Tuesday, October 28, 2014

A Little Taste of the New World at Old World

7561 Center Ave. #53
Huntington Beach, CA 92647

One of my favorite times of the year is fall. As with most of us in Southern California, you are probably tired of the scorching weather we have had the last two months. I long for the crispness of autumn, but that's not the only reason I love this time of year. For me, fall means that hockey is back. Soon our nights will be full of driving up the 55 Freeway trying to make it to Honda Center before the puck drops at 7. This ritual always starts with us picking up our tickets from our good friend Steve. He lives in Rossmoor, so we always try to select a place in the middle of both of us. This time we chose to meet at Grinderz in Huntington Beach.

Grinderz is located in Old World Village, across the street from the Bella Terra shopping complex. Of course this time of year Old World is buzzing with activity, because Oktoberfest is in full effect. Grinderz is located on the outer edges of Old World, and is a great place to get a good base going when headed to Oktoberfest to indulge in some good German beers. Also for those of you that are averse to German food, Grinderz offers a great alternative to the brats, sauerkraut, and strudel.

We arrived here on the very first Sunday of Oktoberfest, which is a much more mellow time at Old World, than the drunken Friday and Saturday nights we have spent here. There's no air conditioning inside Grinderz, so if you are here on a sultry day like we were, be prepared to sweat a lot. As is our custom, we select our Ducks games first, and then eat. Much like the small dining area, the menu at Grinderz is not going to blow you away with its variety. They offer burgers, a chicken sandwich, and a couple of side items. There's also a couple beers on tap. The day we were here they had a couple of versions of Saint Archer's, a few Sam Adams varieties, and that all-American standard, Pabst Blue Ribbon. We were done sorting our tickets, so it was time to eat. Let's see what we thought of Grinderz.

We started things off with two sides, the first of which was this 50/50 Basket of Fries and Onion Rings ($4.00. This was a good sized portion for under five dollars. The fries here are advertised on the menu as being beer battered. they were pretty good, and came out nice and hot. The onion rings were okay. Dominated by the breading, the onion inside kind of got lost. Glad they sent this out with a side of ranch dressing.

Much more to all of our liking was this secret menu item, the Pig Sty ($6.50). This is not advertised at the restaurant, but you can find this on their menu online. It seems like everyone is doing a kind of version of In-N-Out's animal fries these days. This version at Grinderz was one of the best we have had. It starts with their fries, then they are topped with thousand island dressing, crumbled bacon, grilled onions, cheese and avocado slices. The fries stayed crispy, and everything worked really well here. The avocado was a new element, and added a nice creaminess, while helping to ease the saltiness. Again the portion size was more than enough for two or more people. Grab a friend and make sure to get this when you visit.

Both Katie and my dad got the same thing, so that helps to cut down on the writing. Thanks guys. They both opted to have the Cheeseburger ($4.25). The burgers here come with lettuce, red onion, tomato, pickles, and thousand island dressing. They also offer chipotle mayo for those that like a little spice. My dad did not say much about this burger, but Katie threw around words like, "classic", "fresh", and "a simple cheeseburger", to describe her love for this burger. She was plenty happy with her burger, and would get this again for sure.

I of course went big here, with their Double Cheeseburger with Bacon added ($6.75). This was a very solid burger. The beef was fresh, the bun absorbed all of the juiciness of the meat, while maintaining its integrity, and the produce used on this was pretty high quality. What kept this burger from reaching the next level was the lack of condiments on here. I could not detect the thousand island on this, and the bacon somehow got lost on this burger as well. Still a very good burger, and one that I look forward to having again in the future, but with thousand island on the side.

Except for the sweltering heat, Grinderz was a great place to meet up with our friend Steve, and pick our Ducks tickets. The burgers here are good and honest, and will make burger lovers happy. Their version of animal fries was one of the better ones we have had. This really is a no frills restaurant. Ordering is done at the counter, and you grab a seat in their sparsely decorated dining area. The guys and gals behind the counter were all very friendly, and answered all of our questions we had. Glad we picked this restaurant for one of our favorite times of the year. Now we just wish the weather would become more fall-like.

Out of five skateboards, (because this restaurant is located next to a Vans skate park, and Grinderz definitely has a skateboarding vibe to it), five being best to zero being worst, Grinderz gets 3.5 skateboards.

For more information about Grinderz, go to their website here: http://www.grinderzhb.com/

Grinderz on Urbanspoon

Sunday, October 19, 2014

A Sweet Opening at SOCO

Susie Cakes
3321 Hyland Ave.
Costa Mesa, CA 92626

I should really head over to South Coast Collection way more than I do. It seems like every two weeks they are opening a new foodie destination that I add to my every growing list of restaurants to hit up. Right now languishing on my, "must go to" list is Taco Maria, Shuck Oyster Bar, Arc, and the Iron Press. We will definitely hit these places up soon.

I was bummed to hear that one of the places we have actually been to at SOCO is no more. We liked Christopher Garren's Bakery when we were here early last year, but they shuttered their storefront on December 31st. I had wondered what happened to their old space, and had heard that a new bakery was opening up shop there, Susie Cakes.

Susie Cakes recently opened up their second OC location, with more in the work for sure. We heard about a Laguna Niguel spot, but did not get a date or an exact location, so keep an eye out for that. Susie Cakes has numerous Northern California outposts, and have begun a conquest of Southern California recently.

Susie Cakes comes to us from Susan Sarich, who grew up in Chicago, where she came home from school everyday to her grandmothers baked treats. It is these handwritten recipes which accompanied Susan to the West Coast, where she wanted to share all these fantastic baked goods with all of us. Their philosophy at Susie Cakes is that they don't bake with anything they can't spell. They don't use mixes, artificial preservatives, or high fructose corn syrups. This scratch bakery also uses only the highest quality ingredients they can find.

We arrived at the Susie Cakes Bakery during their grand opening celebration. There was definitely a carnival atmosphere going on here. Face painting, pictures in a classic Ford Mustang, and of course, sweets. The bakery was packed with people getting a large assortment of baked goods. My favorite feature of the space is the open kitchen, which allows you to see that this really is a scratch bakery. I could have sat there and watched the workers bake all day, but we had some big decisions to make at the bustling counter.

As you can see from the pictures, I was a little trigger happy with my camera, as all the baked goods were pretty photogenic. Behind the case at Susie Cakes were plenty of varieties of cookies, cakes, pies, bars, and their famous cupcakes. This was going to be tough to just pick a few things to come home with. After much consideration we made our selections, and were on our way home to enjoy our haul.

I can usually judge a bakery by what kind of cookies they make, and after eating this Chocolate Chip Cookie ($2), I had a pretty good feeling about Susie Cakes. I'm always partial to cookies that are crunchy on the outside, and softer in the middle. This cookie had passed that test, and I liked that there were plenty of chocolate chips in this cookie as well. Probably one of the most homemade tasting cookies I have had from a bakery. Really tasty.

I had read on Yelp that Susie Cakes is known for their 7 Layer Bars ($3), so that was a definite must try on this afternoon. I'm a big fan of Eagle Brand's Magic Bar recipe, and these were just as good. A mixture of butterscotch, coconut, chocolate chips, nuts, and who knows what else, combined to make these just as good as any Magic Bar I have had.

Carrot Cake ($6.25) is one of the most polarizing desserts out there, but you can count me as being one of its biggest fans. This version at Susie Cakes was good, but not the best I have had. Their frosting is what made this cake for me. Not overly big on the cream cheese, this was more of a sweeter icing than most carrot cakes use normally. The cake portion of this is where I have to dock points. It was moist, but I expected a little more cinnamon used here, and there were some big hunks of nuts in the batter. I also would have liked a little more icing used in between the layers. Still a good slice of cake though.

The last thing we tried on this afternoon was this Apple Cider Cupcake ($3.25). This seasonal cupcake came highly recommended from our guy behind the counter, and he was not just blowing smoke. It had a very good apple flavor to it, the cake portion was moist, but the best part for me was the icing again. With just the right amount of sweetness, it pushed this cupcake to another level. Really tasty, and much better than a lot of the specialty cupcakes I have had.

I was really sad to hear of Christopher Garren's closing, but I'm more than happy that Susie Cakes has taken over their spot. Everything really did taste homemade here, and I am surprised that it was as affordable as it is. You can definitely add Susie Cakes to the many reasons to come to SOCO. We can't wait to come back.

Out of five typewriters, (because whenever I hear the name Susie, I think of the TV series Private Secretary, with Ann Sothern, who played a character named Susie), five being best to zero being worst, Susie Cakes gets 3 typewriters.

For more information about Susie Cakes, go to their website here: https://www.susiecakes.com/

Susiecakes on Urbanspoon

Monday, October 6, 2014

Hitting the Brick(s) in San Clemente

216 N. El Camino Real
San Clemente, CA 92672

This must be what if feels like to cheat on someone. It's probably not shocking to you, but since it was hard for me to even get one girl, let alone two, I have never cheated, until now. To make matters worse, I cheated right in front of the other, restaurant.

There it was, one of our favorite restaurants, right across the street. We love Vine Restaurant, but I had heard some good stuff about Brick. We had our friends Sabrina and Anthony over, and usually we would want to show off one of our favorite places, but for some reason I made online reservations at Brick. Part of the reason for this is that I have already written about Vine twice, and I did want to share a new experience with you readers. So please forgive me Vine, we will be back, but for now we hurried into Brick before Russ and the boys at Vine could see us.

Brick has been open for over two years now. Owner and Executive Chef David Pratt is no stranger to OC restaurants. He was General Manager at Studio at the Montage Resort in Laguna, and before that he was the chef and owner at Mirabeau French Bistro in Dana Point. With Brick, he is serving up what they call, "rustic Italian cuisine," made with hand-picked produce from farmer's markets. Chef Pratt also gets one or two pigs a week, butchers them up, using everything from the snout to the tail, for sausages, meatballs, sauces, and daily specials. I was very excited to see what Brick had in store for us.

We arrived to this very busy area of San Clemente at about 6pm on a Saturday night. Parking is always a challenge, but we didn't mind the short walk. We were sat at the very front of the restaurant, near the bar. Predictably, the walls are brick, with lots of dark woods throughout the very comfortable dining room. I'd describe the dining space as, "beach comfortable," with high tops, and a few communal tables scattered about. Since this is near the beach, there's no air conditioning, so if you are here on a warm day like us, be prepared for it being a little balmy inside. I was pretty excited to eat, and of course once the food hits the table, it limits the amount of words that we have to hear our good friend Sabrina speak, so let's enjoy the silence and see what we thought of the cuisines at Brick.

There were not a ton of options as far as starters go at Brick, but the four of us wanted to try their Pizza Bread Antipasta ($12). I thought this was a little misnamed on the menu. It should have been called, "do it yourself pizza bread." This came with sliced pizza dough, some prosciutto, burrata, and marinara sauce. I liked this, but was not in love with it. Splitting this between four people was tough because you want to make sure you split everything evenly, and that was hard to do with this appetizer. The components of this were definitely fresh, but not nearly enough burrata or prosciutto for the four of us. We would probably skip this on our next visit here if we had more than two people splitting this.

We must have been in a sharing mood, because the four of us also split a Family Sized Caesar Salad ($16). I'm always a little leery when splitting a family sized salad, but this was more than enough for the four of us. This Caesar had all of the usual suspects included; fresh romaine lettuce, a generous amount of parmesan cheese, croutons, and a liberal amount of a very mild tasting Caesar dressing. They also added some little cherry tomatoes to this salad. We all felt this salad was pretty good, and the farmers market fresh produce was definitely in full effect with this.

I have had some really good luck with pork chops recently, and this held true at Brick as well. In fact this could be one of the best I have had. When I heard that Chef Pratt gets a whole pig each week, and makes specials out of it, I hoped that they would not be out of them when I came to eat here. Lucky for me, they still had this limited availability item. These House Butchered Pork Chops ($20) come three to an order, and are served above a casserole of cannellini beans, kale, and pork belly, then it's topped with a lemon-calabrian chile arugula salad. I liked this dish so much, I didn't even mind that it had kale and arugula in it. The pork chops were a little on the small side, but there were three of them, and more than enough meat on them. They were tender, and went well with the delicious cannellini bean casserole. This is a very hearty dish, that all four of us enjoyed, but probably none more than myself.

The entree portion of the menu at Brick is divided into pizzas, pastas, and plates. I always enjoy a little nice alliteration. Katie selected the Orecchiette ($16) from the pasta section of the menu. Along with the freshly made orecchiette, this plate featured house made sausage, broccoli, mushrooms, and pecorino cheese. Katie really enjoyed this earthy dish. The mushrooms were plentiful, the sausage had a great flavor, and it had just the right amount of cheese on it. Katie would totally get this again when coming back here.

Our good friend Anthony was feeling like a pizza on this night, and he selected the one I would have tried, if I did not order my fantastic pork chops. The Carne ($17) predictably has a lot of meat on it. Pancetta, salami, sausage, and bresaola, which I learned is an air dried, salted beef, are all included here. The pizza is cooked in their 750 degree Valoriani pizza oven, and the edges did get a little charred, which some people think just adds some character to the pizza. Anthony felt this was a good sized pizza, with a crunchy crust, which he really enjoyed.

The only miss of the night as far as our entrees were concerned was Sabrina's pick, the Khorasan Wheat Pici ($16). To be honest with you, I have no idea what was in this, but we all agreed this was not very good. Of course I am not a fan of whole wheat pasta, so take my opinion for what you will. There appeared to be tomatoes, olives, and artichokes in this. The pasta was much too thick, and had a weird texture to it.

Even though we ended on a low note with Sabrina's dish, we all really enjoyed our time at Brick. The pork chop I had was more than worth the trip from anywhere in OC. The menu is not going to blow you away with its variety, but from our experience here, almost everything is worth trying. We had the bartender as our server, and he was pretty solid service wise. It's usually hit or miss when you have a bartender as your server, but he kept checking on us, and even the food runners were very attentive. We still love Vine, but now we have another great option down in San Clemente.

Out of five devils, (because hockey season is upon us, and the New Jersey Devils play in Newark, which is nicknamed, Brick City), five being best to zero being worst, Brick gets 3.5 devils.

For more information about Brick, go to their website here: http://www.brickpizzeria.com/home.php
Brick Pizzeria on Urbanspoon