Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Stuffing Our Faces at the Pie Hole

The Pie Hole
714 Traction Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90013

This is another one of those places that has been on our list for so long, because we never make it up this way. Unlike the others, I remember how this pie shop got on our list though. I read quite a few food blogs, and one that posts with great regularity is Foodbeast. In an article that they posted almost a year ago, they listed the best pie shop in each one of the fifty states. You can read that article here. I am sure by now you have guessed what was voted best pie in our great state of California, of course it was the Pie Hole.

The Pie Hole is located in the Arts District of LA. This area of LA is being reborn from an industrial habitat, into a trendy, artsy type location. The Arts District boasts some of the most desired lofts and condos in LA, which will of course bring hipster type shops and restaurants. This area is bordered by four major freeways, the 5, 10, 110, and the 101. Not coming by car, well they have the Metro Gold Line which is new and only one block away from the Arts District.

We arrived at the Arts District on a recent Sunday afternoon at 4pm. There was some kind of bike festival going on, so the streets were packed and it was very difficult finding parking. After making numerous circles around the Arts District, we finally found parking about three blocks away from the Pie Hole.

I thought with all of the people around the Pie Hole would be packed, which it was, but the line to order was not crazy long and it moved along quickly. There were about fifteen occupied tables, but we were going to be having our pie to go because we were on our way to dinner. The menu here is pretty low key. They not only have regular dessert pies, but also savory pies, such as Mac and Cheese Hand Pie, a Meat Pie, and of course a Chicken Pot Pie. We stuck to the dessert pies, which there were about six offered on the day we were here. After a less than five minute wait, our pies came out and we were on our way. Let's see if these are some of the best pies in California.

What's more American than apple pie? At the Pie Hole they don't just have apple pie, they have Apple Walnut Pie ($6.00). We were still a little full from our dinner, but Katie gobbled this pie up as quickly as I opened the container. This was one of the best apple pies I have ever had. It reminded me of a pie like a Grandmother would make and leave sitting out on the window ledge to cool. The apples were tart and still had a slight sweetness to them. The apples were obviously very fresh, and lacked that fake tasting, jellied aspect that most apple pies have. You could really taste the cinnamon, and the walnuts really brought an earthiness to the pie. The crust here is not just a placeholder for the fruit and nuts. It was flaky and sturdy, without getting in the way of the filling. Soft, and with no burnt pieces, this is one crust I would have been happy to have eaten, if Katie had saved any for me.

When I saw Banana Toffee Cream ($5.00) on the menu, I knew I was meant to consume it. This pie was not over the top sweet like I was expecting. The bananas and cream had a slight sweetness to them, but the striking feature was the creaminess of the them. The toffee could have been more prevalent here, but it balanced everything out nicely the way it came out. Once again the crust needs to be spotlighted here. I believe this was a graham cracker crust, but probably one of the better made ones I have had. Held the filling well, but also added some flavor to the pie on its own. We have another winner.

Not exactly the most beautiful looking dessert, the Chocolate Caramel Sea Salt Crostata ($5.50) proves that beauty is not just on the outside. This rich crostata had the richness that I thought it would provide. I learned that a crostata is an Italian baked dessert, and a form of pie. Whatever it is, it was delicious. The chocolate and caramel were pretty rich, but the sea salt cut it ever so slightly, so that it was not overbearing. As quickly as Katie slurped up her apple pie, this one disappeared just as quickly.

I think the Foodbeast article might have got this one right. Besides having one of my favorite names for anyplace we have visited so far, these pies were some of the best I have had. Everything we had was so good and fresh. The folks over at the Pie Hole are really passionate about using only responsible sourced ingredients and baking all their items from scratch. You can tell that this is unprocessed food, that was made that same day. I am not going to kid you by telling you these pies are a great value, but in this case you definitely get what you pay for. Slices of pie range in the $4.50 to $6 range, but after tasting these you know your money was well spent. Want a whole pie? Call at least a day ahead and order it, and be prepared to fork over $30. We will just stick to these wonderful slices for now.

Out of five warehouses, (because the Arts District was previously called the Warehouse District before the artists moved in to revitalize this area), five being best to zero being worst, The Pie Hole gets 4 warehouses.

For more information on The Pie Hole, click here:

The Pie Hole on Urbanspoon

  Maps for Diners, DriveIns and Dives, Man v. Food and more

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Wood Ranch Celebrates 20 Years with New and Old Favorites

Wood Ranch BBQ and Grill
57 Fortune Dr., Suite 230
Irvine, CA 92618

It is nights like these that I really love being a food blogger. Most of the time being a food blogger is a lonely existence. Katie and I will go out to dinner, then I am left all alone to write about it. Sure there are emails that need to be answered, and people do comment on our posts, Facebook page, and Twitter, but these are all done with me alone sitting at the computer. When I started this blog I never thought we would be invited to restaurant events to try food. It never even occurred to me. One lesson I have learned is, the better the restaurant event, the more food bloggers that come out. This event at Wood Ranch had almost all of my favorite food bloggers in attendance, so I knew we were going to be in for a treat.

Wood Ranch is celebrating their 20th year. Started in Moorpark, this BBQ chain has expanded to 14 restaurants, with three in OC, (Anaheim Hills, Rancho Santa Margarita, and this Irvine location). Unlike other BBQ restaurants, I do not think that you can classify Wood Ranch as a specific regional type of BBQ. They are kind of all over the map, which is not a bad thing, it actually is good. They can please a lot more palates that way. They have Carolina pulled pork, Texas style brisket, and even a Cuban sandwich, which we will get to later. Eating at Wood Ranch you can definitely choose your own BBQ destination.

In my last review of Wood Ranch, (Which you can read here), I said that I thought Wood Ranch was the best BBQ chain restaurant around. Consistency is one reason for this, but the other factor for their success is  their ever evolving menu. The test kitchen at Wood Ranch rolls out new menu items every few months to a select four restaurants, and if enough people like them they make it to the menu in all locations. One of our dining companions on this night was Alex Benes, director of culinary development. We really enjoyed hearing how all of these new items came to be, and how Wood Ranch has tweaked them just enough to make them their own. At this point of the evening we were all seated and had no idea how much food was headed our way.

Starting off my night right was this Raspberry Ranch Lemonade. I usually like my drinks very simple, but this alcoholic drink was very refreshing and not overly sweet. The drink combined Cruzan Raspberry rum, lemonade, and tiny bits of raspberry. I am not sure how they did it, but the small bits of raspberry would get sucked into the straw to provide an extra burst of fruit flavor. It took some self control just having one of these.

The first of our four appetizers to try were the Guacamole, Salsa, & Chips, and a signature appetizer at Wood Ranch, their Famous Shredded Onions. The salsa here was okay, but the guacamole was very fresh and went well with the tortilla chips. The onion strings always amaze me here. First the sheer size of one order. This is a serious mound of onions, which resembled a small haystack. You would expect it to be all greasy, but they are surprisingly crisp. The lack of grease does not mean these lack in taste either. I really liked dipping these in ranch dressing.

The next two appetizers really had more substance behind them. Just looking at these pictures really gets my mouth watering all over again. The Carolina Pulled Pork Sliders are always a favorite. These miniature version of the Pulled Pork Sandwich come with Carolina slaw, pickles, and Carolina BBQ Sauce on the side. The pork is always tender, the slaw gives you a little crunch, and the BBQ sauce brings it all together. An item I have never had at Wood Ranch is the Killer Fiery Wings, but I might not be able to go back without having these again. The name implies that these are going to be on the hot side, but they tasted more like candy. The sauce was sticky sweet, then had a little kick of spice at the end. The chicken itself was fried to a wonderful crispness. I am usually partial to really spicy, but these sweet wings really caught my attention.

Not a big meat eater? Wood Ranch has you covered. We tried two of the salad offerings here. The first salad was the Quinoa Salad. Quinoa is one of the hottest trends on menus these days, and Wood Ranch has it featured as a salad. This salad also contains hunks of avocado, tomato, black beans, almonds, and I might have spotted golden raisins in this. The produce was very fresh and was dressed with a champagne vinaigrette. There was some talk around the table that this might have been served too wet, but I liked it the way it was served, but I always like things a little more moist than the usual person. The Natalie's Salad is one of the most popular on the Wood Ranch menu. This one combined baby greens, candied walnuts, Gorgonzola crumbles, cucumbers, avocado and a balsamic dressing. I liked this salad, but it could have used more Gorgonzola and avocado to help make it pop with more flavor. Of course no trip to Wood Ranch would be complete without having their Garlic Dinner Rolls. These came out hot, and full of garlic flavor. They never disappoint.

An item you may not expect to find on a menu at a BBQ restaurant is a Cuban sandwich, but Wood Ranch's Bar-B-Cubano Sandwich was a big highlight for me. Anyone that knows me, knows that I love Cuban sandwiches. This is not a true Cuban because the bread is a little off and they use Dijon mustard instead of yellow mustard, but there is no denying that this was very good. The baguette was pressed enough to give the appearance of Cuban bread, and the pulled pork was of course a highlight here. Very tender, with a nice smokiness to it. The pickles and honey cured ham helped bring some sour and sweet to this balanced sandwich. I will ask for yellow mustard on future visits when ordering this sandwich. Solid sandwich, and a great addition to the Wood Ranch menu.

When I saw this Short Rib, I immediately thought of the closing credits of the Flintstones when they bring out that giant slab of meat and their car tips over. The photos of this slab of meat do not do it justice. There was so much meat on here, and the chipotle-cherry BBQ sauce added great flavor to this tender meat. A lot of people find the baby back ribs to be the best, but beef ribs get my vote for best rib. I would definitely make this part of my next Wood Ranch Combo.

By this time I was getting pretty full, so I did not focus so much on these two entrees. I did sample some of Katie's BBQ Half Chicken. I usually stay away from chicken in restaurants because they tend to over cook it, but this was very moist, and the you could tell they cooked this just right. The chicken went well with the original BBQ sauce. Not too much, just enough that you knew it was there, while still letting the chicken have top billing. The Texas-Style Smoked Brisket came out with three sauces; an au jus, a chipotle-cherry and a habanero-peach BBQ sauce. The meat went the best with the habanero-peach sauce in my opinion. This sauce was great, and I look forward to the day that you can buy it on-line, just like their regular BBQ sauce.

Side items are not to be over looked at Wood Ranch. The Steamed Broccoli fulfilled the vegetable quota and added a nice dash of green to my plate, so my Mom would be proud. One of the most popular side items at Wood Ranch is their Original Peanut Coleslaw. I am more partial to a mayo based coleslaw, but I can see why people really like this nutty version of coleslaw. The Mashed Potatoes were good, but the hit of the side items on this night was the Lauren's Favorite Mac and Cheese. This mac and cheese really got my table mates raving.

By this time of the night my pants felt like they were going to burst, but there is always room for dessert. Before you ask, no I did not eat all of these desserts. I only snapped pictures of most of them. Somehow the Warm Chocolate Cake got passed right by me before I could snag a bite. That dessert went rather quickly. I would not let the Oreo Cookie Crunch go by me the same way. This is a scoop of vanilla ice cream rolled in Oreo cookie crumbs, then served with a thick hot fudge. Wow, so simple, yet so good. I pretty much hoarded this one to myself. For the fruit lovers, there is the Mom's Deep Dish Cobbler in either peach or apple, and they also have two Cheesecakes. The original is adorned with fresh berries and a raspberry sauce and the special cheesecake this month is a Pumpkin spiced cheesecake with a caramel sauce. A great way to end our glutenous journey.

Twenty years and fourteen locations later, Wood Ranch is still going strong. I am sure they have many more years in their future. The food we had on this night was all pretty stellar. The highlights for me were the Beef Ribs, the Killer Fiery Wings, and the Bar-B-Cubano Sandwich. With choices like these, plus there other menu items, it will be hard for me to decide what to go with on our future visits here.

We would really like to thank everyone at Wood Ranch for the opportunity to try all of this great food. Michelle, the General Manager of this location, Chris who works in the corporate office at Wood Ranch, and Alex Benes for being such wonderful hosts. Thanks very much for your generosity and wonderful dinner conversation. Also worth highlighting was our server for the evening, Megan, who kept everything moving and never skipped a beat when making sure we were all doing okay. Thanks for everything Megan!. Also thanks to PR wunderkind, Jane Gillespie for thinking of inviting us to this great event. You were definitely missed at dinner.

One last group of thank yous goes out to all of the wonderful food blogger's that were in attendance. These guys are some of the best food writers our county has to offer, and the reason I love going to these events. Not only great writers, but fantastic people as well. We look forward to seeing you all again in the future.

For more information on Wood Ranch BBQ and Grill, click here:

Monday, October 29, 2012

A Taste of Havana in Downey

Tropicana Bakery and Cuban Cafe
10218 Paramount Blvd.
Downey, CA 90241

At my day job a truck driver and I got into a discussion about food. As soon as he found out that I was a food blogger, he rattled off a lot of restaurants for me to try. I wrote down about six of them to try, but I forgot to write down his name, sorry about that buddy. Anyways, one of the places he suggested was Tropicana Bakery and Cafe in Downey.

We only make it up this way about six times a year, but I knew one of those times I wanted to stop here. I love Cuban food, and was definitely in the mood for a Cuban sandwich for sure. We got to Tropicana at about 5pm on a Sunday. The restaurant is split in half, with one side being the bakery side, and the other side being the cafe. When we walked in the front door there was a line for the bakery, but we got a table right away in the cafe.

The restaurant was very busy. Lots of families filled the 20 or so tables in this bustling restaurant. They had the requisite Cuban pictures hanging on the wall, along with many images of the Cuban flag being represented. The waiters and waitress's were almost all fitted with fedoras. Even the climate inside of the restaurant resembled Havana, because it was so hot because they do not have air conditioning. After a bit of a wait we ordered our food, and this is how it came out for us.

We had just come from a party, so I was trying to not fill up on bread, but the bread served in Cuban restaurants makes it so hard to pass up. The bread here at Tropicana was served hot, and toasted perfectly. With just a hint of garlic and lots of butter, this basket could disappear quickly if I wasn't saving myself for my meal.

I am at an impasse as to which Cuban sandwich I like better, the regular Cuban sandwich or the media noche. At Tropicana I selected the Media Noche ($5.50 to try. Katie and I split this rather large sandwich. This sandwich had some good things going for it, and some that were a little off for me. The sweet egg bread was not as sweet as I would have liked. It held the sandwich together perfectly, but kind of got the usual balance of this sandwich off kilter. This sandwich definitely had more meat than I am used to on a Cuban sandwich, which was a good and bad thing. The good part is you get more for your money, but the bad part was that it needed more mustard and pickles to regain the balance of the sandwich. The meats here are pretty good. Very tender, with lots of flavor. This was a good media noche sandwich, but not the best I have had. The chips that came with this sandwich also deserve some mentioning. They were good and oily, which made them pretty good in my book. Well worth the under six dollar price tag.

If there is one thing that I know when we enter a Cuban restaurant, it's that Katie will more than likely order the Arroz con Pollo ($11.99). True to form, that is what she got. She likes her arroz con pollo a little more like a soup, or at least a little more liquid. The chicken was tender and the rice had a real good flavor. This was a very comforting dish that wrapped her insides like a warm blanket.

I have decided that this is my, "go to" item in Cuban restaurants, the Masitas de Puerco Fritas ($11.59), Fried Pork chunks. How does that even sound bad? At Tropicana they fried these pork chunks with onions. Some of the pork chunks were a little over done, but the smaller pieces were perfectly tender. The flavor of the pork was right up there with some of the best I have had. I like mixing the black beans and rice together, and this was solid as well. Lastly, I wanted to mention the plantains here. These plantains were not as sweet as some others that I have had, which I kind of liked. I am not much of a plantain guy, but these were another hit in my book.

Tropicana Bakery and Cafe was well worth the trip to Downey. This is some real solid Cuban food, which is hard to come by in Southern California. I thought the prices were fair, and the menu was large enough that you could definitely find most of your Cuban favorites on it. The downfall for this restaurant could be its service. We waited far too long to order, far too long to get drink refills, and far too long to pay our check. Our waiter was nice, but disappeared for long lapses at a time. Not sure if this is the norm here, or if we just hit them at the wrong time. In any case it would not prevent us from coming back here again. Wish I had written my truck driver friends name down, so I could thank him for sending us here.

Out of five accordions, (because the city of Downey is the birthplace of one of the best known accordionist's, Weird Al Yankovic), five being best to zero being worst, Tropicana Bakery and Cuban Cafe gets 3 accordions.

For more information on Tropicana Bakery and Cuban Cafe, click here:

Tropicana Bakery on Urbanspoon

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Football Frenzy #9 at Classic Q

The Classic Q
4250 Martingale Way
Newport Beach, CA 92660

It has been awhile since we have reviewed a place to watch football. In fact it was just a little less than a year ago that we reviewed our last place to watch football on Sundays. Out of the eight places we have tried up to this point, we have liked Oggi's the best. You can read that review here. Just in case you have forgotten, our criteria for grading a place to watch football is great food, great atmosphere, and great service. In our other eight trips to watch football we have not hit our personal trifecta, so the search continues to The Classic Q.

Full disclosure, I had a pretty bad experience here about fifteen years ago or so. I remember it involved being charged for ranch dressing and iced tea and soda refills during Sunday football. Back then I vowed that I would not go back, and that vow stood until a few weeks ago. We were going to be meeting up with my parents at a nearby burger place, so we chose to give Classic Q another try.

My team was playing in the afternoon games, so we got to Classic Q at about ten minutes to one. Richard and Lindsay got there before us and grabbed a table too close to the screens, but we moved back a table after the fans of the morning games closed out their tabs. The setup at Classic Q is pretty solid. They have plenty of TVs, but they were a little slow turning the finished morning games off and turning on the just started one o'clock games. More about the service and ambiance later, for now let's see the food.

So like I said before we were going to be meeting up with my parents after the game, so we were just going to snack. We decided to start with the Spicy Chicken Drumettes ($10.00). I kind of like it when a place gives you all drums. They are a lot easier to eat than the wings. These drums had plenty of meat on them, but the sauce was a little less spicy than I usually like. The ranch dressing here was pretty good, but I kind of thought the price for these drumettes was a little on the high side. We got eight on this plate, so that makes each drumette $1.25. Too much, but not a bad drumette.

At Classic Q they do not have appetizer platters, they have the Awesome Colossome Party Platter. This is the Mini Colossome ($13.00). This platter came with onion rings, fried zucchini, chicken strips, calamari sticks, jalapeno poppers, and mozzarella sticks. With this mini version we got three of each item, which was fine because we had to save room for dinner later. They certainly did not put much thought into the preparation for this platter by trying to make it look good. They simply placed the appetizers on the plate, with no garnish or anything. This did come with three sauces; ranch, BBQ, and marinara, but all of the appetizers were pretty average. The favorites for us were the mozzarella sticks and the fried zucchini, but they were still pretty standard.

I consider myself a good judge of potato skins. I have loved this appetizer for as long as I can remember. I mean, what's not to love? Cheese, bacon, potato, all in an easy to handle package. These potato skins were fried right. Not too greasy, with a very crisp crunch to them. The problem I had with these potato skins was the lack of fillings. The bacon was plentiful, but they needed more cheese. I will give Classic Q some credit for some really good ranch dressing. Very good flavor, and the consistency was right on. It coated the items well, including these skins.

Our trip to Classic Q to watch football was pretty good, with only a few hiccups. The service we got was pretty solid. Our waitress checked on us frequently and made sure we were okay. The prices here were not so wallet friendly. There were no drink specials that we heard about. My well rum and Cokes were $6.50, and Katie got iced tea, and they did not charge her for refills. Glad that ploicy has changed. There were plenty of TVs all around this large venue. With 52 TVs there is a seat nearby with your game on it. They have an outside patio for smokers, and of more importance to us, free wifi, so you can see how your fantasy team is doing. We like places with free wifi. All in all this was a pretty solid restaurant to watch football in. The prices and food were not good enough to overtake our pick for best place to watch football, Oggi's, but if we were in the area again and wanted to catch a game, we wouldn't hesitate to come back to Classic Q.

Out of five u's, (because there are only 71 words in the English language that have a q in them not followed by a u), five being best to zero being worst, Classic Q gets 2.5 u's.

For more information about Classic Q, check there web site here:

The Classic Q Billiards and Sports Club on Urbanspoon

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Cousin Meetup at Old Towne Grinder - CLOSED

Old Towne Grinder
177 North Glassell St.
Orange, CA 92866

It has been ten months since I last had lunch with my cousin Chris. He is a bright college student at Chapman  University in Orange. I should have had lunch with him before this, but you know how life can get. He is busy studying and getting straight A's, I have my fantastic job and this blog to keep working on, so life kind of slips away  little bit. The next thing you know it is Christmas Eve, and you haven't seen your extended family all year. So needless to say, I was more than happy to come see my cousin Chris.

Chapman University, for those of you that do not know, is located in downtown Orange. This area has seen a plethora of new restaurants open up in the last decade. So Chris and I have an almost endless amount of places to try during his lunch breaks from his endless studying. On this trip up to Orange he wanted to try Old Towne Grinder. He might have just chose this place because he doesn't like walking far, but I had wanted to try this place too, so it filled the bill for both of us.

Like all of the business's in downtown Orange, Old Towne Grinder's building has quite the history. According to Old Towne Grinder's web site this building at the corner of Maple and Glassell used to be Wally's Market back in the 50's. I was thinking that if Wally walked into this restaurant today, he would not be in for such a shock seventy years later. Old Towne Grinder still has that old time charm of a lot of places in Downtown Orange. There are soda bottles all over the place here, and if you are an old time soda freak, or just a soda fan in general, this could be your paradise. Tons of sodas for you to try. I am not much of a soda drinker, so I was all about the food. Let's see how it all turned out for us.

I was pretty hungry, so I started with some Chili Cheese Fries ($4.99). These chili fries were average at best. The cheese was not evident here, and while the chili did add moisture, it was pretty bland tasting. The fries themselves were average fast food style fries. Wish this had been served hotter as well.

I was at a loss as to what sounded good here, so I selected the Al's Philly Cheese Steak ($8.39 with drink). When this sandwich came out I was surprised at the size of it. Bigger than I had imagined for the eight dollar price. The first bite I had of this sandwich was good, but every bite after that kind of became average. The meat really needed to be seasoned, and the cheese needed to be more prominent. The onions and peppers were cooked well, but not enough to save this sandwich. As I was eating this, the bread became soggy. Not the worst Philly I have had, but not anything to make it standout either.

Chris was in a sandwich mood as well, so he got the Half BBQ Turkey Sandwich with Fries ($8.34). I have not seen a BBQ turkey sandwich on a menu in a long time. Chris thought this sandwich was pretty unique by having turkey on this sandwich. According to him the sandwich had plenty of meat, but the BBQ sauce was just okay. The bread did its job of holding the sandwich together, but did not add anything beyond that.

Chris was pretty excited about the fries here. I do not think it was the fries he was excited about, but the secret sauce that came with them. I thought it could be a ranch/Tapatio blend, but it was more on the mellower side. I was not as in love with it as Chris, but it was okay. I did think this was a solid serving size of fries to go along with the half a sandwich. No surprise to me, but Chris did not finish his fries.

Old Towne Grinder really failed to impress me. It was not bad, but everything kind of just tasted average. I thought the prices here were fair for what you got, but that is probably where the kudos for this place end. I could have maybe just gotten the wrong things, but that is the risk you take when you make only one visit to a restaurant. The restaurant was not crazy busy during our lunchtime meet up. They have limited seating inside, but even with the limited seats available, no one had trouble finding a place to sit here. Service was fine during our visit, and the food came out in a timely manner. Hopefully Chris and I will not wait ten months for our next lunch rendezvous.

Out of five postage stamps, (because the owner of Wally's Market, also used to be a postman for 27 years), five being best to zero being worst, Old Towne Grinder gets 2.5 postage stamps.

For more information on Old Towne Grinder, click here:

Old Towne Grinder on Urbanspoon