Thursday, June 23, 2022

We’re in the Market for Good Eats at Pike Place


 Pike Place Market

85 Pike Street 

Seattle, WA 98101


This is going to be a little bit of a different review. For this review, I'm not just trying one restaurant, but three food purveyors at the famous Pike Place Market. Yes, I know that it's a little weak to just limit myself to three spots, but we were headed out for dinner in a few hours, and I can't eat like I used to. My competitive eating/binging days are sadly past me. As hard as it was, I limited myself to three of the most popular eateries at Pike Place Market. 

For those of you that have never visited Seattle, Pike Place Market is the longest continuously operating market in the country. This August the market will celebrate its 115th birthday. The market is the second most visited attraction in Seattle, with only the Space Needle getting more visitors through its doors. Naturally, fruits and vegetables are available here, but also seafood, arts and crafts, retail shopping, and food purveyors of all sorts abound through this nine-acre space. 

Not only is the food a big star at the market, but there are other things to see here. The first Starbucks to serve coffee, and not just the beans is located right across the street from the market. The infamous Gum Wall is here as well, for better or worse. It was pretty gross, but we did our part by placing a piece of chewed gum on the brick wall. You also can not miss the fish mongers throwing fish around in the center of the market. There are also plenty of street performers all through Pike Place Market, looking to entertain you, so keep on the lookout. 

So where to eat, since there was no way I could eat everywhere I wanted? I went to Yelp and found the three most popular places to eat at Pike Place Market. Not only did these three places have the most reviews at the market, but they were also among the most reviewed restaurants in all of Seattle. Not surprising when you realize that this market attracts 10 million visitors a year. So, now that I had a plan, let's see the best of what Pike Place Market has to offer. 





Up first is Piroshky Piroshky. This is mere steps away from the first Starbucks, and almost always has just as long a line as their coffee hawker neighbor. Opened in 1992, Piroshky Piroshky wanted to bring a taste of Russia to the great people of Seattle. What is a piroshky? In its simplest terms, it's a handheld pie with sweet or savory items inside. They are handmade at the small Pike Place location, which offers over twenty varieties to choose from, almost all hovering around the $7 price point. 

We went with what the menu called two of their best sellers, the Beef and Onion Piroshky ($7.26) and the Apple Cinnamon Roll ($5.25). The better of the two was definitely the beef and onion, which was nice and flavorful, but what made this for me was the dough encasing the meat and onion. It was flaky and light, and one of the most buttery things I have eaten in a long while. Really satisfying. The apple cinnamon roll is their best-selling sweet item. It's made with sliced granny smith apples, dusted with cinnamon, and topped with a glaze of lemon and honey. It photographed beautifully but was not sweet enough for my tastes. The glaze made the dough a bit stiff, which I was not too fond of. 




Stop number 2 was the most reviewed Seattle restaurant on Yelp, Pike Place Chowder. With over 8,000 reviews and a four-and-a-half star rating, it doesn't get any more popular than this spot. Situated on Post Alley, just south of Pine Street, it might just be easier to find this place by looking for the long line of hungry chowder heads. When they opened in 2003, they were unsure if chowder would bring people in. That doesn't seem to be a concern anymore. 

For our visit to Pike Place Chowder, I went with the Chowder Sampler ($16.95). The sampler is definitely the way to go when visiting here, as it gives you a great idea of what they are all about. Even if you are not a fan of anything but clam chowder, their other varieties will help to change your mind. We had the New England Clam Chowder, Lime-Coconut Chowder, Smoked Salmon Chowder, and the Crab and Oyster Chowder. Their signature chowder was really one of the best I have had, but I even enjoyed the other versions we encountered. I'm not a big fan of salmon, but the depth of flavor in each spoonful might make me reconsider my take on salmon. The oyster and crab were nicely balanced and popped enough to make it my favorite of the day. I got the lime-coconut on a whim, and even that one was good, but it did still finish fourth out of this quartet. 

I also had to try their Connecticut-Style Lobster Roll ($29.95), because, why not, we were on vacation. The four ounces of Maine lobster was placed in a traditional lobster roll and topped with melted butter, a squeeze of lemon, and finished off with a sprinkling of spices and chives. Predictably, this was a very rich sandwich. The lobster was fresh and not rubbery, and the butter helped tie everything together. Delicious. 


So, after eating breakfast, and the other two stops on our Pike Place eating adventure, we finished with just a Small World's Best Mac and Cheese ($7.99) at Beecher's Handmade Cheese. Beecher's opened at Pike Place Market back in 2003. In the 19 years since then, they had won numerous awards for their handmade cheeses, including in 2012, when they won Best of Show at the American Cheese Society's annual competition, beating out over 1,700 other cheeses. 

The menu at Beecher's includes a trio of sandwiches, two kinds of mac, and three soups. We were so full, but this mac and cheese was hard to put down. They used penne, instead of macaroni, which adds a better surface area for the rich and delicious creamy cheese. The pasta was perfectly cooked, and this came out steaming. Definitely one of the better mac and cheese dishes I have had. Do not miss Beecher's. 

If I did not have such a long list of restaurants that I wanted to get to while we were in Seattle, we would have come back to Pike Place Market another day or two. We barely scratched the surface on this visit. These are three spots that you should definitely not miss though. I even dare to say that they are iconic and well worth the long lines if you visit the market on weekends. I'll leave you with this from the great Phil Rosenthal, who says that in order to get a feel for the food of a particular city, you should first head to its food halls and markets. Pikes Place Market definitely felt like the heartbeat of food culture in Seattle. 

For more information about Pike Place Market, head to their website by clicking here: https://www.pikeplacemarket.org/

Thursday, June 16, 2022

Hoping for Some Bitchin’ Breakfast Sandwiches in Seattle


 Biscuit Bitch

1909 First Avenue

Seattle, WA 98101


It was our first full day in Seattle, and we were planning on going big. We needed some fuel for our long day of eating, walking around Pike Place Market, checking out the gum wall, and riding the Seattle Great Wheel. I figured this would be as good a time as any to cross Biscuit Bitch off of my restaurant wishlist. 

Biscuit Bitch is the eighth-most reviewed restaurant on Yelp in Seattle. They have over 4,200 reviews written about them and own a solid four-star rating. The woman behind this restaurant is Kimberly Spice, a home-taught cook who lived in a trailer park in Florida in the 90s. She learned cooking from watching TV cooking shows, and her favorite was Cookin Cajun with Justin Wilson. This show taught her that cooking can be fun. It's what she thrives for even now, a little southern trailer park hospitality, with a little fun thrown in. 

It must have resonated with the people of Seattle. She once had three locations, but only this one near Pike Place Market and the Belltown shop remains open. When we visited here in March, there was no indoor dining, as you had to order at the front door. Also, from what I can gather, they had to pare down their menu to make it easier for their employees to work in their small kitchen, and streamline the process of getting breakfast in the hands of their rabid fans that wait in long lines, especially on weekends. 

We were here on a Thursday morning, just after 11, and were met with a pretty small line. The Biscuit Bitch menu features five breakfast sandwiches that come with gravy. They also have seven other biscuit sandwiches, which can be made into a combo meal. They seem to be a little uppity about substitutions, but that might be part of their shtick. Much like Dick's Last Resort in San Diego, or the Weiner's Circle in Chicago, we observed a spirited back and forth between a customer and the staff, which at first seemed a little unnerving, but I believe it was done intentionally to enhance the experience. We were not going to get into it with anyone, but we were here to see if all the hype for this place was worth it. Let's check out the food. 

After approximately 15 minutes our name was called out and we picked up our breakfast. Katie got the Bitchwich Comb Meal ($11.58) which included the Bacon Bitchwith, Garlic Grits, and a drink. The split biscuit comes with bacon, egg, cheddar cheese, and bitchy sauce. Katie felt the biscuit was a little on the dry side, but ended up loving this as a whole. She liked the smoky bacon and bitchy sauce. She called this a good breakfast sandwich. She reserved all of her praise for the garlic grits. She was a big fan. She really enjoyed the buttery smooth texture and the garlic that permeated each forkful. I was not as enamored with these grits though. I did not really get a lot of garlic in the bites that I had, and I kind of felt that these were a little on the boring side. Maybe if we would have gotten these with cheese, it would have helped these level up. 


I knew we would eat quite a lot at Pike Place Market, so I just got one sandwich at Biscuit Bitch. For the sake of variety, I should have gone with one of their gravy bitches, but I opted for the Sausage Bitchwich ($6.95 plus $2 for an extra sausage patty). Just like Katie, I felt the biscuit was a little dry, but I did like the structural integrity of it. The sausage was also really good, but with the added patty it kind of overpowered the rest of this sandwich. I could not really detect much in the way of the egg, cheese, and the bitchy sauce. This breakfast sandwich was well made but could have been more balanced. 

Biscuit Bitch was good, but I really do regret not getting their items with gravy. A big misstep from me. Based on what I did experience though, I get a sense of why this spot is so popular. One reason is the vibe they give off. People are looking for something a little different, something that is a little brash and daring. This spot fills that aspect as their name is a little cheeky for some, and the gruff attitude of their employees is part of the experience. It's also food for the masses, unapologetically simple and something we can all relate to, but made way better than your normal fast-food breakfast sandwiches. Is this the best breakfast sandwich I have ever had? No, but it was worth a visit and started my big day of eating off on the right foot. 

Out of five washing machines, (because Pike Place Market, where this location is situated, was opened in 1907, the same year as the first electric washing machine was brought into homes), five being best to zero being worst, Biscuit Bitch gets 3 washing machines. 

For more information about Biscuit Bitch, head to their website by clicking here: https://biscuitbitch.square.site/home

Sunday, June 12, 2022

Getting Into the Spirit of Things at Von’s


 Von's 1000 Spirits

1225 First Avenue

Seattle, WA 98101


We had traveled the first half of our day, had a late afternoon lunch, visited the Space Needle, and checked into our hotel all by 5pm. Katie and I contemplated just staying in for dinner or maybe getting something delivered, so we'd be fresh and ready to go for the next day. Then we shook off our drowsiness, realized that we were on vacation, and headed to the closest restaurant on my Seattle restaurant wishlist, Von's 1000 Spirits. 

I'm so glad we got our second wind. Von's is situated on First and University Street, kitty-corner from the Seattle Art Museum, and a mere five blocks away from our hotel. Von's does not only carry one thousand spirits, they now feature over 1,500 and counting, which is the largest collection in the city. As if that's not enough variety for you, they also produce small batches of their own spirits. 

Food? They specialize in sourdough pizza and pasta, using a 65-year-old sourdough starter. Their menu is divided into small plates, sourdough pizza and pasta, burgers and sandwiches, entree salads, and a quintet of seafood offerings. Food is moderately priced with nothing on the menu over the $25 mark. Von's offers several specials during the day, including a twenty-five percent off lunch for Washington state residents, 15 minutes or its free promotion for lunch, and happy hour specials. 

We arrived at Von's 1000 Spirits right at 8pm on a Wednesday and were seated immediately. The bar area on the right-hand side of the restaurant is breathtaking, with all of their bottled spirits on display in a lighted glass case, just behind their hard-working bartenders. The left-hand side of the restaurant showcases the open kitchen and pasta-making space. We were seated in the back of the restaurant, in a darkened room, that was a little quieter than the raucous bar area. Let's check out the food. 

We had eaten lunch just three hours ago, but we are never one to skip an appetizer. At Von's, we tried the Spicy Fennel Meatballs with Lusty Lady Marinara ($11.75). I believe these four golf ball-sized meatballs were made of pork, and the fennel was indeed present but not overpowering. They were fork tender and were perched in a cast-iron skillet with their house-made Lusty Lady marinara, which is named in homage to their neighbor, the Lusty Lady Strip Club, which had to shut its doors in 2010. The marinara was not spicy but added a nice acidic tinge to the rich meatballs. 

I was pretty excited when Katie ordered the Tellicherry Chicken and Smoked Gouda Pasta. I can not ever recall having sourdough pasta, and it was delicious. The pasta had a little bit more chew to it than regular pasta but was al dente at the same time. A very nice balance. The chicken was seasoned with tellicherry pepper, which hung out in the background, allowing the pasta and chicken to co-star with the unobtrusive, but still rich gouda. One of the better pasta dishes I have had in years.  


This Hass Avocado and Billionaire's Bacon Burger ($17.50) blew me away just as much as the pasta dish. This is one well-thought-out burger. The beef is from St. Helen's Beef and is chopped in the restaurant daily. Cooked and seasoned perfectly, the burger is then layered with sliced tomato, red onion, mayo, lettuce, provolone, avocado, and thick-cut bacon on a fantastic sourdough hamburger bun. The high-quality ingredients were evident with each bite. I loved the uniqueness of the sourdough bun, the creamy texture that the avocado brought, the smokiness that the thick bacon gave out, and the little tang that the red onion added. Due to the juiciness of the burger, it was a little hard to eat, so I left it in the wrapper for a little more help structurally. Burgers at Von's come ala carte, so I opted to forgo what I hear are some really good fries and try their side Caesar Salad ($4) instead. Another winner, the greens were dressed with a wonderful Caesar dressing that was not too tangy but still did not lack flavor, probably also thanks to the generous dusting of grated parmesan cheese sprinkled on top of the greens. The sourdough croutons were a nice little treat as well, way better than most. 

Even though I was not as hungry as I would have liked to have been going into Von's 1000 Spirits, I ate everything here and still wanted more. That's how much I enjoyed this restaurant. Even though I had a long list of Seattle restaurants that I was trying to hit up, I was still trying to figure out a time when we could return to try their four-cheese patty melt, salmon chowder, or their bolognese. It did not happen, but Von's is the benchmark that I used for the rest of my food adventures in Seattle. The only negative I can come up with during our meal was that our server was not very friendly and left us for good stretches of time. Still, that was not enough to squash my fervor for Von's 1000 Spirits. 

Out of five great blue herons, (which has been the official bird of Seattle since 2003), five being best to zero being worst, Von's 1000 Spirits gets 4 great blue herons. 

For more information about Von's 1000 Spirits, head to their website by clicking here: https://www.vons1000spirits.com/

Saturday, June 11, 2022

A Little Taste of the Big Easy in Seattle


 Toulouse Petit 

601 Queen Anne Ave. North

Seattle, WA 98109


Vacation time! It has been a long time since we got any extended time away. We have done a couple of short two-day jaunts, but this is our first extended trip since before covid appeared two and a half years ago. The main reason for this is that Katie started a new job two years ago, and she and her coworkers have been very busy helping open medical facilities. In mid-March, we squeezed in a four-day trip to Seattle to check out the sights and of course sample the best food that this area has to offer. This is the first of eight restaurants that I'll be reviewing from the Pacific Northwest. 

We had an early flight departing from LAX, so we arrived in Seattle ready for lunch. By the time we had gotten our luggage and waited way too long for our rental car, it was already well past normal lunch hours. Our plan was to visit the Space Needle before checking into our hotel, so we looked for a restaurant on my list near this iconic attraction. Toulouse Petit is about a block and a half away, so that's where we headed to fuel up before taking in the spectacular views from 48 stories up in the Space Needle. 

Toulouse Petit is situated on the corner of Queen Anne Avenue and Mercer Street, in the Uptown area, the neighborhood formerly known as Lower Queen Anne. We arrived just after 2pm on a Wednesday, and predictably since it was past lunchtime, and well before dinner, we pretty much had this Cajun-Creole restaurant to ourselves. The dining room is dreamlike, with lots of lit candles on each wall, circular tiled flooring, and light fixtures right out of a fairy tale. I can only imagine how much more stunning this restaurant is when it's dark outside and all the candles along the walls are more prominent. 

Opened in 2009, Toulouse Petit has gotten a lot of praise and accolades for its New Orleans-inspired cuisine. They have been named to many best-of lists, have one of the most acclaimed brunches in all of Seattle, and are the sixth most Yelped restaurant in Seattle, with over 4,500 reviews and a solid 4-star rating. 

Their menu is just as impressive. They serve their brunch menu until half-past two every day, and they also have a very large lunch menu, with over 70 items on it. It was a little overwhelming, but that might have just been due to the hunger pains I was experiencing since I hadn't eaten since dinner the preceding evening. Let's see how our first meal in Seattle ended up going. 


From the minute we sat down, Katie zeroed in on the Dungress Crab over Fried Green Tomatoes with a Tarragon-Chive Ravigote ($23). It doesn't get much more southern than this dish. To be honest, I'm not really a big fan of tomatoes, but these were some of the better ones I have had. The tomatoes were nicely fried with a cornmeal-type breading which was not too heavy and played nicely with the sliced tomato underneath. The best part of this plate for me was the shredded fresh crab with the slightly acidic, dijon-based ravigote sauce. I could not get it out of my head that these two would have made a great sandwich if they found their way together in a french roll.   


Our entrees were up next and let's start off with Katie's selection the Buttermilk Fried Chicken Po' Boy ($17). This is one of eight po' boy sandwiches available at Toulouse Petit. They all come on a french roll with lettuce, Roma tomatoes, peppers, and a creole mayonnaise. Katie was quite fond of this sandwich. The chicken was tender, the bread was soft and pliable, and the peppers added little bubbles of flavor. She did mention that they could have used a tad more mayo on this, but it was still a solid sandwich. Alongside the sandwich was some Pommes Frites with garlic aioli. There were a lot of fries here, so I found myself eating a good number of them to help Katie out. They were pretty addictive. The garlic aioli was a little thinner than I was expecting, but it worked well with the fries. 

I was really in the mood for a burger, but since we were in a restaurant that featured food from New Orleans, I figured I'd get the quintessential dish people think of when they think of Big Easy cuisine, Jambalaya ($20). This traditional version came with plenty of rice, sausage, shrimp, and chicken. The menu claims that this is unapologetically spicy, but I found it to be very mellow. Not lacking in flavor, but definitely not spicy. I have never been to New Orleans, so I can't compare this to any from there, but it's a very solid version among the ones that I've had at other restaurants. 



Finishing things off for us at Toulouse Petit this afternoon were these Toulouse Beignets ($10) and Vanilla Ice Cream ($3). These six beignets came out of the kitchen fresh from the fryer, they were still smoking. They came topped with powdered sugar and a chicory cafe Anglaise sauce that I did not use because I'm not into coffee-flavored things. I ended up alternating bites of the ice cream and the beignets, which was a better option for me. I liked these but wished that they had not stacked these, as the powdered sugar really only got on the top layer. Still, a nice finish to our first meal in Seattle. 

With a menu this extensive, I feel that we just barely scratched the surface at Toulouse Petit. If we lived in the area I could see us going item by item of their brunch and dinner menus, trying to find our perfect meal here. Everything that we encountered on this visit was pretty good, with a lower than I expected price point. The service this afternoon could best be described as cordial, with no glaring weaknesses. This restaurant was an excellent welcome to our adopted home for the next 4 days. If Toulouse Petit is any indication, we are in for some really good meals the next few days. 

Out of five shopping carts, (because the nearby Space Needle opened in 1962, the same year as the first Target, and if you are like the rest of us, even if you only need one thing, you should always grab a cart when shopping there), five being best to zero being worst, Toulouse Petit gets 3 shopping carts. 

For more information about Toulouse Petit, head to their website by clicking here: https://toulousepetit.com/

Friday, June 10, 2022

No Need to Go a Country Mile for Breakfast


 Country Cafe

2321 East 4th Street Suite A

Santa Ana, CA 92705


Technology brought us to our next restaurant review. My parents were giving Katie and me tickets to a hockey game, but the only problem was that they could not transfer the tickets from my dad's phone to us. Even I have to admit that I've had a little bit of trouble with our electronic ticketing this season, mainly because I had set up the wrong email address to access the tickets. After that snafu, it had been clear sailing getting into the games. We took this opportunity to meet my parents for breakfast at Country Cafe in Santa Ana to sort everything out. 

Located right near the corner of 4th and Tustin, in the same little shopping plaza as a UPS Store, a dental office, Subway, and other smaller retail offerings, this address used to be the home of the much-heralded GD Bro Burger, which pulled up stakes in 2019, the same year that Country Cafe opened up. Since that time, Country Cafe has amassed a four and a half star rating on Yelp, with close to 200 reviews. 

This is a breakfast/lunch spot, which is open seven days a week, from 7 to 2pm. Their menu is exactly as you'd expect, with lots of egg dishes, pancakes, french toast, waffles, and a sprinkling of Mexican breakfast options. Only the steak and eggs cross the $15 threshold on their menu, with most items going for right around $12. 

We arrived at Country Cafe right before 9am on a recent Sunday. They were busy, but we got a table inside right away. The space feels nice and comfortable, with tables that are not too close together. For those of you that prefer to eat outside, there's also a small patio off to the right-hand side of the restaurant. Our server took our order promptly, and our food arrived within about 10 minutes. Let's check it out. 

If you follow me on Instagram, you might have noticed that I've been in a Country Fried Steak and Eggs ($14,99) vortex lately. I can not seem to avoid getting this comforting dish to start my day. This one at Country Cafe was stellar. It had the circumference of a softball, with a nice crunchy outer coating and plenty of their delicious country gravy ladled on top. It also came with two eggs and their nicely done home fries which I mixed together to form a kind of hash that was bonded by the delicious yolk of my eggs. I'd probably ask for the home fries to be a little crisper next time, but a really solid start to our visit here. 


My mom is a breakfast sandwich fiend. She's also very particular with her sandwiches. She got this Farmer's Favorite Sandwich ($11.99) without the lettuce and tomato that it usually comes with, instead just opting for the bacon, over hard egg, cheese, and mayonnaise between two slices of toasted sourdough. Who really needs lettuce and tomato on a breakfast sandwich anyways? She really enjoyed this. It had plenty of crisp bacon, the egg was cooked well, and the touch of mayo tied things together well. She was also over the moon with the Fruit Cup ($1.50 upcharge) that she opted for instead of the home fries. She loved that they used sliced bananas in it, which is a big plus in her book.  


Both Katie and my dad got the Popeye Omelet ($13.99) for their first meal of the day, which meant less writing for me, and less reading of my mediocre writing for you. A true. win-win. This omelet predictably came with spinach as the star of the show but also included bacon, onion, mushrooms, and jack cheese. Katie enjoyed that they used jack cheese here, which changed it up a bit from the usual cheddar that most other places use in their omelets. It was not overly stuffed with bacon and the other fillings, but still a solid effort. My dad got the sourdough toast, while Katie selected the biscuit and gravy, which was the same price. The biscuit was fluffy and light, which led me to believe it was house-made, and the gravy was first-rate. 

I always like to pair sweet and savory at breakfast time, so I treated myself to these Banana Chocolate Chip Pancakes ($11.99). These two pancakes were fluffy, but a little on the heavy side. The banana and chocolate chips were in the forefront, and these really soaked up the syrup. I had to ask for extra. Definitely worth trying if you are a fan of pancakes. 

I think I have to agree with the people of Yelp, Country Cafe was a very good spot for a no-frills breakfast. They are not going for the boozy brunch vibe like Snooze and others have been doing recently. This is a straightforward breakfast place that's not trying to rope you in with trendy breakfast items like tres leches pancakes or lobster benedict. They are making good quality food here, which will always entice people to return. We received great service this morning, even though they were quite packed when we were finished, with a wait of at least fifteen minutes for the people that got a late start on this Sunday morning. We ended up getting the ticket situation all sorted out, and were onto the game a few days later. 

Out of five courthouses, (because the flag of Santa Ana features both the Old Orange County Courthouse and the current Orange County Superior Court Complex), five being best to zero being worst, Country Cafe gets 3 courthouses. 

For more information about County Cafe, head to their website by clicking here: http://countrycafe2321.com/

Wednesday, June 8, 2022

Thinking Outside the PorchBox in Laguna Hills



 PorchBox Restaurant

25616 Alicia Parkway 

Laguna Hills, CA 92653


I've made a slight change to my eating habits in the last month or so. No, I'm not turning vegan or pescatarian, I'm trying to avoid fast-food restaurants or more specifically restaurants with drive-thru lanes. I would average at least 10 to 15 fast food visits in a typical week, and in the last month, I have trimmed that number down to three for the whole month. I've felt a lot better, my heartburn is more under control, and I feel less sluggish when I return to work after my lunch break. 

Another unforeseen benefit of this challenge that I've made for myself is that I've been able to have lunch at more varied places around my workplace. When I was eating fast food every day, it was easy to get into a rut. Now I have turned to Yelp way more often and eaten at some places that I might have missed before. One of those places is the remarkable PorchBox in Laguna Hills. 

PorchBox is located at the corner of Alicia Parkway and Paseo de Valencia, in the shopping plaza that is also home to a Ralph's, Pizza Store, and Starbucks. They opened their doors for business just over a year ago. It's owned by Julia Li and Amanda Lacher, both recent Cornell University graduates, who envisioned a restaurant that serves American comfort food, bringing home cooking to mind, but in a fast-casual concept. 

Definitely much more of a takeout or delivery spot, (they do have a couple of small tables in the front of their restaurant), the PorchBox concept is rather unique. Their menu changes four times a year, corresponding with the season. All their boxes come in portions of four; the main dish, and three sides. The sides are interchangeable, and they are very cognisant of people with allergies, such as gluten, soy, dairy, and egg. Their menu is very easy to read, and modifications can be made for people with these allergies. 

I made two visits to PorchBox this year already. No advanced notice was necessary, but maybe with larger orders, it might be advised. I walked in and was on my way within five minutes later with dinner for both Katie and myself. The price point here is pretty incredible, $15 for everything. That's basically what I'd spend at a fast-food restaurant for a large combo meal. I had high hopes that the food at PorchBox was going to be better than that combo meal. Let's check it out. 





My maiden trip to PorchBox occurred in mid-February when they were featuring their winter menu. I had the Pie Box ($15), which they seem to have on every seasonal menu, but with different sides offered. During the winter it consisted of chicken pot pie, brussels sprouts, parmesan polenta, and scallion mashed potatoes. I might have made a substitution with one of the sides, but I don't recall for sure now. The pot pie came with the crust on the bottom, which kind of pushed it into the background, but who eats a pot pie for the crust? The shredded chicken was mixed in with a nice and subtle gravy, corn, green beans, celery, and little crunchies on top, which gave this a nice contrasting texture. All the sides were pretty tasty, but I'd have to say my favorite was the parmesan risotto, which was very comforting. The mashed potatoes were nice and creamy, and while I'm not really a big Brussels sprouts fan, these were made better with the same crunchies that were on top of the pot pie and a nice sauce. 




My most recent visit to PorchBox was last week when they were still doing their spring menu, which will be over by the time I post this review. I already checked out their summer menu, and this exact 'Cue Box ($15) is available for the next three months. This box came with pulled pork, mac and cheese, lemon-poppyseed coleslaw, and cornbread. The pulled pork was pretty basic when eaten by itself, but was made better with their sauces. Along with a solid regular barbecue sauce, they also have a green sauce and a white bbq sauce, which was my favorite, and is an ode to an Alabama bbq sauce. Make sure to ask for all three sauces to find your own favorite. I used the rest of the white bbq sauce to punch up the coleslaw. The mac and cheese was the best side in this box, as it had a nice consistency to it. 

When I think back on my two visits to PorchBox, I feel that I love their concept more than I love their food. That's not a knock on what they serve here, everything was good and tasty, it's just not mind-blowingly great. What is great is the convenience, price point, and the way that they seem to care about their customers. You get a sense of it from your first glance at their menu. They will cater to your allergies, let you swap out sides, and do it all with a smile. Not something that happens too often these days with staff shortages and the general angst that has plagued us as a society over the last couple of years. I've found myself talking up PorchBox more and more since my initial visit, and am really hoping that they succeed. I'm glad my moratorium of not eating fast food brought me here, but even when I return to eating fast food, I'll still visit PorchBox often. 

Out of five packages, (because when I looked up porch box on the internet it showed a whole bunch of boxes that secure your packages from porch pirates), five being best to zero being worst, PorchBox gets 3.5 packages. 

For more information about PorchBox, head to their website by clicking here: https://eatporchbox.com/

Thursday, May 26, 2022

Soaking up the Sunrise Cafe in San Clemente


 The Sunrise Cafe

701 North El Camino Real

San Clemente, CA 92672


It's been way too long since Katie and I enjoyed the sun and walked our favorite trail in OC, the San Clemente Beach Trail. Katie enjoys this jaunt along the coast because it's picturesque, great for people watching, and her favorite reason, there are no hills. After walking nearly three miles, we needed a spot for breakfast. I pulled up Yelp and found Sunrise Cafe. 

Sunrise Cafe, also known as Calypso's Sunrise Cafe, has been open since 2006. In 2013 ownership changed hands to Chen Yen, who has a very harrowing story. She and her sister fled Cambodia at the ages of 6 and 8, then had to escape from two different slave labor camps before making it to Thailand. They were then sponsored and brought to America in 1978. 

After learning a new language and culture and both earning a college degree, they settled into the restaurant business, first opening Calypso Cafe in the courtyard of the old San Clemente Hotel on Avenida Del Mar in 2002. Chen immediately breathed new life into Sunrise Cafe, focusing her attention on service and the presentation of the food. Although they only have 200 plus reviews on Yelp, they own a four-star rating, which is way better than it was back when they took over the business.  

Open only from 7 to half past 2 seven days a week, this is a breakfast and lunch focussed spot. The breakfast menu features all the usual suspects; pancakes, french toast, benedicts, plenty in the way of omelets, Mexican breakfast staples, scrambles, and a healthier section that showcases steel-cut oatmeal, an acai bowl, and other stuff that I would probably never order. Lunch options include burgers, sandwiches, salads, Mexican items, and a couple of Asian-inspired bowls. 

We were done with our walk right around noon and made it to Sunrise Cafe after a short drive. There's plenty of lot parking in the back of the restaurant. We were met with a very busy restaurant but did not have to wait for a table. The walls are dotted with the art of local artists. The tables are pretty close together, but I did not feel I was right on top of people. Our server took our order rather quickly, and within ten to fifteen minutes we had gotten our breakfasts. Let's take a look. 


Katie, who almost always gets a breakfast burrito when visiting a restaurant for her first meal of the day, instead went with this Trestles Scramble ($14.95). They start with a base of home fries, then add three eggs, diced tomatoes, bell peppers, and onion, and top it with a sprinkling of jack and cheddar cheese. Katie really liked this scramble. It was not as greasy as other places, and even though it was devoid of meat, it was flavorful and lighter than most egg dishes she has had. She had wanted a biscuit with gravy, but they were out of biscuits for the day, so when her toast came out, our server brought out a bowl of gravy with it. A very nice gesture. 

My strategy on this early afternoon was to find the egg dish with the most breakfast meats included. I zeroed in on this Meat Lover Omelette ($15.95). The holy trinity of breakfast meats was included with this, ham, bacon, and sausage, along with cheese on top. This was definitely one of the meatiest omelets I have had in a long time. They really loaded it up, but I do wish they had put cheese inside the omelet, instead of just on top, which did not get melted enough. Since Katie had gotten the home fries for her breakfast, I went with the hashbrowns as my potato choice. They were nice and crisp on top and fork-tender in the middle but could have been seasoned a bit more. A very filling meal that kept me from eating until dinnertime. 

Sorry for the lack of diversity that we had at Sunrise Cafe during this visit. I usually like to add a sweet item to our breakfast, but we did not want to undo all the good that we did with our three-mile walk earlier in the day. The Sunshine Cafe is not going to blow you away with its breakfasts, but it's a pretty solid spot for your first meal of the day. The menu is pretty straightforward, with generous portion sizes that will keep you full throughout your day. Yes, Katie and I need to take more advantage of the beautiful area where we live and get outside more. Breakfast spots like this will help motivate us to do just that.  

Out of five kiwis, (because the nation of New Zealand is the first country in the world to experience the sunrise each day, and their population is nicknamed Kiwis), five being best to zero being worst, The Sunrise Cafe gets 3 kiwis. 

For more information about Sunrise Cafe, head to their website by clicking here: https://www.thesunrisecafesc.com/

Tuesday, May 24, 2022

Barbecue Bonanza at Badlands Bar-B-Que in Norco


 Badlands Bar-B-Que

120 Hidden Valley Parkway D

Norco, CA 92860


When I started this restaurant review site back in 2009, the best barbecue you could get in Southern California was probably from Lucille's or Wood Ranch. Both of these restaurants are still really quite popular, most nights they still have a wait for a table. Fast forward thirteen years, and the barbecue landscape has changed. 

A new generation of barbecue restaurants has opened up in the last couple of years. The better ones were opened by people that went to Texas and other parts of the country to learn from the legendary pitmasters in those regions. They brought their techniques and tricks back with them here and opened up their own restaurants to share what barbecue should taste like. Heritage BBQ, Evan's Smokehouse, and Jav's BBQ come quickly to mind. 

I'm not really sure about the history behind Norco's Badland's Bar-B-Que. Their website is pretty informative but is lacking when it comes to the history of this restaurant. I know that they opened their doors in 2014 and it's run by Greg Wolcott. They have a very impressive four-and-a-half star rating on Yelp, with well over 1000 reviews posted. They are open every day from 11 to 8, except Mondays when they are closed. This was enough for Katie and me to meet our, good friends, Ozker and Bianca, and their wonderful daughters for a much overdue visit to Badlands. 

We arrived at the restaurant on a recent Saturday at 5. Badlands is located close to the corner of Hamner and Hidden Valley Parkway, in the same shopping plaza as Hobby Lobby, Floor & Decor, and McDonald"s. The restaurant is bigger and busier than it appears from the outside. Ordering is done at the counter, and then the food is brought out to you. 

The menu is divided into sections of appetizers, salads, sandwiches, burgers, sides, and of course the meats. They offer brisket, pulled pork, baby back ribs, chicken, and hot links. They come as plates or two to three-item combo plates. Want to try some meat but don't have a huge appetite? Badlands also sells quarter-pound tastes of all their meats so it's easier to get the full experience here. A really nice feature, which I wish more barbecue restaurants would adopt. Let's check out the grub we got on this early evening. 

We started big with this Big Daddy Sampler ($30). It comes with four baby back ribs, a quarter pound of brisket, pulled pork, and hotlink, four wings, onion straws, fried pickles, and spicy ranch. This platter might be a great way for someone visiting Badlands for the first time to get aquatinted with the place. The ribs were pretty solid, with plenty of meat on them that pulled away with just a little tug. They were glazed with a layer of slightly sweet sauce and possessed a lovely pink smoke ring encasing the tender meat underneath the bark. The pulled pork had nice varied bites with chopped skin and equal parts lean and fatty shards, but it was a tad on the dry side. The wings were nicely flavored, but the drumette that I had was a tad overdone. The flats were the much better option this evening  The brisket was fine, but the two slices I had on this platter were too lean, and I needed a bit more bark to enhance the flavor of the meat. The sausage had pleasing grill marks and might have soaked up the most smoke flavor of the meats on this sampler. I really enjoyed the fried pickles and onion straws. The pickles were cut into small slices with an evenly coated breading surrounding each pickle chip. They went great with the provided ranch, which was not spicy, but still did the trick. 






I can never have enough meat, as evident by my entree, the Triple Threat Combo Platter ($27). For my three proteins, I went with the baby back ribs, the brisket, and the jalapeno cheddar link. The ribs were just as good as on the platter, sauced perfectly with plenty of tender meat underneath, With this serving of brisket I got more bark and some fat which helped elevate this portion. There were still some bites that were a bit dry and lacked flavor, but there were also some forkfuls that showed real promise. The hotlink was good, but it needed more of both the cheddar and the jalapeno to help waken things up. It just tasted like the regular link, which was not bad, but when you are promised cheese and jalapeno, you get a little let down when it doesn't pop. I've had some really good luck with mac and cheese at barbecue restaurants lately, and that held true at Badlands. This version was topped with jalapeno and bacon and then sprinkled with a few breadcrumbs. The jalapeno did not stand out, but there was enough cheese and bacon on this to make up for it. The garlic mashed potatoes had a nice whipped consistency but needed some more garlic. 

Katie also went the combo meal route with this Double Trouble Combo Meal ($21). She had the brisket and pulled pork, with potato salad and chipotle corn on the cob as her sides. Her brisket was even better than the one on the platter and the one that I had. Very tender, with plenty of the great-tasting bark. She was a fan of the potato salad, which she claimed tastes just like it could have been made for a family picnic. Probably not her family, because they can't cook, but maybe somebody else's family. The corn on the cob was a nice change of pace with a healthy sprinkling of cotija cheese. Everyone else really loved the cornbread at Badlands, but I'm not much of a fan of cornbread, unless it's extra sweet, like the one at Marie Callender's.  

Finishing up this visit was Ari's dinner, the Badlands Potato ($12). This good-sized spud was topped with cheese, bacon, sour cream, butter, chives, and your choice of pulled pork, chicken, or brisket. I'm not entirely sure which protein she went with, but she could not finish this huge loaded potato. She was probably in a hurry to go home and chat with her boyfriend or create a new Tik Tok dance or something. 

I know I was a little too critical with my review of Badlands, but that just goes to show how far we have come in the barbecue game in Southern California. Five to ten years ago this would have been considered outstanding barbecue, but these days it would be classified as good barbecue. I wish it was a little more consistent. Katie's brisket was way better than what I had for my meal or the platter that we started with. I was also hoping that the flavors would pop a bit more. It seemed that everything that had jalapeno kind of fell flat. Not awful, but when you are expecting some heat, it's disappointing when you don't get it in any bites. On a positive note, Badlands is one of the most modestly priced barbecue restaurants we have been to in a long while. That opening platter was only $30 and could have easily fed two to three people. Combos were under $30, which is $10 less than what Lucille's charges, for way more inferior barbecue. Badlands is definitely a step in the right direction from where we were just five years ago. 

Out of five pheasants, (because Badlands National Park is located in South Dakota, a state where the state bird and state food are both listed as pheasant, and maybe the perfect idea for another barbecued meat choice), five being best to zero being worst,  Badlands Bar-B-Que gets 3 pheasants.

For more information about Badlands Bar-B-Que, head to their website by clicking here: https://www.badlandsbarbecue.com/