Sunday, March 9, 2014

Heroes, Coming to Save the Day in Riverside?

Heroes Restaurant and Brewery
3397 Mission Inn Avenue
Riverside, CA 92501

If you don't believe that the Orange County restaurant scene is a powerhouse, then you have not been paying attention. A lot of our beloved restaurateurs in OC have started opening restaurants in other counties and other states. This is definitely a sign that our culinary pedigree has evolved. We aren't just getting restaurants from other areas, OC restaurants are expanding to show the rest of the nation and the world that Orange County has some pretty good food to share with everyone.

There are numerous examples of OC restaurants opening in other locales. Bruxie started in a tiny space in Orange, but now has locations in Chino Hills, and is opening their first Colorado retail space later this month. One of our favorite Mexican restaurants, Sol Cocina, started on PCH, but now has a location in Scottsdale, Arizona. Slater's 50/50 began in a sleepy little shopping center tucked into Anaheim Hills, and has now opened spots in Rancho Cucamonga and San Diego. Probably the most ambitious expansion I have heard of is the one Slapfish is doing. Not only are they opening their second OC location in Laguna Beach, but they have already opened in Dubai. Yes, that Dubai in the Middle East.

I could go on and on, but the fact remains that OC restaurants are big time now. I was excited to hear that another long time favorite of mine was expanding to another area. Heroes Bar and Grill has been a mainstay in Downtown Fullerton, since I was in high school, (which was a long time ago). About six months ago they opened up a new spot in Riverside, right by the Mission Inn. This used to be the location of the Big Cheese Pizza Company, which closed about a year ago.  Like that business, this new Heroes is brewing their own beer at this location. Head Brewer John Novotny, who used to be at Bootlegger's Brewery, is overseeing five different styles of beer here. We did not try any of the beers, but we grabbed our friends Sabrina and Anthony and headed out to see if Heroes has found a following in the Inland Empire.

I would say that they have gained quite a following. We arrived at Heroes at about 7PM on a recent Saturday night. We were met with a 45 minute wait, and a long line of people standing close to the entrance. If you have never been to Heroes before, getting your name on the list for a table can be a little confusing. There's no hostess stand, you just need to find the guy with the pad of paper, who's calling out names when their tables are ready. Any employee can point you in his direction if you have trouble spotting him.

This restaurant has an odd layout to it. When you walk in, there's a bar to your left, and a bar to your right, with a large covered patio overlooking the parking lot. Probably bigger than the Fullerton location, the larger of the two rooms even features a deli counter, which reminded us of Roscoe's Famous Deli, which is also owned by this restaurant group. The menu is pretty much the same as the Fullerton shop, but they have substituted some local Riverside names into the menu items. After our close to a forty minute wait, we were seated and hungry. Let's see if the food is as good here, as it is back in OC.

Heroes Chili Nachos ($12 for a half order) are pretty legendary, and we were all famished, so this part of our meal was a no-brainer.  Yes, this is the half order of nachos. The full size order comes out on a pizza plate, and is so huge it could feed six or more people. We've learned our lesson, and only order the half order now. The tortilla chips are covered with chili, a good amount of jack and cheddar cheeses, tomatoes, black olives, green onions, sour cream, and guacamole. A good sized mound of food. Even with all of this piled on top of the tortilla chips, they still somehow managed to stay crisp. It could be that we ate these so fast that they did not have time to get soggy, but we'll give them the benefit of the doubt here. The chili is not a spicy chili, but it does add some moisture to the plate. A very solid plate of nachos, where you get a good amount of toppings in each bite.

Sabrina has been on a real health kick lately, so I was not surprised when she ordered the Veggie Sandwich ($9). This sandwich had almost the whole produce section on it. Avocado, tomatoes, lettuce, cucumbers, red onions, sprouts, provolone cheese, sweet-hot mustard, all placed between two slices of toasted squaw bread. She was pretty pleased when this sandwich was placed in front of her, but the sweet-hot mustard totally overpowered this for her. She felt this was more hot, than sweet. It did not prevent her from eating most of this sandwich though. She was pretty excited for the cheat part of her meal, the Curly Fries.

Anthony has also been working on getting healthy, by eating right and also riding his bike for like 100 miles at a time. I could barely drive 100 miles, let alone bike it, so I'm pretty proud of my good friend. He decided he would go big at Heroes, and have an epic cheat meal, the Chorizo Burger ($11). This 50 percent chorizo, and 50 percent ground beef patty is topped with two fried eggs, imported Spanish ham, pepper jack cheese, and chipotle mayo, all on a potato bun. I'd say that's a cheat meal for sure. I mean, if you're going to eat bad, you might as well go all out. Anthony was pretty glad that he got this rich burger. It really hit the spot after his long bike ride earlier in the day.

Five years into our relationship, and I still usually have no idea what Katie will be ordering when we go out. On this night she went with the Tuna Melt ($10 and add a dollar for the side of Potato Salad). Albacore tuna salad, cheddar cheese, lettuce, and tomato are all sandwiched between grilled Parmesan bread. She liked this sandwich as much as she liked the one at Heroes sister restaurant, Roscoe's. The tuna was fresh, and the bread was grilled nicely. The only thing she was not so happy about here was the potato salad. She thought it was too tangy, possibly from too much mustard being used in it. She said this tuna melt will remain in her rotation when we visit Heroes in the future.

I have been craving a good Patty Melt ($11) for awhile now, and this one at Heroes did not disappoint. A half pound patty, with cheddar and Swiss cheeses, and the same grilled Parmesan bread that was used on Katie's tuna melt. The menu called for this to have grilled onions on it, but mine came without any. I liked the two different cheeses used here, and the bread was grilled just enough to provide a nice crunch to it. A very filling patty melt, and I would totally get this sandwich again. I had wanted my side item to be the curly fries, but this came with steak fries instead, which were just okay. I'm never partial to steak fries. I feel that sometimes they are cooked too inconsistently because of their size.

So you would expect Heroes to get a pretty high score with us, but as with a lot of new restaurants there are some growing pains that they are going to have to work through. This is kind of the reason that we like to wait six months to year to visit a new restaurant. Give time for the front of the house and the kitchen to settle into a routine, and not have service become an issue. The service was an issue on this night. Heroes goes with the style of service that everyone is your waiter or waitress. This works fine if your wait staff works as a team, like the Fullerton location, but on this night in Riverside, they did not. We sat for nearly ten minutes with nobody coming to get our drinks orders, or welcoming us. Once we flagged down someone, the service became a little better, but the kitchen was slammed, and food made its way out in a very slow, drawn out process. We started the order process at 8, and did not pay the check until after 10, so this was a long night. I'm sure things will get better, with veteran Heroes employee, and my good friend Geoff Neely being the General Manager here. He was working hard expediting food on this night, and we only got to say hi as we were on our way out. With Geoff as leader here, the service will definitely get better, and I'm sure the kitchen will run more efficiently. It's no surprise that Heroes is one of the OC restaurants to expand to a new territory, now the only question that remains is who's going to be the next OC restaurant to expand out of OC?

Out of five golf tees, (because the first golf course in Southern California was built in the city of Riverside), five being best to zero being worst, Heroes Restaurant and Brewery gets 3 golf tees.

For more information about Heroes Restaurant and Brewery, go to their website here:

Heroes Restaurant & Brewery on Urbanspoon

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