Thursday, August 28, 2014

New Location, Same Great Result at Break of Dawn

Break of Dawn Restaurant
24291 Avenida De La Carlota #P-4
Laguna Hills, CA 92653

Yes, we do hit up restaurants more than once. Even with a growing list of restaurants, we want to go to, we wanted to try Break of Dawn again. When we first hit up Break of Dawn, way back in 2009, it reaffirmed my love of doing this blog. I probably would not have even heard about this restaurant if it were not for the blogs that I read back then.

For those of you that do not know the story of Break of Dawn, here's a condensed version of the story. It was opened by Chef Dee Nguyen, in 2006 after a very successful stint as the Executive Sous Chef at the Ritz-Carlton Laguna Niguel. He left his lucrative career to be closer, and care for his special needs son. This restaurant just happens to be three miles from his home, and being the boss, he can set the hours of the restaurant to allow for the maximum amount of time to be with his son, Berlin. Break of Dawn is currently only open Wednesday through Sunday, and only from 8 till 2pm.

Just this year, they moved three doors down from where they had been for seven years. Still in the same shopping center, but now they are between Road Runner Sports and Chinese restaurant, Mandarin Terrace. We spotted the new location right away, with an assist from what I assume to be Dee's old time truck parked out in front. Not sure what kind of truck this is, but it had a 1939 license plate on it. I'm sure one of you will alert me to what kind of truck this is.

Anyways, the new spot is a lot more open than the old location. We showed up here at 11 on a recent Sunday morning, and there was a pretty good sized group of people waiting to be seated. We put our name down on the list and walked around the nearby stores. After about a half hour we were seated inside. They also have a nice sized patio in front of the restaurant. The inside space is dominated by a graffiti mural spelling out the name of the restaurant. The restaurant is airy, with lots of exposed light colored wood, and high ceilings. Even with it being so busy here, the restaurant seemed to be in control.

The menu at Break of Dawn could best be described as traditional breakfasts with a twist. Maybe more like brunch dishes, but like nothing you have seen before. There are egg dishes, french toast, and other breakfast favorites, but prepared with Chef Nguyen's special vision, which has brought a large number of people to this restaurant. Everything on this menu looked so good, I was debating over ten or so items. Let's see what we finally decided on for this visit.

We'll start with Katie's selection on this morning, the Sausage and Rice ($13). See, this is not anything you can get at your local Denny's. This plate was made up of some Hawaiian sausage, two fried eggs, rice, scallions, hijiki, and a green papaya smear. I had never heard of hijiki before, but after doing a little research it's a brown sea vegetable growing on the coastlines of Asia, and it's also been named one of the most healthy foods in the world. Katie loved this plate, calling it, "the best breakfast she has had in Orange County". She was surprised with the lightness of the sausage, the eggs were fried nicely, without being too greasy, and the rice was good and flavorful. Needless to say, she was very happy with this.

Man, I had a rough time deciding what to have at Break of Dawn. I had my choices narrowed down to ten items, but finally decided on the Mac and Cheese ($14). Yes, you read that right, this is the mac and cheese. The menu describes this dish as bacon fried eggs, with Sicilian sausage, short rib, and a Parmesan-tomato cream sauce served alongside this. I would better describe this breakfast as a mac and cheese omelet. With all of the meat included in this, I thought it was going to be heavy, but it was one of the lightest breakfasts I have had. The sauce kind of gave this an Italian feel to this dish, and the macaroni only added to that feeling. Very different, and after eating this it made me wonder why no one else has thought of a macaroni and cheese omelet.

Love creme brulee, but want to have it for breakfast? Then this French Toast Creme Brulee ($16) is for you. This french toast starts with a raisin brioche, then has Mexican chocolate, coconut, and a chocolate-soy caramel thrown in. Not as sweet as you might think, but oh so good. No need for syrup for this breakfast plate. Katie and I really were jockeying for bites of this near the end.

It's good to know that just because Break of Dawn has moved, the food and Dee Nguyen's vision has not changed. This is still as good as the first time we visited, and maybe even run a little smoother. I was not only impressed with everything that hit our table, but I had a front-row seat watching Dee oversee his kitchen. He was calling out orders, letting waiters know their food was up and talking to customers. For such a busy day, we made it in and out a lot faster than I would have expected. Sure the prices are a little on the high side for breakfast, but the quality that you are getting makes it worth it once in a while. Good to be back at Break of Dawn, now just looking forward to our next visit, which will happen a lot more frequently than once every five years.

Out of five bottles of dishwashing liquid, (because Dawn is the best selling dishwashing brand in the US, and I'd imagine they would have to use a lot of it to clean all the plates here), five being best to zero being worst, Break of Dawn gets 4 bottles of dishwashing liquid.

Break of Dawn does not have a website, but you can find out more info about them on their Yelp page here:

Break of Dawn Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Finally Making a Trip to Cypress

Joe Schmoe's
5123 Ball Road
Cypress, CA 90630

This visit to Joe Schmoe's killed two birds with one stone. One, it brings the number of OC cities that I have yet to visit on this blog to two, and it also rounds out my lineup for my wedding, as this is the restaurant where I asked my buddy Erven to be one of my groomsman. It's a pretty good feeling to accomplish two things at once.

Our long awaited visit to Cypress is way overdue. More a result of geography, than a lack of restaurants in this landlocked, western OC city. Cypress is filled with lots of Asian restaurants, most notably Cafe Hiro and Vietnamese banh mi powerhouse, Sandwich House, which is the highest rated restaurant on Yelp in the city. These were both in the running to be our first Cypress restaurant, but Erven has four kids, and we thought a trip to Joe Schmoe's would be a little more kid friendly.

Joe Schmoe's has been open for just over a year now. Owners Mike Richards and Nick Harris, both of whom have lots of restaurant experience in places where they had staffs of over 50 people, wanted to try their luck at opening a simpler venture, a classic hot dog stand. Like any good owners, they did a lot of research on hot dogs, including traveling all over North America for tips, inspiration, and cooking styles. They decided to steam their natural casing hot dogs, and then put them on the grill hoping to provide that lucrative snap that almost all hot dog eaters desire. They also fell in love with frozen custard and had to add this to their menu as well.

We met up with Erven and his family at 5pm on a recent Saturday. Joe's is located in a strip mall that has definitely seen better days. There's a Walgreen's here, but lots of empty storefronts also dot the landscape. Joe's is located closest to Ball Road, in an A-frame building that brings to mind the nostalgic style of Wienerschnitzel's and Tastee Freez's of long ago. Most of the seating is outside, on a covered patio with picnic benches, but there's bar seating along the windows inside. Joe's brought in a steady stream of hot dog eaters to this dilapidated shopping center. There was a constant stream of customers ordering off of the rather large menu. Erven's kids were getting restless, and I was pretty hungry, so let's see how our first visit to Cypress turned out for us.

I know I promised hot dogs, and we will get to them, but first up was this Pastrami Reuben ($6.95). this is one of three kinds of pastrami sandwiches that they have here, but this is my favorite way to eat pastrami. They steam their pastrami, pile it on rye bread with Russian dressing, Swiss cheese, pickles, and sauerkraut. The pickles were a little too much here, so I took them off. This was a very good version of this classic sandwich. The pastrami was above average, but we needed a little more of it. The rye had a good crunch to it, and there was just the right amount of dressing on here. For a place known for their hot dogs, they also make a pretty mean Reuben.

Erven and I split four things, so we could get a good handle on this place. I did not want you to think that I ate all of this by myself. The first hot dog we tried was the Chili Slaw Dog ($4.45). This came with mustard, coleslaw, and a spicy chili. This hot dog had a lot going on with it. Even with all of the toppings here, I definitely got the snap on my first bite. The chili kind of was a let down. It really lacked spice, and it only added moisture to this dog. The coleslaw was very fresh, and the mustard did not get in the way here. It was good, but might have had too much going on flavor wise.

The LA Street Dog ($4.75) was up next. This was a bacon wrapped all beef hot dog, with mustard, mayo, grilled onions and peppers, and fresh fried jalapenos. This was my favorite hot dog of the night. It was not overly saturated with mayo or mustard, which allowed the bacon wrapped hot dog to shine through. The onions and peppers were nicely done, and the bun, which was nothing spectacular, did an admirable job of holding everything in place. This hot dog would have been helped with more jalapenos though.

Katie got in on the hot dog scene at Joe Schmoe's, when she selected this Blue Cheese Slaw Dog ($3.75). One of the simpler dogs on the menu, this one only featured mustard and blue cheese coleslaw, and she substituted the beef hot dog for a turkey frank. Katie liked the way the mustard and the blue cheese played off of each other. There was a nice texture component to the coleslaw. For being one of the simpler dogs on the menu, she could not have been more pleased with her selection.

Probably the best thing I had at Joe Schmoe's on this visit was this Bacon Cheeseburger ($5.75). The burgers here are a quarter pound, made of ground chuck, and hand formed daily. The meat definitely had a freshness to it, and the bacon was nice and crisp. This came with a big hunk of tomato, more than enough lettuce, grilled onions, and Joe's dressing, which resembled thousand island. A very clean tasting burger, I would not hesitate to get this again.

Here's a quick look at what the kids ate, the Build Your Own Dog ($2.95). With this base model of a hot dog you get to choose between mustard, ketchup, relish, onions, or jalapenos. Of course the kids went with plain hot dogs, and true to form, some of the kids liked it, and others were more interested in the fries and tater tots. I liked the scoring on this hot dog, it made it look better than your average store bought hot dog.

Whenever we are up in this part of OC, I always remember fondly the chili fries I had at Volcano Burger in neighboring Los Alamitos. Those were some of the best ones I have had, and I had similar visions when ordering the Chili Cheese Fries ($4.25) at Joe's. Those hopes were dashed though, because although these looked so good, the chili kind of fell flat. I did have the option of ordering the spicy chili, but Katie was sharing with me, and she's kind of skittish about spice. The fires were pretty standard, and I liked that they were very generous with the cheese. Next time I'm trying the spicier chili.

I've probably written it on this blog before, and I'll probably write it again, but I wish more places would serve Tater Tots ($2.25). These ones at Joe's were pretty stellar. They had a good crunch to them, and inside the potato was tender. It also helped that these came out scalding hot.

Earlier in this review I had mentioned that the owners had fallen in love with frozen custard while they were going around the country getting ideas for this restaurant. So it was natural that we try some. They offer this custard in cones, sundaes, floats, shakes, and these concrete concoctions. The Concretes ($3.50) are offered with your choice of mix ins, or you can just choose their top flavors which is what we did. Both Katie and I split the Reese's Mixer. This had plenty of Reese's pieces in it, but the custard was really melty. I think that is my biggest complaint about frozen custard in general, it's never cold enough. I'd rather have ice cream any day. Erven's family split the Cookies and Cream Mixer, which they had no complaints about. I liked this a little better than our choice.

Joe Schmoe's was a pretty good introduction for us to the culinary scene of Cypress. There have been so many closures of these kinds of places in OC lately. Pee Wee's and Game Day Hot Dogs comes to mind, so any welcome addition to the hot dog market here is appreciated. Unfortunately, Joe Schmoe's is not as good as these departed hot dog restaurants, but they are definitely worth a visit if you are in the area. I would say I liked Joe's food, but was not in love with it. Joe's will always be a favorite for myself since it's the place where I asked my friend to be in my wedding, and it also brings us closer to our goal of eating in at least one restaurant in every OC city. La Palma and Seal Beach we are coming your way soon.

Out of five surfboards, (because the city of Cypress is where actor John Stamos grew up, and he has frequently played with the Beach Boys during their concerts), five being best to zero being worst, Joe Schmoe's gets three surfboards.

For more information about Joe Schmoe's, go to their website here:

Joe Schmoe's on Urbanspoon

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Lunch in Costa Mesa? Pie Not!

270 E. 17th Street
Costa Mesa, CA 92627

Yes, I'm probably the last food blogger to make their way to Pie-Not, the Australian style bakery in Costa Mesa. This is surprising because for awhile there, in my high school years, I was all about Australia. My love for all things "down under", was largely due to a crush I developed on Kylie Minogue. Probably not something I should really admit to in print, but I want to be honest with all of you two people that read this blog on a regular basis.

Pie-Not is part of the burgeoning food scene on 17th Street. For awhile now, it seems like anytime I hear of a cool, new restaurant opening, it takes place on this Costa Mesa Street. Pie-Not has been part of this scene for over a year now.  In that time they have won rave reviews for their gourmet Australian meat and vegetarian pies, along with some desserts from the, "Land of Oz".

This restaurant comes to us from the minds of Jai Snowden, formerly of Australia's Gold Coast, and Ryan Lopiccolo, who's from just down the road in Newport. They met, and formed a friendship over Australian meat pies, and wanted to share their love of this Australian staple with the people of OC. After two years of researching, perfecting, and many tastings, they felt ready to open their business, and it has been going strong ever since. When asked about expansion, Jai had a smirk across his face, but kept his insiders info to himself, only saying, "news will be coming out soon". Can't wait to hear what's next for this brand. For now though, I was recently invited to come in and try Pie-Not for the first time, and I was pretty excited to find out what this place is all about.

Pie-Not has small storefront that is located right next door to another foodie favorite, Sidecar Doughnuts, and just a few doors down from one of the cheesiest Mexican restaurants ever, Mi Casa. Entering the small space at Pie-Not, you are instantly drawn to the display case where all of their over twenty items are sitting behind glass, in the well lit case. No soda fountain at Pie-Not, but they have a fair variety of bottled beverages for you to choose from, including an Australian favorite, Bundaberg Ginger Beer. Also they are very proud to be the only place in the US grinding and pouring Bun Coffee, which is from Byron Bay Australia. I'm not much of a coffee drinker, but during my visit, I saw many people ordering coffee to go along with their pies. Lets get to the main reason I was here on this afternoon, the eating.

While we were waiting for my fellow food blogger to battle traffic down the 405 Freeway, I could not wait to dig into the food at Pie-Not. I started with the Daisy and Babe Sausage Roll ($4). This was not like any sausage roll I have ever had. It came with ground beef and pork, finely grated onion and carrots, extra sharp cheddar cheese, and back bacon, which is then rolled up in a puff pastry. I was expecting this to be over the top rich with all of these big flavors, but it was more subdued than I imagined. The carrots and onion are present, but not in hunks like you would expect. I got the smokiness from the bacon, but again, it was not in big pieces. The puff pastry was very light, and crispy, with lots of flakes flying off while biting into this. Eating this just whetted my appetite for more at Pie-Not.

Some of the menu at Pie-Not is geared towards breakfast, and only available earlier in the day. One of these items is this Wasps Nest ($3.50). Kind of like a scone, but not as dense, this was filled with sharp cheese, back bacon, diced onion, and parsley. Again, this was lighter than I was expecting. I'm not a fan of scones, but this one was not as heavy as others I have had. The bacon was evident, but did not overpower this pastry. I would imagine someone with an active lifestyle grabbing one of these before heading out to surf, not wanting something heavy weighing them down, but still substantial enough to curtail hunger until later in the day.

By now my fellow food blogger, Diane, from The Episodic Eater had made it to Pie-Not, so we ordered a lot of things to try. I wrote this just so you know I did not eat all of this by myself, although I probably could have since I was so hungry.

Probably my second favorite on this afternoon was this Pie-Not classic, the Sprung a Leek Chicken Pie ($6.50). This one came stuffed with tender white meat chicken breast, green leeks, white wine cream sauce, cayenne pepper, and tarragon. I think I liked this one because it reminded me of a dinner that my mom made for us growing up, called Chicken Squares. This version was equally as good. The spices woke up the taste buds, the chicken was tender, and the flaky crust was a great vessel for the filling. A must get for people that want to go the chicken route here.

One of the nice things about Pie-Not is that they always have something new for you to try, like their latest Chef Special, the Brekkie Pizza. This is a brand new item that just came about within a few days ago. This breakfast pizza uses puff pastry as a base, then is topped with a cheese custard, tomato, scallion, and bacon. This was probably my least favorite of this afternoon. I felt this one did not have enough substance behind it. I liked their items that were filled with things, more than this one where the toppings were exposed. A little too subtle for me flavor wise.

At the other end of the spectrum, my favorite item on this afternoon was this Drunken Cow Sirloin Steak Pie ($6.50). Not really a big surprise since most of you know that I'm a big fan of red meat. This pie was filled to capacity with hunks of steak, pearl onions, red wine, garlic, thyme, and marjoram. If I was not feeling full already, this definitely put me close to the edge. The steak was surprisingly tender, the thick gravy sauce did not overpower, and you could definitely detect the presence of the red wine in here. I could not see myself coming here, and not ordering this every time.

Anytime I hear that something is vegan, I automatically have a biased against it. I know it's not fair, but I think of it as a side item, and not a main course. Even with that being said, I can admit to liking this Ghandi Pastry ($4.50). This Indian inspired  item is loaded with chickpeas, potatoes, cauliflower, and butternut squash, almost the whole garden is in here. It was so flavorful, I almost converted to being a vegan, okay just kidding with that one, but it was a very good pastry.

The last of my savory items was the Hippie Roll ($4.00). This contained an unusual assortment of things, spinach, ricotta, walnuts, Swiss and Gruyere cheeses, and cayenne. Again another one without meat, but this one was a winner. I really am a big fan of spinach, and with this roll, the spinach was front and center. The cheeses did not overpower, and the walnuts added a nuttiness that you would not expect if you did not know there was walnuts in here. A very nice way to end our savory portion of our afternoon.

Desserts at Pie-Not are not to be missed. We started with what they say is a traditional Aussie dessert, the Lamington ($3.00). This kind of had a Hostess feel to me. It's a butter sponge cake rolled in chocolate icing, and then dusted with coconut flakes. The cake portion was a little denser than I had thought it would be, and the coconut flakes brought to mind the red raspberry coconut Zingers I had as a kid. I also liked the Australian flag perched on top of this dessert.

Sometimes a restaurant comes up with the perfect name for an item, a name that describes the item perfectly. This was the case with this Slice of Heaven ($3.00) at Pie-Not. The base of this is a shortbread crust, then it's layered with caramel and chocolate, then finished with a pinch of salt. A little rich, I liked everything about this dessert bar. It had a very good caramel, which went well with the chocolate, but the salt on top evened the sweetness out. Very tasty, and my favorite dessert here.

I'm always up for a cookie, and the last thing I tried at Pie-Not was this Australian staple, the Digger ($1.50). This cookie dates back to World War 1, and is made up of rolled oats, dessicated coconut, and a golden syrup. The story goes that while the men were fighting the war, the woman wanted an item that would not spoil in care packages, so this flourless cookie was born. I liked this cookie, it had a decent crunch to it, while the center was a little more chewy. If I had not known the coconut was in here, I never would have guessed it.

After eating at Pie-Not, it's apparent why so many people really love this place. I really liked the casualness of the restaurant, but even with the laid back atmosphere, the food did not suffer. This is some quality food that you are getting, for about the same money that you would be spending on a fast food combo meal. I kind of made a pig of myself here, but I wanted to try a little bit of everything. One savory pie and a dessert will definitely fill up most people. Be advised that there is very limited seating in front of the restaurant, maybe eight seats total, so you might want to get your food to go, unless you mind standing up to eat. I was very excited to finally try Pie-Not, with my only disappointment being that I did not run into Kylie Minogue on this visit. I guess there's always next time.

I would like to thank everyone at Pie-Not for allowing us to visit. We had a great time meeting both Jai and Ryan, along with General Manager Dave, who went over the entire menu with us prior to us ordering. He definitely knows his stuff. I would also like to thank my lovely dining companions at this lunch. Diane from The Episodic Eater, which is definitely a blog that you all should check out. Lastly, I would like to thank Rubina from Kitchen Table PR for putting together this fantastic visit. It was a pleasure meeting you Rubina, and we look forward to seeing you again real soon.

For more information about Pie-Not, go to their website here: