Sunday, June 29, 2014

Betting On a Good Time at Sammy's

Sammy's Original
23221 Lake Center Drive
Lake Forest, CA 92630

You have probably driven by it numerous times, and wondered what was going to become of the old Black Angus that used to sit adjacent to the North 5 Freeway, between El Toro Road and Lake Forest Drive. Yes, the inevitable had happened to that Black Angus spot, it finally succumbed to mediocre food and a bad location. If you were stuck in some traffic on the freeway, you might have spied some work being done on the old building earlier this year. There is a new restaurant taking a crack at this space, Sammy's Original.

I had heard about Sammy's awhile back, and have seen some pictures of their food, and other goings on at the restaurant on their Instagram page. They opened in February of this year, and have had big crowds for each of the triple crown horse races this year. Oh yeah, I forgot to mention that Sammy's is an off track betting spot, where you can watch and bet on horse races throughout the country. This is the second OC business that has taken advantage of a 2007 law which allows satellite wagering at bars and restaurants, we also reviewed the other spot, OC Tavern down in San Clemente.

If you had ever been to this location when it was a Black Angus, you will be in for a shock. Gone is the dark and dusty feel of that restaurant, replaced with a brighter and cleaner feel at Sammy's. Of course the brightness could be coming from one of their more than 120 TVs, or maybe the lights on the wall that spell out Sammy's. Definitely a Vegas sports book kind of vibe here, and be aware that no one under 21 is even allowed inside this restaurant. For customers unfamiliar with betting on horse racing, there are cards on each table explaining the betting process and rules. I like to bet on horses, but I was more eager to experience their food and dining experience at Sammy's.

We arrived at 6PM on a recent Saturday night. The place was pretty empty, except for our party of seven and a couple of older gentlemen, who did not seem to care about the food or drinks here, but were content rooting on their horses. Think grizzled Vegas old men, who probably know more about horses than I know about hockey. Since we were the only group eating during our entire stay at Sammy's, we had the full attention of our very attentive waiter.

The kitchen at Sammy's is run by a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America and former Head Chef and Owner of Vine Restaurant in San Clemente, Justin Monson. He has created a menu that has all of the things you would expect to see on a sports bar menu, but with a gourmet twist on many items. I was pretty excited to see what this new restaurant had in store for us.

The only one of us drinking on this night was Lynn, (no surprise there). She considers herself to be a bloody mary connoisseur, so I was not shocked that she wanted to try this Sammy's Bloody Mary ($10). The house bloody mary at Sammy's uses Absolut Peppar vodka, Demetrius bloody mary seasoning, Tapatio, and then garnished with half a pickled egg, a shishito pepper, and bacon. Lynn liked this bloody mary, but did send it back for a less spicy one. She has a pretty low tolerance for spice, as does the rest of her brood. She liked the non-spicy version much better.

As is customary when we go out to dinner with Katie's family, we always order appetizers. This evening we ordered three, starting with these Crispy Chicken Wings ($9). These came topped with shishito peppers, a touch of soy sauce, and lemon. These wings were pretty good sized, with plenty of meat on them, and they were fried crisp. They were kind of tame in the flavor department though, which suited Katie's family just fine.

We also tried the Vintage Hot Wings ($9) as well. These were much better than the first ones, because they had more flavor to them. They were served with the traditional celery and carrots, and a very well made blue cheese dip, which I took full advantage of. The meatiness and crispness of these wings made these a clear winner in this unofficial battle of the wings at Sammy's. I'd definitely get these again.

The one non-wing starer that we ordered were these Pale Ale Beer Battered Green Beans ($7). Growing up I was never really a fan of green beans, maybe because we only had the canned ones, but these prove that anything deep fried can be made delicious. The batter was light, but still had a decent crunch to it, which did not overpower the green bean inside. These came with another well made sauce, this time it was a roasted garlic chipotle dipping sauce. This sauce went well with the green beans, but in truthfulness, this sauce would have gone great with anything. These disappeared quickly from our table.

Even though we had three appetizers for the table, I still felt the need to have this Wedge ($8) at Sammy's. When it hit the table, I was even more glad that I decided to have it. This colorful salad contained the traditional quartered iceberg lettuce head, then was topped with bacon, red onion, tomato, blue cheese crumbles, green onions, and the same very good blue cheese dressing that was served with the wings. I liked this wedge salad a lot. It had plenty of dressing on it, the tomatoes did not over take the salad, and there was plenty of bacon on this. There was not only bacon crumbles, but also a strip of bacon included on this. There was so much bacon on this that Scott Slater would even be proud of it.

Even after five years of being together, and most of that time feels like it has been in restaurants, Katie still surprises me with some of the things that she orders. Take for instance this Ham Banh Mi Sandwich ($8). I never would have guessed that Katie would have gotten this, but there it was sitting in front of her. This Vietnamese inspired sandwich started with a base of black forest ham, and then was topped with pickled carrots, jalapenos, and mayo, all on a brioche roll. Katie did not really get a banh mi kind of feel to this sandwich. The carrots kind of tasted bland, not pickled at all, and the jalapenos used here were extremely hot, and took over this sandwich big time. The sandwich also was dry, and only made better when she asked for another side of mayo. She would forgo this sandwich on future visits.

Both Jimmy and Emily had the Sammy's Burger ($10), which is listed on the menu as using prime American beef, then topped with caramelized onions, cheddar, arugula, and roasted tomato mayo. Both of them liked their burger, and Emily was even gracious enough to cut me off a quarter of her burger for me to try. She probably did this because she's not used to eating so much, but I did appreciate it. She had requested her burger to be well done, which is not my preferred way to have my burger, so I was not in love with the burger portion that I ate here. The patty was definitely well done, and not juicy. No fault of Sammy's on this one, since this is the way that Emily likes her burger. The fries were okay here, and they sure did give out a good amount of them.

Both Dennis and Jason were enticed by the special that was offered on this night, the Prime Rib Sandwich ($11). This sandwich was served on ciabatta, with what appeared to be shredded beef in a barbecue sauce and cheese. Not really what either one of them was picturing when they ordered this. Neither one was really excited by this sandwich, and Jason even though it was a little on the boring side. This was served with potato chips that must not have made too big of an impression, because they never even mentioned them.

Katie's mom Lynn was all about trying the Fish and Chips ($13) on this night. At Sammy's they use fresh Atlantic cod as the fried fish, and she left here pretty happy with her choice. She liked the lighter than usual breading, felt the fish lacked the greasiness that other fish and chips sometimes posses, and felt the serving size was just the right size for her smaller appetite. This fish came with the same fries that made their way out with the burgers, and a side of coleslaw, which was a little on the dry side. The tarter sauce served with this fish was very fresh, and made me think that it was made here.

I really had a tough time deciding what to have at Sammy's, and I finally settled on this Reuben Sandwich ($10) after everyone else had made their picks. This sandwich included pastrami, thousand island dressing, sauerkraut, and Swiss cheese, all on marbled rye. This was not a good version of this sandwich. The pastrami was not very good quality, and it was sliced too thick for even my tastes. The rest of the sandwich kind of got lost in the shuffle as well. The thousand island was spread a little too lightly, the cheese was barely noticeable, and the sauerkraut did not have its usual zing. The only part of this sandwich that did its job was the bread. It stayed firm, and kept everything together. This came with coleslaw as well, and it was again pretty tame, providing little to no excitement level. I'd skip this sandwich on future visits.

We were not really planning on getting dessert, but our waiter brought out these Funnel Cake Fries ($5) since he heard Katie and I would be getting married soon. These were just like your carnival style funnel cakes, but in stick form. They were served with a trio of sauces; chocolate, caramel, and raspberry. The best of these three was the raspberry, which when dipped, resembled one of the Hostess O's donuts that left supermarket shelves years ago. I liked these, but wished that the sticks were a little bigger, so they could hold more of the sauces.

The food at Sammy's is definitely not triple crown worthy, it's not even one leg of the triple crown worthy. The stuff we had on this night was mostly average. The appetizers and salads were pretty good, but the dinners we had failed down the stretch. Sammy's is a new restaurant, having been in business for only five months now, so it's not surprising that they still might be experiencing some growing pains. Their menu that is posted online is seriously out of date, with many things on it that are not even offered now. Maybe they will find their groove eventually with the entrees, but for now appetizers are the way to go here. The service we experienced on this night was very solid, but we were our waiters only table. He knew the menu pretty well, and answered all of our questions competently. I'd leave it as this, if you are a big fan of horse racing, want to bet on horse racing, or just don't want to drive to the nearest track, this is the place for you. If you're more into getting a great meal, don't bet on getting one at Sammy's.

Out of five bugles, (because they are the musical instrument that is used to start a horse race), five being best to zero being worst, Sammy's Original gets 2.5 bugles.

For more information about Sammy's Original, go to their website here:

Sammy's Original on Urbanspoon

Monday, June 23, 2014

Meeting Up With Old Friends at Zito's

Zito's Pizza
156 N. Glassell
Orange, CA 92866

I was thinking about something not food related for a change this week. Yes, sometimes my mind does wander, thinking about non-restaurant things, but only rarely. As we are planning our wedding, and getting our guest list in order, I realized that I am still in contact with a great many friends from high school, junior high, and even elementary school, (Go Fairmont!). My side of the guest list is dotted with people I would have probably lost touch with, if it was not for Facebook. Nowadays, people do not have to wait ten years to see their friends at awkward reunions, you just log on, and see what your friends had for dinner, where they went on vacation, and also who they are supporting in the next presidential election. I bring all this up because we were going out to dinner with a friend of mine from 5th grade, who messaged me on Facebook that he was going to be in town. He of course left the restaurant planning to me. Since he was going to have his kids with him, I thought pizza made sense. That brought us to Zito's Pizza in Orange.

Zito's is a mini chain of pizza places spread across the cities of Orange and Anaheim. They have five locations now, and also have a sit down restaurant in Tustin, in the Enderle Shopping Center. Zito's came about when owner, Steve Silverstein lamented the poor quality of pizzas available around OC. He vowed to make a better pizza than what was available, by offering a large pizza with over fifty pieces of pepperoni, a pound of cheese, and house made sauces. His business strategy must be working, as we arrived at their Downtown Orange spot, and observed a steady stream of customers picking up pizzas and eating them there.

This location of Zito's is set off of the street a bit, and right across the way from the Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory. They have plenty of seating here, with a lively patio out front, and plenty of seating inside the brick walled restaurant. Ordering is done at the counter, then the food is brought out to you. We grabbed a seat in the side room of this restaurant, which did get a little loud, with the cramped quarters and the blaring TVs showing what would eventually end up being the last game of the Stanley Cup Finals. The menu at Zito's is pretty much what you would expect, pizza, pastas, and sandwiches reign supreme here. After ordering, catching up with our old friends, and watching a little hockey, I was definitely ready for some food. Let's see how everything turned out for us on this trip to Zito's Pizza.

We had reached Zito's a few minutes ahead of Rob and Julie and took the liberty of ordering a couple appetizers, the first of which was one of Katie's favorite things to try in a pizza place, the Garlic Knots ($5.99). These knots are dusted with garlic butter and Parmesan cheese, and served with a side of marinara. A little on the smaller size, they were a little doughy inside, but had a decent crunch on the outer portion. They had just the right amount of garlic and Parmesan cheese included here. The marinara was fine, but I always like my garlic knots with ranch dressing. Katie liked these, but declared that they are still not as good as the ones at Oggi's.

As much as Katie loves garlic knots, I am as much a sucker for sausage rolls. The Stuffed Sausages ($6.99) at Zito's come two to an order, and the sausages and mozzarella cheese are encased in pizza dough, then baked and sprinkled with Parmesan cheese. The sausage was well made, the pizza dough was a great vessel for this appetizer, but there needed to be a little more mozzarella cheese included in this, and a little less dough for the size of the sausage. Still a strong starter though.

Both Julie and Katie wanted to start with salads. Katie selected the Large Caesar ($7.49). This wasn't crazy big, but enough for at least two people to share. The produce was fresh, there was plenty of Parmesan cheese and croutons on here, and I liked that they gave us two sides of dressing, because I like a little more dressing than the average person. Not a bad Caesar for sure. Julie had the Small Dinner Salad ($3.49) to start. This basic salad had greens, peppercinis, carrots, tomatoes, and mozzarella cheese in it, with packaged salad dressing on the side. It looked good from across the table, and Julie did not complain too much about it, but she would have probably had a hard time getting a word in with Rob there. Sorry big guy.

Rob and Julie's awesome son Ian is not the biggest fan of pizza, (weird that a kid would not like pizza), but he seemed very content with this child's portion of Spaghetti ($4.99). This was a very basic spaghetti, with just noodles and marinara sauce. He finished a good amount of this, which enabled us to get dessert later. Good job Ian. The menu said this comes with a cookie, but we saw no sign of the cookie anywhere.

All four of us adults got our own personal sized pizzas to try. Let's start with mine, the Zito's Meat Lover's ($8.49). I know, not shocking that this would be mine. It came topped with plenty of ham, bacon, Italian sausage, and pepperoni. I really liked that this pizza was covered with plenty of meat. The cheese was spread a little sporadically, and the sauce was a little lighter than I would have liked. The dough here is pretty good, but I did not eat a lot of the thick crust. I'm not much of a crust guy though. Good version of a meat lovers, and it did fill me up.

Katie likes a little more variety on her pizza, so she had the Zito's Special ($8.99). This pizza came topped with a plethora of toppings including; olives, bell peppers, sausage, pepperoni, ham, bacon, mushrooms, onion, and mozzarella cheese. She felt this pizza was flavorful and delicious. She liked the light and fluffy crust, and would definitely get this pizza again when we come here.

Rob really wanted to spice things up at Zito's, so he selected the Spicy Buffalo Chicken Pizza ($8.49). This chicken wing inspired pie was topped with garlic, cilantro, red onion, mozzarella, and chicken breast that is coated with a spicy buffalo sauce and blue cheese. Rob liked this pizza, but was not in love with it. He felt it had a decent amount of heat, but it did not overwhelm.

Our last pizza of the night belonged to Rob's lovely wife, Julie. She got Zito's Famous Alfredo Pizza ($8.49). This pizza uses Alfredo sauce instead of the usual red sauce. It also came topped with Italian sausage, onions, basil, and mozzarella cheese. From where I was sitting, this looked like the most balanced pizza of the night, and the one I would probably get on my next visit here. She finished only three of the slices, but Rob helped her out with the fourth one. What a caring guy.

The menu at Zito's claims, "this is the best pizza you will ever taste", and while that is not true for any of the four of us on this night, this is a pretty solid place to chow down on some pretty good pizzas. It kind of reminded me of the pizza parlors we would go to as a kid after my dad's softball games. Independent pizzerias that used plenty of toppings and cheese, and woke up my taste buds at an early age. I would not hesitate to come back to any of the Zito's location in the future. The service we experienced this night was pretty good, even though we had limited interaction with their employees. They were pretty quick about clearing tables though, which was nice since there was almost always a new customer to fill the empty seat. The prices were not exorbitantly high here, and you will leave here pretty full, even if you just have a personal pizza. Zito's was a really good place to catch up with our old friends Rob and Julie. Glad technology has helped us keep in touch.

Out of five frozen dinners, (because the name Zito comes from the Italian word Zitu, which means young bachelor, and bachelors practically live on frozen meals), five being best to zero being worst, Zito's Pizza gets 3 frozen meals.

For more information on Zito's Pizza, go to their website here:

Zito's Pizza on Urbanspoon

Friday, June 20, 2014

Checking Out Burger Parlor's New Location

Burger Parlor
204 North Harbor
Fullerton, CA 92832

I guess it's time to let the cat out of the bag, Katie and I have finally decided to take the plunge and get married next year.  So now my world is all about guest lists, color schemes, caterers, and venues. In fact, it is the wedding venue that has brought us up to Fullerton on a recent Saturday afternoon. The one place Katie has come back to again and again is a venue in Downtown Fullerton, right on Harbor Boulevard. So we grabbed my parents and went to check it out, but before we had to grab a bite to eat. I knew instantly where I wanted to go, Burger Parlor, which just happened to be within a block of the the venue.

If you are a keen reader of this blog, you probably already know that we have been to Burger Parlor before. That was back in 2011, when they were sharing restaurant space with Rialto Cafe, which is just around the corner from Burger Parlor's new digs. They have been in this new permanent spot for two years now, and we have finally made it back to see if the burgers are just as good as we remember.

Burger Parlor comes to us from Chef Joseph Mahon. For those of you that do not know his story, he is a classically trained chef, who graduated from the Culinary Institute of America, in Hyde Park, New York. While there, he worked at many big name, New York City restaurants. After graduating, he spent time working in France, then returned back to New York. He later found himself on the West Coast, where he took a job as Executive Chef at LA's infamous Bastide restaurant. Bastide is where his concept for Burger Parlor came from. They held Burger Mondays during his tenure there, and they were such a rousing success, that he knew he had to do something with the iconic burger. Lucky for all of OC, he opened his burger restaurant near where he grew up. I was very excited to see the new place.

This new place is definitely a lot bigger than his old spot at Rialto Cafe. We got here at just about 4:30 on a recent Saturday afternoon, and there was a steady stream of people wandering in from outside, even at this early dinner hour. The space is much more open, with high ceilings, fantastic brick walls, and a number of large, flat screen TVs, which were showing the Stanley Cup Finals on them. The speakers in the restaurant definitely worked, as the indie music was on a tad too high, but it helped drown out some of my corny jokes, so I'm sure my parents and Katie were appreciative of that. Ordering is done at the counter, then the food is brought out to you. Let's see if this would be as good as our first trip here.

We might as well start with the Bride to Be's burger, The Danish Blue ($8.95). Katie selected this burger which came with Danish blue cheese, grilled mushrooms, caramelized onions, oven roasted tomato, and arugula. Katie liked the contrasts of this burger. She got the tang from the blue cheese, the sweetness from the onion, and the great meaty flavor from the hormone free beef. This burger was definitely juicy, and the blue cheese was mild enough that it did not overpower this burger. She would definitely get this burger again.

My mom is definitely a burger purist, and that was on full display with her choice of burger on this night. The Parlor Burger ($7.95) is their basic version of a cheeseburger here. American cheese, lettuce, caramelized onion, roasted tomato, and secret sauce top this. Again, the patty was very juicy, there was just the right amount of secret sauce used here, and the bun was sturdy enough to stand up to the moistness of the meat. My mom was pretty pleased by this burger.

My dad got a little more adventurous with his burger, when he got the Kali ($9.99). This California inspired burger came topped with crushed avocado, smoked bacon, provolone cheese, peppers, onions, arugula, and a chipotle aioli. He really liked this burger, but felt there was not enough avocado on this. It did look good from across the table.

Man, I debated what burger to get here, longer than it takes some people to pick out what kind of car to buy. I finally settled on the Smoked Bacon Royal ($13.79). This burger appeared to be right up my alley. It starts with four pieces of bacon wrapped around the patty, then is topped with American cheese, caramelized onions, roughly chopped pickles, and bacon aioli. Just like when I ate the one pound 100 percent bacon burger at Slater's 50/50, this burger overwhelmed me. The first few bites were pure bacon bliss, but as I got further along, the bacon became too much. I'm not really a big fan of pickles, but I was happy there were some here, just to cancel out some of the bacon. If you are an extreme bacon fanatic, this is the burger for you. On my next visit here, I will be trying a different burger though.

We of course had to have some sides to go along with these burgers, so the first of our two sides were these Onion Rings ($3.95). Their menu states that these rings are hand dipped and beer battered to order, and the way they tasted, I have no reason to doubt them. These were some real good onion rings. The beer batter provided a nice, crunchy outer coating, that provided a great casing for the sweet onion inside. Not as greasy as I would have thought, these definitely are a must order when coming to Burger Parlor.

Also worth ordering when you are at Burger Parlor are these DTF Fries ($4.25). I will probably get stoned for this, but I'm not really a big fan of the animal fries at In N Out, (I'm also not really into their burgers either, but that a story for another day). These DTF fries are their version of animal fries, except that they are good. These fries are topped with secret sauce, cheese, and onions, like there In N Out counterparts, but then chili is also added to the mix here, making these almost irresistible. The chili was a very well made, meaty chili, with just a touch of spice. The fries for the most part all stayed crisp, until the last one was plucked from the bowl. You could tell that the fries were fresh, and not frozen. While everyone was eating the onion rings, I was stealing extra bites of these fries.

We had about twenty minutes until our appointment to see our potential wedding venue, so of course we had time to get dessert. My mom is a Chocolate Shake ($3.99) connoisseur, and she gave this one her seal of approval. The shake was nice and thick, and made with Thrifty brand ice cream, which is also used at Farrell's, so you know it's good. The chocolate was not overpowering, which made me think they made this with vanilla ice cream and chocolate syrup. Either way it was pretty good. I'm a big brownie sundae fan, so when I saw the Brownie Daze ($6.75) on the menu, I had to have it. Two scoops of vanilla ice cream, with hot fudge, caramel sauce, brownie bites, chocolate chips, whipped cream, and a cherry to top it off with made up this sundae. I was surprised that it was served in a plastic cup, but I suspect that there was some sort of mix up, because it took a real long time for us to receive our desserts. The sundae was still good, with a decent ratio of ice cream to other toppings, which is pretty important to me when eating ice cream desserts. A very good end to our time at Burger Parlor.

Even though my burger kind of overwhelmed me, I still enjoyed this trip to Burger Parlor. It's great to see how this place have evolved from such humble beginnings at Rialto Cafe. There are now 13 burgers to choose from, not counting specials that appear from time to time. They also have other sandwiches and salads for the non-burger eating public out there, (all six of you). I liked the vibe of this place as well. It had a cool vibe to it, without being too hipster. The service we experienced on this night was pretty good, even with the little snafu with the desserts taking ten minutes to come out to the table. The guy at the register was pretty knowledgeable about the menu, and the food runners made sure we had everything that we needed. I think the prices here are a little on the high side, but you are paying for the quality ingredients that they use to create these very good burgers. Glad we came here first before looking at the wedding venue, because it gave me an idea on where to eat before the big day coming next year.

Out of five red hats, (because the social organization, the Red Hat Society was started by a Fullerton resident), five being best to zero being worst, Burger Parlor gets 3.5 red hats.

For more information about Burger Parlor, go to their website here:

Burger Parlor on Urbanspoon