Monday, February 19, 2018

The Crusade for the Choicest Chilaquiles Continues

Cafe Calacas
324 West 4th Street #B
Santa Ana, CA 92701

I think my love for Mexican breakfast has now eclipsed my love for more traditional breakfast foods. Just looking over my list of breakfast spots that I want to try, it is loaded with plenty of places that tout chilaquiles, huevos rancheros, and breakfast burritos as their specialties. I used to be very partial to breakfast skillets and pancakes, but now I find myself checking out restaurants on Yelp for the best breakfast tacos and breakfast tortas.

My love for breakfast foods from south of the border has become so much an obsession, that when my friends Angel and Rebekah casually mentioned their recent visit to Cafe Calacas, Katie and I made quick plans to meet them on a recent Saturday in downtown Santa Ana and give it a try.

Cafe Calacas is situated in the West End Theater building, which is in the shadows of the Ronald Reagan Federal Building across the street. When we arrived at Cafe Calacas at 10am, there was a slow-moving line, about twenty people deep. I grew anxious that we would not be able to get a table, but these things usually work themselves out, and we snagged one of the four tables out in front of the restaurant as a family was getting up to leave.

Like the inside of the restaurant, Cafe Calacas menu is not extremely large. They feature a handful of breakfast specialties, some waffles, and then some salads, wraps, and sandwiches to round things out. They are also known for their coffee drinks, juices, and smoothies. Since we had about a half hour wait in line to study the menu, we made our selections rather quickly when we hit the register. We were given a number and waited for our food to be brought out to us. Let's see if Cafe Calacas would become one of my favorite spots for Mexican breakfast in OC.

I'm not a coffee drinker, but I really enjoyed seeing the designs that they had on top of these beverages. Some real artsy stuff here, and it was a shame that they were going to be ruined after the first sip. I'm not sure what Rebekah's drink was, but Katie had the Cinnamon Latte ($3.75) and really enjoyed it. She claims that the people that make the coffees at Cafe Calacas really know their stuff, and she would definitely swing by here for another one of their excellent creations.

When you are ordering at the register, do yourself a favor and check out the baked goods featured behind the glass. Angel and Rebekah got what I believe they called a Mexican Chocolate Pop Tart ($2.00). It had a crumbly coating with some good chocolate in the inside pouch. This kind of reminded me of a chocolate croissant that was dipped in granola. Tasty.

My Chilaquiles obsession must be spreading, as Katie got this Chilaquiles 2.0 ($12.00). At Cafe Calacas they have two versions of chilaquiles, one is regular, without an added protein, while the other is with your choice of meat added. Katie had the chicken, but chorizo and carne asada are also options. This breakfast dish is made with layered fried tortilla chips, red or green salsa, queso fresco, cilantro, two eggs cooked to your liking, and finished off with a drizzle of crema. Katie selected the green salsa, which had quite a bit of flavor. I was lucky enough to be able to have her leftovers the next day, and I liked hers better than what I had. The chicken was not too dry, and the green salsa had more of a depth of flavor than the red did.

My version of Chilaquiles 2.0 ($12.00) featured steak instead of the chicken and I got my eggs sunny side up because I'm always partial to having as much runny yolk as possible. I really enjoyed the first ten or so bites of this, but then it kind of became boring to me. I think the reason for this was that the ratio of eggs and meat to the fried chips was overblown by a lot. There were lots more chips here as compared to anything else. The red salsa did not really have as big of a flavor profile as the green that came with Katie's chilaquiles. Not awful, but not one of my favorite versions of chilaquiles in OC.

Mixing sweet and savory at breakfast has become a tradition with me when we eat breakfast out, and for my sweet item on this particular morning, I tried the Bananas Foster Waffles ($7.99). For this, they top a Belgian waffle with caramel, sliced banana, and granola, and then garnish the plate with whipped cream and a sprinkling of powdered sugar. This had some winning bites, but most parts of this were devoid of caramel and did not taste like anything. A very boring sweet breakfast item that could have been made much better with some extra caramel or maybe even some maple syrup.

Rebekah had the lone savory waffle on the Cafe Calacas menu, the Puerquitos In A Blanket ($8.99). They use their Belgian waffle as a base and then top it with chorizo, queso fresco, refried beans, cilantro, and is then finished off with a sweet and spicy sauce. She could only finish three-quarters of this, so I obliged her by finishing the rest. It fell in line with most of the other entrees I had here, it was lackluster. I think this also needed a sauce to bind it all together. The chorizo was fine, but a little on the dry side, and there was not enough beans or sweet and spicy sauce on this to make much of an impression. Even though the menu made no mention of it, the crema was a welcome addition here.

Cafe Calacas was fine but did not really stand out other than their coffee drinks and the pop tart thing we had to start. I kind of felt that each of the entrees needed to be sauced a bit more, and needed a little extra pizazz. The setup here was also a little unnerving, as people were grabbing tables before they had even ordered. I was also curious as to why it took so long to order at the register. It took us 25 minutes to just stand in line to place our order. Maybe go to a full-service restaurant where you place orders with a server and then also check in with a hostess when you arrive. The girls running food and clearing tables were definitely hustling on this particular morning, and they were not part of the issue here. My search for the best chilaquiles continues, just as my love for Mexican breakfast grows. Can't wait to tackle more from my list.

Out of five skeletons, (because the word calacas translates to skeletons, and they lend to the decor of the inside of this restaurant), five being best to zero being worst, Cafe Calacas gets 2.5 skeletons.

For more information about Cafe Calacas, head to their website here:

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Hip Hip Hooray for Humphry's

Humphry's Sandwiches
800 Avenida Pico
San Clemente, CA 92673

Well, I had some unexpected time off due to a small health issue, and I decided to make use of my time off by writing up some restaurant reviews, and of course, going to try some new places. After a week and a half of being in bed, it was time to get out and get moving again. I decided it was time for a stroll along the beach in San Clemente, and enlisted my parents to accompany me. After our three mile walk, or more precisely, stroll, we definitely had worked up an appetite. We made our way across the freeway, to Humphry's Sandwiches.

Humphry's is situated right across the street from San Clemente High School, in the Albertson's anchored shopping center. They have been around for coming up on eight years now, and are owned by former San Clemente High School graduates, Tim and Nicole Humphry.

Arriving here a little before noon on a Friday, I was a little nervous that the place would be overrun with obnoxious high school students on their lunch hour, but when we walked in the door we pretty much had the run of the restaurant, but it became quite busy as our visit went along. The inside of the restaurant was clean and comfortable. Ordering is done at the register, you are given a number, and the food is brought out to you. I was a little surprised to see that they have a bar here, and they seem to specialize in craft beer, which we saw more than a few people enjoying at this early hour. No judgments, I also needed a drink after being with my parents for a few hours. Kidding.

The menu at Humphry's was bigger than I imagined it would be. Predictably, it is sandwich-focused, but they also feature a good selection of salads, burgers, hot dogs, and a breakfast burrito which I hear some good things about. Prices hover around the ten dollar mark, with nothing eclipsing that price point. Enough talk, let's check out the food at Humphry's.

As my dad has gotten older, he's getting a little less predictable when it comes to guessing what he will order at restaurants. I thought for sure that the Reuben would be his choice here, but he threw me a curveball by getting this Frisco Burger ($9.95) instead. Good choice. This half-pound burger came with lettuce, tomato, swiss cheese, and thousand island dressing on a sourdough cheese bread. Way better than the version I get frequently at Marie Calendars. This was not as greasy, had a good amount of thousand island dressing on it, and the beef patty was seasoned nicely. Very rare to find a sandwich shop that does burgers well.

Not really the most photogenic of sandwiches, but my mom was very pleased with this Half Chicken Salad Sandwich ($5.95). She had wanted this sandwich on wheat bread, but the girl at the counter told her they did not have wheat and steered her towards the squaw instead. No worries, my mom went with the flow and ended up really enjoying this chicken salad sandwich, with light mayo. My mom claimed that this chicken salad was fresh, and had a good flavor to it. She loved the fact that you could get a half sandwich at Humphry's, which was great for light eaters like herself.

Before coming to Humphry's I did a little research about what the most popular items on their menu were, and two kept coming up, the meatloaf sandwich and the one that I ultimately got, The Rachel ($9.95). For those of you that are not aware, a Rachel sandwich is a Rueben, but instead of sauerkraut, it employs the use of coleslaw along with sliced pastrami, swiss cheese, and thousand island dressing. This sandwich was pretty awesome. It utilized the same parmesan grilled sourdough bread that came on my dad's Frisco burger, and the inside of this sandwich was excellent as well. Plenty of coleslaw and thousand island dressing kept me interested throughout the short life of this sandwich. The pastrami was sliced nicely, and they included plenty of it on here. A very well balanced sandwich, and one that I can see myself getting again. I also wanted to make note of the chips here, which reminded me a lot of Kettle Brand chips. They had a good crunch and went well with the sandwich.

When I was driving home from San Clemente, I could not help but feel a little touch of jealousy that the people of San Clemente have this great sandwich shop so close by to enjoy whenever they want. I was pretty impressed with Humphry's. The Rachel and the Frisco burger have got me excited to try their meatloaf, cheeseburger, and their famous BLT, which features eight pieces of bacon, on future visits to this sandwich shop. Prices seemed to fall in line with the portion sizes that you get here. Service was fine on this visit. Glad I finally got out and about, but even more excited by the sandwiches at Humphry's.

Out of five Tritons, (because that's the mascot of San Clemente High School located across the street, and also the alma mater of the owners of this restaurant), five being best to zero being worst, Humphry's Sandwiches gets 3.5 Tritons.

For more information about Humphry's Sandwiches, head to their website here:

Monday, February 12, 2018

Playing Tourist at Summer House for Newport Beach Restaurant Week

Summer House
2744 East Coast Highway
Corona Del Mar, CA 92625

The first of the year not only brings a more relaxed time at my place of business, but it also brings some much needed time off. Gone are the days of working six days a week, and getting all the overtime that you can handle. The first of the year is the time of the year when I get a chance to breathe. It's also a time of the year I look forward to because it's within these first few weeks of the year that one of my favorite food events take place, Newport Beach Restaurant Week.

Restaurant weeks are pretty exciting to me. There are no coupons to clip, you just have to check out the prix-fixe menus, see something that piques your interest, and go. I usually cross reference my selections with my restaurant wish list. Even though this particular restaurant week was spread over two weeks, we only had one night available to head to Newport to take advantage of this year's restaurant week deals. Darn scheduling and commitments. Anyways, we chose to spend our lone NBRW experience at Summer House in Corona Del Mar.

Summer House has been on my list ever since Edwin Goei, Restaurant Reviewer from the OC Weekly went by and gave their ginger crusted ono a glowing review. Edwin is definitely someone that I trust wholeheartedly when it comes to restaurants in OC, so when I saw that the ono was available on the restaurant week menu, we beelined it to Summer House.

As is the case with most businesses on busy PCH, if you were not looking for it, or if you blinked, you would probably miss Summer House amid the many things that capture your attention driving north on this iconic highway. Summer House occupies the former El Ranchito spot, almost across the street from Sherman Library and Gardens, where PCH intersects with Goldenrod.

Summer House has been here since 2010, which means they must be doing something right to survive in this very competitive restaurant market in this part of town. According to their website, they are a contemporary American restaurant, with a summer vacation home kind of feel to it. I'd say they nailed the vibe they were going for. Even though tables are very close to each other, and the noise on the evening we were there was a little on the loud side, it did kind of feel like we were whisked off on a quick mini-vacay. Since we were at Summer House for restaurant week, it did not take us too long to make our selections off of their $20 three course menu. Let's see how it all worked out for us.

The first course was out pretty quickly and as is our custom while enjoying restaurant week menus, we get different things so we can try each other's choices. Katie went with the Chicken and Vegetable Potstickers ($9.25). These five potstickers came out with an Asian slaw in the middle, a very tiny drizzle of wasabi aioli, and a soy sauce that the menu said had a pineapple tinge to it. The potstickers themselves were nicely done and lacked any discernable grease on them, but more of the wasabi aioli and a more prominent filling would have made these better. I did not really get too much in the way of pineapple in the soy sauce, but soy sauce tends to overpower anyways. I love a Caesar ($4.50), but this one kind of fell flat. It had plenty of squares of parmesan and crunchy croutons, but they needed to have more dressing included on this to keep me interested throughout the life of this salad. Kind of a boring Caesar.

Not on the restaurant week menu, but Katie had heard some good stuff about this Ahi Poke with Wonton Chips ($13.50) and since she is poke fiend, she wanted to give this a try. The fresh ahi tuna is seasoned with sesame seeds and green and red onions and comes with a good amount of sliced avocado. This was an excellent version of poke, clean tasting, not overly seasoned, and went well with the provided avocado and wonton chips. Way better than you can get at most of those build your own poke shops.we frequent way too much.

Entrees were up next, and we might as well start with Katie's pick, the Pesto Chicken Sandwich ($13). This sandwich starts with a grilled chicken breast and then is layered with tomato, lettuce, red onion, mayo, mozzarella cheese, and is finished off with a very well done pesto. Katie did not have anything to say about this sandwich negatively. She threw out adjectives like delicious, good, fresh, and crave-worthy when describing this sandwich. She liked the fries but prefers bigger fries that hold more ketchup.

It's probably their signature dish at Summer House, so it was a no-brainer that I had to give their Ginger Crusted Ono ($21) a spin during restaurant week. This baked Hawaiian ono was incredibly light and the ginger was very subtle, which I appreciated. It came with an orange beurre blanc sauce, which I had wished there was a tad more of so I could have had enjoyed it with the jasmine rice and the red bell peppers. A very light, yet satisfying meal.

Dessert would be our last stop on the restaurant week menu at Summer House, and Katie tried their seasonal offering which was a Lemon Cake ($5). This lemon cake was accompanied by a strawberry garnish and a strawberry sauce drizzled on top of it. I'm not much into lemon anything, and I thought the lemon was a tad too tart here, and the cake could have been moister. I had high hopes for the Chocolate Heaven ($6) that I had ordered, but it was rather pedestrian. The ratio of flourless brownie souffle cake and ice cream was off by quite a bit. I usually don't complain when there's an overabundance of ice cream, but it really made this flourless cake invisible.

Even with a few less than stellar items on this restaurant week visit, I was pretty pleased with our time at Summer House. I got to try their signature dish, along with plenty from the rest of their menu for the affordable price of $20, which basically means we got the starters and the desserts for free. Not too bad. This visit has gotten me excited to come back here and try one of their good looking burgers, or their weekend breakfast, which gets glowing reviews online. Summer House reminded me of a less polished R and D Kitchen, with a more diverse menu. It was definitely beach casual, and a spot where locals like to come for a low-key dinner. Our server Alison was very friendly and took great care of us during our stay. Wish we could have experienced more restaurant week menus during Newport Beach Restaurant Week, but there's always next year. Just have to get through the dreaded holidays first.

Out of five footballs, (because there used to be a reality TV show on ESPNU which featured college football players living in a house before they got drafted, and it was called Summer House), five being best to zero being worst, Summer House gets 3 solid footballs.

For more information about Summer House, head to their website here:

Friday, February 9, 2018

Comfortably Satisfied at the Wall in Orange

The Wall
80 Plaza Square
Orange, CA 92868

As amazing as it sounds, I do not think we will ever run out of restaurants to eat at with my parents. As is our custom, we usually meet somewhere in between us, which usually lands us in Tustin, Santa Ana, or as the case on this evening, Orange. Every time we need a meeting place I look for restaurants on Yelp that my food-conservative parents would like. There's always something new to try, and on this visit, we chose to meet at The Wall.

The Wall is located at the northeast corner of the plaza in Orange, right near the Starbucks that is by the Wells Fargo Bank. I seem to remember this being a real girly retail store at one time. The Wall has been opened for coming up on a year and a half now. They get their name in thanks to a wall inside the restaurant that includes over 50 self-serving taps that dispense craft beers, wine, kombucha, and nitro coffees to thirsty patrons.

The men behind The Wall seem to have a unique backstory as to why they opened this place. Both Dan Martinez and Ryan Sauter wanted a place to share their travels and escapades through food and drink. They wanted a restaurant that felt like home, but with food that made guests feel like a citizen of the world while experiencing food and drink like they never have before.  Pretty lofty goals.

Dan has business roots in the family entertainment industry, at such places as Universal Resorts, Disney, and most recently at Palace Entertainment Group, where he was Chief Operating Officer for the company which runs Raging Waters and Castle Park locally, along with a lot more family fun amusements nationally. Ryan has an even more diverse backstory. He's owned a number of businesses including a movie studio in China, helped to co-create a non-profit foundation, Wonderlight, and along with his business partner Dan has recently acquired Splash Kingdom in Redlands and hopes to turn that waterpark around.  As if they are not busy enough, we hear that they are opening a new venue of The Wall in LA, but our server was a little sketchy on those details.

My parents, of course, beat us here and were seated on the patio out in front of the restaurant when we finally arrived. I never did walk into the restaurant, but it appeared to be long and narrow, with just a couple of tables. With the fantastic weather we were having, it was a pleasure sitting outside. Since I follow this restaurant on Instagram, I know that the menu at The Wall changes rather frequently, along with a rotating burger of the month and other specials from time to time. During our visit, Chef Ryan Rainstar had just recently switched the menu over, and I was pretty excited to see what was new. Let's check it out.

Definitely not new, but you do have to try the Belgian Fries ($4) at The Wall. These hand cut, twice fried, sliced potatoes were addictive and made even better with the Garlic Aioli ($.50). I would have liked bigger fries because at the bottom of the basket was a lot of shorter, more secondary fries, but they ended up still tasting great.

Fish and Chips ($10) are usually more of my mom's thing, but my dad beat her to the punch by ordering this first. This two-piece fried fish plate was just the right size for my dad. I think I recall the server saying that they used haddock for this, and then finish it off with a beer batter. The result was a nicely done fish which had a nice crunch to it, and then exposed the flaky fish underneath. A very light fried fish according to my dad. The menu says that this was to come with tartar sauce, but it appeared to be accompanied by a chipotle aioli and ketchup, which got no complaints from my dad. The fries were just as good as the ones we had earlier.

Out of the four of us, Katie probably got what owners Dan and Ryan had envisioned when they helped create the menu at The Wall. They wanted customers to share small plates that were inspired by their travels around the world. It's easy to assume that these Sticky Belly Bao ($8) was inspired by Ryan's stint in China. They fill a bao with gochujang-cola marinated pork belly, cucumbers, and shredded carrots. Katie thought these baos were fine, but nothing really made them stand out when I asked her about these a few weeks later. She claims that she'd get something else on her next visit. She did brighten up a bit when I asked her about the other item she had on that evening, the Polenta Fritta ($5). I'm not sure what inspired this starter, but Katie liked this unique way of having polenta. The suggestion was to dip the polenta in the provided chimichurri sauce, but I liked it better with the garlic aioli. The polenta was grease free, and had a nice crunch on the outside of it.

My mom is not a big eater, so this order of Chicken Wings ($8) was just the right size for her. You have your choice as to what kind of sauce you want your six wings with; a Creole dry rub, Coca-Cola caramel, or the gochujang that my mom selected. The sauce was sweet, yet savory, with a small tinge of spice that did not really overwhelm my mom's non-spicy pallette. The wings had plenty of meat on them for her, and she left here very happy with her meal.

Small appetizers are not really my thing, so I searched the menu for something a little heftier. I went with their burger of the month, the Happy New Beer Burger ($12). This burger featured an Angus patty, with onion strings, lettuce, tomato, and a house-made beer cheese sauce. I'm not one that usually likes cheese sauces, but this one worked here. The consistency was more like a melted cheese sauce, and it went well with the well-seasoned burger. The bun was nice and soft, and I was pleasantly surprised by how much I liked this burger. This burger proves that it's definitely worthwhile to pay attention to their burger of the month.

Dessert was not in the cards for us on this evening, but they do get a lot of press for their Choco-taco, but that'll have to wait for our next visit. The Wall is, of course, a haven for beer lovers, but there are some good options here as far as the food goes. I'd like to see a little more variety as far as bigger plates go, but they seem committed to the share plate concept. Prices seem pretty fair, but with such small portions, you might have to order more than one thing to get totally full. Service was stellar on this early evening, as our server made sure we had everything we needed throughout our stay. The Wall is a good option for visitors to Downtown Orange, and for us, who wanted a good meeting place between my parent's house in North OC and ours in South OC.

Out of five vinyl records, (of course because of Pink Floyd's iconic 1979 album, The Wall), five being best to zero being worst, The Wall gets 3 vinyl records.

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

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Stepping Back into the 40's at the Apple Pan

The Apple Pan
10801 West Pico Blvd. 
Los Angeles, CA 90064

There are few restaurants that can say that they have been in business for ten years. even fewer that can say they have been around for 25 years. The number shrinks to a minuscule amount when you think of restaurants that have been around for half a century. 71 years is almost unheard of. On an unofficial list of the oldest restaurants that I found online a few years ago, they list the Apple Pan as the 64th oldest restaurant in the LA metro area still serving guests. That's some pretty rare company when you consider the number of restaurants in LA, Orange, Ventura, San Bernadino, and Riverside counties that this list covers. If you want to check out this incredible list, see it here.

Back to the Apple Pan though. They opened in 1946, the same year my dad was born which of course seems like eons ago when you know what he looks like now. Just kidding dad. In this age of changing for customers tastes, its almost a badge of honor that the menu at the Apple Pan has not changed in the 71 years they have been in business. No gluten-free anything, no quinoa, kale, or any other trendy ingredients of the moment, and recipes that have not changed since Harry Truman was President.

While they do get kudos for not changing a thing, I'm not going to lie, this is not the most comfortable of restaurants to eat at. First, this is a cash-only restaurant, no cards of any kind are accepted, and if you are not expecting it, you will probably be directed to the bank across the street. Secondly, there is only counter seating, so you will get to know your neighbors, and depending on your shyness level and how much you appreciate your personal space while eating, this might make some a tad anxious. Lastly, there's the waiting system, which is not really explained too well upon entering. You line up to either the left or right side of the almost always full 26 seat counter and wait for people to finish their meals while trying to keep track as to who was here before you. Kind of made me feel a tad nervous that we were not going to be able to get a seat, but then I realized they have been doing this for decades and I haven't heard of too much trouble at the Apple Pan. One of the other customers directed us to a pair of seats at the end of the counter about 20 minutes after we had arrived.

The Apple Pan was the basis for the Johnny Rockets chain, as their founder modeled his restaurant after this one. You can see it, but of course, the nostalgia here is not forced like at Johnny Rockets, this is just the way things have always been at The Apple Pan. The compact menu features two burgers and five sandwiches, along with fries and pie. The men behind the counter have appeared to have been employed here for a long while, as they knew a good number of customers around us. With such few options, and since I had looked at the menu before leaving the house, we quickly made our selections and waited for our food to arrive.

The Fries ($3.10) came out rather quickly after ordering. Just like at Johnny Rockets, the server puts the ketchup on a side plate for you and refills it as you need it. The fries here are very solid, crisp on the outside and soft on the inside. A very well done fry, and one that went well with the ketchup.

