Thursday, November 6, 2014

Stefano's is Like Going Home Again

Stefano's Golden Baked Hams
18220 Yorba Linda Blvd. #307
Yorba Linda, CA 92886

Even though I only live about forty minutes away, give or take depending on traffic, coming back to Yorba Linda always feels like going home. I grew up in this North OC city. I lived here from the age of four, and stayed here for the next 18 years. My parents still live in the same house, my nieces go to the same schools I went to, and a lot of the same restaurants that piqued my interest in food are still in business.

Not yet in business when I lived in the, "land of gracious living", Stefano's Golden Hams has been around a long time too. They were established in 2003, and have stayed in their original location at the corner of Imperial and Yorba Linda Boulevard, which is the same shopping center as Chili's, 24 Hour Fitness, and the long departed Goodie Bag, (if you remember that place, you are definitely an old school YL resident).

Stefano's is truly a family business. It was started by Frank and Colleen Stefano, who now run the restaurant with their son Frankie and daughter Alana, both of whom we met on a recent Wednesday night. I tried to get Frankie to say that he does more work than his sister, but he wouldn't throw her under the bus, like I would to my sister. They both seem to be doing what they love, and it shows. Stefano's has a huge catering business, they sell their hams to other retailers, such as Bristol Farms, and on the restaurant side of things, they have exceeded their sales projection by 20 percent each year. It seems that the word has gotten out about Stefano's, and we were very excited to be invited here to see what has all of North OC so thrilled about this restaurant.

Stefano's is not only known for their hams, but they like to say that they did not invent the panini sandwich, but they perfected it. They currently have 14 panini sandwiches on their menu, along with salads, wraps, and hot and cold sandwiches. Stefano's recently also started a Dinner To Go offer on Tuesday and Thursday nights, where they prepare a family meal for four, which includes an entree and a salad. A very good idea for busy people that don't have the time or energy to make dinner for their family. All this talk about food was making us hungry, so we trusted Alana to bring us out some of her favorites. This is what came out to our table on this night.

We decided to forgo salads, so we could save some room for dessert. What a sacrifice we made. Since there were four of us, they brought out three different sandwiches cut in half for easy sharing. Or maybe they know that my Dad is not the best with sharing his food. Either way, let's take a look at each of these sandwiches up close.

With all due respect to my mom's meatloaf sandwiches, this Meatloaf Sandwich ($10.50) rocked it. A very tender and savory house made meatloaf is joined on rye bread with a chipotle mayo, crispy fried onions, provolone cheese, bacon, and pickles. This was a meatloaf sandwich with a tang to it. I really enjoyed all the textures and flavor layers going on here. The crunch of the fried onions, the slight sourness from the pickles, the unmistakable taste of bacon, and the softness and stability of the rye bread were all great contrasts, which did not distract from this meaty meatloaf. Well done Stefano's, making a classic your own.

When my dad sees pastrami on a menu, he always wants it to be sliced as thin as possible. Alana assured him that she slices her pastrami at a zero for the Rue-Bini ($9.25). He must believe her now, because he said this was one of the best Reuben's he has eaten. Besides the sliced pastrami, this sandwich was made up of Swiss cheese, sauerkraut, thousand island dressing, and red onion. I was not as enthusiastic about the thinly sliced pastrami. It was good quality pastrami, but I like it to be a little more whole, as this was almost ground up. I did like the rest of the sandwich. The crunch of the bread fresh from the panini maker, the tang of the sauerkraut, and the right amount of thousand island used here. This sandwich made my dad so happy, that he's not sure if he will stray away from it on future visits to Stefano's.

Just like my dad was enamored with the Rue-Bini, this Bostonian ($9.50) was the blue ribbon winner for the rest of us. If you want a panini with a little spice, that will linger for awhile, this is the one for you. Roasted turkey, roast beef, a jalapeno and garlic cream cheese, tomato, avocado, onion, pepper jack cheese, and pepperoncinis gave this panini a heat that was definitely present, but not, "smoke coming out your ears," excessive. I'm not usually one for cream cheese, but it kind of melted into the sandwich, and just added a slight creaminess. I've had their highly talked about Burg-Gini before, but this one might be better, and I loved that sandwich.

Dessert time at Stefano's, and on this night they brought out three of their rotating desserts. I'm not much of a cheesecake kind of guy, but the Eggnog Cheesecake was pretty solid. A slight tinge of eggnog flavor, this was a sturdy cheesecake, that had a lightness about it, while not being too chalky like other cheesecakes tend to be. Of course Stefano's has to have a Chocolate Chip Cannoli on their menu, and this one is right up there with the one I had in Boston. They have the cannoli shells made for them by an outside vendor, and then they are filled with the traditional sweetened ricotta cheese filling. There was a good crunch to the shell, and the cream inside was sweet, without the sourness that sometimes accompanies cannolis. The lone blight on this dessert tray for us was the Chess Pie. I had never heard of a chess pie before. It's a custard pie that utilizes cornmeal in it, and has a very mild flavor. It wasn't bad, but kind of bland. If I'm going to splurge on dessert, I want something that makes an impression. This pie was like me at every school dance I was ever at, almost invisible and sulking in the corner. Such a childhood I had.

It's going to get busy around the upcoming holidays, and if you feel too rushed or stressed out, Stefano's is a great respite for a quick dinner. Their wide array of sandwiches and salad options will keep you happy during this stressful time of the year. Of course if you are really pressed for time, Stefano's could help you out by just making your holiday meal. I've never had their holiday foods, but if they are anything like what we had on this night, your family won't be disappointed with their holiday meals. I'm glad that when I come back home, I can always stop in at Stefano's, and try one of their great paninis.

We would like to thank everyone at Stefano's for the invite to come try their sandwiches. We had a great time engaging with the staff, they all seemed extremely proud of this restaurant, and it genuinely seemed like they all were happy to be there. Also thanks to Alana and Frankie for taking time out of a busy Wednesday night to talk with us, explain their philosophy, and showcase their food. We really appreciated it.

If you would like to experience Stefano's for yourself, or would like more information about their food or catering options, head to their website here:

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