The Penalty Box
12900 South Euclid St.
Garden Grove, CA 92840
I get pretty excited when I hear a new burger and hot dog place opening up in OC. As if you couldn't tell from the ten years of me writing this blog, I have definitely eaten my fair sure of burgers and hot dogs. I was even more excited when I heard that the team behind one of my favorite fine dining restaurants was behind this concept. Throw in my love for the Anaheim Ducks and their best player of all-time, and I literally could not come up with a better combination of my love for food and sports.
I'm talking of course about The Penalty Box at the new SteelcCraft communal dining space in Garden Grove. It's brought to us from the very talented culinary team behind Selanne's Steak Tavern in Laguna Beach which is the brainchild of Kevin Pratt and hockey legend, Teemu Selanne. This duo has branched out to put their own spin on the ultimate in American comfort food, burgers, hot dogs, fries, and shakes. Needless to say, I had very high hopes when we were recently invited to give The Penalty Box a try.
My excitement reached even higher into the stratosphere when I learned my friend Joe and I would be meeting up with Executive Chef Vince Terusa of Selanne Steak Tavern, who does double duty overseeing the kitchen at The Penalty Box. He makes the trip from his home in Rancho Santa Margarita up to Garden Grove in the morning, gets the restaurant up and running, and then travels back down the coast in the afternoon to start his day at Selanne Steak Tavern. I was tired just listening to his workday schedule, but he really seemed to relish it.
This Garden Grove location is the third SteelCraft urban outdoor eatery, with the other two being situated in Long Beach and Bellflower. They use repurposed shipping containers to house their craft food and beverage vendors. This Garden Grove spot houses not only The Penalty Box but Cauldron Ice Cream, Renegade Taco, Barrio, which is a Filipino barbecue joint, Beachwood Brewing, The Nest, a breakfast place, and other dining options. For me though, I was 100 percent concentrated on The Penalty Box.
The menu at The Penalty Box features five pucks (burgers), four sticks (hotdogs), four twig offerings (french fries), and three whipped ice (shakes) to choose from. There's also a kid's meal and bottled sodas. Both Joe and I met with Chef Vince, made our selections, and he brought them out to us in less than ten minutes. Let's see if The Penalty Box lived up to my lofty expectations.
The menu lists these as poutines, but they are really loaded fries since there are no cheese curds or gravy included on them. Maybe they wanted to give this more of a Canadian hockey feel to them, not that they needed it. This is the "Vladimir" ($10). The base of this was their house Yukon twists, which are a thick french fry with a soft and pillowy inside that was way better than any steak fry I've had. They top this with short rib, pickled red onion, scallion, American cheese, Russian sauce, and cornichon, which I learned is just a fancy way of saying tiny pickles. Google gets the tip for that info. Anyways, everything included here melded well together. The short rib was tender and full of flavor, while the pickled red onion and cornichon cut the richness a bit. I was afraid the American cheese was going to stick out like a sore thumb, but it played nicely with the well made Russian sauce. A way more sophisticated version of animal style fries.
Joe and I split this Triple Deke ($14) since we both got our own burgers and did not want to be rolled out of SteelCraft with a wheel barrel. After finishing half of this I kind of wished I had gotten my own. With this one, they take a bacon-wrapped polish sausage and top it with braised pulled pork, pickled onion, scallion, a three-cheese fondue, and penalty box sauce. Chef Vince told us that they source this very solid polish sausage from Texas. It had a great snap to it. The bacon was crisp and went well with the other parts of this loaded hot dog. Definitely one of the best hot dogs I have had this year.
For my burger on this visit, I went with the Broken Rib ($16). This third-pound wagyu burger was accompanied on the bun with a bourbon barbecue short rib, a giant onion ring, smoked gouda fondue, and sin bin sauce to tie everything together. I was expecting a heavier burger when I first read everything that was involved with this. Each bite ended up being better than the next and it was lighter than I imagined. The wagyu beef is high quality and I'd probably ask for some extra sin bin sauce the next time I had this. Really a well-crafted burger.
My friend Joe is a very sophisticated eater. While my pockets are littered with receipts from fast food eateries, his pockets are filled with credit card slips from Mastro's, Ironwood, and Fleming's. I'm not trying to embarrass him, but my point is that he knows good food. We both ended up being big fans of this Great Eight Burger ($14). This is the only burger on the Penalty Box menu that does not utilize a beef patty. It instead is anchored by an eight spiced Morrocan lamb patty and accented with roasted piquillo pepper, goat cheese, pickled red onion, rocket, and delectable chimichurri aioli. This had big-time flavor in each bite and the lamb patty lacked any gaminess that can sometimes be a drawback to eating lamb. I also have to shout out to the very good ciabatta roll that this came on. A very memorable burger, not one that should be missed.
One trip to The Penalty Box was not enough, so I went back the next week to try a little more from their menu. This time I started off with the Goon Fries ($7) which are their Yukon twists with thick slab bacon, chipotle aioli, cheddar cheese, and a fried egg on top. I liked this, but I ended up liking the Vladimir fries that I had on my first trip better. The egg was done perfectly, as the yolk was runny enough to be spread evenly across a large portion of the fries to provide a good richness. The cheese was mellow, but they could have used a bit more of the chipotle aioli for my taste.
This Barnburner ($9) hot dog was not only delicious but visually stunning as well. The beautifully shining brioche hot dog bun houses an all-beef gourmet hot dog, along with some spicy cream cheese, pickled Fresno chili, braised onions, and sin bin sauce. I was a little unsure about the cream cheese on this, but it was not a distraction here, and in fact, it added a nice element to the hot dog. This had just enough spice to make it a good choice for people who like a tinge of heat without having to guzzle water right afterward. Very well done.
My swan song on my second trip to The Penalty Box was this Hall of Famer Burger ($14). I had a great expectation for this burger when I read the description of it on their menu. A third-pound wagyu patty with red onion marmalade, American cheese, house pickles, shredded iceberg lettuce, and thick slab bacon. This was good but it was a little too subtle for my tastes. The bacon was thick and smokey, but I needed more from the red onion marmalade and maybe some of that excellent sin bin sauce as well. This was definitely the mildest of all the items that I had on either of my two visits to The Penalty Box.
After eating at The Penalty Box I definitely could feel the fine dining lineage coming through in the food here. These are elevated burgers, hot dogs, and fries. I guess it should not be surprising since the cuisine at Selanne Steak Tavern is world-class, so it logically means that the same culinary team would do the same with the food that we all grew up with. As one of my favorite hockey players, who also has his name on one of my favorite restaurants, The Penalty Box just adds to Teemu Selanne's legacy in Orange County. I can't wait to see what the Great 8 comes up with next.
For more information about The Penalty Box, head to their website here: https://www.penalty-box-oc.com/