Thursday, January 22, 2015

Getting the Lead Out to Get Some Great BBQ

Leadbelly's Barbecue
711 North Placentia Ave. 
Fullerton, CA 92831

There are some genres of food that will always elicit a response from all of you readers. Pizza seems to be a hot topic, and I can always count on a boatload of comments when I write about burgers. Both of these seem to pale in comparison to the responses I get when I review a barbecue place though.

It might be because there are so many genres of barbecue, which gets people sticking up for their favorites. There's the Texas variety, Carolina, with their vinegar based sauces are also well represented, and no one can deny the allure of Kansas City barbecue. I think the real reason I get lots of response from barbecue posts is that good barbecue restaurants in Southern California are few and far between. Let's see if Leadbelly's could help cure our lack of good barbecue restaurants.

Leadbelly's is housed in the former Shortstop BBQ spot that we visited two years ago. Not sure what happened to them, as we really liked their stuff, but Leadbelly's took over about 15 months ago, and they have received some glowing reviews on the blogs that I read, and of course Yelp. If you are driving down Placentia Avenue, they are situated in the back of the shopping center that houses Pepe's and Jack In The Box.

We were meeting my parents here at 11am on a recent Sunday morning. Even at this early lunch hour, their 12 or so tables were filled at one time or another during our stay. The dining area is a little on the small side, but very comfortable. Four TVs showing sports, lots of woods, and some whimsical signs are part of the decor here. I imagine that it might become a little cramped during busier times of the day, so be advised. Ordering is done at your table, and the menu, while not overly huge, has everything you would expect a barbecue restaurant to have on it. I was pretty geared up to give this place a try, so let's see what we ended up ordering.

I had heard good things about the Loaded Pork Garlic Fries ($12), and I'm happy to report that all the hype about these was well deserved. This mound of fries was topped with pulled pork, bacon, Parmesan cheese, pork belly, pepper jack cheese, and chives, then served with a white gravy for dipping. This lived up to my mantra, if it has pork belly in it, it has to be good. This was really tasty. The four of us had no problem polishing this off. The meats on this were so good, that I knew we were in for a treat when our entrees would make it out of the kitchen. The fries surprisingly stayed crisp, even under this mound of humanity piled on top of them. The cheeses were good, and did not get in the way of the meats. I thought the gravy was the weakest parts of this dish, but it was still so good. You definitely need to try this when coming to Leadbelly's.

Besides death and taxes, there's one other thing I'm sure of, if my mom's eating in a barbecue restaurant, she's definitely ordering a Pulled Pork Sandwich ($11). As you can see from this picture, they put a lot of meat on the sandwiches here. The smoked pulled pork was moist and tender, and easy on the smokiness, which I like. I like the natural flavor of the meat to be prevalent, not just smokiness. The sandwich usually comes with coleslaw on it, but my mom wanted it without. The brioche bun did a good job of keeping everything together, even after she added some barbecue sauce to it. The fries were decent, but much better when they had things piled on top of them, like our appetizer, which I can not stop thinking about. My mom left here with half of this sandwich for my dad's lunch the next day.

My dad selected the Smoked Tri-Tip Sandwich ($12.49) for his meal. Again, this had plenty of tri-tip on it, and the meat was moist and flavorful. My dad noticed the smokiness a lot more with the tri-tip, than the pulled pork. Joining the meat in between the very well made brioche bun was some pepper jack cheese, peppers, onions, and a spicy mustard. I was afraid all these flavors would clash, but my dad claims that was not the case. One of the best tri-tip sandwiches he has had. He decided to go for another side, besides the french fries that come with the sandwich, so he opted for the Corn on the Cob for an extra dollar. The corn here is served more like an elote, but my dad wanted this stuff on the side. It came with plenty of chili powder, a house dressing, and with what appeared to be cotija cheese. He did not use a lot of this, but liked it well enough. He'd probably get a different side item on his next visit to Leadbelly's.

Katie got the same Tri-Tip Sandwich as my dad, but she added a fried egg to this for a dollar more. This made the sandwich richer, and kept her satisfied all day long. She even skipped dinner on this night. The fried egg was done perfectly, so the yolk spilled out, and coated a lot of the tri-tip. She also upgraded her side item to try the Jalapeno Mac and Cheese. This was a good version of this dish. The jalapeno did not overpower, but hung out in the back ground, the bacon provided a nice smokiness that went well with the creamy cheese. A very solid side item.

As is my custom when eating most places, if a combo plate is offered, I'm going to try it. I had the Three Meats Combo Plate ($19) on this afternoon. I selected the Tri-Tip, the Spicy Pork Sausage, and the Burnt Ends. The best were the burnt ends. If these are available when you are here, get them. For those of you that don't know what these are, they are cut from the point part of the brisket, and these cubes are packed with flavor. Probably one of the best pieces of barbecue I have ever had in my mouth. Yes, they were that good. The tri-tip was good as well. Moist, and it had a small ribbon of fat running through it, which provided even more flavor. Not overly smoky, the natural flavor of the meat came through. The spicy sausage with peppers and onions were good, but not great. A good meatiness to the sausage, but I expected a little more heat here. I'd probably try the pork belly or pulled pork on my next visit. For my two sides I had the BBQ Baked Beans and Creamed Corn. The beans were the better of the two, they had little bits of meat in here, and a very good sauce coating the beans. The corn, which you can see on the plate above was very soupy, and missed the mark on the sweetness that I was expecting. Definitely not like Gulliver's creamed corn.

I was pretty excited about our time at Leadbelly's. Even after this one visit, Leadbelly's has moved up to one of my favorite barbecue places in OC. That appetizer, and their burnt ends were more than enough to make me come back here again soon. The other items we had on this afternoon were pretty good as well, and none of us really disliked anything that we had on this visit. I've read some people grumbling about the barbecue sauce that they have here. They have a house sauce and a spicy version, both of which were good, but with meats this fantastic, you probably will only use it sparingly. The service that we had on this afternoon was pretty solid, and our waiter answered all of our questions and took great care of us. I'm really looking forward to hearing how all of you like this place as well, so don't hesitate to comment or send an email. Also, if you have a barbecue place you think we should hit up, let us know.

Out of five 12 string guitars, (because that was instrument of choice for blues legend, Huddie "Leadbelly" Ledbetter), five being best to zero being worst, Leadbelly's Barbecue gets 4 twelve string guitars.

For more information about Leadbelly's Barbecue, go to their Facebook page here:

Leadbelly's Barbecue on Urbanspoon

Monday, January 19, 2015

Cousin Conclave at Craftsman Pizza

Craftsman Wood Fired Pizza
148 Yorba Linda Blvd. 
Placentia, CA 92870

The holidays are a time for families to get together. I'm pretty lucky, almost all of my family lives in OC, and the rest live in the surrounding counties. So it's not rare that we all see each other throughout the year. The one exception to this is my cousin DJ. He moved to Chile last year, and loves it. He's really done well down there, and I'm pretty proud of him. Going to Chile with no real plan, and ending up owning and operating a hot sauce company that he's grown from the ground up. I was excited to catch up with him, and hear about all his adventures, so we headed out to dinner by where he was staying, and ended up at Craftsman Wood Fired Pizza.

Craftsman is located in Placentia, in the same shopping center as Marie Callender's. Open just over a year, they were named best pizza in Orange County by OC Weekly. Such high praise for a new restaurant, I immediately put them on our list of places to try.

Owned by a third generation restaurateur, Joe Rasic, has brought his experience to his own place. The restaurat was busy with activity on the Friday night we were here to grab a quick bite. Usually these wood fired pizza places are kind of on the stuffy side, but this one kind of had the feel of the old family pizza joints from back in the day. You know the ones that your coach would bring you to after a Little League game, and you would run amuck, begging your parents for quarters all night long. No video games that I saw here, but I was totally focused on the food.

The menu here is of course pizza driven. There are 12 pizzas to choose from, but if you prefer there is also the build your own option. Not in the mood for pizza? There's a few sandwiches offered, and some salads. Another focus at Craftsman is the rather large beer selection. Craft beer rules here, and the selection of large bottles and draft selections was a little overwhelming for me, since I'm not really well versed in craft beers. I basically just picked one at random, and went with it. Our waitress was was pretty knowledgeable about the beers, and when she couldn't answer our questions, she found someone that could. I was way more excited about the pizzas, so let's see if we think this is the best pizza in OC.

We started our meal with these Beer Battered Zucchini ($8). These were a little overcooked, and being that they were beer battered, I thought the outer coating would have been a little lighter, and more flavorful. These fried zucchini were rather boring, and really did not leave a lasting impression on us. The ranch dressing was good though. Nice and thick.

The menu at Craftsman says that their 10 inch pizzas serve 1 to 2 comfortably, and that is definitely the case. The three of us each got one of their specialty pizzas, starting with Katie's selection, the Grilled Steak and Potato ($9). This pizza came topped with sliced potato, tri-tip steak, Gouda, caramelized onions, olive oil, and chimichurri. Katie liked this comforting pizza. The tri-tip was tender, and the chimichurri was a nice alternative to regular pizza sauce. A perfect pizza for meat and potato lovers.

