Wednesday, September 12, 2018

You Might Want to Skip the Parkway

The Parkway American Grill
22411 Antonio Parkway
Rancho Santa Margarita, CA 92688

Rancho Santa Margarita always has an isolated feel to me. It kind of feels like its cut off from the rest of the world. It sits out there at the base of the Cleveland National Forest, with only the toll road used for a quick exit back to the real world. I lived here for five years and during that time I was always looking for places and things to do in RSM so I did not have to battle the traffic and many signals on Alica Parkway. I never really found that one hangout spot that I felt comfortable in before I moved closer to civilization. 

My in-laws, after being longtime residents of Laguna Niguel, sold their big house and got a more manageable condo on the golf course at Tijera Creek Golf Club. Perfect for the two of them, but now they are trying to do what I did when I lived out this way, find some places nearby to eat, so they don't have to leave the peace and serenity of RSM.

One place that they have eaten at frequently is The Parkway American Grill, which was not here when I lived here 15 years ago, of course not much was out here that long ago. I'm not entirely sure, but I think this used to be where Ruby's was situated when they had a location in RSM. Parkway has been host to my in-laws a handful of times now in the last month, and after I got to check out their new abode, they wanted to introduce me to what they hope will be their go-to restaurant in their new city.

Much like my in-laws, Parkway American Grill is new to this area. Opened for only seven months now, this restaurant comes to us from Steve and Laura Michalopoulos, Boston transplants who lamented the fact that there were no upscale-casual dining experiences in the area that made families feel welcomed. They decided to change that and open a place where pre-packaged foods would be replaced by scratch-made ingredients in a family-friendly environment. With all the raving that my mother in law has done about this place, I was definitely intrigued to give this restaurant a try.

We arrived at Parkway on a recent Thursday evening around 6pm. They have a nice patio out front, which was not in use on this evening due to the Holy Jim brush fire going on, so we grabbed a table for four near the front door. There was a guitar player in the far corner of the restaurant, near the long bar, which stretches the length of the back wall. The dining room felt pretty spacious, with maybe 20 or so standard tables and high tops.

The dinner menu features American favorites, with plenty of appetizers,  grinders, burgers, salads, entrees, and pizzas to choose from. Most items hover around the $15 mark, with only a few entrees breaking the $20 barrier. After some inner debate going on inside my brain, I finally made my dinner selection, and here's how everything worked out for us on this evening.

Deep fried food is not just something you can get at the OC Fair every summer, restaurants are now starting to fry everything from corn on the cob to Oreo's. At Parkway they have Fired Avocado ($12) on their starter menu. Not sure why they call it fired avocado, rather than fried, but that's what they call it so we'll stick with that. Avocado spears are breaded and fried and then served with chipotle aioli and ranch dressing. These were fine, but the breading was kind of bland and did not have the big crunch I was hoping for. I thought this would have been better with a crunchy exterior and the creamy heated avocado inside. Did not happen with these, but when they were dipped in the provided sauces they were much better. 

One thing I have learned about my father in law in the nine years I have known him is that he's a big fan of soups. He gets a bowl almost everytime he goes out to eat, and he held true on this early evening by getting the Clam Chowder ($6). Knowing that the owners of this restaurant hail from Boston, I had great hopes for this. After my one bite of this, I should not have gotten my hopes up. The chowder was kind of bland, did not really have any clams in it, and was made up of mostly cubed potatoes. It definitely needed the pepper that the waiter ground on top of it.

Loaded Potato Skins ($10 were the last of the starters to come before our entrees hit the table. These come three to an order at Parkway and are topped with Guinness braised pork belly, a white cheese blend, creme fraiche, and chives. The potato was fried nicely, but they did something here that I thought I would never experience during the run of this blog. They made pork belly taste dull. If the menu had not said that pork belly was on these, and I was blindfolded, I never would have known that one of my favorite ingredients was included here. These are definitely misnamed, like the fired avocado, because these were not even close to being loaded, as they only had a few cubes of pork and a dusting of cheese on them. Disappointing. 

I was hoping things would turn around for me here when I ordered this Steak Bomb ($12.50) off of their grinder area of the menu. Again, this sandwich should have been called a dud instead of a bomb because it put me to sleep. The menu made this sandwich sound like it was going to be like a Philly cheesesteak, but with lettuce and tomato. Shaved ribeye, provolone cheese, grilled onions, bell peppers, and mushrooms have never tasted so dull. They really skimped on the cheese (were they running out or something?), and this only had a couple of mushrooms included. I made the underseasoned meat a little better by asking for a side of ranch dressing but ended up only eating half of this, which is definitely a sign that I did not enjoy this flavorless sandwich. This came with a side of chips, which might have been made here, as they were almost as bad as the sandwich. Some were burnt while other were limp, with no crunch to them. Maybe pay an upcharge to get fries next time.

Katie has been here a couple of times with her parents and has gotten the chicken alfredo on all of her previous visits. She changed it up this trip by trying the CBA Pizza ($13.95). CBA stands for chicken, broccoli, and alfredo sauce, and is joined on the pizza by some garlic, mozzarella, and parmesan. Finally, something had some flavor to it. The crust was very crisp and thin, while the toppings reminded me of a casserole my mom used to make. Maybe the pizzas are the thing to get here. 

Dennis was not overly full from his chowder, so he got this Cobb Salad ($14) as well. This salad included chicken, bacon, hard boiled egg, bleu cheese, tomatoes, and a house vinaigrette. Looking from across the table I thought this was a pretty puny sized salad for the price, but no disappointment from Dennis about this salad. He finished this salad rather quickly and has gotten this frequently on his previous visits.

I was not really feeling like dessert after my rather lackluster sandwich, but we decided to give it a try. They must be in the middle of switching their dessert menu, as we were given a handwritten list with three options crossed out. We settled on this Tiramisu ($7). I'm not usually a big fan of this Italian dessert, but this was the best thing I had here all night. It was well made, not overly soggy, and did not overpower with a coffee flavor. This should make the cut on their upcoming dessert menu.

I left Parkway very disappointed with almost everything I experienced on this evening and was left wondering why my inlaws like this place, and why people on Yelp have given this restaurant a four-star rating with over 150 reviews. Maybe I caught them on an off night, or maybe I ended up getting the wrong things. The burgers do look good in the pictures I have seen online and might be the way I go if I come back here. Service was very spotty on this evening and our food often came out without dressings, sauces, and sides. Maybe all the love for this restaurant is because they have a captive audience of residents who don't want to drive a half hour out of town to a better restaurant.

Out of five picnic tables, (because the longest parkway in the US is the Blue Ridge Parkway, which spans two states, and has many picnic tables alongside it), five being best to zero being worst, The  Parkway American Grill gets 1.5 picnic tables.

For more information about The Parkway American Grill, head to their website here:

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