About ten minutes later my Double Hickory Burger ($10.10) arrived. This paper wrapped burger comes with lettuce, mayo, their hickory sauce, which I'd describe as a mixture of ketchup and a sweet barbecue sauce, Tillamook cheddar cheese, and pickles. The bun had a nice toast to it, which was appreciated. They could have had a heavier hand with the mayo, and I was happy that the hickory sauce did not overpower the clean tasting beef. Tillamook is always an excellent choice for cheese on a burger, and that was the case here. I did take a little of the lettuce out, and I like to eat the pickles separate. A solid simple burger that almost made me forget my beloved bacon on a burger.

Much like In-N-Out, but with way better burgers, The Apple Pan has a secret menu that some insiders know about. These secret items include root beer floats, cheese fries, lettuce wrapped burgers, and perhaps the most famous of all the secret items, this Tuna Melt ($10.35). They do have a tuna salad sandwich on the menu, but for a little extra they'll add some cheese and put it on the grill for you. Katie had this special tuna melt on rye. The white tuna is studded with pickles, and the mayo to tuna ratio is nearly perfect. Katie felt this was a perfect tuna melt. The bread had a good crunch to it from being on the grill, the tuna was fresh, and the cheese to tuna ratio was spot on. She can see why this sandwich gets so much hype, even though it's not on the menu.

If you are at a restaurant named The Apple Pan and you do not try their Apple Pie Ala Mode ($9.50) you are doing it all wrong. I was a little shocked when this was sat in front of us. It was very syrupy and it did not seem like we got our extra $2.25 that we paid to get ice cream with this. The pie was pretty sweet, but still tasted freshly made, which all the pies are, as they are made on the premises every day. The crust was not as light as I would have liked, and the apples were kind of pushed to the background by the overabundance of syrup used here. Not bad, but we've had better. Their banana cream pie that our neighbor had looked amazing.

The nostalgic factor at The Apple Pan is off the charts and from just talking with the people around here they are crazy for this place. How do I feel about it? I really enjoyed it, but it's not the best burger I've ever had. With it being a simple burger I enjoyed it well enough, especially since it does not include bacon. I could not help but compare The Apple Pan to Pie N' Burger in Pasadena. Both places are similar, although Pie N' Burger is a tad newer, as they opened in 1963. I liked both the apple pie and the burger at Pie N' Burger better, but the tuna melt and fries at The Apple Pie are superior, but that's just my opinion. The Apple Pan is definitely worth a try, especially if you are in the area, and want to step back into a time machine to 1946. Glad to see that they are churning out the same food as they did in the middle of the last century, and have not succumbed to the fads that their customers will move on from in the next month.

Out of five bikinis, (because just like The Apple Pan, the two-piece bathing suit made its debut in 1946 in Paris), five being best to zero being worst, The Apple Pan gets 3 bikinis.

Not surprisingly, The Apple Pan does not have a website, but you can find info about them on their Yelp page here:

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

LA Barbecue Comes to Costa Mesa

L.A. Brisket
2930 Bristol Street
Costa Mesa, CA 92626

Nothing quite gets my feet moving out from behind this computer faster than barbecue. I can hear about a new pizza place opening, or maybe even a burger joint, and I'll put it on my restaurant list, and it'll sit there for awhile. I do the same thing about barbecue, but something gets me thinking about it, and actually finding reasons to be nearby so I can give it a try. This is what happened when my good friend Ed came to town a few weeks ago and wanted to meet up for dinner. We decided to give LA Brisket a try.

LA Brisket is located at the always busy Lab Anti-Mall on Bristol in Costa Mesa.  Meeting Ed on a Friday evening at 7, it was definitely a challenge getting a parking spot. I ended up utilizing the valet, while Ed got lucky and pulled into an open spot near the back of the lot. LA Brisket is situated right near the driveway where you enter, and this is their second location, with the original being in Artesia.

The focus at LA Brisket is of course on brisket, but they also offer chicken, pulled pork, and pork ribs. There are no combo plates available, although you can order these meats by the pound and they will come with sliced white bread and bbq sauce. There are also bowls, a version of loaded fries, and a handful of sides available, but it seems that their main focus is on their sandwiches. There are 6 to choose from, all named after Southland Freeways, and with the exception of the 405, which is a buck more, are priced at $11.

Ordering is done at the register right next to the front door, and then you wait for your food in the dining area, which has about twenty or so tables, hanging lighting, and a self-serve soda machine. When we walked in at 7, we were one of two tables occupied, but as the evening went along, the tables did fill up, but it was never what I'd consider overly crowded. I have it on good authority that they smoke their meats on the premises, but the smoker is not within eyesight, and the overwhelming smoke smell that you'd expect was not really present on this evening. It took us about five to eight minutes for our food to arrive, and this is how it turned out for us.

Let's start things off with Ed's meal on this evening, the Chicken Bowl ($10). Ed has always been a little odd, so it wasn't a shock to me to see him order a chicken and rice bowl in a barbecue restaurant. Joining the dark and white meat bird and garlic infused rice in this was some of their LA Slaw, which added a slight tinge of vinegar to it. I'm not sure I saw Ed use the green sauce which comes with this, and I'm not even sure what that green sauce was. Ed felt this was a pretty good dish. The chicken was tender and flavorful, with a slight pepperiness. The garlic rice and the slaw made this a nicely balanced bowl.

Loaded Fries ($11) are always a favorite of mine when I see them, so I had to give them a try at LA Brisket. Here you have your choice of having these with chicken, pork, or the protein we tried, their famous brisket. Also topping the sturdy fries was some of their slaw, caramelized onions, mushrooms, parsley, a blue cheese sauce, and finished off with a generous dusting of parmesan cheese. This worked well for me. The blue cheese had just the right bite to it where it did not overwhelm. The brisket was tender, but with everything else going on around it, it was hard to get a feel for if it was good or not. The fries remained crisp during the whole life of this starter, and the parmesan was a nice touch which finished this off. I'd get this again for sure.

Okay, I did something that I had never done before in eight-plus years of writing this blog, I ate my meal before taking a picture of it. It couldn't have been the conversation because Ed is not that interesting. It must have been that I was really hungry or something else. Anyways, I had to go back and buy another sandwich and bring it home to my house. As I said earlier, at LA Brisket they offer six different freeway inspired sandwiches, and the one I pictured here is the 101 ($11). This one comes with garlic aioli, mustard sauce, slaw, caramelized onion, and gruyere cheese. As you can see from the pictures, most of these items are not very prominent. They were in there, but because of the way the sandwich was constructed, it was hard to get everything in one bite. Everything was very compartmentalized with this sandwich. They were also very stingy with the aioli and the mustard sauce. I would have appreciated a heavier hand with these condiments. The brisket itself was pretty good, and they supplied plenty on this sandwich. It had a nice smokiness to it but could have been a tad more tender. The bread was excellent, with a very nice crunch to it, and held its structural integrity. Again, if the menu had not alerted me to the fact that there was cheese on this, I never would have known.

I had really wanted to love LA Brisket, especially after I had read a few critics rave about these sandwiches, but I left a little disappointed. It was not awful, but it was kind of like Christmas morning when you have your heart set on an Atari 2600, and your parents end up getting you a Pong video game. Yes, I'm showing my age a bit here. My point is I was left disappointed in both cases. I'll definitely give them another chance and maybe ask for extra aioli or sauce on the side next time. I'd also be interested in their pork ribs and pulled pork too. Everyone that I encountered on both of my visits has been really nice and pleasant, except for of course my cantankerous friend Ed, but I've known him for over 40 years, so I guess I'm stuck with him.

Out of five night-vision goggles, (because the land that now occupies the LAB retail complex used to be home to a night vision goggle factory more than 20 years ago), five being best to zero being worst, LA Brisket gets 2.5 night-vision goggles.

For more information about LA Brisket, but no location info, head to their website here: