Sunday, March 29, 2015

Hoping for Good Barbecue Down South - CLOSED

Dickey's Barbecue Pit
27931 La Paz Road Suite D
Laguna Niguel, CA 92677

To say that South OC is starved for a good barbecue place, would be an understatement. I have lived south of the El Toro Y for over ten years now, and have yet to find a really good barbecue restaurant that has blown us away down here.

Before you bombard my email box with suggestions, yes I know about Bad to the Bone in San Juan Capistrano, but we have never really liked it. Their meats are hit and miss, and the sides really haven't lived up to expectations. Lucille's gets a lot of praise for their barbecue, but they are pretty pricey, and again, the meats seem like they are pulled out early depending on how busy they are. Wood Ranch has been the best we have had up until this point, but they are very pricey, and then there's the trouble of battling parking at the Spectrum.

When we saw that Dickey's Barbecue Pit was opening up right down the street from my work, I knew we had to give it a try. I had an inkling that this might just be our new go-to spot for barbecue in our own backyard. We had visited a Dickey's once before, in the Dallas Airport. I remember telling Katie that it was a shame that this airport barbecue tasted better than almost anything that we could get back home. I still regret that I did not blog about our first visit back then, but I got a second chance to review Dickey's recently.

For those of you that are not aware, Dickey's is the largest barbecue chain in the United States, with close to 500 locations operating in 42 states. They have big plans for California, as well as Orange County. This is their fourth OC spot, with others being in Buena Park, Fullerton, Brea, and their website touts another coming soon to Ladera Ranch.

Dickey's was started in 1941 by Travis Dickey. Now run by his grandson, Roland, he has kept a lot of the traditions started by his grandfather. There's free soft-serve ice cream at every spot, and kids eat free on Sundays here. All locations smoke their meats on-site, using hickory wood-burning pits. The smell is intoxicating when you drive by, and when you walk through the door the aroma hits you in the face.

We arrived here at 6pm on a recent busy Friday night. Ordering is done at the counter, with an awkward glass partition that sits at just about forehead level, so you find yourself yelling at the guy prepping your meats and side items. The line does move efficiently though, and by the time you make your stop at the side item station, and finally the register, your food is there waiting for you. You then take your metal tray to the dining area, where there are about ten communal tables for you to set up shop. One last thing before you dig in, don't forget to get some of their barbecue sauce, which comes out of the dispenser warm. They offer two kinds, a spicy and regular sauce. Both are good, but I always find myself leaning towards the spicier version. Let's take a closer look at the food we had on this night.

Both Katie and I opted to get meat plates, but they do offer sandwiches, meats by the pound, and a few salads. Katie selected the 2 Meat Plate ($12.95) with Spicy Cheddar Sausage and Beef Brisket. She had wanted just regular polish sausage, but they had just run out. The cheddar sausage is real good though. Just a hint of spice, but the cheese kind of cool it down a bit. A real good sausage here, but the brisket is the thing to get at Dickey's. Tender pieces, with some stray morsels of fat hiding in there. The flavor is spot on, and I liked the crunchy bits that are interwoven in the portion that I had. Crazy good. Side items at Dickey's are pretty solid as well. Katie had the Caesar Salad and the Green Beans with Bacon. I managed to snag a bite of the salad, which was okay. It needed more dressing. I did not even try the green beans, because I'm not really a fan of them, but Katie was pleased with them.

I had a 3 Meat Plate ($13.50) as is my usual when eating at a barbecue restaurant. For my meats, I had the spicy cheddar sausage, the very well done brisket, and the pulled pork. For the most part, the pulled pork has been pretty good. Most bites are tender and moist, but I have had one or two bites that are a little on the dry side. Nothing a little barbecue sauce can not cure. I really do enjoy that they leave the sauce off of their meats here, so you can adjust the amount of sauce to your liking. For my side items, I went with the Jalapeno Baked Beans and the Baked Potato Casserole. Both of these have become my favorite sides at Dickey's. The jalapenos in the baked beans really awaken the taste buds and are not for people that can't tolerate a little heat. The baked potato casserole is really just mashed potatoes with cheese and green onions sprinkled on top of them. Not bad texture-wise, but they would be made even better with some bacon thrown in here.

Since this trip to Dickey's, I have been back a few other times. I'm happy to report that they are pretty consistent with their food. I have not had a bad experience on the three trips I have taken here. I like the amount of smokiness that the meats have at Dickey's. I'm more of a less is more kind of guy when it comes to barbecue. I don't like the natural flavor of the meat being overpowered by a smoky flavor, but instead just a hint, like the meats here. Looking at the pictures of the plates, the serving sizes do look pretty small, but I have left here stuffed. The word seems to be spreading about Dickey's as it can sometimes be challenging finding a seat here during peak dining times. I'm pretty excited that there's a new barbecue place south of Irvine that is worth going to whenever barbecue cravings strike me, which is pretty often.

Out of five oil rigs, (because Dickey's started in the city of Dallas, and part of my childhood was watching the Ewing's run around that city on TV), five being best to zero being worst, Dickey's Barbecue Pit gets 3.5 oil rigs.

For more information about Dickey's Barbecue Pit, go to their website here:

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Yet Another Reason to Head to DTSA

4th Street Market
201 E. 4th St.
Santa Ana, CA 92701

It seems like the latest food trend is the neighborhood dining hall. There are a number that have sprouted up recently in OC. I feel ashamed as a food blogger that we have not gone to the Anaheim Packing District yet, and I do not feel that we have explored the OC Mix at SOCO nearly enough. Our list of restaurants to hit up is dotted with many places at that center. There's also the Union Market in Tustin, which we have walked through recently, which has great potential, but there's not nearly enough places open there yet, and not sure they will be opening anytime soon. So to get some of my food cred back, we made a date with our good friends to explore the newly opened 4th Street Market in Santa Ana.

If you haven't made it to Downtown Santa Ana in a long while, you're really missing out. This area probably has the greatest concentration of our favorite restaurants that I can think of off the top of my head. We have had so many great restaurant memories made here, like C4 Deli, Chapter One, Lola Gaspar, The Crosby, and Mil Jugos. We also have some memories in the making when we eventually visit Playground, the North Left, and Pop's Cafe. This night though, was all about 4th Street Market.

Opened almost two months ago, the buzz for this culinary wonderland keeps growing. Every time I see someone on Twitter post that they are there, or I check out my Instagram feed, seeing some of the great food being served at the 4th Street Market, I get a little pang of jealousy that I am not the one enjoying that food. Located at the corner of 4th Street and Bush, this used to be home to the Santa Ana Swap Meet, but now it's home to 15 retailers, a demonstration kitchen, a community market, a European style butcher shop, and everyone's favorite coffee purveyor, Portola Coffee, which has a very prominent spot in the front of the market.

We arrived here at 6pm on a Wednesday night. The market definitely has a vibrancy about it. Kind of a hip feel to it, without being too hipster. While we were waiting for our friends to arrive, we browsed through the Honor Roll Market. They had some locally grown produce, hot sauces, spices, and some handmade soaps that caught our attention. There's also Dough Exchange, which is hawking baked goods, from the guys behind Playground. At this late hour, the case was kind of barren, but from what we saw, it looked promising.

Our friends finally arrived, and we made a lap around the market, making notes on what we wanted to consume. There were five of us, so we decided to use the divide and conquer technique. We set up shop in one of the seating alcoves, and everyone spread out to order what they wanted. Kind of a little overwhelming, but we all decided to share what everyone brought back to the table. Let's take a look at our selections on this evening.

When we made our first lap around the market, we ran into a familiar face, Danny Godeninez, who is part owner of Ink Waffles, and of course the famous Anepalco's. Every time we see him, he's willing to take the time to talk food with us, and his passion for business is inspiring. For his latest venture he's teamed up with Jaritza Gonzalez to introduce their version of a waffle sandwich. Not just a Bruxie knock off, these sandwiches are larger, and really go for it with innovative varieties, including this Waffle Laki ($9.50). This sandwich was filled with a very well done lamb, lettuce, tomatoes, french fries, and tzatziki sauce. I loved the lamb here, but the waffle was so overloaded that it was kind of a mess to eat. It didn't really hold its sandwich shape for too long. Still really good, and we look forward to trying some of their other six sandwich offerings on our next visit.

One of my favorite booths of the night was Stockyard Sandwich Company. Owner Phil Burden, formerly of The Grilled Cheese Spot, had us oohing and ahhing when we tried both versions of his Naughty Totties ($8) . They have two versions of what they call this, "poutine-ish" item, pork and beef. A little hard to photograph in the container it came in, you need to do yourself a favor and try these tater tots that are topped with carnitas or short rib, a fried egg, cheese, and country gravy. Not sure which version I liked better, but I'm going to love to do another taste test soon. The Westside Cheese Lurker ($10) is also worth getting. This sandwich came with braised short rib, bacon, grilled onion, barbecue sauce, chipotle aioli, pepper jack cheese, and jalapeno. As you might expect, big time flavor on this one. It was served with house made potato chips. A real winner on this night.

I never had the pleasure of eating at Civic before they closed up, but if Joe Melendez's new venture, Mar is any indication, I really missed out. We picked two items from this seafood focused menu. Their Ceviche of the Day ($8) happened to be a Mahi Mahi in a mango habanero salsa on this evening. The fish was fresh, but a little too much liquid in this serving. I also would have liked a little more spice. This was more on the sweet side, with just a little note of spice on the back end of each bite. Katie could not stop raving about the Poke ($10) here. She of course loved the cubes of rich ahi tuna accented with garlic, ginger, green onions, sesame seeds, and topped with avocado, but she was also enamored with the zucchini carrot noodles this was served on top of. She loved this option, and would get this again in a heartbeat.

I'm not really into food trucks, because I'm not into hunting down my food when I'm hungry. One truck I had always heard good things about though was Dos Chino's. Lucky for us food truck snobs, there's no need to hunt them down now since they will be at 4th Street Market permanently. Katie wanted to give their Latin/Asian mashup a try, so she had their Vietnamese Roasted Pork Tacos ($7 for two). These tacos brought these two food cultures together wonderfully. Inside the corn tortilla is a five spice roasted pork belly, pickled carrots, daikon, and jalapenos, and then a touch of green salsa. The result was a wonderful fusion taco that will have us exploring more of their menu next time.

I've had some real good experiences with fried chicken recently. It all started when I went to Disneyland and had their version at the Plaza Inn. It continued when I went to my buddies house, and he treated us to his version of this southern classic dish. This Fried Chicken Combo ($10) completed the trifecta of great fried chicken. This fried chicken was delicious, and had a sweet sauce that did not overpower, and let the chicken shine. It was moist, without being greasy. Very impressive. This combo was also rounded out by a unique Chipotle Potato Salad and a slice of Skillet Cornbread. Both were pretty tasty, but didn't distract us too long from finishing the fried chicken.

Also from the boys at Playground is this hamburger concept, Wagyu Chuck. I've heard great things about the off the menu burger at Playground, and if it's the same as this one, those raves are well deserved. I'd describe this Double Burger ($9) as being a very clean and simple burger. Kind of like In-N-Out, but higher quality ingredients and better flavor. The bun was really good here, with a nice toasted touch to it. We all were a fan of the Fried Baked Potatoes ($2) as well. These kind of tasted like they would fit right in at the OC Fair, but were not as greasy, and with a very nice crunch to them. A very impressive side item for the burgers here.

By this time of the night, I can admit that I was pretty much done, but I knew that other people in our group wanted to try dessert. There are a number of options for dessert at 4th Street Market; like Front Porch Pops, Torch S'More Company, and the place we eventually ended up, Chunk-N-Chip. Ice cream cookie sandwiches seem to be a hot trend right now, and these were solid, even though I was already pretty stuffed. They make all of their cookies here, and the ice cream is also made by them. They had some very interesting flavors, and were very generous with the samples. I settled on a Half Sandwich, which was a dark chocolate chip cookie with banana ice cream on top of it. Rebekah had a scoop of peach ice cream sandwiched between two macadamia nut with white chocolate and pineapple cookies. She was in total bliss having this, which made up for the fact that she was going home with our friend Angel. Not the easiest pill to swallow. Anyways, this was a great end to our night at 4th Street Market.

When I saw my good friend Angel again the next week at our regular poker game, we both remarked that we did not think there was anything that we had on this night that we would not want to have again. Everything really impressed us, and we look forward to coming back again soon to try more. I'm not guaranteeing that you will like everything that you encounter at 4th Street Market, but you will definitely find something you will be telling your friends that they must try when coming here. I'm just glad that for a few hours at least, I felt like one of those hip, food bloggers while eating at 4th Street Market. Well worth the trip just for that.

For more information about 4th Street Market, head over to their website here:

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Feeling Like Family at Mama D's

Mama D's 
3012 Newport Blvd. 
Newport Beach, CA 92663

There's some restaurants that I have to look up to make sure that we haven't been to yet. After eating in 531 different restaurants up to this point, it's easy to forget if I ate at a place before or after starting this blog. This is one of those joints. After a quick glance at the restaurant list that can be found on the right hand side of this page, I now know that we have not visited Mama D's while doing this blog.

I have eaten here when I lived in Newport though. It was one of my buddies favorite places to eat. He would rave about the pink sauce, and we would come here before a great night out in the bars on the peninsula. Pasta is a great way to avoid a hangover. My friend Jimmy was not the only one to rave about Mama D's, it seems like everyone I know, always tells me about a great experience they had at Mama D's on Newport Boulevard.

Before Mam D's took over this spot it was cursed. I swear it was about five restaurants within the span of ten years. Mama D's has definitely broken the curse, since they have been here at least nine years, and have been named one of Yelp's top 100 places in the country to eat at in 2015, coming in at number 59 on the list. They also have a four and a half star rating, with over 2,800 reviews and counting. With all of this praise, I had a feeling we would be having a great night here with our good friends Daniele and Tom.

We arrived here a little before 6pm on a Saturday night, and put our name in. The wait would be about 45 minutes, but they asked us if we wanted a drink, while we waited outside. Katie took them up on an iced tea, while Tom and Daniele ordered a bottle of wine. The staff was also kind enough to bring some bread around about 10 times while we were waiting out in front of the restaurant. They also brought us some meatballs, with a little less frequency. With the combination of the bread, and the wonderful company we were keeping, it seemed like our table was ready in no time.

The inside of the restaurant is definitely beach casual. The dining area is loud, and a little cramped. The menu is pretty basic. There's a build your own pasta section, baked pasta dishes, and entrees that featured veal, chicken or seafood. Our waitress greeted us promptly, and answered all of our questions about the menu. I was pretty hungry, and lucky for us, the food did not take too long to come out. Let's see how everything turned out for us on this night.

Before we get to the quickly arriving entrees, here's a quick shot of the bread that came to the table. Plenty of garlic and seasoning on this, but after having so much outside, almost all of us kind of ignored this bread basket. Still good though.

Since Tom was wearing such a great shirt, and you can see in the background of the first picture, we'll start with his meal. He had the Fatima's Veal Picatta ($23) on this night. This classic veal dish was sauteed in olive oil, then served with capers and a white wine butter-lemon sauce. No complaints from Tom about this meal. He liked the tenderness of the veal, the flavors were spot on, and the vegetables and side of pasta with their famous pink sauce were a great accompaniment.

Tom's much better half, Daniele was a little indecisive when looking at the menu, but finally settled on the Chicken Mama D's ($22). This dish features boneless chicken, red and green peppers, and mushrooms, all in the same white wine, garlic, and butter sauce that came with the chicken picatta. The similarities with Tom's meal did not end there. She also had the side of pasta with the pink sauce, just like Tom, but opted for gnocchi to make a real splash. She loved her dish, and was very pleased that they did not charge extra for the gnocchi. Eating this kept her from obsessing over her Fitbit for ten minutes or so, which we all enjoyed.

Katie had a more unconventional meal here at Mama D's, starting off with this Antipasto Salad ($12). This salad had a whole supermarket produce section in it. Iceberg and romaine lettuce, tomato, carrots, garbanzo beans, cucumbers, olives, pepperoncinis, and plenty of grated Parmesan cheese top this salad, along with more cheese and sliced cold cuts. Katie loved the freshness of the salad, and was surprised at the amount of, and the quality of the meats on here. For some reason she mentioned that she felt this salad would have been bigger for the price, but I thought it was a good enough size for what we paid.

Part two of Katie's meal ended up being these Stuffed Mushrooms ($10). These six mushroom caps were filled with seasoned bread crumbs, herbs, and tiny mushroom pieces. The mushrooms themselves were very tender, with a very good flavor to them. They kind of had a wine taste to them, which was very pleasing. They were pretty good sized, and definitely filled us up. We'd get these again for sure.

Like Daniele, I also had a hard time making my entree choice at Mama D's. I don't have an ultimate, go to meal when eating in an Italian restaurant, so I decided to try one of their two specialty dishes that are listed on the menu. This Sausage and Chicken Capri Fra Diavolo ($22) may not be as photogenic as the other meals, but it was just as tasty. The fra diavolo sauce was good, but not as spicy as I would have liked. The chicken and sausage were both plentiful and tasty. The pasta was fresh, and definitely made in house. I'm not a big fan of hunks of tomato, but my dislike for that was canceled out by the well made sauce. The menu claims that this had buffalo mozzarella in it, but I did not detect too much of it. I should have gotten some extra Parmesan cheese to bring up the cheese quotient. Still a good and filling plate of pasta.

As is the custom at Mama D's, every meal ends with complimentary Chocolate Chips Cookies. These were pretty good. Plenty of chocolate chips, but a little on the heavier side of the cookie spectrum. I like my cookies a little lighter. Still, they were free, and a nice way to end our meal.

We all walked out of Mama D's with a very satisfied feeling. I'm not going to lie to you and tell you that the food here is going to blow you away, but it's good, solid, made from scratch Italian food that will leave you feeling happy that you ate here. To tell you the truth, even though our meals were good, their service might have eclipsed it. From the time we put our name on the list to be seated, to the time that we left, (after closing time), they treated us great, and really made us feel welcomed. This is probably the secret to their success, and the reason for all the praise they get from Yelp. Prices might be a tad too high for the amount of food that you get, but it's quality stuff here, and it is the beach, so rent is higher. Looking forward to coming back again soon, and happy we finally visited Mama D's while doing this blog.

Out of five Seahawks koozies, (because this restaurant will always remind me of my good friend Jimmy, and he was never too far away from his Seattle Seahawks koozie, which almost always had a beer in it), five being best to zero being worst, Mama D's gets 3.5 Seahawks koozies.

For more information about Mama D's, go to their website here:

Mama D's Italy Kitchen on Urbanspoon