Thursday, November 29, 2012

Hoping That Volcano Burger is a Real Hotspot

Volcano Burgers
3652 Cerritos Ave.
Los Alamitos, CA 90720

A lot of pressure was put on me a few weeks back. My niece was performing at a cheer leading competition in Long Beach, and I was assigned to come up with a place for the whole family, plus others to eat at after the festivities. Of course being the seasoned food blogger that I am, I went on-line, and found a place that I hoped would satisfy both young and old, Volcano Burgers.

Burgers are becoming the new pizza. It used to be that almost every neighborhood had their favorite pizza places. Now almost every neighborhood can lay claim to what they consider a really good burger spot. Being a burger guy, this makes me very happy. After sitting through numerous cheer leading routines, all of which seemed to contain the song, "Call Me Maybe", we had worked up quite an appetite.

In Los Alamitos everyone favorite burger destination is Volcano Burger. This well established burger joint has been serving up burgers for this community for over forty years. They have prime real estate by being situated right across from Los Alamitos High School. I can imagine this small restaurant is a zoo on weekdays when school is in session. On this particular Sunday we got here just after one, and the last of the lunch rush was still chowing down on their burgers. Ordering is done at the counter, and then orders are picked up at the side window. Seating is all outside, but under a covered roof. Let's see how this burger stand stacks up.

Starting us off are the Fries ($2.89) and the Onion Rings ($3.89). Both of these came out of the kitchen pretty hot. The fries were very sturdy, and when paired with the thicker than normal ranch dressing, they really hit the spot. The onion rings were not as heavily breaded as I thought they would be, but they still  achieved average status. The real side item to get was up next.

The Chili Cheese Fries ($3.89) were so good, they definitely deserve two pictures here. These chili cheese fries were not only good, but they are in the upper echelon of chili cheese fries. Served in a tin to-go container, they got the perfect amount of each component here. The chili is superb. Great consistency, with more spice than I was expecting. Most burger places just add a pedestrian chili to their fries, but that was not the case here. The chili coated the fries well, and the cheese and fries came together to create a great combination. If you do not get the chili cheese fries here, you  have no one to blame but yourself.

The burgers above are the pretty basic looking Volcano Burger ($2.79). This is the base model for the burgers here. They come with thousand island dressing, onion, lettuce, and tomato, on a sesame seed bun. Nothing too revolutionary about this burger. The patty was a little on the thin side, but it was larger around than I thought it would be. Apparently you have the option of having either shredded lettuce or leaf lettuce on your burger here.

Katie loves avocado, so it was no surprise that she wanted to try the Avocado Burger with Cheese ($4.19). This burger definitely had its fair share of avocado. The creaminess of the avocado went well with this burger. Katie would have liked a little more thousand island dressing on this burger, but found it to be a solid burger.

It is probably no shock to anyone that knows me, but my burger was the Bacon Burger with Cheese ($3.99). They were not shy with the bacon on this one. Bacon was included in every bite of this burger, and it was good, thick swine. This burger was bigger than it appears in the picture above, but I definitely had no trouble polishing this burger off. The bun did an admirable job staying together with all of the items piled in here. I liked this burger, but found it to be just like others I have had in similar type restaurants.

Almost everyone seemed very pleased with my recommendation for lunch. Volcano Burger was a good choice to bring the kids to, and the grown ups enjoyed it as well. The burgers were good, but nothing that will make you forgo your neighborhood favorite burger spot. The real reason to come here is the chili cheese fries. Probably one of the best we have written about on this blog. Worth the trip the next time you are in the area. Prices here were very good for the amount of food you get. Nothing on the menu comes close to the ten dollar mark, with no burger being over $4.50. Not a bad pick for lunch, and to top it all off, the Yorba Linda Chargers won this cheer leading competition and are now headed off to Florida to compete for a national title. Get those earplugs ready for when they play "Call Me Maybe", for the 83rd time in a row!

Out of five parrot heads, (because Jimmy Buffet released an album in 1979, called "Volcano", and no it did not include his famous hit Cheeseburger in Paradise) , five being best to zero being worst, Volcano Burger gets 3 parrot heads.

Volcano Burger does not have a web site, but you can find reviews and and information about them here:

Volcano Burgers on Urbanspoon

Monday, November 26, 2012

Hopscotch Media Preview Night

136 E. Commonwealth
Fullerton, CA 92832

There are a few places that I feel more comfortable than in bars. Sitting back, having food and drinks with friends, and catching up on each other's lives are just some of the best memories I have when going out. I like the people watching as well. On the other hand, I have never been too comfortable in nightclubs. The loud music, all the people dressing to impress, and cover charges have never been my thing. Some of my favorite bars are located in Fullerton, so I was pretty excited to hear about a new joint opening up in the same area. I was even more excited when I was asked to attend a media preview of the new bar on the block, Hopscotch.

This newest bar venture in Fullerton has been teasing their Facebook fans about opening for awhile. The day is finally close. According to their Facebook page, they are set to open November 27th. This is good news for their over 1,300 fans of this, as yet not open for a business tavern. If they already have this many fans without being open, they just might have a hit on their hands.

Hopscotch is located in the old Spadra spot, which also used to house the Pacific Electric Railway Depot. Hopscotch is different from most bars in the downtown area because they are focusing on whiskey, craft beers, and slow-cooked food items. In fact, they are going to be carrying 105 small-batch whiskeys. That is quite a lot to try. Before we got to try any of the drinks we took a few pictures of the place.

The dining room is located a few steps down from the bar area, for a more cozy atmosphere. The bar area features high top tables, liquor quotes by famous people inscribed on the walls, animal heads hanging in various areas, a Hopscotch diagram on the floor, and a penny-farthing hanging from the rafters. This old-time bicycle is Hopscotch's logo and is emblazoned on their t-shirts and walls. The bar is dominated by wood and earth tones, which really lends to the rustic vibe here. The bar is made out of old whiskey barrels, and really lends a unique aspect to the place.

My friend Clay, who went with me to this event is a real connoisseur of whiskeys and bourbons. He was very impressed with the wide variety served at Hopscotch. He was the one that ordered the Woodford Reserve on ice. This always seems to be his drink of choice when we go out. I admit I am not much of a whiskey or bourbon drinker, but I tried two of their signature cocktails which featured whiskey. The Morning Glory was served in the martini glass. I did not catch all of what came in this labor-intensive drink, but I do know that it involved using an egg. This was my favorite drink of the night. The other drink I had was the Merryweather. In this one, I could definitely taste the alcohol. Again, I did not catch what was in this one, because I was very preoccupied with the food that had started coming out of the kitchen.

I have never been a fan of Deviled Eggs, but Clay tried the ones here. He said the mustard on these was very prominent. The Crackling Rosemary Flatbread was very much more my style. This flatbread really popped with flavor. This appetizer was topped with butter, rosemary, and crunchy pork cracklins. The pork on top gave this a nice little crunch, and the bread portion of this reminded me of the cheese bread at La Cave and Northwood's Inn. I had to limit myself to only three slices because I knew more was on the way.

Dinner was served buffet style for our media event. The main event was the Pulled Pork and the BBQ Beef. The meats at Hopscotch are cooked low and slow to help ensure that they are very tender, with great flavors. To help enhance the meats they offer four different sauces. I only tried the Bold and Tangy, which I liked, but the St. Louis Sweet will be my choice on future visits here. Side items are not to be overlooked here either. I am a harsh critic when it comes to baked beans, but I really enjoyed the one here. They were not over the top sweet but still had enough flavor to keep my interest. The Potato Salad was another solid side item. The potatoes were cooked perfectly, with a slight mustard twinge to it. One of the better restaurant potato salads we have had.

The head chef at Hopscotch is Kent Pawlowski, who was the Regional Executive Chef at Mastro's Steakhouse, before he left in 2008 to work in Tbilisi, Georgia at The OVAL Restaurant. He is back in the States now, and serving up this ButterSCOTCH Cake, which is very similar to the something you can get at one of his former employers. This version is not as moist on the inside, but just as good. It was infused with some scotch, which I just got a hint of, and topped with a very well made whipped topping. The raspberry sauce drizzled on the plate really complimented this dessert well. Maybe because Hostess has been in the news lately, but this dessert kind of reminded me of the Hostess O's Raspberry Filled Donuts. This dessert is a must get when coming to Hopscotch.

I am really looking forward to seeing how people will receive Hopscotch and seeing if the owners stay true to their passion for what they envision this place to be. So many places start out as one thing and then turn into something completely different, based on what the public wants or demands. If tonight is any indication, the owners will not have to tweak their concept very much at all. The atmosphere was pretty laid back and comfortable, the bar set up was on point, and the food promises to bring in lots of people. I am excited to come back and try one of their Juicy Lucy Burgers, which is a cheese-stuffed burger, originated in Minnesota. After our first impression, it will not take us too long to get back to Hopscotch again.

We would really like to thank all of the people at Hopscotch for making us feel so welcome. Co-owners, Bryan Gonzalez and Rob Marshall were nice enough to answer all of our questions, and share what they expect Hopscotch to be. Thanks also go out to all of the employees here that made the night excellent and kept things running smoothly. Another big thank you goes out to Rob Hallstrom, from 714 Media, for thinking of including us at this great event. Lastly, thanks to my partner in crime on this outing Clay. Glad you could experience this whiskey lover paradise with me.

For more information on Hopscotch, check out their web page here:

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Football Frenzy #10 at OC Tavern

OC Tavern 
2369 S. El Camino Real
San Clemente, CA 92672

Ugh! My football team is the worst! If you are a regular reader of this blog you know that my team is the Jacksonville Jaguars, or hopefully the soon to be Los Angeles Jaguars. That topic should be left to the sports blogs out there, but more relevant to our restaurant blog is the fact that we are trying to find the ultimate place to watch football on Sunday mornings. It has been increasingly difficult to get out and watch my team with their poor play, but I trudge out most Sunday mornings to help you find the ultimate football watching paradise. This Sunday's option is OC Tavern in San Clemente.

It has been well over a year since we have made it down to the most southern city in our great county. This is a shame because there are plenty of great places to try, and plenty that have been on our list for some time. Today though was all about football. The criteria for our ultimate football hangout is great food, great atmosphere, and great service. This holy trinity of standards has been met in parts by our other nine football haunts, but there is always room for improvement. Let's see if OC Tavern can meet all of these goals.

The Jaguars were playing an afternoon game on this particular Sunday. This meant that we would be arriving when almost everyone else was leaving. This is a good thing, less people to watch my crappy team. There was only one other game being played at the same times as ours, so I knew it would be a smaller than normal crowd here. We arrived at about 10 minutes until one, and had not trouble finding a seat. The door guy was very nice about making sure we would be able to see our game from our table, but of course that would be no trouble with only two NFL games going on.

OC Tavern kind of has a man cave vibe to it. There are giant TV's on every wall, along with sports and beer paraphernalia, and a laid back beach vibe. Even with this man cave atmosphere, there were plenty of families and kids eating in the room we were located. They even have a large arcade for the kids, so they will not interfere with you watching the games. Not into football but still want to bet on something? OC Tavern claims to be the only sports bar in California to offer satellite wagering on horse racing from around the country. They have dedicated a whole room, outfitted with 26 TV's and its own bar for this purpose. Of course this day was all about the pigskin, so I did not check out the betting room. Maybe on future visits. It was now time for kickoff and getting some food. Let's see how OC Tavern treated us.

It may have been one in the afternoon, but it would not be Sunday football without at least one Bloody Mary ($5.00). These were on special during football, and had a nice spice to the mix. Not enough heat so it overwhelms your taste buds, but you definitely get the little kick in it. Not the best Bloody Mary I have had, but not the worst by far. I had two of these during our stay here.

While we were waiting for our friend Riley to arrive fashionably late, both Katie and I wanted something to side track us from another turnover by the Jags, so I ordered this self proclaimed, Award Winning New England Clam Chowder ($3.50). This soup was very creamy, with big cuts of vegetables. The clam ratio could have been a little better, but the soup itself needed to be seasoned a little more for my taste. Not a bad chowder though.

The other item we got to nibble on was the Chips ($5.95). These tri-colored tortilla chips came with guacamole and a homemade salsa. The salsa was very chunky, with onion playing a prominent part in the chunk factor. It was a tad watery, but had a nice mellow flavor to it. The guacamole was very fresh, but it needed just a little more pop of something to bring it to life. The chips were pretty average.

After Riley arrived, well into the first quarter of the games, (way to support your team Riles!), we got the Nachos ($8.95) to share. Not exactly the most picturesque  plate of nachos ever. They used the same tri-colored tortilla chips as they served with the salsa, then dumped black beans, cheddar and jack cheeses, pico de gallo, jalapenos, sour cream and guacamole on top of the chips. Not a bad plate of nachos, but the chips did kind of get soggy because of an excessive amount of beans. This was enough for the three of us to pick at.

The Grilled Chicken Breast Sandwich ($9.95) would of course be Katie's choice for lunch. She has really become pretty predictable when going out lately. This chicken breast sandwich came with onion, tomato, mayonnaise, and Swiss cheese. Katie thought that the bread held up pretty well with this sandwich, but she would have liked the chicken grilled a little longer. Not a bad sandwich, but nothing that made a lasting impression with her.

Riley had worked up quite an appetite rooting his Jet's on, so he selected the Tavern Burger ($10.95). This half pound burger came with all the usual toppings; pickles, onions, tomato, lettuce, cheddar cheese, and bacon. Riley thought this was a pretty good burger. He liked the juiciness of the burger and the frssh porduce that came along with it. Not a burger that is going to blow you away, but a solid burger nonetheless.

I was also feeling the burger cravings, so I got the Blues at the OC Burger ($10.95). This one of course came with melted blue cheese crumbles and bacon. The burger patty was juicy, but I added some mayo to make my burger experience even more to my liking. I know most restaurants like to cross their bacon for a presentation effect, but this means about half the bites you take of a burger will not have bacon involved, which is a shame. I tore my bacon into three smaller strips, so I had maximum bacon coverage. The burger itself was pretty good, but nothing that wowed me. I did like that they grilled the bun just a tad. Very nice touch.

OC Tavern was a pretty good place to watch football. They really cater to the sports fan here. They were very prompt about getting games switched once they were over. The whole restaurant just exudes a comfortable, laid back vibe. Even though we were in the minority rooting for the Jaguars, we never felt like the Raider fans were going to get all crazy towards us. The service was pretty strong here as well. Our waitress was very out going, and kept checking on us regularly. The part of our criteria where OC Tavern misses the boat on being the ultimate football watchers paradise is with the food. Not that it was awful, but it was all pretty average. Nothing that really grabbed our attention, or anything that we have craved since we came here. Of course we just came here once, so there might be something on the menu that we might have missed. Even with the pretty standard food here, OC Tavern is definitely one of the better places to watch football on Sunday mornings. I just wish I would have had the opportunity to watch my team win while we were here. Oh well, maybe next week.

Out of five bougainvillea's, (the city flower of San Clemente), five being best to zero being worst, OC Tavern gets 3 bougainvillea's.

For more information about OC Tavern, click here:

OC Tavern on Urbanspoon

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Beware the Monster Burger is on the Loose!

JT Schmid's Restaurant and Brewery
2415 Park Ave.
Irvine, CA 92782

It is probably not shocking that I love watching restaurant shows on TV. Diner's Drive-Ins and Dives, Best Thing I Ever Ate, Food Paradise, Food Wars, and of course Man V Food are some of my favorites. There are two reasons I like watching these shows. One is that I like seeing great food and how it is prepared, and the second reason is that it gets me motivated to travel places. I get a certain kind of thrill seeing a place on TV that we have been to. During the course of the three years of this blog we have had the opportunity to take quite a few trips, and during these trips we have sought out quite a lot of these TV restaurants.

I have always thought that restaurants in OC should be more prominently featured on these shows. Sure some bakeries have been featured on some Cupcake shows, Guy Fieri has spotlighted three of our OC restaurants for his show, and a long while ago Rachel Ray made her way through Laguna on $40 a Day. I like some of these shows, but my favorite food show was Man Verses Food. I liked seeing host Adam Richman tour an area, then tackle an eating challenge. If his show was still in production today, JT Schmid's might get some serious consideration to be featured on his show.

What we have above is the JT's Bigger, Badder, Asser Burger. This six pound behemoth of a patty is grilled, then joined with four extra pounds of bun and toppings, to weigh in at an unbelievable ten pounds of hamburger bliss. Throughout the preview night we were here, they brought out different varieties of this burger. The one above came with the usual burger toppings, lettuce, tomato, red onion, pickles, cheddar cheese and roasted corn mayo.

Luckily for all of the food bloggers in attendance, we did not have to worry about slicing this ourselves. It came neatly sliced on an enormous plate, or more like a platter. I thought the burger would have a meatloaf quality to it, but it did taste more like a burger. The custom made bun stood up pretty well to the burger toppings, but as you can see the bottom bun did absorb a lot of the grease from the burger and the sheer weight of everything piled on top of it. Very understandable. I talked to Jason, the owner of JT Schmid's and he told me that they are still working on the bun issues, and are still tweaking things a bit.

Not only does JT's have a ten pound burger, but it also can be prepared different ways. This was my favorite version of this burger this night. The Cowboy Bigger, Badder, Asser Burger came with blue cheese crumbles, huge onion rings, bacon, and BBQ sauce. Big time flavors with this one! I really liked the inclusion of the blue cheese, it added pop to this burger. Another version of this burger that came out, but I did not try was the Jalapeno Turkey Burger. This was probably for the more health conscious, but how healthy can you get eating ten pounds worth of burger? I did overhear my fellow bloggers remark how much they liked this healthier alternative.

It was not all about the burgers on this night, although I did end up taking about fifty pictures of them. We also got to try some of the new, more traditional items on the JT Schmid's menu. The Hawaiian Coconut Shrimp should be insulted to be called shrimp, because these were anything but small. These jumbo shrimp were covered with coconut, then deep fried, and served with a great orange marmalade. I usually am not a big fan of these, but I ate my fair share on this night.

The food just kept on coming! This is another new item, the Jalapeno Mac & Cheese. This is not your everyday version of this comfort food classic. This is a jazzed up version for sure. JT's adds chicken, tomatoes, and bacon to a radiatori pasta, then coats it all with a cheese sauce made from their own ale and a trio of cheeses. This has been getting rave reviews from customers, and the same response was given on this night. I really liked the jalapenos in this. Some mac and cheese dishes can put your taste buds to sleep, but this one did not have that problem.

After eating my fair share of the burgers, I did not have much room to eat the new pizzas at JT's, but I did manage to try two of them. The Sausage and Basil Pizza was a good pizza that had plenty of sausage on it, and went well the fresh basil. The other slice of pizza I had a was a little less conventional. The Roasted Pear and Blue Cheese Pizza is something that I would usually not eat, but in this instance I was glad I did. This pizza had it all; sliced red pears, sage, mozzarella and blue cheeses, grilled onions, and pecans. Kind of sounds like a mishmash off a lot of different items, but they all worked pretty well together.

The last of the food items we tried was the Meatball Sandwich. I consider myself an aficionado of meatball sandwiches, and I could endorse this one as pretty good. The meatball here was very dense, with a meaty texture and taste to it. The marinara had a strong hint of garlic, while maintaining a low key sweetness. The bread held everything together well. Some more melted mozzarella cheese on this could have made this sandwich even better.

Most of my visits to JT's are made to the Anaheim location, right across from the Honda Center. We usually hit them up for drinks before and after the hockey games. So you could say that I am pretty familiar with their beers. JT Schmid's recently changed their JT Imperial Stout. JT's own Brewmaster, Gil Chacon is now aging the beer with French Oak. I will not pretend to know enough about beer to tell you how this changes things, but I did like this beer. It was very rich and malty. They only serve this in a pint size, due to the high ABV of 8%, but that will get you feeling good in a hurry!

New menu items were also spotted on the dessert menu as well. I did not get a chance to snap up one of the slices of Black Forest Cake because I zoned right in on the other two options for dessert. The Pineapple Sorbet piqued my interest for the unique presentation. The sorbet was served right in the cored out portion of a pineapple. This added a perceived element of freshness to the refreshing sorbet. It did not strike me until later what the Dream Bomba reminded me of. This dessert had a core of caramel surrounded by a peanut butter gelato, then coated by chocolate and a peanut butter drizzle. Can you guess what childhood dessert this reminded me of? Of course it was Drumsticks. This was a very good dessert. The caramel in the center was like finding a buried treasure, and getting to the caramel was half the fun. Good peanut butter flavor, and the chocolate on the outside was good and thick. This would be a great dessert on a hot summer evening.

The new menu items at JT's were all pretty strong, but they were dwarfed by the Bigger, Badder, Asser Burgers. Of course almost any food item I have ever seen would be dwarfed by such a huge burger. Of course I had to inquire about the possibility of food challenge, and Jason said that of course it has been discussed, but no word on it just yet. I could see no one being able to finish this burger, unless Adam Richman wants to do a reboot of his Man V. Food Show.

We really would like to thank everyone that made it possible for us to sample all of the new menu items at JT Schmid's. First, we should start with the man at the top, Jason Schmid. He was so gracious answering all of our questions and providing all of the food for us. Also, thanks go out to the wonderful staff at JT's, some of which are pictured above. They really kept on top of things, and made sure we did not have a want for anything else. Thanks for your great service guys. Thank you also to Pam from the OC Restaurant Association for this wonderful opportunity to sample all of this food. One last note of appreciation to our fellow food bloggers who are always the life of the party, and we always enjoy getting together with. You guys rock!

For more information about JT Schmid's, click here: