Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Teddy's Hits the Mainland

Teddy's Bigger Burgers
1113 North Harbor Blvd. 
Fullerton, CA 92832

My dad had a minor setback from his hip surgery from earlier this month, so we had to rush up to the hospital to keep the big guy company. He's fine and all, but hates being in the hospital, so we sat and talked with him for a couple of hours. My mom had wanted to eat in the St. Jude's cafeteria, but I'm not really a big fan of hospitals, and couldn't wait to get out of there. So I did a quick search to see what was around, and Teddy's Bigger Burgers popped up.

Teddy's came across my radar late last year when they invited me to their grand opening party. I could not make that event, but made a note to try them at a later date. I was surprised to learn that this is a rather big chain, based out of Hawaii. Started 17 years ago, Teddy's has 18 US locations in five states, and has international outposts in Japan, Thailand, and the Philippines.

They were started by two guys, Ted and Rich, who lamented the fact that they could not get a backyard quality burger in a fast casual restaurant. They spent the next few years finding suppliers and developing recipes. I was excited to give their interpretation of a modern 50's hamburger joint a try.

We got to this, their only California location, at about 7pm on a recent Friday evening. Teddy's is located right off of Harbor, in the same shopping center as Ralph's, and they share an outside dining area with Wing Stop, Subway, and a Flame Broiler. The restaurant was a lot bigger than it looks like from the outside, but we still chose to sit in front of the restaurant to enjoy the fresh air. Ordering is done at the counter, you are given a pager, and then they bring the food out to you.

The menu of course is dominated by burgers at Teddy's. They have many options to choose from. You can build your own burger, get a custom burger, or try one of their other types of burgers, like a turkey, veggie, or salmon burger. They also have chicken sandwiches, chicken strips, and fish and chips. We made our choices and waited for it at our table. This is how it all came out for us.

Everyone on Yelp was going on and on about these Garlic Butter Fries ($3.59), and they were good, but not as good as the hype suggested. They were kind of on the dry side, and the butter seemed to have sunk to the bottom of the basket. They shaved garlic and whatever the green part of this was, had plenty of garlic flavor, but without the butter to help bind it to the fries, it fell off when we tried to eat it. I'd give these another try though.

My mom ordered these Beer Battered O-Rings ($3.99) to go along with her meal. I kind of thought that the portion size for these was a little skimpy, but these were a pretty solid onion ring. The beer batter crust had a good crunch to it, and hung in there with the onion inside. Made even better when these were dipped in ranch, these were a pretty big hit at our table.

My niece Lillie was running around like a maniac for most of our time at Teddy's, showing off her expert use of her new Heelys shoes that she got for her birthday. She only stopped to quickly scarf down this Kid's Combo Corn Dog ($5.99). This kids meal included fries and a drink, and she did a great job of finishing the corn dog, which sometimes can be a chore with this girl.

This Chicken Tenders Kid's Combo Meal ($5.99) did not go over as well with my other niece, Gracie. She's a picky eater though, and did not really enjoy the chicken tenders that much, calling them just alright. She did manage to finish one, but only after she was promised a milkshake if she ate it. She did have no trouble polishing off her fries though. Raising kids seems like a real good time.

Now the real reason we were here at Teddy's, the burgers. I went with my old standby when eating in a new burger place, a bacon, avocado and cheeseburger. At Teddy's they call this the Bacado Burger ($10.19). The ordering process for burgers at Teddy's is a little odd. They have three base model burgers, an original burger, a teriyaki burger, and a double burger. Then they have three different sizes of patties, big, bigger, and biggest, (5, 7, and 9 ounces). Then, as if that was not confusing enough, you have the option to make your burger into a specialty burger for between a $1.30 to $3.50 more depending on what you want. Got all that? So what did I think of this burger? Let's start with the obvious first. There was way too much lettuce on here. Of course it's easy to discard, but for some reason they put their special sauce on the lettuce, and when I took it off, I was left with a burger that had no sauce. The rest of the burger tasted fine, but a little bland without a condiment on it. The bacon and the avocado did not really stand out here, which is a shame. I liked the potato bun, it was soft, and held everything in place. The cheese was also a highlight here, as it blanketed the patty perfectly. I'd probably get a different burger next time I came here, and I'd definitely ask for easy lettuce.

I thought Katie would try a veggie or turkey burger, but there she was ordering the Kailua Burger ($9.19). This is Teddy's version of a mushroom and Swiss burger, with teriyaki and grilled onions added. Again, too much lettuce, but at least Katie had the teriyaki sauce to bind everything together. She thought this burger was okay, nothing spectacular. There was plenty of mushrooms on this, and she liked the melted Swiss cheese on here. We had ordered chili cheese tater tots, but when the food came out it was Chili Cheese Fries ($4.69) that we received. These were okay, but I had heard good things about their tots, so I was a little disappointed. The chili here was good and flavorful, and even though I'm not really a fan of cheese sauce, this one was pretty tasty, and well made. The fries did a great job of staying crisp, until the last one was gobbled up. Even though we got these by mistake, it ended up being fine.

My nieces both got Shakes ($4.29), but selfishly I did not get to try either of them. The online chatter about Teddy's raves about the shakes here, but I have been trying to be good, and decided I'd forgo one. That won't happen on my next visit though. I have my eye on the Nutella or the Peanut Butter and Chocolate for next time.

I had higher hopes for Teddy's than this, but it might have just been what I got on this trip. Now that I know the lay of the land at Teddy's, I'm sure my next trip would be a little more enjoyable. I'd for sure ask for no lettuce, and I'd have the ordering process down a little more. I do think that they are a little high for a casual burger place, but it would not prevent me from coming back here again. Everyone we dealt with on the staff seemed to really want to make our visit enjoyable. Even with the few minor hiccups we experienced with the food here, I'm still glad we ate here, instead of the hospital cafeteria.

Out of five grass skirts, (because Teddy's of course started out in Hawaii, and if you've ever been there you have probably been mesmerized by the hula girls wearing these), five being best to zero being worst, Teddy's Bigger Burgers gets 2.5 grass skirts.

For more information about Teddy's Bigger Burgers, go to their website here:

Teddys Bigger Burgers Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Looking for a Burger Hookup

Hook Burger
1731 N. Victory Pl. 
Burbank, CA 91502

Sometimes the best laid plans kind of go a little haywire. We were up this way for the wedding of Katie's cousin, which kind of went a little long into the night, and then of course we headed to her Uncle Tom's famous garage, for the after party. We did not end up getting back to our hotel until about 2:30 in the morning.

Too tired to go to any of the restaurants we wanted to hit up in this neck of the woods, we looked for one of the highest rated on Yelp, that was nearest our hotel. Something that would sustain us for the 2 hour plus drive that we had ahead of us getting back to OC. That's how we ended up at Hook Burger in Burbank.

Hook Burger is a mini chain, with five locations open, all in LA County. They started in Oxnard five years ago, and are run by the original team behind one of my favorite burger places, The Habit. The ordering process is the same here. You order at the counter, then the food is brought to your table. They characterize their burgers as upscale, in a fast and casual environment.

They are also pretty big into doing things the right way. They use humanely raised beef for their burgers. They also use locally sourced produce and bread from local bakers. Even their decor in the dining room comes from reclaimed wood. This is all great, but I was really excited to see how their food would taste, and if it would help soak up some of the libations I had the night before. Let's see what we thought about Hook Burger.

Much like the Habit menu, there's more to this place than just burgers, as Katie can attest to. She selected their Fresh Tuna Albacore Melt ($7.75) from their five kinds of sandwiches on the Hook Burger menu. This sandwich usually comes with cheddar cheese, but Katie subbed out Swiss to go along with the lettuce, tomato, and mayo that also came on this sandwich.  Served on a toasted sourdough bread, Katie really enjoyed the freshness of the tuna here, and was happy she went the Swiss route instead of the cheddar. She also remarked that the toasted bread helped make this sandwich, by adding a crunchy texture to it. She definitely would get this again.

Of course if you have been reading this blog for any length of time, you know I was going to try a burger here. None of the pre-made burger options really spoke to me on this afternoon, so I got their Prime Burger ($8.25 with all the enhancements that I added). The prime burger comes with caramelized bourbon onions, lettuce, tomato, and honey Dijon mayo. I also added bacon, cheddar cheese, and avocado. This was a pretty solid burger, and definitely what the doctor ordered on this afternoon. I liked that there was plenty of avocado on this, and the bun was very sturdy, but still soft. The hamburger patty was pretty tasty, but the bacon kind of got lost here. I wish they were as generous with the bacon as they were with the avocado. The Dijon mayo was actually pretty good, and I had my doubts about it before having it. The Dijon was downplayed just enough for me to really enjoy this condiment. Not just a pretty looking burger, but a good tasting one as well.

I always love when places offer a sampler platter of some of their side items, and at Hook Burger they call it The Trio ($5.95). This hat trick of fried food included french fries, sweet potato fries, and crispy onion rings. My favorite one of the three was the onion rings. A very good breading, which crunched when bitten into, and most importantly it did not break apart from the onion. The fries were good, but a little on the small side for me. I would have liked them better if they were the same size as the sweet potato fries. I'm not really a big fan of sweet potato fries, but Katie liked these well enough, and I thought they were okay. All of these items were fried nicely, and not overly greasy.

Job well done Hook Burger. You sustained us until we got home, helped clear my head from a night of adult beverages, and I'll even give you credit for the mostly clear sailing that we experienced on the freeways of Southern California. The burgers here are pretty good, but I'd like to see maybe a basic bacon cheese burger on their menu of the already made burgers. The burger did not blow me away, but you can tell that it was made with quality ingredients, and that goes a long way in my opinion of this restaurant. The quality is definitely on par with The Habit. The price point is also a big plus for this place as well. They only have one item, a steak sandwich, which is over ten dollars, and even that's only over that mark by two quarters. Service at the register was very good, and they answered all of our questions. The table side service was fine as well, and I even saw a manager going from table to table making sure everything was going all right. A very nice touch. Hook Burger was not what we had planned on having this day, but we are glad that we ended up eating here.

Out of five hockey sticks, (because hockey season is right around the corner, and some of the players will be called for hooking using their sticks), five being best to zero being worst, Hook Burger gets 3 solid hockey sticks.

For more information about Hook Burger, go to their website here:

Hook Burger Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Thursday, September 24, 2015

A Hot and Steamy Night at Kettlebar

2493 Park Avenue #41
Tustin, CA 92782

It finally seems like the Union Market in Tustin is getting on track. It's been a very slow process, but this much anticipated retail and restaurant space located in the old Borders Book's area of the District at Tustin Legacy is finally getting some life to it. We walked around the space earlier this year, and it was almost sad. There was lots of construction and empty booths, but little action happening. The few booths that were open, were not really drawing customers from what we could tell.

Flash forward to earlier this month, and the area seems much more alive. There are many more retail booths open, and what I was eagerly waiting for, more food places are now open. Taking up residency at the Union Market is Front Porch Pops, cookie shot vendors, The Dirty Cookie, Crepe Coop, Portola Coffee Lab, Hatch, a sliders and craft beer space, and a place that's moving up my list of restaurants to try, The Kroft. That place will have to wait for another time, as we were here meeting our good friends Alex and Jaszlyn, and having dinner at Kettlebar.

Kettlebar is a Cajun/Creole restaurant that uses steam kettle cookery to make their dishes. I'm not going to sit here and lie to you that I understand how they use steam to make these dishes, as I'm not an advanced cook or anything, but this kind of restaurant seems to be one of the hottest things right now. Okay, sorry for the bad pun. Anyways, this is our second time eating at a restaurant like this. Our first was a place called Ritter's Steam Kettle Cooking, and we really enjoyed the food there, and hoped Kettlebar would be just as good.

The menu is pretty much the same here as at Ritter's. They have some appetizers, a couple of salads, a shrimp or oyster po boy sandwich, and then the main event, the bowls. There are a couple of ways that you can go here. They have Cajun standards like etouffee, gumbo, cioppino, and probably their most popular dish, the pan roast. There also seems to be more emphasis on alcohol, than at Ritters. There are lots of craft cocktails, wines, and beer available at Kettlebar. Our waitress was kind of aloof when it came to what was on tap, as she had to keep making runs to the bar to find out about what they had available.

We got to Kettlebar at about 6pm on a Friday night. The restaurant was pretty busy, but they did a great job of keeping the tables turning over, so we got in right away. Not sure if it was from the steam cooking, or just the heat outside, but this restaurant was rather warm where we were sitting near the back of the place. No big deal, as I was definitely ready to see if this place was going to be as good as our first experience at a steam kettle joint. Let's see how it went.

I usually do not highlight the beers that I drink when we are out, but I really enjoyed this Mr. Pineapple from SanTan Brewing Company. I'm kind of partial to lighter beers, and Hefeweizens are right in my wheelhouse. I liked this beer because it was a little different, with the added fresh pineapple juice, and the wheaty aftertaste. Very refreshing, and it went well with what I hoped would be my spicy meal.

Not one to be swayed by what's popular, Alex did not go with a pan roast like the rest of us, but instead had this Cajun Garlic Noodle ($18 with clams added). He could not have been happier with his decision. This came out way before our meals, and he had almost already finished half of this before we had gotten our meals. Alex felt this dish had the perfect amount of garlic included, loved the clams, and would not say a bad thing about his dinner. For once the big guy was speechless, and we all enjoyed the silence, at least for the few minutes he was quietly eating.

Jaszlyn, Katie and I all got the pan roasts, which of course all look the same in the pictures, but each of these was different. Katie opted for the Chicken and Sausage Pan Roast ($16), Jaszlyn had the Shrimp Pan Roast ($19), and I had the Kettlebar Pan Roast ($23) which came with the same creamy tomato base as the others, but with snow crab, lobster, shrimp, chicken, and rice swimming in the bowl. Jaszlyn and I had asked for ours to be spicy, but the heat in these was very manageable. I liked the creaminess of the tomato base, the shrimp was prevalent, but the rest of the other proteins kind of got lost here. I also thought the rice to pan roast ratio was a little off. I had way more pan roast when I was all done with my rice. Not a big problem, and I could have just ordered a side of rice for another two dollars.

Pan roasts are filling, but we decided to try two desserts, the first of which was this Hummingbird Parfait ($8). This dessert is a variation of the southern dessert staple, the hummingbird cake. I had never heard of it until this night, but it is a banana pineapple spice cake. I did not really detect a banana or pineapple flavor in the one bite that Alex allowed me to have, but they loved this dessert. It even inspired Jaszlyn to claim that she was going to make this in the near future. I'm hoping to get invited over to give it a try when she does.

Mine and Katie's dessert was not as good as the hummingbird parfait. This Cinnamon Bread Pudding ($8) sounded a lot better when the waitress was describing it, but like with a lot of bread puddings I have had, it kind of fell flat. I liked that this had ice cream served on top of it, but the bread pudding itself was a little on the dry side, and could have been made better with the addition of more ice cream. There was a definite cinnamon tinge here, but even that could not save this dessert.

We all left Kettlebar liking it, and we'll be back, but I think I liked Ritter's a tad better. I liked Ritter's appetizer variety more, and they really did make their pan roasts with a little more of a kick to them. Kettlebar is definitely worth a visit, and it's a lot more convenient for us to to get to than Ritter's. The service on this evening was pretty good, as we did not really have too many problems, except that Alex's food came out a good five minutes before the rest of ours hit the table. Glad to see that Kettlebar has brought some much needed life to the Union Market.

Out of five walleye fish, (because the city of Kettle Falls, Washington hosts a couple of walleye fishing tournaments throughout the year), five being best to zero being worst, Kettlebar gets 3 walleye.

Kettlebar has a very limited website, and that's putting it mildly, but hopefully it will be updated soon. Click here to see it:

Kettlebar Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Monday, September 21, 2015

CPK, Way More Than Just Pizza

California Pizza Kitchen
2800 N. Main Street #872
Santa Ana, CA 92701

Of course when you think of California Pizza Kitchen, you think of their iconic BBQ Chicken Pizza, but CPK is rolling out a new menu and a new look. CPK restaurants across Orange County have been going through the conversion of expanding their menu to include lots of new dishes that are featuring seasonal and locally sourced foods. They not only have retooled their menu, but their cocktail program and decor as well. In other words, if you haven't been to CPK for a while, you have been missing out. We were recently invited by CPK to experience all that is new here.

Not only have we not been to CPK for a long time, but we hadn't been to Main Place for a few years. There's quite a lot happening here. This shopping mall is going through a pretty radical makeover, with lots of new shops and enhancements to the mall taking place. Of course I'm pretty intrigued by the restaurant side of things, and there's plenty new here, or at least on the way. Wokcano and Lucille's will be joining the newly opened Panini Cafe, Blaze Pizza, and Dog Haus very soon. Even CPK is expanding their patio, which is still under construction, but will be great for dining outdoors.

Not only is a makeover going on outside the restaurant, but a new look for CPK has happened inside as well. They say they are going for a rustic, modern look, utilizing sustainable materials, and I'd say they nailed it. The restaurant features a wide open feel, thanks to the large glass window near the front of the restaurant, the spacing of the tables, and the open kitchen, where you can catch the chefs doing their best to feed their hungry patrons. All this was pleasing to the eye, but I was ready for my stomach to be pleased, so let's take a look at some of the new menu items at CPK.

As quickly as we sat down, we were given two of their latest cocktails to try, the California Ginger Crush and the Blueberry Ginger Smash, (both $8.79). We had a disagreement at our table as to which one of these we preferred, but both vanished rather quickly, so it's safe to say our party of three liked them both. These labor intensive cocktails utilize fresh juices and herbs in them. My favorite was the Crush, which included Absolut Mandarin and Citron, muddled mint, and fresh lemon and orange. I loved the combination of the citrus with the mint in this one. Katie and George were more partial to the Blueberry Ginger Smash, mostly because this reminded them of their younger days consuming whiskey. Joining the Jack Daniel's in the glass was an organic agave nectar, ginger, fresh blueberries, lime, and cranberry juice to finish it off with. George told our waiter that these kinds of drinks would entice him to bring a date to CPK. Better update that EHarmony profile George.

What do you do when you can't decide on just one kind of soup? Well if you're at CPK you get their Two In A Bowl ($7.99). I don't think I've seen this on any other menu, but you can choose two of their signature soups served side by side, in the same bowl. Perfect for people who are indecisive. I really enjoyed both of these, the Baked Potato Soup and the Farmers Market Soup. The baked potato soup used a thick potato base, and utilized bacon and scallions in it. The farmers market soup used squash as a base, then they threw in some veggies, added some cream, and then drizzled some olive oil over it. The result was another nice, thicker soup, which satisfied me more than a normal vegetable soup would. This will be very good when it finally cools down around here.

Next up they brought us out two flatbreads for us to try. The Smoked Ham and Swiss Flatbread ($8.29) is off their new menu at CPK. The very sturdy flatbread was layered with Emmentaler and goat cheeses, smashed garlic croutons, caramelized onions, and plenty of ham. I thought this was going to be a little too overwhelming, but the flavors played nicely with each other. I was definitely more partial to the seasonally inspired flatbread that they brought out for us, the Maine Lobster Flatbread ($11.29). They do not use the bad parts of the lobster here. No, they use the very good tasting claw meat, which they generously used to top the flatbread, along with light mayo, herbs, shaved red onion, and arugula. Exactly like a lobster roll, but in flatbread form. Now you don't have to go all the way to Boston for your lobster fix.

It had been about ten minutes, so it was definitely time for another cocktail, and our wonderful host obliged with this California Roots ($8.79) beverage. Appropriately, this was a drink that featured fresh avocado, along with mint, Svedka Vodka, agave sour, and a unique fennel salt rim. This drink came across as fresh and clean, and I really liked the creaminess that the avocado brought to the table.

Yeah, this doesn't look like your grandmothers California Pizza Kitchen. When this Fire Grilled Ribeye ($25.99) hit the table, there was an audible gasp of excitement. This twelve ounce choice ribeye was prepared with a Pinot Noir sea salt and a blue cheese butter. It was cooked to a perfect medium rare, with eye pleasing grill marks on both sides. Very tender, with lots of flavor coming from the meat. This had us quiet for a good long while as we were busy getting our fair share. This was accompanied by roasted fingerling potatoes and a lemon and garlic arugula salad. I was way more partial to the potatoes, as I've never really been a fan of arugula. I found this lemon-garlic dressing to be more lemon than garlic, and that made it too sour for my tastes, but the potatoes were fork tender and made up for the arugula salad.

Probably my favorite entree of the three that we tried on this evening was this Roasted Garlic Chicken with Roasted Vegetables ($18.99). The chicken breast came in a lemon and garlic sauce, with crispy skin on it. I liked the moistness of the chicken, and they got the garlic and lemon sauce right on this one. The poultry was placed on top of some very good veggies, which included tender carrots, cauliflower, potatoes, and Mediterranean herbs. Even though this looked like a hefty, more Fall feeling meal, this was surprisingly light. Very well done.

Probably my least favorite of the three entrees, but George and Katie's favorite was this Hearth Roasted Halibut ($23.79). Guess I did not have the same tastes as Katie and George on this night. They really loved the halibut, but I felt it needed a sauce or something. It was however placed on top of some very good butternut squash faro and baby kale, which was delicious. I was also a fan of the grilled asparagus, which was done nicely.

Thankfully our last drink of the night made it's way over, since we all had to drive home after this. I'd call this Coconut Blossom ($8.79) CPK's updated version of a pina colada. They use a mandarin blossom vodka, white tequila, agave sour, coconut puree, and fresh pineapple. Not overly sweet like a pina colada, you could taste all the elements of this drink as it passed through your lips, and down the hatch. Tasty, and it brought to mind the drinks we have had in the tropics, but made better.

By this time of the night we were all pretty full, but this S'mores dessert really intrigued me. It had a budino feel to it. This layered dessert came with kettle cooked chocolate pudding, chocolate chunks, crushed graham crackers, and toasted marshmallows on top. I really liked the insides of this dessert, but felt that there needed to be more pudding in here. The graham cracker crumbs and the marshmallow got in the way of my beloved chocolate. I'm trying their Salted Caramel Pudding next time for sure.

I left CPK with a new respect for them. As I've been writing this blog for six years now, I've found myself having changing tastes. I used to like eating in chain restaurants, but those days are becoming fewer and farther between. For the most part now when I eat in those kinds of restaurants everything kind of feels prepackaged, and not very fresh or good. I'm not being snobby, but that's how I perceive chain restaurants to be. I did not have that feeling as we were leaving California Pizza Kitchen. I loved the freshness of the food, I like that they are branching out of their comfort zone of pizzas, and that they have stepped up their bar program. Yes, I still saw lots of pizzas being ordered, but there were plenty of people trying these new items. It's pretty impressive for a restaurant that's been around for 30 plus years to want to keep things fresh, and give their customers greater options. We will definitely be back, and so will George, once his EHarmony mojo starts to work.

We would like to thank everyone at CPK for the invite to come in and experience their new menu items. We could sense that everyone we encountered is really proud of their food, and excited to share it with all of their guests.

If you want to experience the new CPK for yourself, head to their website for the location nearest you, by clicking here: