Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Auntie Marie

There are some chain restaurants that I steer clear of (Tony Roma's springs to mind) and others I don't mind the occasional meal. Sure the food might not be "gourmand" or earth-shattering, but what they lack in chefs who graduated from elite culinary schools, or cuisines with depth and exotic flavor, they make up for in consistency and endless drink refills. Plus where else can you get your Awesome Blossom fix then Outback Steakhouse?

One of these such places that I find myself returning to now and again is Marie Callender's. Perhaps better known for her pies then her food, Marie's has always been a place I can return to when I'm looking for comfort food that won't cost a lot. In the mood for a warm food hug I stopped by Auntie Marie's with a coupon for $5 off and a free slice of pie. Yes, free Marie Callender's pie.

Marie Callender's, like most chain restaurants, are all designed in the same way. There's a pie display near the front door, many large booths, and all the rooms are finished in dark woods and warm lighting. They do have an "upscale" version of the restaurant I've never been to called the Callender's Grill, but why pay mark-up for food of the same caliber when the only difference is a white table cloth between your potpie plate and the table? I'll stick to my plain-Jane Marie's thank you very much.

Once inside I was seated and handed the usual menu with the specials of the month. I wasn't sure what I was in the mood for so I took my time perusing. After much internal thought with a bit of verbal I finally decided on something I'd never ordered before, the Turkey Club. Perhaps it was the closeness to Thanksgiving that put me in a gobbler mood. Jenn's always been more menu decisive and settled quickly on the Meatloaf Sandwich. We both opted for the fruit side instead of the fries.

Service can be hit-or-miss at every chain restaurant and today was a miss. The waitress took her time returning to our table to take our order, was stingy on the drink refills, and I actually had to ask for the cornbread. The free cornbread is one of the reasons I enjoy coming here. If I hadn't known there was also free pie at the end of this visit I probably would have been more disgruntled. However at the moment I just took it in stride and munched down on warm cornbread with whipped honey butter. They make a mean cornbread that's hard not to polish off before your actual food arrives.

Corn Bread

Cornbread crumbs licked off the plate the sandwiches arrived. My "turkey club" was hand-carved roasted turkey, thick applewood smoked bacon, sliced tomatoes, avocado, lettuce and mayonnaise served on a flaky butter croissant.

Turkey Club Sandwich

Turkey Club Sandwich

Perhaps it was outdone by my memories of Amanadine, but the croissant here was disappointingly generic tasting coming from a place known for their baked goods. The croissant needed to be warmed and the  butter flavor was too subtle. The best part of the turkey club were the ingredients held precariously within. The turkey was fresh and thick, the avocado plentiful, the bacon cooked crisp, and they didn't overdo the lettuce. I would order this again in the future switching out the croissant for their grilled parmesan sourdough that goes great with their "frisco burger."

Jenn's "meatloaf sandwich" comes with the aforementioned sourdough toast, a thick slice of their original recipe meatloaf, lettuce, tomato, and mayo.

Meatloaf Sandwich

If you're someone who enjoys meatloaf with a tomato based glaze then this wouldn't be for you. If you don't care either way expect a dense well-spiced blend of beef that'll hit the meatloaf spot. As I already mentioned I'm a fan of the sourdough bread it comes between. Jenn and I both agreed this could be ordered again in the future, if not as a sandwich, as an entree with a side of mashed potatoes. I should also mention that the fruit that came with both dishes was juicy and plentiful. You have no idea how many times I've been scorned at other restaurants with a bad mix of mushy fruit. I'm happy to report that Marie Callender's consistently delivers good quality produce without cramming in a bunch of filler grapes.

Finally plates cleared I was ready for my free pie. More precisely a slice of Banana Cream Pie.

You should know my barometer for great "banana cream pie" comes from The Apple Pan. Their version smacked me upside the head knocking me off my stool in banana glee. Not only is theirs insanely tasty, but it always arrives looking practically artisanal. Clearly Marie had a lot to live up to. Still I held out with optimism reminding myself that Marie's take is frequently touted as a go-to place as well for "banana cream pie." I'll be the judge of that.

Banana Cream Pie

Off the bat this is no Apple Pan. The slice is small, carelessly cut, and glopped down on a plate. The complete opposite of the Apple Pan's ginormous thick serving. Maybe they new this was free.

Looks aside it doesn't even come close to the Pann's level of creamy banana intensity. The Apple Pan's is densely chilled with well positioned slices of visible banana. Marie's is all over the place, lost and directionless. It had some sliced bananas intermingling amongst a mash of banana ,and a peculiar array of sliced and shaved almonds. Oh Auntie Marie what were you thinking?

If you ask me the people who speak highly of this slice of pie have never tried the version that knocked me out cold. My advice is to steer your pie ordering direction into other territory like my tried and true favorite lemon meringue. Save the banana cream experience for "The Apple Pan."

