"All Four Cheeses!"

The Cheesecake Dilemma: Does Size Really Matter?

I’m not usually one for big-box style restaurants. They are crowded, cacophonous, and almost always contrived. I prefer the hole-in-the-wall taqueria–one window, no decor, but delicious food. However, I do believe there is a time and place when bigger truly can be BETTER.

Take The Cheesecake Factory, for instance. It’s the size of a shopping mall. Every tourist from Beijing to Iceland is in attendance. Their decor is a flat, bastardized amalgam of Italian eatery and pre-World War II lounge restaurant. And yet, I find myself coming back for more. Why?

It’s simple. My grandmother is Jewish…and amazing, which means there is never a shortage of seconds during breakfast, lunch, or dinner. To this day, my grandmother will serve me a pound of fresh lox when I wake up in the morning. This is not an exaggeration. There’s no stopping her. It probably goes without saying that I’ve had ample opportunity to refine my tastes, AND cultivate my penchant for over-eating.

If you are a big eater like me, who enjoys having a wide variety of selections when dining out, this is your place. The size of Cheesecake’s buildings are remarkable, but dwarfed by the size of their menu. They have everything from “Fish Tacos” to “Chicken Madeira,” and of course, a dessert list that goes on for miles–my personal favorite: the Oreo Cookie Cheesecake.

My girlfriend happens to be a server at the Beverly Hills location, so in addition to hearing some fantastic server nightmares about over-aged, bourgeois customers complaining about the dim lighting and loud noises (while not tipping!), I’ve had the chance to develop a fondness for The Cheesecake Factory’s emphasis on SIZE. A personal gigantor-dish favorite is the “Four Cheese Pasta with Blackened Chicken.”

Four Cheese Pasta!

Four Cheese Pasta!

If you are hungry, and I do mean HUNGRY, go enjoy the huge portions and tell us what you think! Beware, however, of low-lighting, poser decor, and nagging rich folk. Also, please feel free to tip your servers well, especially at the Beverly Hills location…

As always, Keep Calm and Engorge on!

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Fat-Bottomed Burgers

Several nights ago, Jessica and I ate at Fat Sal’s in Hollywood. For those who are unfamiliar, this chain of urban burger joints was co-founded by none other than Entourage star, Jerry Ferrara. If Turtle co-founds a restaurant, I’m there!  Now, I’ve been there at least 3 or 4 times, but I finally had the distinct pleasure of eating their “Western Burger.”

This burger is angelic. They start with a fresh patty, then add onion rings, pastrami, breaded chicken strips and…BACON! One bite, and it’s taste bud overload. Of course no western burger is complete without BBQ sauce. Whatever formula Fat Sal’s is using works. The sauce is tangy and just the right amount of sweet.

Animal lovers need not apply. This is a serious burger for serious burger connoisseurs. If you swing by the Fountain Ave. location, hit me up and I’ll join you. Who knows? Maybe I’ll consider taking on their “Big Fat Fatty” food challenge.

Keep Calm and Burger On.

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The Back Abbey

Should you find yourself in the heart of the Pomona Valley, you’ll quickly discover that you’re in a genuinely lackluster area for restaurants.  And yet, there are dining gems to be found for those willing to seek them out, and one of the most sparkling of these, somewhat hidden away in the western sector of Claremont, is The Back Abbey.  Even enthusiastic locals would be hard pressed to tell you the name of the street it’s on: 128 N. Oberlin Ave.  The Abbey is not very large; in fact, it’s a survivor from the old days (1920’s, I think) when it served as the Union Ice House for the local area.  Saved from demolition by an enterprising restauranteur, it’s altogether unremarkable architecturally, save for its western façade, which preserves a chapel-like arched entablature, reminiscent of a small Spanish church … a kind of abbey, if you will.

How to characterize its look?  Rough and ready? Rustic? Simple? Unpretentious?  I suppose it all of these and more, with several – not all that many – rough, almost unkempt looking tables inside and out, and a long bar fronting an endless array of beers.  It’s those beers – a surprisingly full array of Belgian brews on tap, plus a really long list of sometimes recherché bottled beers to fill in any gaps still left on the roster – that attract the crowds, but also the food.  Almost anything you order there will be more or less familiar, but there always seems to be a lovely surprise with each dish.  Yes, there are several excellent hamburgers, Niman Ranch beef all the way, and sizeable enough to cook to order.  But one of them will feature exemplary buns, scattered perhaps with some micro-greens or some grilled mushrooms or perhaps grilled poblanos.  The salads are remarkably original and even feature a genuine Salade Lyonnaise, though here they call it simply a Bistro Salad.  In France, it’s met regularly, but out the Abbey way, it’s a singular treasure.  Check out the Salade Lyonnaise blog in Food By The Glass for more details.

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A lovely sandwich!

And how about a prosciutto sandwich accompanied by arugula and a strikingly edgy mustard vinaigrette?  I never thought about the combination of proscuitto and arugula before, but what a match!  If you’re into Belgian beers, why not have one with its logical Belgian companion, steamed and sautéed mussels.  The potatoes have been fried in duck fat, so one is reluctant to dilute the delicate flavor of that heart-stopping extra touch, but it comes with an array of three great sauces: horseradish (unusually delicate and fitting), really intense catsup, and, wholly unexpected once again, an herbal remoulade.

Before I forget it, let me mention that, in addition to their wide beer array, the Abbey has a small but seriously selected list of wines with, again, that surprise factor.  Chenin Blanc, yes, but it’s a French Vouvray.  Cabernet Franc, yes, but it’s a Loire Valley Chinon.  The wines by the glass are by far the largest pours I’ve seen in years.

Note: The Back Abbey is open for lunch and dinner every day but Sunday, and does not take reservations.  Go and be surprised.

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Fish like you won’t believe!…Phil’s Fish Market, Moss Landing, CA

My wife and I were visiting our older son and his family in Sunnyvale last weekend, and, on Friday they took us to Moss Landing, a wetlands/wharf/inlet mélange on the coast highway about fifteen miles north of Monterey,  It’s home to several marine research centers, a hotel or two, several hundred fishing vessels, and a few restaurants.  It began its modern life as a whaling port sometime in the 19th century, and its general look is somewhere between funky and unkempt depending, I suppose, on the generation of the viewer.   I wish we’d had more time to explore its many curiosities, but our destination was Phil’s Fish Market and Eatery, an altogether remarkable restaurant and fish market.

Oh the Oysters!

Oh the Oysters!

The road to it is not very well marked, parking is sparse at best, its look is as funky and unkempt as that of Moss Landing itself, and lines of customers can be long … but … the menu offerings go on and on and every one of them features fish and seafood so fresh they can only have come from those Moss Landing fishing boats within the last couple of hours or so.   You grab a menu from a stack of them that awaits you as you enter, decide what you want to eat as you stand in line reading that menu or one of the many blackboards offering still more daily specials, give your order to the person at the cash register, pay up, and take your table number to wherever you’re going to sit and await the arrival of whatever you ordered.  For starters I ordered a special the of four large Pacific oysters gently poached in a Champagne and cream sauce.  It was little short of glorious, as were my fresh halibut tacos to follow.  What is truly dispiriting is that there are so many other dishes on that menu you just have to try but cannot  … portion sizes are beyond generous and you have only one stomach. Oh,  Phil’s is famous for its Cioppino and, if you call ahead by a hour or so, you can bring your own pot and have them fill it to take home.  I believe that Phil’s Cioppino bested Bobby Flay’s in his one-season TV show “Bobby Flay’s Throwdown.” 

Halibut Tacos!

Halibut Tacos!

 

There’s a bar there for beer and wine with your meal or anything else you have in mind, and the adjacent fish market is but another adventure in freshness.  Yes, this place is out of the way, but, if any eatery ever deserved to be known as a “destination” restaurant, this is it.

A local trick: when you get to Phil’s, have one of your party decide what to eat while still in line, and then nail down a table while the rest of you make your way toward the cash register.  However long the wait … just wait.

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Four Kegs – Las Vegas, Nevada

Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives is still the #1 show on Food Network.  As one of the original ‘restaurant visitation’ shows, it has its place in the pantheon of ‘food TV’.  Some like Guy Fieri, some don’t – but the show continues to thrive.  AND, many of the restaurants featured on the show tend to show large increases in their business…some find it even life-changing.

For one of those spots, it even has the distinct honor of being a former employer of the young Fieri when he was a student at UNLV.  However, I really don’t think much has changed over the years there.  As Guy would say…”This is Four Kegs.”

Four Kegs is a dive sports bar in the seedier part of Northwest vegas, off of Jones at the 95 as you head towards the greener pastures of Summerlin.  If you want to smoke, drink, watch sports and eat bar food, it’s your place!  And for those of you that know me, other than the smoking part, that works!

The house specialty is the Stromboli – sort of a NY version of Calzone but with a sports bar feel.  Get the ‘Original’ and always order the ‘small’ one – it’s big enough!  Get a side of marinara sauce for a buck extra and use it to dip every yummy bite.  Get a salad on the side or some Mac and Cheese bites and you’ll be paying the price the rest of the evening – in a good way of course.  They have just about every cool bar appetizer known to man – and some you’ve never heard of.  Some day I’ll work my way through the entire app list…stromboli

Since it’s Vegas, the place is open all hours, so go any time.  If you’re there after midnight, you have to go in through the bar so be prepared for smoke – it’s actually glassed in to prevent smoke in the other parts of the restaurant during the day which is a cool idea.

Football, NASCAR – whatever sport you’re in to, forget a fancy sports book on the strip and go to Four Kegs and hang out with the locals and have a Stromboli.  Maybe I’ll see you there!

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Hussongs Las Vegas

For any of you that have ventured into Baja, California, Mexico, then you probably know Hussongs Cantina.  Well, now a couple of the cantina’s best customers have opened branches of the famous dive bar in both Las Vegas and Reno.

While I was in Las Vegas for the Licensing Expo, my friends at SCORE International – the folks who put on the famous Baja 1000 desert race – threw a little party there and I was lucky enough to tag along.

After a few pomegranate margaritas and some of their famous fish tacos, I was good to go!

fishtacosWhen you need a bit of Baja in Vegas, check out Hussongs – they’ll take good care of you, and you won’t remember a thing!  Ole!

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True North – Northpark, San Diego, CA

Whenever I head down to San Diego to visit my son Dustin, we always stop at True North.  It’s a great combination of sports bar, craft beer bar and gourmet comfort food joint.  On my last visit, we sat at the bar to a packed house watching the England v. Italy World Cup match, downed a few Manzanita Riverwalk Blonde and Sculpin IPAs, and feasted on one of the best bar plates ever – Loaded Tots!

truenorthtotsNow, these are not your everyday frozen Ore Ida tots – these are freshly made tots, smothered in a plethora of choices.  On this day, it was the Carne Asada and Avocado tots – dripping with a spicy chipotle mayo sauce, pico de gallo, fresh avo slices and some really well seasoned grilled carne.  This one was a winner – even if England wasn’t.

TrueNorthNext time your in hipsterville – a.k.a. Northpark, hit up True North.  You won’t be disappointed.

 

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Oscar’s Mexican Seafood – Pacific Beach / San Diego, CA – Memorial Day Weekend

On Saturday, Barb and I headed down to San Diego to visit our son Dustin…yep, that big handsome guy on our home page, and the Glass family representative of the food kingdom in San Diego.  We were thrilled to find out that he and his roommate John had made plans to drive us from Northpark to Pacific Beach to hit a little Mexican seafood taco stand known as Oscar’s.

For those of you who’ve been to this mecca, enjoy the memories.  For those of you that haven’t, simply drool on the photos and plan your trip – it’s well worth it.

Oscar’s is first and foremost a taco stand.  The only place to sit is out in front on a long bench with a bar/type table.

OscarsTorta

The Fisherman’s Torta

Step up to the counter and order.  We had five people, so we ordered lots.  If you’re prepared to chow down on the finest seafood sandwich on the planet, then order the Fisherman’s Torta – filled with Spicy Shrimp, Scallops, Grilled & Smoked Fish, Cabbage, Onion, Tomato, Cilantro and Avocado.  Yes – it is as good as you are imagining it to be right now!

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The Octopus Taco!

As far as the tacos – order up a few.  Our table had a sampling of shrimp, fish, octopus and steak.  The fish taco was stuffed with sea bass and so fresh and delicious.  The shrimp was good as well.  But the octopus taco was really something unique – very tender, smoky, chewy – just perfect!  The tortillas were fresh, thick and filled with yellow corn.  They have several salsas to squeeze on – all of which are hot and good.

There are three (3) locations in all, although this PB location is sort of traditional.  Go, stand in line, bring cash (no CC accepted) and a big appetite.  This was a real treat and I will be back for another Torta soon!  Thanks John and Dustin for opening our eyes to something quite special.

EASTER EGG: if you walk back through a small storage hallway behind the soda machine, you’ll find a large picnic table behind the restaurant!  Dustin and John call it the VIP room!  It was a great place to sit and eat – and the chef even brought us some cups of fish stock/soup to drink before the meal, AND delivered us the food.  If you go, check out the VIP room!

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Sunday ‘Grub’

Firstly, I must apologize for the hiatus. We’re drawing close to the end of the school year, and things are beyond hectic. Fortunately though, I was able to spend the weekend in Hollywood with Jessica and enjoy one hell of a Sunday Brunch!

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All my favorite cereals in one bowl!

Grub is a small, neighborhood breakfast spot located right below Jessica’s apartment at 911 Seward  St. We’d never heard of it before, but decided to give it try on account of their brunch menu listing items like, “The Big Flippin’ Carnival Pancake,” and The “Big Ass Ice Cream Sandwich.” We’re suckers for this kind of stuff.

The wait to be seated was relatively short. We got a small table on the patio, and the waiter presented us with a bowl of dried cereal. Coco Puffs, Captain Crunch, and Fruit Loops. Seriously, why is this not done more often?! It’s the breakfast joint’s equivalent to tortilla chips at a Mexican restaurant.

As a starter, we decided to order the Big Flippin’ Carnival Pancake, an “Appateaser” filled with more of the same breakfast cereal. It was thin, covered in powdered sugar, and the perfect amount of sweet. Did I mention that they stuffed cereal into it? I didn’t know it was possible for someone to cook a breakfast item using my childhood as the key ingredient.

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Now THAT’s a scramble!

Jessica ordered a scramble that was filled with Grub’s signature “Crack Bacon.” We both generally prefer a more meaty flavor to our bacon, but decided that the sweetness in the “Crack Bacon” was a nice compliment to the cheesy scramble. I had the “Hooked” tuna melt on sourdough. According to their menu, this item was an LA Weekly, “Best Melt” winner. I have to admit, I’ve had better melts, but this one comes in at a close runner-up. They didn’t skimp on the melted cheese, and the tuna didn’t have that overpowering, fishy taste some melts do. I certainly did not have any leftovers to box-up!

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Melt THIS!

As far as Sunday brunch goes, Grub treated us well. No brilliant, absurdist drag performances like the ones featured at Hamburger Mary’s in WeHo, or ridiculously over-sized, rosemary skewered, fried chicken like Hash House A Go Go’s. It’s not mind-blowing–it’s a simple, neighborhood brunch joint, tucked away behind the glamour of Sunset boulevard, sporting wonderfully experimental twists!

As always, keep calm and brunch on!

http://grub-la.com/

HomeStyleoutside

The BIG Diner Breakfast – a Mother’s Day blog post

Firstly, going out to eat on Mother’s Day can be challenging – many have speculated that it is one of the MOST crowded restaurant days of the year.  So, this year we took my mother-in-law out to brunch on Saturday instead.  She lives in Loma Linda, California – just outside of the town of Redlands.  As she is 90 years old and moves rather slowly, we wanted to find a good breakfast spot near her retirement home.  Thanks to some online reviews, we found the Family Homestyle Café in Loma Linda.

Like most small towns, there’s always one ‘breakfast diner’ that specializes in the classic greasy spoon breakfast – huge portions, giant pancakes, eggs, biscuits and gravy, ham/bacon/sausage etc.  The one near my home town is called Red Hill Coffee Shop.  We all know one.  Well now I can recommend another – the Family Homestyle Café.

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Ham and 3-Eggs, Home Fries, Biscuits and Gravy, Sourdough Toast – oh YEH!

Just look at the photo – big portions!  Their omelets are made with SIX (6) eggs!  Think SHARE!  And, the Latino family that runs the place also throws a few Mexican specialties on the board like Huevos Rancheros and Carne Asada omelets.  Don’t hesitate to order those!  IF you order pancakes, be forewarned – they are HUGE.

So, if you find yourself in the I.E. (that’s Inland Empire for us SoCal locals) and need a big breakfast, feel free to check out the Family Homestyle Café.  I now have another reason to happily visit my mother-in-law.

Send us your list of top Breakfast Diners where you live so we can blog about them too!