Monday, November 25, 2019

A Breakfast That's up to Scratch

Scratch Bakery and Cafe
24321 Avenida De La Carlota 
Laguna Hills, CA 92653

It's pretty difficult to keep up with the OC restaurant scene. Just when I think I have it wired, a restaurant closes, or another one opens. Then there are the places that inexplicably fall through the cracks. These are joints that I just plain miss. Good spots that for some reason or another don't get the attention that they deserve. Scratch Bakery and Cafe definitely falls into that category.

I was dining at a nearby restaurant recently and saw Scratch Bakery from across the parking lot. I didn't really think too much about it until a few days later when I got an email from them asking that I come in and try them out. I figured that it must be my destiny to give them a try, so I hurriedly replied in the affirmative that I'd come in the next Thursday.

Scratch Bakery might get overlooked because of their location. Not only do they have to contend with all of the stalled construction going on at the old Laguna Hills Mall, but they are also tucked into a less-trafficked corner of a shopping center that features Trader Joe's, Marshalls, brunch favorite Break of Dawn, and the weirdly, still thriving Woody's Diner. Man, how is that place still in business?

Anyways, back to the business at hand. You can trace the origins of this bakery to the Northen California town of Turlock, which is where a grandmother, Nana Fi, opened a bakery in 1989. The baked goods sold there was a great hit with many of the locals. The family eventually moved south and opened up Nana Fi's Bakery in Laguna Hills six years ago. In 2018, the bakery was rebranded as Scratch Bakery and Cafe with the same family running things.

Scratch Bakery and Cafe is truly a scratch bakery, as all of the 25 plus baked goods that are available daily here are made on the premises. They have plenty of cake offerings but do not do specialty cake orders, tiered or themed. They do however produce holiday and themed cakes throughout the year. I counted at least eight flavors of cake during my visit. They are also very well known for their bread and provide it to numerous restaurants in the area.

The weekends can be a little tricky finding seating in the small cafe and outside in front of the restaurant, as people like to linger with their coffee and meals in the relaxed and family atmosphere at Scratch Cafe. Breakfast is the big draw here, but there's also a lunch menu that features a good selection of sandwiches, some of which are named after family members. Soups and salads round out the lunch menu. I hear the soups are amazing, but alas, I was here for breakfast, so let's check out how that all turned out for me. 

It would almost be impossible for me to visit a bakery and not get a Cinnamon Roll ($3.50). After spying the ones behind the glass case at Scratch, I knew I was not going to be able to resist having one. They even offered to heat it up for me, which allowed for the icing to form a sugary cascade pooling on the plate. This cinnamon roll was lighter than most, with a very subtle cinnamon flavor inside. I really liked that they provided plenty of icing, as there's nothing worse than a cinnamon roll without enough icing for the whole roll. A sweet start to my first meal of the day. 

This Breakfast Sandwich ($5.95) has ruined me for the rare occasion that I travel to the Golden Arches for an Egg McMuffin. Scratch Bakery is pretty well known for their English muffins, which are made here. The result is a lighter, more airy English muffin. Way better than anything you can find in the grocery store or at McDonald's. The insides of the sandwich are not to be discounted though. A perfectly folded egg is joined with thick-cut, crispy bacon and cheddar cheese. A very hearty breakfast sandwich. This kept me full and satisfied the rest of the day. 

For some reason, there's a backlash about Avocado Toast ($6.75). I don't really get the averse reaction that this delicious combination receives. Not only was the version at Scratch delicious, but visually stunning as well. They top their house-made rosemary bread with a smear of avocado, sliced tomato, lemon pepper, and I chose to add a fried egg for an extra dollar and a half. I loved the way that the runny yolk tied everything together. The bread was sturdy enough to hold the toppings and the tomato slices were some of the freshest I've had in a while. So, give the much-maligned avocado toast a break and just take it for what it is, a simple, delicious snack.

Scratch Cafe is well known, not only for their English muffins but also for their Croissants ($3.00). From what I hear these are very time consuming to make, with lots of layers to them. The result is one of the best croissants you will find in OC. It was buttery, but not overloaded with butter flavor. Light and airy, with very pleasing flakiness to it. A great side item to anything that you order off of the Scratch Bakery and Cafe menu.

I was pretty full when it was time to leave, but I needed something to go home with, so I got a Chocolate Chip Cookie ($2.75) and Oatmeal Cookie ($2.75) for a little later. Well, later ended up being twenty or so minutes. Yeah, willpower with food has never really been my forte. Both of these cookies were good. I like my chocolate chip cookies with a crunchy outer ring and a softer, chewier middle. This one checked those boxes. The oatmeal might have been even better. It had a great texture to it and the flavor warmed me from the inside. It almost made me wish that I had saved it longer than the hour after I had left Scratch Bakery.

Scratch Bakery and Cafe definitely qualifies as a hidden gem in South OC. I'm very happy that they reached out and invited me to come in and give them a try. Small, family-run businesses are usually the places where you can find the best meals, and that was the case on this recent Thursday. I'm already making plans to come back and try their sandwiches and their biscuits and gravy, which is only offered on weekends. I'm very happy I got a little nudge to try this place and hopefully reading this will give you a little prod to do the same.

For more information about Scratch Bakery and Cafe, head to their website here:

Sunday, November 17, 2019

You Can Go Home Again

Evan's Smokehouse
4871 School Street
Yorba Linda, CA 92886

My hometown of Yorba Linda is finally growing up. When I was a youngster cohabitating with my parents in the Land of Gracious Living in the '70s and '80s, we always had to leave the city limits if we wanted to go to the movies, the mall, or to a chain restaurant. Back in those days, Yorba Linda seemed so isolated. We had a McDonald's, Wing's Chinese restaurant, KFC, and an H. Salt Fish and Chips, and that was about it. It wasn't until the mid to late 80's that the city grew out a bit and got a Chili's. It was a slow growth.

Flash forward to the present day, and the founding city leaders might not even recognize the city that is referred to as Nixon Country. Yorba Linda has taken the cue from other nearby cities and wants some of those consumer dollars to stay in the city. They have totally redone their downtown area, by creating the Yorba Linda Town Center. This shopping and entertainment complex is situated at the corner of Imperial and Yorba Linda Boulevard and is anchored by a Bristol Farms, Regal Movie Theater, and a smattering of restaurants, most notably, a Habit Burger, Blaze Pizza, Cafe Rio, South OC favorite, the Blind Pig, and a Greek place called Apola Gyro Grill. A far cry from when I was growing up here.

It's another place that is right behind the sparkling new Town Center, and right next to the four-story parking structure that has brought me back to the city of my youth. On the corner of Arroyo and School Streets, there's a dirt lot, which hosts Evan's Smokehouse three days a week, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, starting at 4pm until they run out. It's a modest little space with a small stand where they write up your order and then you bring your ticket over to their trailer and the food is prepared for you.

There are a dozen picnic tables to sit at, some covered by EZ-Up's. The menu? The meats are sold by the half-pound and include, pulled pork, brisket, half chicken, and pork ribs. I have also been told that they have a limited number of beef ribs, but they were not offered the night we were here. There's two sandwiches to choose from, house-cured pastrami and a pulled pork, which you will see in a moment. The menu is rounded out with five sides and a banana pudding, which we hear is amazing.

The man behind this cavalcade of meat is Chef Evan Carl. After graduating from Laguna Culinary Arts six years ago, he held plenty of jobs in OC kitchens, Tabu Grill, Del Frisco Grille, Bandera, Pueblo, and Sidecar Doughnuts among them, then went across the Southern US to learn from the great pitmasters of barbecue. He's also worked in some high-end LA restaurants, most notably Melisse Restaurant, Georgie Restaurant, and The Bazaar by Jose Andres. As if that was not enough, he also found time to become a licensed pilot. Let's see if this barbecue will make us feel like we are in the mile high club or will it make us feel like we missed our connecting flight.

