mini golf place.

Out of five mermaids, (because the borough of Brooklyn is home to the Coney Island Mermaid Parade every June), five being best to zero being worst, Brooklyn Pizza Works gets 3 mermaids.

For more information about Brooklyn Pizza Works, head to their website here: https://www.brooklynpizzaoc.com/

Thursday, December 27, 2018

Best Restaurants of 2018

Pretty crazy to believe that this is the 9th year-end review that I have written for this blog. It seems like just a few days ago that I was bored on the internet, stumbled across a restaurant blog, and became entranced with what I saw.  I decided that day that I would like to become a restaurant blogger/reviewer. Nearly 900 posts and 800 different restaurant visits have brought us to the verge of 2019.

I look at the list of restaurant blogs that I have followed on my blogroll, and most have stopped producing new content, sporadically post something, or have shuttered completely. These days it seems to be all about Instagram and other social platforms that I'm not really all too familiar with. Yes, I could just focus on Instagram, which would be way easier, but there's something that keeps me writing this blog. It's kind of therapeutic to me and keeps me from just watching too much Netflix when I get home. I guess it helps keep my brain a little bit more active also.

Back in 2009, I would have never guessed where this blog and my life would have taken me. Marriage was never something I really aspired to achieve, but that was before I met Katie, who I also started up with nine years ago. I could have never guessed the great restaurants I would have the chance to eat at thanks to this blog. The chefs and food people, whether it was other food bloggers, Instagrammers, food publicists, restaurant management or staff that I have had the great opportunity to meet have inspired me, and some I'm even humbled enough to call friends. It really is true what others say, food people are the best people.

As the end of the year approaches it's always natural to look back where you have been. This restaurant blog is not only what I hope is a great resource for all of you, but it's also a sort of diary of my life over almost a decades time. Yes, I  have slowed down a bit with my reviews, but I really still enjoy doing this, and not just because I get to eat a lot of delicious food. I do this because I love going out to eat with my friends and family. In these days of everyone with their heads glued to their cell phones, myself included, the table is where you can truly catch up with family and friends without dodging click bait and ads.

So I'd like to thank everyone that has had a hand in helping me produce this blog this year. Whether it was agreeing to have dinner with Katie and me, giving us suggestions on where to eat, interacting with me on social media, commenting or liking one of my posts or pictures on social media, dropping me a question or suggestion through the website or Twitter, or just taking the time to read a particular review that intrigued you. I truly appreciate all of you and look forward to reaching some big milestones next year with our 800th restaurant and the tenth anniversary of this blog. It truly has been a magical ride so far, and I hope the end is far into the future.

Now without further yapping from me, here are the top restaurants that we ate at this year, and places that you should eat at as soon as possible.


#10 Brussels Bistro - Laguna Beach

Belgian food is not something that you encounter every day in OC, especially since the only other Belgian spot I had heard of in OC, The Globe closed three years ago. Lucky for us Brussels Bistro has picked up the cause for this Benelux country's cuisine. When here think mussels, some of the best fries and sauces anywhere, and hearty entrees. Here's to hoping that Belgian food catches fire like poke did in the last few years.


#9 S'Wich Bistro - Irvine

A hard to get to restaurant for me, because of their hours and lack of being open on weekends, but S'Wich is worth the trouble. A favorite of nearby Blizzard workers, you'd be hard pressed to find a clunker on their menu. The sandwiches are solid but don't sleep on their burger, which has gotten some love from OC Register Restaurant Critic Brad A Johnson.  I also hear good things about their breakfast burritos as well.


#8 Free Range Cafe - Newport Beach

Kind of isolated on Balboa Island, Free Range is situated away from the busy tourist lined Marine Avenue, and on the same street where you can catch the Balboa Island Ferry. It's worth finding for the best, albeit most expensive breakfast spot on the island. The croque madame was good, but the real star here is their twice baked breakfast potatoes and their fries, Really well done.


#7 Parallel Pizzeria -  Dana Point

It was a busy year for Chef Ryan Adams. He sold the much heralded 370 Common but opened Buttermilk, a fried chicken restaurant in Downtown Orange and a New Haven pizza joint in Dana Point. The pizza here is not like anything you have had before, except if you have had it in Connecticut. Clams and bacon sound a little odd but really worked on the pizzas here.



#6 North Italia - Irvine

Yes, North Italia is a chain Italian restaurant and they opened up three years ago this month, but this is not like any chain restaurant you have ever been to. Everything is freshly made, there's almost always an hour wait unless you make reservations, and you will definitely have a tough time deciding what you want to eat when dining here. The energy inside this restaurant matches the vibrancy of the food coming out of this kitchen perfectly.


#5 Mama's Comfort Food and Cocktails - Los Alamitos

I love me some comfort food and this newest outpost of Mama's on 39 got me very excited. The buffalo cauliflower starter was delicious, and the hits just kept on coming with one of the best patty melts I have had in some time, and the desserts, which feature Thrifty brand ice cream. Next time maybe breakfast for dinner, but I'll for sure save room for some Chocolate Malted Crunch at the tail end of my meal.

#4 Ikram Bakery - Fountain Valley

I had Ikram on my list for a long time as we have become addicted to shwarma. This build your own plate kind of place now holds the crown for best shwarma in OC in my opinion. The chicken was moist and flavorful and the beef was the same. Centrally located in Fountain Valley, which is quickly becoming one of the best food cities in all of OC.



#3 El Pico De Gallo Grill -  Santa Ana

I had heard some good things about this restaurant on my friend's podcast and made a note to give it a try. Niyaz did not lead me astray. The Mexican food here is right up there with the big boys; El Farolito, Sabroso! and El Maguay. They make their tortillas right in front of you, there's a spinning spit of al pastor right by the front door, and the carne asada is not to be missed either. A very unassuming restaurant, but not one to be missed.



#2 Fire Breather BBQ - Lake Forest

I always cry over the fact that there are no good barbecue restaurants in South OC, where I live. That all came to an end when I discovered Fire Breather BBQ in the middle of this year. Not only the best barbecue in South OC, but this could also rival some of the best barbecue I have had in all of OC. I wish they had a little more diversity in their sides, but I have never had a bad piece of meat here, whether it is their brisket, tri-tip, pork ribs, or pulled pork. All are winners.


#1 Cortina's Italian Market - Anaheim

Cortina's takes the top spot of 2018 for me this year. They were our only four-star review and the lunch I had here was my most memorable meal of this year. I've been on the lookout for an awesome meatball sandwich and found it here. I also found a porchetta sandwich that rocked my world and the pizza is one of the best I have had in a long while. Even their regular cold cut sandwiches are stellar. Prices are very reasonable here and this is one of the crown jewels of Italian eateries in OC.

So that's it for this year's best restaurants. As usual, I'm looking forward to what the new year brings. I'd also like to thank all of you for taking the time to visit our blog and hope you will continue to do so in the upcoming year. Now let's go out there and make it a delicious year.

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

A Breakfast Worth Toasting To?


Toast Kitchen + Bakery
1767 Newport Blvd. 
Costa Mesa, CA 92627

It was the last day before my vacation from work would come to an end, so Katie and I decided to go out to breakfast for some sustenance. After a very pleasant walk around Upper Newport Bay, we had definitely felt that we deserved a good first meal of the day. I had heard about a new place that had opened up in mid-July and has been on my radar thanks to their Instagram posts that have showcased some beautiful pieces of pie and other selections from their breakfast and dinner menus. We hurried back to our car and headed straight for Toast Kitchen and Bakery in Costa Mesa.

For those of you that are unfamiliar with Toast, they took over the spot that formerly housed the Golden Truffle for 37 years. If you are unfamiliar with that spot, first shame on you for not making it there, and second it's located on the same side of the street as Condom Revolution, Kabob Republic, Cucina Roma, and Side Street Cafe. Hope that narrows it down for you, and if you are still lost, just go north from the busy cross streets of 17th and Newport Boulevard.

Even though this restaurant is called Toast, they are open for lunch and dinner, as well as breakfast Tuesday through Saturday and open for breakfast only on Sundays. Toast comes to us from Ed Lee, of Wahoo's fame and Chef John Park who cut his chops in LA at Father's Office, Lukshon, Water Grill, and Quenelle ice cream shops. He moved to OC two years ago and staged pop-ups until Ed called to see if he had any interest in running the former Golden Truffle spot, which is not only Toast but also Fil, a sister restaurant that specializes in malasadas and ice cream. More on that later.

Toast opened to rave reviews for not only their food but the way they also do business. It was very important to Chef John that he gives back to the community that supports his restaurant, so he convinced Ed that they would donate 10 percent of their profits to a charity each month. This modern take on a diner, with an Asian twist, also helps the community by employing veterans, recovering substance abusers, and homeless people, workers who might not get a chance to work anywhere else.

When we arrived here on a recent Sunday I was half expecting to have to wait, but we must have been lucky because we got seated right away. The restaurant was busy, with a large bridal shower near the back of the restaurant, which included one of my favorite food people, Connie, from OC Comestibles. I figured if she was eating here, we were probably in for a very big treat.

Like I said earlier the vision of this restaurant is modern diner cuisine with a slight Asian twist, and I'd also add a touch of millennial edge to that description. There are three kinds of toast on the share portion of the menu, with the obligatory avocado toast leading things off with other lighter offerings. The bulk of the menu lists 13 brunch items, many of which tempted me, but I knew I had to limit myself to one sweet and one savory item, as I always like to do with the first meal of the day. Let's see how everything turned out for us on this visit to Toast.


It's always nice to get something unexpected from the kitchen while waiting for your meal, it always kind of makes you feel special. This amuse-bouche if you will, came out rather unexpectedly, but I was pretty hungry and scarfed it down rather quickly. So quickly in fact that I did not write down in my notes what it was. If I had to guess I'd say it was toasted bread with micro greens on top, along with a fig jam, Brussel sprouts and a light sprinkling of parmesan cheese. Tasty, but not something that I'd typically order. Still, a nice touch.




Katie has been on a real breakfast burrito kick lately, and she stuck with it here at Toast by getting their version of a Breakfast Burrito ($16 with avocado added). Yes, you read that correctly, a sixteen dollar breakfast burrito. Yes, it was good, nice and lighter than most, with plenty of soft tater tots, creamy avocado, maple glazed bacon, slightly spicy chorizo, and fluffy cheesy scrambled eggs. As Katie stated this was a very well put together burrito, with fresh items that were prepared well, but nothing that warranted the price tag that came along with it.


I was really stuck about what to get here, but after conferring with our server I went with the Pork Belly ($16). This breakfast bowl came with some of the lightest herb and butter rice I have ever encountered, a sunny side up egg, pickled carrots and daikon, bok choy, and a chili hoisin sauce. I've always said that if you see pork belly on a menu, you should order it, and the pork belly here was equal parts crispy and a little fatty, which is the way I enjoy my pork belly. The rice was very light and stepped aside to let the pork be the star of the show. A little more hoisin sauce would have been preferred with this, but this breakfast dish was lighter than most and made me feel okay about getting two breakfast dishes on this morning.


My sweet item was an easier pick, the Nutella Stuffed French Toast ($13) popped off the menu and landed right on our table. They use brioche to make this, along with a creme brulee batter, then add Nutella to the insides. It's finished off with raspberries and candied hazelnuts. I was a little let down by this. The french toast could have been cooked a little longer, as the bread was left pretty soft. I also would have liked a lot more Nutella slathered on the inside of this. The candied hazelnuts were probably my favorite part of this, as they added a textural component that the toast could not deliver thanks to the undercooked bread.



It was the pies that I saw on Instagram that pushed me to come to Toast, but none of them really spoke to me on this morning, and cookies always speak to me loud and clear, so we gave them a try. The Peanut Butter Cookie ($2.75) was bland and chalky, but the Salted Chocolate Chip ($3) hit the mark. It had a nice crunchy outer ring and a soft and chewy center. There were plenty of chocolate chips and the salt added a nice contrast to the muted sweetness of the cookie.

The food at Toast is made with some really great ingredients and it's obvious that the kitchen takes great care in preparing the food here. I liked what we had, but was not blown away with my breakfast on this late morning. I'll definitely be trying something different on my next visit, maybe the shrimp and grits or the chilaquiles. Even though I know that profits from this restaurant go back into the community and they are doing a lot of good with their hiring practices, I'd be remiss if I failed to mention that I felt that their prices were a bit too high. $16 for a breakfast burrito with avocado, $19 for their burger with fries, and $12 for just avocado on toast make this breakfast restaurant less of an everyday hangout and more of a special occasion spot. The service we experienced on this morning was very upbeat and pleasant, and you definitely get the sense that the employees are really behind this concept. As for me, I'll be excited to return to Toast and see how they grow in the future.

Out of five fiddles, (because Tommy Jarrell, a noted fiddler made his home in Toast, North Carolina), five being best to zero being worst, Toast Kitchen + Bakery gets 3 fiddles.

For more information about Toast, head to their website here: https://www.toastkitchenbakery.com/