My favorite pizza of the night unfortunately did not come to the table for me. This was DJ's choice, the Meatball and Grilled Peppers Pizza ($9). This pizza came with sliced meatballs, which they get from an outside vendor, a trio of roasted peppers, mozzarella cheese, and marinara sauce. The key for me with this pizza was that there was plenty of cheese on it. The meatballs were pretty solid, and the marinara seemed to pop on this pizza. I tried to sneak an extra piece of this, but DJ was having no part of that.

My pizza was so much like DJ's that I thought for sure I would like it just as much. I had the Principal Pizza ($9), which had sausage, garlic, red onions, and jalapenos. I expected this one to throw flavor in my face, but it kind of fell flat. I think it might have been the jalapenos that were the culprit. They provided no spice, and added little in the way of flavor. The cheese and sausage kind of got lost here as well, and the garlic did not even make an appearance. I'd probably try another pizza on any future visits to Craftsman.

Before he left for Chile, DJ asked me to find him the best meatball sandwich in OC. I kind of have been lax on this quest, so I ordered this Meatball and Provolone Sandwich ($10) to show him I was still on the case. This was a pretty good meatball sandwich. It was served on rosemary bread, and came with the same meatballs that were on the pizza, a marinara sauce, grilled onions, and provolone cheese. I would have liked the meatballs to be served whole on this, and maybe a little more cheese, but still a pretty solid sandwich. Not sure who does their bread, but this stood up well, and I liked the hint of rosemary. Still on my quest for a great meatball sandwich.

Without a doubt, the most disappointing part of our meal was dessert. We had ordered this Chocolate Chip Brownie Sundae ($5), which came out totally burnt. We ate it anyways because it still looked good, but there were definitely parts of this brownie that were on the charcoaled side. We liked the ice cream, but the hot fudge could have been a little thicker.

We had a good visit and a good meal with my cousin DJ on this night. Is this the best pizza in OC? In my opinion it is not. It was good, but not great. I like pizzas covered in cheese and toppings, and these were a little light in both of those areas. I did like the fact that this is not a Chipotle style pizza place, which seems to have taken over the entire world. Blaze, Pieology, Mod Pizza, Pizza Rev, and others are decent, but I miss the days of pizza parlors, which Craftsman is a nod towards. We would come back here for sure. Our waitress, Jasmyn was very personable, and explained everything to us very well. I thought the prices were more than fair, and there are other pizzas I'd like to try. A great place to catch up with my world traveler cousin.

Out of five blackboards, (because the owner of this restaurants wife is a Placentia school teacher for over 22 years, and I am a proud graduate of the Placentia-Yorba Linda Unified School District), five being best to zero being worst, Craftsman Wood Fired Pizza gets 3 blackboards.

For more information about Craftsman Wood Fired Pizza, go to their website here:

Craftsman Woodfired Pizza on Urbanspoon

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Ending the Year at Del Frisco's Grill

Del Frisco's Grille
772 Spectrum Center Dr. 
Irvine, CA 92618

I'm a big fan of New Years Day. I know it's a new beginning and all that stuff, but that's not why I like the first day of the year. I love New Years because it signals the end of the holiday season. I work a retail job, and the holidays bring in people that never shop for food. It's like they have never been to a supermarket all throughout the year. They forget how to read price tags, they sit there for hours choosing what kind of butter to buy, and customers stress out like they have never made this holiday dinner before, even though these recipes have been passed down from generation to generation. Yes, the holidays are not my favorite times.

So when New Years Eve rolls around, I like to celebrate that I made it through another holiday season with a great dinner.  Usually it's just me and Katie, but this year her parents joined us at the Irvine Spectrum. If you haven't been to the Spectrum lately, you might be surprised to see how many new restaurants were added to this shopping center. There's the new grilled cheese spot, The Melt, a brick and mortar version of the Lime Truck, which is shortened to TLT Food, Umami Burger now has a spot near the recently relocated Improv, and there's also a new Italian restaurant, Brio Tuscan Grille, which is right next to our dining destination on this evening, Del Frisco's Grill.

Del Frisco's Grille, or as the cool kids call it, DFG, comes to us from the same restaurant group that runs Del Frisco's Double Eagle Steakhouse, which has it's closest location to OC in Las Vegas. I haven't been there, but it's definitely on our list. Del Frisco's Grille describes itself on their website as a modern take on the bar and grill concept, but taken to the next level. We were excited to experience this firsthand on one of my favorite nights of the year.

I had made reservations a few days prior to New Years Eve, but the restaurant had plenty of tables available when we arrived at 7pm. As the night went on, the restaurant did fill up, but I'm sure walk-ins were still welcomed. I really enjoyed the atmosphere of DFG. It felt to me like an upscale, Vegas coffee shop. The restaurant had a wonderful wall of wine display as you enter the restaurant, and there's plenty of dining area in this 8,000 square foot space. The dinner menu has enough diversity to satisfy most diners. Let's see if we would leave DFG satisfied or not.

DFG came across our radar when we visited the Newport Beach Wine and Food Festival, where they were sampling these Ahi Tacos ($17.50). Katie's been thinking of these since that September day. These mini tuna tacos come with fresh avocado and a spicy citrus mayo. I liked these a little better when we had them the first time. Still they were good, but the tuna seemed a little fresher back in September. Katie still was enamored with these. She likes the citrus flavor of the mayo, and the contrast between the creaminess of the avocado and the slight spiciness of the mayo. I liked the crunch of the sturdy taco shells here.

One of the most talked about appetizers at DFG are these Cheesesteak Eggrolls ($13). These seemed misnamed to me. I did not really get a cheesesteak kind of feel from these. Don't get me wrong, they were pretty good though. They came topped with a honey mustard sauce, and placed on top of a sweet and spicy chili sauce, two sauces that do not bring to mind cheesesteaks. They came out piping hot, and I would have liked to have had the chili sauce in a ramekin for easier dipping. I may forgo these for the crab cake on my next visit to DFG.

Katie's dad Dennis was not feeling either of the two appetizers that we had, so he ordered this Corn Chowder ($7.50). Joining the corn chowder in the cup was some bacon crumbles, crab meat, and a small potato chip for texture. The bite I had of this seemed pretty sweet, but Dennis thought the inclusion of the crab kind of put the sweetness in check. He's a soup connoisseur, and he gave this corn chowder his seal of approval.

Our entrees started making their way out to us, and the first one to hit the table was Katie's selection, the DFG Chicken Alfredo ($18). I did not get a chance to try this, but it looked real good from across the table. Pappardelle pasta is used here, along with sauteed spinach, and a very good Parmesan garlic cream sauce. Katie also added chicken to this dish to round it out. She was pretty happy with this, exclaiming that she will probably get this on future visits here.

Dennis was taken by surprise by his dinner on this evening, when this Prime Beef Short Rib Stroganoff ($29) was placed in front of him. This is not your mothers stroganoff. DFG is known for their meats, and this short rib came out perfectly, but Dennis was expecting it to be in pieces, not all in one hunk. Nevertheless, it was tender, and had a pot roast quality to it. I liked that it went easy on the sour cream sauce, and the onion strings added a nice texture component. A much better version of a classic dish that we all grew up with.

Lynn kind of threw me for a loop by ordering this Wild Mushroom Flatbread ($15). Kind of out of character for her, but she seemed to really enjoy this. This flatbread came topped with Fontina cheese, caramelized onions, baby arugula, and of course mushrooms. This was a pretty good sized flatbread just for Lynn, so I got to try it as well. There was not an abundance of toppings here, but just the right amount. The crust had a good chew to it, the mushrooms provided an earthiness, and the cheese, while not added with a heavy hand, melded well in the background. This even had me, a meat fanatic, thinking this flatbread was pretty solid.

It was special night, so I decided to have the Veal Meatloaf ($19). This meatloaf had a little spice to it. The veal was of course very tender, but the Bordelaise sauce kind of overpowered it. Still a really good dish, which was rounded out by mashed potatoes, and a couple of wild mushrooms. A very nice meal to end the year with.

By this time of night we were getting pretty full, and I knew we would probably not make it to see 2015 come in at midnight, so we decided to indulge one last time by splitting a dessert. The Coconut Cream Pie ($10.50) came highly recommended from our waiter, so we got one to share. This light coconut cream pie was topped with curls of white chocolate. I liked this lighter than expected dessert. It was not overly sweet, the cream did not punch you in the face with coconut, and the graham cracker crust  held thing together well. Maybe a little too much white chocolate on this, but you can never complain about too much chocolate.

All in all, Del Frisco's Grill was a good way to end our 2014 culinary journey. No, it's not the best restaurant that we ate at all year, but it was solidly good. I look forward to coming back again and trying one of their steaks, or maybe their burger, which has gotten some very good press. The service we experienced on this night could not have been better. Our waiter, (sorry I forgot your name), was right on top of everything, without being intrusive. Everyone we encountered on this night really seemed like they wanted to be here to ensure that their guests had a great experience, which is a minor feat on a party night like this. Glad I could spend the last meal of the year with some of my favorite people. Now bring on 2015.

Out of five footballs, (because DFG's corporate headquarters are located in Southlake, Texas, which is home to many current and former Dallas Cowboy players), five being best to zero being worst, Del Frisco's Grille gets 3 strong footballs.

For more information about Del Frisco's Grille, go to their website here:

 Del Frisco's Grille on Urbanspoon