Katie is as predictable as a political argument breaking out on Facebook these days when she's eating at a barbecue restaurant. She almost always orders a Pulled Pork Sandwich ($12), as was the case on this Friday evening. This Carolina inspired sandwich came with a big pile of pulled pork and coleslaw on a nicely toasted roll. The pork was in bigger hunks than most we have had, but I kind of liked that. The pork was nice and moist, and the smoke flavor was not too overpowering and hung out in the background of each bite. Katie felt the weak part of the sandwich was the bun, which kind of fell apart by the end of her meal. For a side, Katie went with Grandma's Potato Salad ($4). My grandmother never made a potato salad like this one. Whoa, was this awesome. The combination of egg, dijon, mayo, red onion and celery to go along with the well-done potatoes made this side a winner. Great texture and flavor. I was afraid the dijon was going to overpower, but it was not the case. Do yourself a favor and get the pint-size for an extra $3. You won't be sorry. Is it too late for the grandma that made this to adopt me?

Since combo plates are not featured on Evan's Smokehouse menu, I created my own. I went with the half-pound of Brisket ($15), Three Pork Ribs ($9), and Cornbread ($4). Yes, it was a little pricey for the $28 I paid, but after a few bites, I forgot all about the small dent to my wallet. The meats were divine. The brisket had a nice ribbon of fat running alongside the top of each slice, the bark framing each piece was nice and flavorful, and the meat was nicely tender and juicy. A very well done brisket, but the pork ribs are not to be ignored. A very meaty rib, they were tender, came off the bone nicely with a light tug, and the lightly sauced outer portion provided the only flavoring that I needed with the meat. Even though extra barbecue sauce was offered, there was no need for it. The hallmark for very good barbecue meat. The cornbread really grew on me, but it was love at first bite for Katie. I like sweeter cornbread, but as I ate this I liked the pop of flavor from the roasted chilis and cheddar cheese. Katie traded me half of her potato salad for the cornbread, so we both ended up very happy. Negotiation, the sign of a great marriage.

As I'm writing this, I do regret not trying the Banana Pudding, but I will definitely be back to Evan's Smokehouse. That's one of the only regrets I experienced on this visit. This is one of the best barbecue spots I have experienced in OC to date. The menu is a little limited. I'd love for them to add some sausage or tri-tip, and maybe some mac and cheese, but maybe due to the limited space in their trailer, it wouldn't be possible. I'm also a little nervous that this might only be a temporary spot for Evan's Smokehouse because I'm sure there is eventually going to be a plan for this corner lot in the future. For now, the residents of Yorba Linda should consider themselves lucky that they have the opportunity to eat great barbecue at least three days a week. It's way better than the options I had while growing up here.

Out of five avocados, (because the official tree for the city of Yorba Linda is the Fuerte Avocado), five being best to zero being worst, Evan's Smokehouse gets 4 avocados.

For more information about Evan's smokehouse, head to their website here:

Saturday, November 9, 2019

Hoping Art's Deli Will Be Just What the Doctor Orders

Art's Delicatessen and Restaurant
12224 Ventura Blvd. 
Studio City, CA 91604

I have really been wanting to visit a real Jewish deli for a long while now. I have two reasons for this. One reason is that it has been way too long since I have had a really good Reuben sandwich. My other motive is a little more selfish on my part. Katie has had this lingering cough and cold for a few weeks now, and she refuses to take any kind of cold medicine for it. I was thinking if I could just get her to a good deli, she would get some matzo ball soup, which is also known as Jewish penicillin, and I'd finally get a good night's sleep. See, you just thought I just picked these restaurants at random.

When I searched on Eater LA's Guide to LA's Jewish Delis, Art's was relatively close to where we were staying and was kind of on our way back home. Art's Delicatessen has been in business since 1957 and was started by Art Ginsburg. He passed away in 2013, and the restaurant is now run by the next generation, Sandy and Harold Ginsburg.

Sometimes parking in this area of town can be tough, but there's convenient public parking available right across the street from Art's, right behind the Bank of America.  We had no problem finding a spot and our luck held as we entered Art's and got a table right away. The inside is rather large, with plenty of comfy booths and pictures of their food lining the walls. There's also a deli counter near the front door, which offers plenty in the way of deli fare for people that want their stuff to go.

The menu at Art's Deli is overwhelmingly large, just like at almost every great deli. They offer breakfast, plenty in the way of sandwiches, a plethora of soups, dinner salads, deli specialties, burgers, hot dogs, and more substantial meals like meatloaf, stuffed cabbage, and others plates for hearty eaters. Predictably, prices are rather high for most items, but that's to be expected in delis like this, and more specifically, in this neighborhood. Let's see how everything turned out for us on this late Sunday morning.

So much for my diabolical plan of gently getting Katie to get some matzo ball soup to knock that lingering cold out of her. Maybe corned beef hash has the same effect? Anyways, Katie felt like breakfast and made the unusual selection for her, of the Corned Beef Hash and Eggs ($19). I have never known her to order hash before, but she claimed that it jumped out at her when she was perusing the menu. She felt the corned beef hash was a little on the dry side, but stated that the eggs and hashbrowns were very good. She was also very fond of the Everything Bagel that she got instead of toast. Not sure if they make their bagels here, but she claimed it was one of the freshest she has had in some time.  A good breakfast, but it could have been better if the star of the plate, the corned beef hash was more to her liking.

Like I had said earlier, I have been craving a Reuben ($23), and I would not be denied this morning. At Art's, they offer either turkey, pastrami, or corned beef as the choices for their Reubens. I went with the pastrami, which I have a preference for. The pastrami is not cut very thin, which allows for a better sandwich in my opinion, as it allows for the pastrami to be the star of the show. I can hear my dad in my head telling me I'm wrong about this, but I'll stand by my guns. The sandwich was finished off with a good amount of sauerkraut, Swiss cheese, and Russian dressing all on toasted rye bread. I really did like this sandwich, the pastrami was very flavorful and not too salty, the sauerkraut was not overly tangy, and the Russian dressing brought it all together. I also have to make mention of the rye bread here, as it was excellent. For my side item, I went with the potato salad which was pretty solid, but I was hoping for a bigger pop of flavor from it. It did have a good texture to it though, but I'd probably get something else the next time.

Art's Delicatessen did not cure Katie's cough and cold, due to her not taking my gentle suggestion of having the matzo ball soup, but it did help quench my desire for a very solid Reuben sandwich. Where does Art's rank out of all the LA delicatessen I have been to so far? I'd put it behind Brent's and Langer's, but it's definitely a solid spot. Service was good on this visit, except that our server brought out a tuna melt instead of my Reuben, but that miscue was rectified in a timely manner. I'm happy to report that Katie's cold finally cleared up later that week, which I'd like to think was due in a small part to this visit to Art's. Delis can be very medicinal.

Out of five Frisbees, (because the first Frisbee was sold in 1957, the same year that Art's opened), five being best to zero being worst, Art's Delicatessen and Restaurant gets 3.5 Frisbees.

For more information about Art's Delicatessen and Restaurant, head to their website here:

Thursday, November 7, 2019

Burgers so Good They Will Make You Do the Truffle Shuffle?

Burgers Never Say Die
2388 Glendale Blvd. Unit A
Los Angeles, CA 90039

Ugh, baby showers. The words just bring to mind dread for me. Luckily, the last couple of years have been devoid of coed baby showers. That streak ended last month when Katie's family threw her sister Emily a shower up in Burbank with her extended family.

I had sworn off baby showers long ago when my friend Richard invited me to a coed shower, which he promised would be filled with football, beer, food, and none of the lame games that typically go with the impending birth of a child. Not only was it only me, him, and one other guy there, but I was alerted to the fact that he needed to be there to help out and there would be no football. I promised myself I would never be duped like that again.

I made an exception for my sister in law because I love hanging out with the extended family, I knew there would be plenty of good food and cocktails present, and with Katie leaving a couple hours ahead of me to help set up, it gave me plenty of time to stop on the way up the 5 Freeway and try out one of the hottest burger spots in LA, Burgers Never Say Die.

Burgers Never Say Die has been on every burger lover's radar for two years now. They started in the backyard of owner Shawn Nee's house, and with the word of mouth about the smashed burgers he was serving up there, the lines grew out of control, and ultimately they were forced to shut down. They then did pop-ups in Glendale, and finally found a permanent home at the start of this year in Silverlake.

I had it timed perfectly to get here at half-past one on a recent Saturday, hoping that I'd miss the busy lunch rush. No such luck, as the parking lot was packed and I ended up parking a few streets away in the residential area behind the restaurant. The restaurant sits just in the back of Silverlake Coffee right off of busy Glendale Boulevard.

I was able to walk right in and place my order, but then the waiting began. It took nearly 40 minutes from when I placed my order until I was back eating my food in my car, a far cry from the two hour wait times that some people have reported at the height of BNSD's popularity. There is limited seating here, and people were scoping out tables very quickly. Speaking of limited, the menu here is pretty limited as well. They offer a double burger, fries, and soft-serve ice cream. Enough build-up, let's see what the hottest burger in LA looks and tastes like.

Okay, here it is in all of its glory. I got the Double ($7.35), which comes with two patties, of course, cheese, ketchup, mustard, pickles, and diced onions. The comparisons to these cheeseburgers and the ones at McDonald's are numerous online, but this burger is what I imagine McDonald's used to taste like when they started in the '50s. The beef patties were smashed onto the grill and it formed a nice crusty outer ring, while the cheese and condiments were there to compliment the meat, not overpower it. The bun was super soft and well made. The burger was a little greasy, but it still came across as a very clean tasting burger. I'd describe this as a superior fast-food burger, but one that takes 40 minutes to get from the time you order it. 

I also got an order of Fries ($3.95). They were your typical fast-food fries. Maybe a little salty, but they were fried crisp, and if I had gotten some ketchup to go along with them it would have helped cut the saltiness a bit. Pretty good, but not earth-shattering.

Right where you order, they have it splashed across their counter that you better order two. I'd definitely agree with that sentiment. I knew I was going to be eating at the baby shower, so I showed a little restraint, but I could have easily put away two of their double burgers. Burgers Never Say Die is a spot I think everyone should visit at least once. The burgers are deserving of all the praise that they get, but if this was the only burger spot left on the planet, I think I'd become a little tired of it after having it ten or so times, due to their limited menu. In the end, this burger did help to ease the pain of enduring another coed baby shower. Hopefully the last one for a while.

Out of five pirate treasures, (because the name of this restaurant evokes the 1985 movie, Goonies, and of course, the goonies never say die while they are looking for treasure), five being best to zero being worst, Burgers Never Say Die gets 3 pirate treasures.

Burgers Never Say Die does not have a website, but you can find more information about them on their Yelp page here:

Sunday, November 3, 2019

Two of My Favorite Things from School, Lunch and Recess

The Recess Room 
18380 Brookhurst St. 
Fountain Valley, CA 92708

Time is flying by. It seems like Christmas was just a month ago, but it's already here again next month. When I was growing up it felt like it took forever for the holidays to get here, and now that I'm way older than I'd like to discuss, it seems like every three months we are putting up Christmas lights and running around like maniacs for gifts for our loved ones.

I bring this up because it seems like just a short while ago that we were invited to try out a new restaurant that took over a shuttered Coco's on Brookhurst. The restaurant was started by five friends who met while they were playing basketball in elementary school, each went their separate ways, but all came back together again to bring something different to their hometown of Fountain Valley. That restaurant was the Recess Room, and believe it or not, that was three years ago. Man time flies when you are serving up some great food.

Flash forward to now, and the boys from the Recess Room are expanding their operating hours by serving lunch for the first time in their history. The food served here would best be described as Asian fusion, but even that description is not quite right because the eats at the Recess Room have elements from not just Asia, but from pockets all over the world. Whatever they label it, I was pretty excited to see what they had cooked up for their legions of fans that had clamored for them to open for lunch for a long while now.

Lunch will be served Tuesday through Friday from 11 to 2pm to start, and then they will see how it's received and maybe tweak the hours after that. Lunch will be a little different setup from the usual dinner service at the Recess Room. At lunch, you will order near the front door, where a large chalkboard will be hanging with the midday offerings. You will then be given a number, grab your utensils, and then wait for your food to be brought out to your table.

There's not much crossover from the lunch and dinner menus, which is a little upsetting for fans of their famous Blue Crab Beignets, which you all need to try for dinner as soon as possible. The lunch menu features three sandwiches, a quartet of bowls, two salads, a sizzling platter, and a smattering of sides. Nothing on their lunch menu is over $16, with most items averaging about $12, which is what most of us end up spending at our local fast food spot for lunch. Very reasonable. Enough buildup, let's see what the Recess Room came up with for lunch.

This Sizzling Platter ($16) must be a very popular item, as we were told that it was not available when we got here, but then they told us that they had one left. Lucky us. This is a meat lovers dream. This hat trick of meats was filet mignon in a cognac pepper sauce, albondigas meatballs, linguisa sausage, and is finished off with a fried egg and slices of a french baguette. The best meat out of the bunch was the linguisa, which had a nice little kick to it at the end of each bite. The albondigas meatball was loosely packed but still full of flavor. The steak was a little overcooked, due to the fact that it's served on a sizzling platter, so it's still cooking while it sits there. The sauce helped it out a bit, and we utilized the bread by sopping up the rest of the sauce. The egg was overcooked as well because it was the last thing we ate, as I was focused way more on the meats. Definitely, a must-try for people who want a hearty meal in the middle of the day.

My first time at the Recess Room three years ago they had a bone marrow burger on their dinner menu. It has since been replaced by the Bacon Bourbon Burger, which sounds just as awesome. The new lunch menu has brought back a new version of their Bone Marrow Burger ($14). Just like that first burger I had here, I was surprised that this burger was as subtle as it was. The bone marrow butter came through in waves but did not overwhelm. The high-quality grind of the grass-fed patties was evident and played nicely with the bone marrow butter and bacon jam. The cheese and red onion rounded this out perfectly. I also wanted to make mention about the bun here, it was stellar. Nice and soft, but still structurally sound. Kudos to the LA bakery where they get their bread from. A very flavorful burger that will not make you sleepy for the rest of your workday.

Not anything like you can get in the City of Brotherly Love, this Fili Cheesesteak ($15) was just as delicious as any Philly I've had recently. Made with some fantastic filet mignon, grilled onions, provolone cheese, and tied together nicely with ponzu butter, I ate this way too quickly. At first, I thought it needed a bit more in the way of condiments, but once I got into the sandwich it really surprised me with all of the flavors melding together nicely. Again, the bread on this was awesome. My lone complaint would be the underdressed salad that came with this. Very bland, but it could be made better by ordering some extra dressing. 

The only item that appears on both the lunch and dinner menu at the Recess Room are these Brussel Sprouts ($5) and for good reason. They are one of my favorites. These crispy sprouts come with shaved parmesan, chopped hazelnuts, brown butter, a touch of lemon, and lap cheong, which is a Chinese sausage that's dried and resembles bacon, but with a subtle sweetness to it. A lot going on in this bowl. I love all the textures and flavor profiles and I'm thankful that they don't ruin it by adding balsamic or maple, which can overwhelm the palate. I do wish the Brussell sprouts were in bigger pieces instead of shredded, but still, a must get side dish.

It might be controversial to say this, but I'm way more partial to tater tots than fries. There, I said it. I stand by my statement. That means we had to give the Recess Room's Ooey Gooey Tots ($6) a try. These classic tots were sprinkled with grated parmesan and a very good cheese sauce. I'm not sure what kind of cheese this was made with, but it was delicious, but not too heavy. Puts those poor skinny fries to shame.

With a lunch menu executed this well, it makes me wish that I worked closer so I could try more of their midday offerings. I was pretty impressed with everything that we had for this media sneak preview of the lunch menu at the Recess Room. I liked the more casual setup for lunch, and the price point is just a couple bucks more than what you'd end up spending at the Wendy's down the street. Even though time is speeding by like crazy, I foresee a return trip to the Recess Room in our near future. At least now we have the option of not only enjoying dinner here but lunch as well.

I would like to thank everyone at The Recess Room for their warm hospitality and generosity during this special sneak preview of their new lunch selections. Judging by the reaction from the other people here, they are going to be very busy starting on November 5th, when their lunch service starts up. I'd also like to extend my appreciation to my new boss and plus one on this afternoon, Melissa. Maybe after this fantastic meal, she will give me some extra time off. C'mon superstar, you can do it. Lastly, I'd like to thank one of the best PR people in the business for the invite to this great event. Nerissa Silao, you are always such a pleasure to catch up with, and I thank you for the invite. It was much appreciated.

For more information about The Recess Room, head to their website here: