Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Tackle Box Has Us Hook, Line, and Sinker

Tackle Box
3029 East Shore Dr. 
Corona Del Mar, CA 92625

There used to be a time when there were just a couple of celebrity chefs around. Julia Child, Wolfgang Puck, and Graham Kerr, among a select few others, were household names. Now that we have hundreds of channels to choose from, it was going to be inevitable that some of those networks would be focused on food, and that has lead to celebrity chefs sprouting up just about everywhere. Food-focused shows have even replaced soap operas, which I never thought I'd see in my lifetime. Yes, I grew up during the Luke and Laura era, when soaps were all the rage.

There are restaurant shows, cooking competitions, restaurant makeover shows, and luckily the cupcake craze seems to have subsided. Anyways, my point is that there's never been an overabundance of celebrity chefs out there, and I like to see where they end up after the cameras stop rolling. It's always interesting to see if their fame helps them achieve their dream of owning their own restaurant, or if they parlay their exposure into another gig. It's this curiosity that has brought us to Tackle Box at Corona Del Mar State Beach on a recent Sunday afternoon.

Tackle Box is the home of Chef-Owner Brian Huskey, who you might remember from Top Chef Season 11 New Orleans. He made the top 5 that season, and in each episode he appeared on until he had to pack up his knives, he showcased his talents and won heaps of praise from the judges. Not surprising since he had quite the resume before getting on Top Chef. After graduating from culinary school, Brian worked in a long list of LA restaurants and was even a sous chef at Leatherby's at the Segerstrom Center in Costa Mesa when they first opened.

So what's a fine-dining chef doing running a concession stand at the beach? He approached the city over two years ago about taking over the concessions with a chef-driven menu, and they countered that it would be fine, but he also had to run a more traditional concession as well. He acquiesced, and Tackle Box was born.

We arrived here on a rather warm mid-July Sunday evening. We were hoping to miss most of the beach crowd, but the beach was still pretty jammed packed with families, sunbathers, and lots of people trying to escape the heat inland. We did manage to get a sweet parking spot right near Tackle Box though. The menu here is not like the hot dogs, snow cones, and chili cheese strips that we had when coming to the beach when I was a kid. This menu is dotted with some upscale sandwiches, clam chowder, and other assorted snacks which you would not expect to see served within inches of the sand. There are even breakfast options for those here before 11 am. Let's see Chef Brian's take on a grub shack at the beach.

After ordering at the counter, we grabbed one of the picnic tables which are reserved for customers of Tackle Box, and our food slowly made its way out to us, starting with this Quesadilla ($9.50). This was a great way to start. This quesadilla had a great crunch to it and came with a three cheese blend, caramelized onion, and roasted poblanos. The poblano was mild enough so Katie could handle it, but I would have liked a little more heat included with this. I kind of thought at over $9 it was going to have some protein involved here, but no such luck. Still a high-quality quesadilla.

Katie's sandwich selection came out first. This was a pretty impressive looking Chicken Club ($11). It included chicken of course, and a couple strips of applewood smoked bacon, lettuce, tomato, and an unexpectedly mellow lemon garlic sauce. She liked the tender chicken and the sturdy New England style hot dog bun which was forefront in her mind when remembering this sandwich. She also enjoyed the house chips, which came with this sandwich. They were fried nicely, and most of them were very crisp.

The one time our paths crossed with Brian Huskey and the Tackle Box crew was at a launch party for Newport Beach Restaurant Week. They were sampling this Buffalo Cauliflower ($9) and ran out of it rather quickly. I knew then and there that we would be getting this when we came to Tackle Box. Cauliflower is all the rage right now, dethroning kale, which is a good thing. This was fantastic. The buffalo sauce covering this had a little kick to it, and the cauliflower was fried lightly enough to avoid being too heavy. I wish they would have given us a little more blue cheese dressing with this, but you will not miss the chicken wings when ordering this starter. It's easy to see why this was such a hit at the kickoff party.

I had my choices narrowed down to about four when I got to Tackle Box and was still debating when I was in line. I eventually ordered this Cali Cheesesteak ($13). Not a bad choice at all. This sandwich might have been smaller than I was expecting, but it packed a nice flavor punch. The lightly toasted New England style hot dog bun was filled with thinly sliced beef, some white cheddar, crispy onions, and fried peppers. This was a very light cheesesteak. It was not heavy on the meat or cheese, but the fried peppers added some nice texture and some unexpected pops of heat.

Tackle Box is a definite upgrade to what you have come to expect from a concession stand at your local beach. Without even knowing who is helming this kitchen, you could tell that the food here is of a pretty high quality and there's a lot of thought and care that goes into it. I would have liked the portion sizes to have been a little bigger for what you are shelling out here. Most items were a couple dollars too much for the amount you get, but that might be because of the area. The prices will not deter us from a return visit though. I look forward to trying their Pork Belly Bahn Mi, their Tackle Box Burger, and the Lobster Roll, which is only available on weekends. Of course, the Buffalo Cauliflower is a must as well. I'm glad OC is home to quite a few celebrity/TV chefs so we can try what looks so great being shown in our living rooms on almost every channel.

Out of five roses, (because Chef Brian Huskey is a native of Pasadena, and from what I hear they have some sort of parade and football game which has something to do with roses), five being best to zero being worst, Tackle Box gets 3.5 roses.

For information about Tackle Box, head to their website here: http://tackleboxoc.com/

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