196 East 17th St.
Costa Mesa, CA 92627
We recently were invited to the VIP opening party of Crack Shack. For those of you that are not aware, this is the chicken-focused restaurant of CEO Michael Rosen and his business partner, celebrity chef Richard Blais, famously of Top Chef. I don't bring this up to brag about getting invited to a restaurant opening party, I mention this because I want to convey how much we liked this restaurant.
Usually, when we are invited somewhere, I enjoy what they have to offer, take some pictures, and then come home and write about our experience at the event. We usually don't return for an extended amount of time. Not because we didn't like it, but to keep the content fresh on this site. You guys probably don't want to read two posts about the same restaurant within the span of a few weeks, or a month or two. Plus we have lots of restaurants we need to try, without doing too many return trips to a place we have already been.
The party was, of course, a great time. We got a quick tour of the restaurant, which is located on the corner of 17th Street and Orange Avenue, in what used to be a Chase Bank. It's unrecognizable from when it was a financial institution though. They poured a lot of work into this restaurant, which features a retractable roof, utilized reclaimed wood from Torrey Pines down in San Diego, where they started and have two locations, (one in Little Italy and one in Encinitas), and there are also large chicken themed murals on the outside of the building, as well as a large chicken statue greeting guests as they enter the restaurant.
Another highlight of the party was getting a chance to meet the Crack Shack team, including both Michael Rosen and the star of the evening, Richard Blais. I have to admit that I have never watched an episode of Top Chef, but I did recognize him from some other TV shows I happened to have clicked by. He was really a great guy and took the time to mingle with his guests. He did not even bristle when I asked him a few questions of my own. I found out he was an Islanders fan growing up, but then all the cool kids in high school started liking the Rangers, so he switched too. Also, since he's a Long Island resident, I asked which famous Long Island celebrity would he most like to have dinner with. He answered Billy Joel, which is a great pick. I'd go with Jerry Seinfeld myself.
The food was another highlight, as there was plenty of tray passed items off of their menu making their way around the room. We pretty much tried almost everything on the menu, but I wanted to go back to share with you what the full-sized items look like, instead of the mini versions we were given. Plus I really enjoyed what I had consumed and was ready to try the one or two things on the menu we had missed.
Katie and I met at Crack Shack on a recent Monday evening, and the restaurant was very lively. Ordering is done at a walk-up counter alongside 17th Street. A large majority of the menu is different versions of chicken sandwiches, but they also feature salads, sides, milkshakes, and fried chicken by itself. After making your selections you go inside and find a seat and your food is brought out to you. I was excited to see what we had in store for us on our return trip to Crack Shack.
I'm not really a fan of Deviled Eggs ($4) but Katie really wanted to give these a try. These come four to an order and are topped with french toast crumbles and candied bacon. They must have been pretty good because Katie did not hesitate to eat all four rather quickly.
We might as well stay with Katie's choices on this evening, as she selected this Senor Croque ($12). I was a little surprised when she selected this breakfast-centric sandwich. It starts with a fried chicken breast, and then is topped with bacon, fried egg, white cheddar, miso-maple butter, and is sandwiched between a brioche bun. Katie called this her favorite chicken sandwich ever. She loved the different flavors that came through in each bite and felt this was one of the juiciest chicken sandwiches she has ever had. She now knows why they call this place the Crack Shack because this sandwich is so addictive.
The first of the two sandwiches I tried was the Firebird ($11). They use thigh meat for this spicy sandwich, plenty of pickles, crispy onions, and ranch, all on a potato roll. I loved the heat on this sandwich. It was the right balance of heat, as it did not overwhelm, but lingered even after I was done with my last bite. They had just the right amount of ranch on here, and the crispy onion strings added a nice crunch. I did take the pickles off of this, as I always find pickles take over anything that they touch. An excellent sandwich, which has got me excited to try other spicy chicken sandwiches.
I had some pretty high hopes for this Royale ($9). This is not like any Sausage McMuffin you have ever had. The word that came to mind when I was eating this was sturdy. This was a very sturdy breakfast sandwich. They make their own English muffins here, which are the vessel for their chicken sausage, sunny side up egg, and smoked cheddar. I had a few qualms about this sandwich. The English muffin was a little too hard and made eating this rather difficult. The chicken sausage was on point, but the egg was way overcooked and did not provide any runny yolk that I think would have bound this together very well. The cheese also got lost here. I'm going to get this with a side of their lime mayo next time, which I think will make this sandwich better.
One thing that really stood out from the opening party that we attended was the Schmaltz Fries ($5), I was curious if they would be just as good on our return trip. They were. The fries are an all day process. They are hand cut, soaked for 24 hours, and then they are fried twice in chicken fat, which leaves the fries crispy on the outside and pillowy soft inside. A must get when visiting Crack Shack.
Even though I was not totally in love with the Royale sandwich I will be back to have the Firebird sandwich again. I think it was one of the best chicken sandwiches I have had, right up there with my other favorite of the moment, the one at Two Birds at the Trade Food Hall in nearby Irvine. Both use Jidori chicken, which seems to make for a tastier and moist chicken. My only minor complaint is about the sauces here. I wish they were a little bolder, and they had a little more variety. The ranch dressing and the Sriracha 1000 Island were probably the best of the bunch, but they did not really stand out too much to me. Even with that one minor quibble, we will be back soon. I really liked the vibe here, as it was kind of hipster-ish, but not in an uncomfortable way. Thanks to all involved in the invite to the opening party, and we're happy to report that the food was just as good as when we returned two weeks later.
Out of five clowns, (because Richard Blais is from Uniondale, New York, which was the last stop by the Ringling Bros. Circus after a 146-year run earlier this year), five being best to zero being worst, The Crack Shack gets 3.5 clowns.