Wood Ranch BBQ and Grill
57 Fortune Dr., Suite 230
Irvine, CA 92618
It is nights like these that I really love being a food blogger. Most of the time being a food blogger is a lonely existence. Katie and I will go out to dinner, then I am left all alone to write about it. Sure there are emails that need to be answered, and people do comment on our posts, Facebook page, and Twitter, but these are all done with me alone sitting at the computer. When I started this blog I never thought we would be invited to restaurant events to try food. It never even occurred to me. One lesson I have learned is, the better the restaurant event, the more food bloggers that come out. This event at Wood Ranch had almost all of my favorite food bloggers in attendance, so I knew we were going to be in for a treat.
Wood Ranch is celebrating their 20th year. Started in Moorpark, this BBQ chain has expanded to 14 restaurants, with three in OC, (Anaheim Hills, Rancho Santa Margarita, and this Irvine location). Unlike other BBQ restaurants, I do not think that you can classify Wood Ranch as a specific regional type of BBQ. They are kind of all over the map, which is not a bad thing, it actually is good. They can please a lot more palates that way. They have Carolina pulled pork, Texas style brisket, and even a Cuban sandwich, which we will get to later. Eating at Wood Ranch you can definitely choose your own BBQ destination.
In my last review of Wood Ranch, (Which you can read here), I said that I thought Wood Ranch was the best BBQ chain restaurant around. Consistency is one reason for this, but the other factor for their success is their ever evolving menu. The test kitchen at Wood Ranch rolls out new menu items every few months to a select four restaurants, and if enough people like them they make it to the menu in all locations. One of our dining companions on this night was Alex Benes, director of culinary development. We really enjoyed hearing how all of these new items came to be, and how Wood Ranch has tweaked them just enough to make them their own. At this point of the evening we were all seated and had no idea how much food was headed our way.
Starting off my night right was this Raspberry Ranch Lemonade. I usually like my drinks very simple, but this alcoholic drink was very refreshing and not overly sweet. The drink combined Cruzan Raspberry rum, lemonade, and tiny bits of raspberry. I am not sure how they did it, but the small bits of raspberry would get sucked into the straw to provide an extra burst of fruit flavor. It took some self control just having one of these.
The first of our four appetizers to try were the Guacamole, Salsa, & Chips, and a signature appetizer at Wood Ranch, their Famous Shredded Onions. The salsa here was okay, but the guacamole was very fresh and went well with the tortilla chips. The onion strings always amaze me here. First the sheer size of one order. This is a serious mound of onions, which resembled a small haystack. You would expect it to be all greasy, but they are surprisingly crisp. The lack of grease does not mean these lack in taste either. I really liked dipping these in ranch dressing.
The next two appetizers really had more substance behind them. Just looking at these pictures really gets my mouth watering all over again. The Carolina Pulled Pork Sliders are always a favorite. These miniature version of the Pulled Pork Sandwich come with Carolina slaw, pickles, and Carolina BBQ Sauce on the side. The pork is always tender, the slaw gives you a little crunch, and the BBQ sauce brings it all together. An item I have never had at Wood Ranch is the Killer Fiery Wings, but I might not be able to go back without having these again. The name implies that these are going to be on the hot side, but they tasted more like candy. The sauce was sticky sweet, then had a little kick of spice at the end. The chicken itself was fried to a wonderful crispness. I am usually partial to really spicy, but these sweet wings really caught my attention.
Not a big meat eater? Wood Ranch has you covered. We tried two of the salad offerings here. The first salad was the Quinoa Salad. Quinoa is one of the hottest trends on menus these days, and Wood Ranch has it featured as a salad. This salad also contains hunks of avocado, tomato, black beans, almonds, and I might have spotted golden raisins in this. The produce was very fresh and was dressed with a champagne vinaigrette. There was some talk around the table that this might have been served too wet, but I liked it the way it was served, but I always like things a little more moist than the usual person. The Natalie's Salad is one of the most popular on the Wood Ranch menu. This one combined baby greens, candied walnuts, Gorgonzola crumbles, cucumbers, avocado and a balsamic dressing. I liked this salad, but it could have used more Gorgonzola and avocado to help make it pop with more flavor. Of course no trip to Wood Ranch would be complete without having their Garlic Dinner Rolls. These came out hot, and full of garlic flavor. They never disappoint.
An item you may not expect to find on a menu at a BBQ restaurant is a Cuban sandwich, but Wood Ranch's Bar-B-Cubano Sandwich was a big highlight for me. Anyone that knows me, knows that I love Cuban sandwiches. This is not a true Cuban because the bread is a little off and they use Dijon mustard instead of yellow mustard, but there is no denying that this was very good. The baguette was pressed enough to give the appearance of Cuban bread, and the pulled pork was of course a highlight here. Very tender, with a nice smokiness to it. The pickles and honey cured ham helped bring some sour and sweet to this balanced sandwich. I will ask for yellow mustard on future visits when ordering this sandwich. Solid sandwich, and a great addition to the Wood Ranch menu.
When I saw this Short Rib, I immediately thought of the closing credits of the Flintstones when they bring out that giant slab of meat and their car tips over. The photos of this slab of meat do not do it justice. There was so much meat on here, and the chipotle-cherry BBQ sauce added great flavor to this tender meat. A lot of people find the baby back ribs to be the best, but beef ribs get my vote for best rib. I would definitely make this part of my next Wood Ranch Combo.
By this time I was getting pretty full, so I did not focus so much on these two entrees. I did sample some of Katie's BBQ Half Chicken. I usually stay away from chicken in restaurants because they tend to over cook it, but this was very moist, and the you could tell they cooked this just right. The chicken went well with the original BBQ sauce. Not too much, just enough that you knew it was there, while still letting the chicken have top billing. The Texas-Style Smoked Brisket came out with three sauces; an au jus, a chipotle-cherry and a habanero-peach BBQ sauce. The meat went the best with the habanero-peach sauce in my opinion. This sauce was great, and I look forward to the day that you can buy it on-line, just like their regular BBQ sauce.
Side items are not to be over looked at Wood Ranch. The Steamed Broccoli fulfilled the vegetable quota and added a nice dash of green to my plate, so my Mom would be proud. One of the most popular side items at Wood Ranch is their Original Peanut Coleslaw. I am more partial to a mayo based coleslaw, but I can see why people really like this nutty version of coleslaw. The Mashed Potatoes were good, but the hit of the side items on this night was the Lauren's Favorite Mac and Cheese. This mac and cheese really got my table mates raving.
By this time of the night my pants felt like they were going to burst, but there is always room for dessert. Before you ask, no I did not eat all of these desserts. I only snapped pictures of most of them. Somehow the Warm Chocolate Cake got passed right by me before I could snag a bite. That dessert went rather quickly. I would not let the Oreo Cookie Crunch go by me the same way. This is a scoop of vanilla ice cream rolled in Oreo cookie crumbs, then served with a thick hot fudge. Wow, so simple, yet so good. I pretty much hoarded this one to myself. For the fruit lovers, there is the Mom's Deep Dish Cobbler in either peach or apple, and they also have two Cheesecakes. The original is adorned with fresh berries and a raspberry sauce and the special cheesecake this month is a Pumpkin spiced cheesecake with a caramel sauce. A great way to end our glutenous journey.
Twenty years and fourteen locations later, Wood Ranch is still going strong. I am sure they have many more years in their future. The food we had on this night was all pretty stellar. The highlights for me were the Beef Ribs, the Killer Fiery Wings, and the Bar-B-Cubano Sandwich. With choices like these, plus there other menu items, it will be hard for me to decide what to go with on our future visits here.
We would really like to thank everyone at Wood Ranch for the opportunity to try all of this great food. Michelle, the General Manager of this location, Chris who works in the corporate office at Wood Ranch, and Alex Benes for being such wonderful hosts. Thanks very much for your generosity and wonderful dinner conversation. Also worth highlighting was our server for the evening, Megan, who kept everything moving and never skipped a beat when making sure we were all doing okay. Thanks for everything Megan!. Also thanks to PR wunderkind, Jane Gillespie for thinking of inviting us to this great event. You were definitely missed at dinner.
One last group of thank yous goes out to all of the wonderful food blogger's that were in attendance. These guys are some of the best food writers our county has to offer, and the reason I love going to these events. Not only great writers, but fantastic people as well. We look forward to seeing you all again in the future.
For more information on Wood Ranch BBQ and Grill, click here: http://www.woodranch.com/