Marie Callender's does have the normal chain restaurant rough edges like occasional slow service and food with highs and lows. But they excel at keeping me comforted with kitchen classics I'm too lazy to cook like lemon meringue and chicken pot pie. I've always left with a belly full of warm food and a smile, waving goodbye for now to my Auntie Marie as I drive down the road.

Marie Callender's
9310 Business Center Dr.
Northridge, CA 91324
(Various Locations)

Monday, December 8, 2008

Not Every Day Can Be Club 33 Day

In one of my recent reviews I wrote about my amazing opportunity to indulge at the exclusive and somewhat hush-hush Club 33 located within Disneyland's New Orleans' Square. For me that opportunity was a rare expensive treat that not many Disneyland visitors will ever experience. I continue to be appreciative to KevinEats for making a bit of Disney magic come true for both Jenn and I. Thanks again Kevin!

Still as often as I do go to Disneyland I know there are plenty of other places to eat that don't require membership or involve dipping into your 401K. Maybe I'll get a beef, chicken, or vegetable skewer from Bengal BBQ. Perhaps I'll stop at the Little Red Wagon in Disneyland or Corndog Castle in California Adventure (the better of the two) for a hotdog on a stick. Cheap meats on poking devices is something Disney does well. But if you want to eat in Club 33-like history stop at the Plaza Inn for a fried chicken plate that comes with mash potatoes, corn, and can easily fill the bellies of two.

There is another place however I hesitate even mentioning for fear of making it harder to get a seat. Perhaps Disney's best secret, apart from Club 33 and the basketball court above the Matterhorn, is White Water Snacks in Disney's Grand Californian Hotel. For the hotel resident (lucky you), the hotel wanderer, or the park visitor the place is easy to miss and will require a little extra legwork to get to.

If you're coming from the hotel follow the signs to Napa Rose, walk past the hotel guest entrance to California Adventure until you hit a deadend. If the big hanging sign isn't enough of a clue for you that restaurant to the left is White Water Snacks. Now if you're coming from the park you'd need to exit Condor Flats through the hotel guest entrance and make a sharp left. The same deadend and smart ass remark regarding signage apply to you to.

Outside White Water Snacks

Inside you can breath a sigh of relief as you take in the cafeteria meets lodge atmosphere. They've got soft serve yogurt, a slushy machine that has cherry and apple flavors, unlimited refills on fountain drinks, a glass case with pre-made sandwiches and bottled beverages, a plastic display case containing baked goods just like you'd find in the park, and even another glass deep freeze with the exact same Mickey Mouse Ice Cream sandwich you saw on Main Street. The big difference here is you can buy those things with a credit card and get a 10% discount with your Disneyland Annual Pass. A sweet deal on two counts!

Inside Whitewater

Inside White Water Snacks

The reason I come here is for the menu of hot prepared food on the menu board opposite you. On it you'll see breakfast and lunch/dinner choices of which I've only had the latter. Notice that nothing on it breaks the $10 barrier? When you've made your choice order with the cashier and wait for your food to arrive at your chosen table. It won't be hard to find one since there are always plenty. This is one of the few places on the Disney property where you won't have to knock over a child in a small stroller, or hover near someone enjoying a cheeseburger.

For this post I've combined a couple visits where I've had a total of three items. Here for your viewing and educational pleasure is my food:

Let's start off with the Shredded Beef Nachos.

Shredded Beef

These are not movie theater nachos. The chips are made in-house and not from a bag of Tostitos, the cheese is actually shredded cheddar and not from a disgusting dispenser, and the beef is not ground but actually chopped and prepared after you order. To top it all off you get slices of jalapenos and a healthy dollop of salsa, guacamole, and sour cream which rounds out this delicious mound of only slightly greasy chips. If you're hungry this can be your meal or even something to share. Either way it's a steal at $7.89 and comes in chicken as well.

Next up is the Classic French Dip.

French Dip

Is this up to the standards of Phillips? Probably not. But for a Disney french dip you can do no better and no worse. Their version includes thin slices of roasted top round with a side of au jus, and served with a large amount of crispy fries or fresh fruit. The meat is in the sandwich is tender but the roll is a little generic. The au jus is perfectly serviceable albeit a little too salty. Even so the dipping of the sandwich helps tone down the salt factor so it's really not a problem unless you plan on doing au just shooters. The french dip got thumbs up from both Jenn and I at $9.29.

Finally the Char-Broiled Chicken Sandwich.

Charbroiled Chicken Sandwich

This piece of poultry is charbroiled and topped with a a nice sized ortega chile, a good portion of guacamole, and finished off with lettuce and tomato. The chicken was juicy and the ortega chile added a nice compliment to the chicken. The "guacamole" wasn't so much guacamole as it was avocado but I still appreciated it. I was also very happy to have a soft pillowy bun and not one that tasted like it came out of a plastic bag stale and lifeless. At $8.59 you also get the fries or the fruit.

White Water Snacks is a hidden gem and hideaway for those wanting to escape the Disneyland chaos. It's here you can take a break from the day, plan your next set of rides, and keep refilling that soda cup until the Mickey Mouse Club sings. I know I might kick myself later for letting you all in on my little easy to access secret but for now I'm sharing freely. Just do me a favor and keep it to close friends.


White Water Snacks

Disneyland's Grand Californian Hotel

(at the deadend past Storyteller Cafe and Napa Rose)

Friday, December 5, 2008

Mom's Back

Via Serious Eats
Kellogg's Saves Mother's Cookies

This is great news. I just wish I had known earlier to prevent me from downing a bag of frosted cookies in mourning. Welcome back Mom!

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Brent: A Member of the LA Deli Mafia

If you were to approach an LA resident and say "quick name a deli," you'd probably get a confused look for asking a stranger such a question, followed by an answer relative to their neighborhood. There'd certainly be the Langer's, the Canter's, the Junior's, maybe even the Nate n' Al's, but my guess is you'd here even less mention of Brent's. If you had asked me a Jewish boy brought up in the valley, Brent's would have been the place I exclaimed as I started eyeing for the cops to save me from your crazy questioning.

This was the deli I knew for their matzo balls the size of softballs, their french toast breakfasts, and their mile high sandwiches. Weekend mornings were always packed, parking was always ridiculous, and service moved at the same pace it took Moses to lead the Jews out of Egypt. Still the people would come knowing the food was worth the wait and the journey, deciding that a slow delicious brunch was better than no brunch at all. After not having been here in years I decided it was about time I went back, and as luck would have it, I had a meet-up organized by Pleasure Palate to do all the necessary planning for me.

On a hot Sunday afternoon the Brent's experience started as I had always remembered. There it sat in the strip mall parking lot crowded by the same zoo of cars with drivers blinded by hunger. Thanks to teamwork Jenn and I found a space quickly and safely, and within minutes were already making our trek across their hectic lot. Once inside it's clear that no one parked outside is going anywhere but Brent's. Unless of course they're the few early drinkers headed into the dive bar next door.

Even after the breakfast rush the place is still bopping, packed to the brim with families, elderly couples, and groups of friends shooting the breeze over shaved deli meats. The hostess station is situated directly in front of the main entrance which is where you pay your bill and buy deli baked goods like extra large black and white cookies or carrot cake. Sadly this desk positioning is seriously problematic and often leads to crazy mayhem and confusion as those who just wandered in off the street don't know where to pay, where to buy a bagel, or where to put there name in for the long wait. Even with a noon reservation for a party of 7 we still had to wait an extra 20 minutes to be seated.

When our name was finally called we were lead to the back of the restaurant and squeezed into a corner booth adjacent to a kitchen door. I'd hoped for a larger table considering we did have a reservation and they do have better table set-ups for large groups, but by this time I was hungry and honestly didn't care. Besides they did try to accommodate us further without prompting by adding an extra chair to the end of the table so we weren't forced to sit in each other's lap.

As I scanned the menu I already knew what I was getting. No not matzo ball soup or even french toast, I was here for a sandwich. Most of the time when I come I just get the turkey on rye with fruit. Today though I was feeling daring and decided it was about time to try the Black Pastrami Reuben, which I had heard so much about but never ordered. I am no reuben expert by any means, and actually, this would be my very first reuben creation. I like my sandwiches from a deli counter with clean cuts of turkey or beef with a touch of mustard and the occasional single slice of swiss or cheddar. When you overload me with sauces and multiple cheeses I feel like I lost out on actually tasting the meat that didn't come from an Oscar Meyer package. I also had a few fry varieties to choose from as a side and I went curly. I'm a sucker for curly fries. The rest of the table ordered matzo ball soups, other sandwiches I now forget, and Jenn ordered the Roast Beef Club.

After flagging down a waitress we put in our order and asked for fresh pickles and bagel chips. I asked for a side of ranch to dip the chips which always adds a nice bit of zest to the dry and crunchy bagel slices. It was a good thing we did ask for something to munch on because the food took its time coming out. I'd anticipated this, but when your hungry your hungry, and every minute that passes as you wait feels like an eternity. It didn't help that everyone's soups came before my sandwich.

Finally the wait was over and my selection was placed before me. I had to muster up all my strength not to dig in before taking a picture with my phone.

Black Pastrami Reuben

The black pastrami reuben is peppered pastrami served on grilled rye bread with melted swiss cheese, topped with "hot" sauerkraut and russian dressing. In my hands it was large, warm, and greasy. As I looked at it anxiously I thought "this first bite would be breaking my reuben virginity."

In the menu it's described as melting in your mouth and just as described it did. The warm meat and melted swiss fused creating a lush tasty experience sweetened by the relish in the russian dressing and given bite from the sauerkraut. The pepper in the pastrami was there albeit not very prevalent. For someone with nothing to compare this to it was a very good sandwich. One caveat I will give is the skimpyness of the sauerkraut reduced its flavor perhaps too much. If your gonna use sauerkraut on a sandwich don't hold back. You can always take some off if it's took much for you. Also the curly fries that I chose as my side turned out to be a very nice surprise being some of the best curly fries I've had in recent memory. They were perfectly crispy without being overdone and lightly battered in a perfect ratio. I'd recommend this over their potato salad or cole slaw which is generically prepared and uninteresting.

Roast Beef Club

Jenn also loved her sandwich and I did get a taste. The american cheese was a very nice compliment to the freshly carved roast beef but the sandwich was way to big even by club standards. I don't quite understand why Jewish deli's insist on using an amount of meat in sandwiches that makes eating them like a sandwich challenging. I'd honestly rather pay less for a little less meat. The rest of the table were happy with their orders, particular the chopped liver which I didn't try.

Brent's is still an undertaking indeed. You have to mentally and physically prepare yourself for driver's off their meds, fight your way onto a waiting list where you will proceed to wait and wait, and then finally seated you'll be waiting some more. Just remember that the food will come and you will be content. If there is one thing I've learned from this visit to Brent's Deli in Northridge is that it has consistency down pat. From the food which always comes out as requested and tasty, to the nightmare it took to get here.


Brent's Deli

19565 Parthenia St
Northridge, CA 91324
(818) 886-5679

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Mickey and Me at Club 33

You wouldn't guess it to look at me, but I have a deep, dark secret. I...Michael...love...Disneyland! If you gauged me somewhere on the Mickey Mouse-o-Meter I'd range somewhere between the casual park visitor, to someone who never leaves home without donning their mouse ears even when doing their grocery shopping. A scavenger hunt through my room would uncover my own set of ears, an extra large stuffed pair of four fingered hands, my Disneyland annual pass with a goofy picture, and a "Pirates of the Caribbean" lanyard with a few Disneyland-centric pins. My DVD collection also has a smattering of animated and live action classics. I have a hard time passing up new Disney DVDs, especially when those commercials start hitting televisions about how their returning to the vault never to be seen again.

I'm not crazy. I just love everything Disneyland. Where else can you relive your childhood innocence without being confused as someone with a mental handicap? I'll tell you where, no where, Disneyland is the only place. So Disneyland is where I go with my equally Disneyana-nut girlfriend, and we wander every inch of Disneyland from the Mickey Mouse parking structure to Splash Mountain and back again. In fact the only place we were unable to go without leaving the boat on "It's A Small World" to dance among the children of Holland, was Club 33. Never heard of it? Let me explain.

Walt Disney had Club 33 built as a place to entertain VIPs without having to leave Disneyland. It was to be a fine dining establishment where Gorbachev could have something other then a churro in surroundings befitting both Disney's sense of fantasy and his guest's upscale taste. Sadly Walt died before it's completion, and Club 33 is now only open to the less than 500 individuals and corporations who pay thousands of dollars yearly to keep those membership cards alive. They are non-transferable even upon your death, so don't start planning your best friends demise just yet. For the average park goer their only fast pass is to get a spot on the 5-year plus waiting list (which is now closed), or, by invitation from one of its current limited members. You can understand why I assumed the only way I'd ever make it in was by breaking into the film industry and getting an invite from Donald Duck. The closest I ever came was the lobby of Club 33 on a special tour of Disneyland, and even that was further then most make it.

God must have decided he owed me one, because I found my way out of the lobby and up its glass elevator sooner then I thought possible. Thank you God for introducing me to KevinEats. A fellow food blogger who I was introduced to at a FoodDigger sponsored event who happened to be visiting Club 33 for his third time, and who thought I could squeak in as his guest. Thank you God, thank you Kevin, and thank you FoodDigger for bringing us together. But enough with all this schmaltz, onto the review!

Oustide Club 33

The entrance to Club 33 is easy to find and just as easy to miss. Park goers pass by it all day long not realizing that behind a faint green door between "The Blue Bayou" and a gift shop is anything worth noting. To them it's just another door in New Orleans Square that is more for aesthetic then anything else. It's only those that linger waiting for dinner at a neighboring restaurant who wonder where the well dressed couple just emerged from.

Assuming you have a reservation and are not just playing ding-dong-ditch, ringing the bell alongside the door will admit you to a very small lobby with a front desk attendant, an imported glass elevator, and a carpeted staircase. Heading upstairs is the entire dining facility complete with two dining rooms and a well stocked bar. My initial thrill came with just being able to climb aboard the elevator and ascending upwards. On my previous visit I had stood here and wondered if I could get away with slamming the door shut and pushing the button, but I restrained myself and held out hope for the future.


Finally upstairs my dining party and I were seated in the more exciting of the two rooms, "The Trophy Room." From the name you may be imagining a space brim with shiny mementos of Walt's achievements, but these trophies littering the dark wooden walls follow a different definition of the word. Think safari: stuffed animal heads (Bambi wasn't thankfully not present), large ivory tusks, and various sketches of wilderness themes. Most of the items were gifts from Walt's friends who knew of his jungle fascination.

Limited Edition Club 33 China

Having taken in the room I had a chance to look at my plate. Not just any plate, a specially made Club 33 plate. According to the waiter there are only 200 in existence at $180 a pop, and none of them are for sale. Believe me I was glad to find out that these were not the plates we were going to be eating on. The last thing I needed was to be put in Disneyland jail for breaking a dish at Club 33.

After some explanation of how Sunday brunch worked I was finally able to leave my chair and head off to the appetizer bar, although having been ordered by the waiter to NOT touch the desserts. You'll see why this was difficult later.

Down a short hall and next to the bar was the appetizer station situated parallel to the desserts. I got in line, grabbed a plate (no 33 on this one), and started spooning various items.

Salad BarFruit and Cheese Raw BarDeli Meats LoxGluttonous AppetizerGluttonous Appetizer #2

Many visits to Souplantation had prepared me for this day so I was ready. I didn't want to overdo it and completely miss out on the meals finale, so I took only what looked interested or to hard to pass up. Back at the table my final plate tally included macaroni salad, caesar salad, thinly sliced salmon, lobsters claws, a lobster tail, shrimp, balsamic marinated tomatoes, grilled vegetables, and a piece of walnut bread.

Out of all these items the real stars were all the seafood items, minus the lobster tail. That had a much stronger shell to meat ratio so I quickly abandoned any attempts for meat extraction. All of the seafood however was fresh, clean, and had a worthy bite. The salads and bread were nothing to extraordinary, although I did like the creamy and tangy macaroni salad. The vegetables were rather tasteless so I passed on finishing those. With a little more room left to spare I did go back to snatch up some more seafood.

Plate cleaned and speedily removed, my entree of a pre-selected new york steak with kennebec fries and curried banana ketchup arrived.  

Steak and Fries

My dining companions opted for either the alaskan halibut with meyer lemon risotto and minted tabouleh, or the pan roasted chicken with a mac and cheese croquette and pickled sweet carrots. No one ordered the pastas three by three so I'll forever wonder what that looked like.


Cutting into my steak it occurred to me I was never given the option of selecting how I'd like my steak cooked, a big no-no in my book especially at Club 33 prices. I'm a man who likes his steak medium rare and this cow was cooked closer to medium. To me a steak cooked this way is like a clown with no sense of humor, boring. Thankfully it wasn't cooked well done. That's like a clown buried 6-feet under with no one coming to the funeral, sad and pathetic.

Club 33 is not a steak house, and I wasn't expecting CUT quality beef, but they could certainly do better then a poorly presented steak. The sides were no big thrill either, consisting of bland undercooked french fries that were made only more terrible by banana ketchup. I had never heard of this fruit combination before, but apparently banana ketchup (aka banana sauce) is wildly popular in the Philippines as a fried chicken condiment. Personally I think I'll be sticking to my tried and true bottle of Heinz in the future. Can you imagine plopping down on a stool at the Apple Pan and dipping a fry in banana ketchup? I think the place would crumble under the shear weight of that crazy thought.

I did have a chance to try the other entrees nearby, out of which I enjoyed the chicken the most. Crispy skin, juicy interior, it's only downfall were the sides: a dry macaroni and cheese croquet and marinated carrots. The fish was so-so but I'd order that before ordering the steak again. Come to think of it the best entree I saw zoom by the table was going to a child behind me who ordered an angus cheeseburger, although it did come with those nasty fries and ketchup. Poor kid didn't know what was coming to him.

Feeling a bit deflated I looked towards the dessert bar as my savior. I shuffled over and filled two plates, returning to my seat in hopes of something uplifting.

S'more SundaeMacaroonsView of Desserts #2View of Desserts #1View of Desserts #3

The first piece I bit into was the macaroon, and like magic, Zip A De Do Da began to play in my head. Ah sweet return! Club 33 is known for doing these well, and done well they did. I grew up in a Jewish household with many a macaroon, and these were some of the best I'd ever had. Continuing clockwise around the plate with names lost to me now there were other worthwhile mentions.

Dessert Plate #2

The purple blackberry tart had a strong blackberry flavor and was very enjoyable. It was my second favorite dessert. The white stick was white chocolate and needs no further description. The brown hat looking thing was a cookie with a sort of chocolate mouse. It had a crunchy creamy texture (a combo I love) and was very pleasant. Next up was a forgettable fruit based cake and a nice and airy chocolate one.

Dessert Plate #1

On the second plate starting at the top and again moving clockwise is the panna cotta atop a raspberry fruit gelatin. I thought it would be similar to a dessert shooter but in the end had to be eaten with a spoon. The texture of gelatin to cream didn't work for me so I quickly moved on to the yellow lemon cream puff. Now I love lemon but this was overpoweringly lemon. Toned down I'm sure this one would be a winner. Next up I had a brownie topped with cream and peppermint, and a chocolate cup with a cake I now forget. Both were certainly good but not outstanding. Down to the final two I had the mango cake and some sort of tea cake. I'm not normally wild about mango but this was very good. The second cake was dense and buttery with a faint almond taste. On it's own this is decent, but when compared to everything else it's pretty much bottom rung.

S'more Sundae #2

I grabbed this s'more cup early when told by the waiter only a certain amount are made each day and they do run out. While a dessert involving the idea of a s'more is enticing, in execution it's completely bland. Imagine a cup with a few marshmallows, graham pieces, and chocolate syrup and you have this down to a "T." I could do that at home with better results. By far this was the largest disappointment dessert wise.

So there you have it. Club 33 from beginning to end.

I stood from my chair on shaky sugar high legs with a full stomach and took one last look around the room. Even with an entree I'd rather not remember I was happy to be here and I'd gladly return. The entire experience from the lobby, to the safari decorated room, to the appetizers and desserts, they were all worth the effort it took to get here. I had wanted to come here for so long and had high expectations. It may not have been perfect, but I got to stand in a dining room and take a picture with Mickey Mouse and Pluto, I got to take part in a place full of Disney history that most only dare dream of ever making it to. If you're one of the many sitting on a waiting list don't lose hope, and don't take anything negative I said in this review as a reason to leave your spot. If you're someone who loves Disneyland as much as I do then you'll love Club 33, I promise. Just remember to order the chicken the chicken or bring a child and steal his burger.

I leave you with a parting shot of my view into New Orleans square from a hallway window in Club 33.

My View


Club 33 (in Disneyland
1313 S. Harbor Blvd.
Anaheim, CA. 92803
Unofficial Homepage

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Food Find: Ritz Bits Confetti Creme

This is wrong. Just... so wrong.

Ritz Bits

Nabisco has copied Betty Crocker's Dunk-A-Roos, creating a product without any creativity, fun, or happiness. For shame Nabisco. For shame.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Upscale Mall Mexican in Canoga Park

In Los Angeles Mexican eateries follow a unique hierarchy. At the bottom level you have taco trucks. The life blood of Los Angeles that in recent months were attacked by city official and almost wiped out. Thanks to local outcry and a lengthy legal battle there here to stay. Move up the ladder and you have the hole-in-the-wall restaurants, the mom and pop joints that specialize in homeland cuisines or basics that any gringo would feel comfortable ordering like carne asada tacos or fajitas. Finally at the top, you have the white tablecloths, the wine lists, and the menu items that go a step above the usual and venturing into gourmet territory. When you've fallen off the ladder you're at El Torito, but that's for another article.

Recently I finally made it to what would be considered a top-rung restaurant called Amaranta Cocina Mexicana in the Canoga Park Topanga Mall. A place that boasts perhaps too much tequila options at over 400, and prefers to think of their menu as one that "does not seek to invent or modernize Mexican cuisine, but rather to celebrate, respect and preserve its originality." I walked in expecting fancier fajitas or tacos filled with things I'd never tasted before, but what I found was quite different.

On a Wednesday at 6:30 PM I arrived braving the hectic mall parking to find Amaranta on the ground floor next to the mall concierge station. The restaurant is designed to be wide open to the mall surroundings to allow the passersby carrying a mall pretzel the chance to look in and stop for lunch. It's too bad it's not located outdoors to allow natural sunlight in the place, because the patio and it's interior would certainly be at home. They could even decrease the strange amount of neon lighting to make it a more welcoming atmosphere. It was clear that when I arrived to the empty restaurant that more foot traffic was needed. Even the waiter looked bored as he leaned against the bar with wall-to-wall booze waiting around for someone to wait on.

Seated quickly I cracked open the menu and instantly ordered the tableside prepared guacamole. As I continued to menu scan we munched on the three house made salsas dipped into with pieces of hand made corn tortillas.

This was a nice change from the usual chips I'm accustomed to seeing, but you can request chips if you're tortilla phobic when it comes to salsa. The waiter indicated that the green was mild, the darkest color was medium, and the red was hot. Heat was true to name, but the salsa was a bit thin for my taste. I've always thought that salsa was for scooping, not for dipping. Probably why it's called salsa and not dip.

A cart soon rolled over with all the guacamole making ingredients and the guacamole man did his thing. The result tasted remarkably like guacamole! Yes you can screw up guacamole, sadly it's happened to me more then once. It was very fresh and I could certainly taste all the different bits and pieces that went in to making it, especially the lime. A truly solid guacamole. This came with chips that were made in-house same as the tortillas, and tasted equally warm, fresh, and greaseless.

For my entree I had a tough time deciding between the chicken fajitas and the conchinita pibil. I went with the latter, described exotically in the menu as "marinated chunks of pork wrapped in banana leaves and steamed to perfection." For sides I picked the spanish rice and refried black beans.

I had hoped it would arrive actually wrapped in a banana leaf tied shut like a present waiting to be opened on Christmas day. I was sad to see someone beat me to it, but no matter, it's what's inside that counts right? What I found was unevenly cooked with the outer edges being a bit on the dry side, and the center being the more tender and moist. Texture wise it was on-point, but it lacked in spice to bring it all together. This was the theme for the remainder of the plate which mentioned ingredients like onion and garlic that I couldn't detect.

I did manage to snag a taste of what the others had ordered. The enchiladas amaranta did not suffer from the same under spicing that my choice did. The pork had the qualities that I'd hoped for in mine, and overall the entire enchilada felt more true to the restaurants earlier mission statement.

The third dish on the table I didn't manage to try. But the diner said his camarones al ajillo was very "meh." Out of the three it was the most interestingly presented dish, arriving in a clay pot brimming with shrimp.

The dessert menu had a few interesting options but we opted for the churros con crema y cajeta. I love a good churro, and these were a nice surprise. Filled with bavarian cream and served with a scoop of vanilla bean ice cream drizzled in caramel sauce, this was the star of the evening. I had a hard time not kicking everyone out of the booth and having it all to myself. It was sweet without being overpowering, and the heat from the churro was well partnered with the ice cream chill.

If I was doing my holiday shopping at the Topanga Mall this winter I would go back to Amaranta despite the dish discrepancies. The guacamole is worth another order, there are a few enchiladas I'd like to try, and the dessert was a delightful grand finale.

Note: I apologize for the photos. Silly me didn't put new batteries in my camera ahead of time and I had to use my phone. Check-out their website for a much better idea of the food.


Amaranta Cocina Mexicana

6600 Topanga Canyon Blvd #1029
Canoga Park, CA 91303
(818) 610-3599
Get Directions

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Roscoe's House of Chicken and Waffles with Skin

What is a person to do when they are torn between craving a buttery maple drenched waffle and a juicy piece of fried chicken? Well if you live near a Roscoe’s House of Chicken and Waffles, you can have your artery clogging combo all on the same plate!

For a place that’s infamous for entertaining hordes of breakfast hungry patrons and soaking up late-night drunks, it’s took me some time to finally make it Roscoe’s. I always thought of it as one of those kitschy places you don’t make your destination, but more a place you stumble upon to magically, like a shining beacon of help when you’re hungry and lost in Hollywood.

This somewhat describes my visit this past weekend, when I was looking for someplace to eat a late breakfast before catching The Godfather at the Arclight on Sunset. Located surprisingly just a few blocks away, there was the waffle and chicken logo beckoning me to enter. Street parking was tricky, and its two entrances confused me, but I finally made my way inside.

The interior has a funky design with wood paneling, a bit of neon, and in one room split level floors. We were seating in a much more simplistic room with a basic table layout and graffiti-style art on the walls. Only a few people were spread around the room but everyone was clearly indulging in the restaurants signature offering.

I went with this as well, ordering the Carol C. Special which came with “one succulent breast and one delicious waffle.” My girlfriend went with the similar Country Boy Breakfast, which came with 3 chicken wings instead of the breast. Actually, there are quite a few combinations in the menu of bird and waffle. Some include gravy, some include biscuits, and there were plenty of other possible additions like mac n’ cheese or giblets.

Orders away my food finally arrived. One piece of fried chicken, one waffle with industrial strength butter plopped on top, and a small cup of syrup on the side. I was unclear how to go about eating it, so I started slowly dissecting each one.

For a place with the word “waffle” in the name I was expecting a lot, and frankly this waffle was just so-so. It would satisfy someone simply wanting a waffle, but this was a tad overly sweet for my taste. I prefer something lighter and milky, or even nutty, but this just didn’t do it.

The chicken on the other hand does deserve to be used in the signage. It was nice and hot with fantastically crispy skin and a wonderfully juicy bite. The chicken wings on the plate across from me were equally delicious, especially if you’re someone who prefers more skin then chicken.

Now I decided to get into a bit of mad science by combining chicken, waffle, and a bit of syrup on one fork. It sounded like it would work but it utterly failed. The flavor of chicken and waffle are not meant to be married. So I went simpler and tried just chicken and syrup. Unsurprisingly this was great, sweet glazes on fried chicken always works.

What’s left? Hmmm… I got it! Skin without chicken, waffle, and syrup! How did the frankenfried waffle fair? Wow. This was… wow. Ok if you go and order a waffle with fried chicken you have to do this. I practically rose from my chair and shuffled through the restaurant with outstretched arms in groans of delight.

In the end Roscoe’s House of Chicken and Waffles is not a place I’d leave my driveway for, but if I’m in the area and hungry for chicken I’d be willing to brave the parking situation. Roscoe though should seriously consider renaming the place “Roscoe’s Chicken and Waffles with Skin,” but that’d probably be a hard sell.
Roscoe's House of Chicken and Waffles
1514 N Gower St.
Los Angeles, CA

(323) 466-7453

Friday, September 19, 2008

Paid for Eating and Writing!

Surprise, surprise! I was tapped by AskMen.com a month or so ago to do a series of articles about certain LA restaurants to be featured in their "Fine Living" section over the coming months.

So far my impressions of Katsu-ya have been published as of this past weekend, but you can expect more within the coming days. I'll be making announcements here when that happens. But don't worry, you'll also be getting more posts based on places of my choosing and my dime solely on Famished L.A.

Right now, I'm trying to decide on someplace to eat for breakfast this weekend in the San Fernando Valley OR in Hollywood. Suggestions?

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Joe and His Ripper

Slow down while heading through Reseda along Tampa Blvd, or you just might miss the new hot dog locale Fabs that has been burning up the boards with talk of some snappy dogs, and dare I say, a fried dog called "the ripper." No it has nothing to do with the serial killer who terrified London, but is actually a regional specialty of New Jersey that has made its way west.

A ripper simply explained is a hot dog deep fried in oil until the casing tears or “rips.” It is then either served in a steamed bun plain or with a slathering of mustard relish. This explosive frank was made famous by Rutt’s Hut in Clifton, NJ during the 1920s. Now thanks to owner Joe and Fab’s, you to can live like someone from Jersey without the cross-country trip.

The place is small with only two teeny tables and a couple of stools. When you walk in the owner himself will most likely be the one taking your order, and you’ll even get to watch him cook it up before your very eyes since you’re practically already standing in the kitchen.

The menu board on the wall has much more then just a single dog. Along with their specialty they have a list of other eye opening concoctions that are also notable in their own areas. There is the “Carolina Slaw Dog” and the “Kansas City Dog” that uses BBQ sauce. He has even found inspiration straight from LA itself with the “LA Street Dog” with bacon, and his version of the Oki-Dog called the “Fairfax Burrito Dog.” With these choices and more (he even has burgers) I decided to keep it simple. I ordered “the bald eagle,” a ripper with the relish mix, along with the tater tots. How can you pass up tots?

I took a seat and watched as Joe strolled about his kitchen cooking up what I wanted. I actually started to feel like I was sitting in someone’s house watching them make dinner. He picked up a hot dog and dropped it in the oil, then took a step over to coat the tots before dropping them in their own vat. There were even times when he would pause and we would start chatting. Mostly about how I’d never heard of a ripper before, and how I’d heard great things about this place prior to visiting.

Minutes passed and I was handed my order with a chilling bottle of ketchup. I had to take a moment and actually look at what I was about to eat. Not only to take a picture, but because it looked so nicely prepared. But I was ready to stop admiring and I readily took a bite.

In the pillowy soft steamed bun the dog had a crisp snap and the relish a delightful tang. It was surprisingly not as greasy as I thought it would be. This hot dog was like nothing I had ever had before, and I loved it. As for the tater tots? I made the right choice. They were a potato trip down memory lane.

I already have plans on going back. Not only to try something new I’m sure will be great, but to take a seat in my pal Joe’s kitchen and say “hello.”
6747 Tampa Ave
Reseda, CA 91335
(818) 344-4336

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

A Healthy Way to Start the Day

When I wakeup every weekend morning I always find myself pondering the same question, what will I eat for breakfast? I’ll be honest and say that I run with a healthy crowd during the week, usually beginning my day in a hum drum bowl of oatmeal with a side of egg whites. I know my body so I know that if I don’t start the day out right I’ll be a hungry zombie in an hour.

This is why I look forward to the weekends. It allows me the rare opportunity to have someone else make me breakfast, or eat something any doctor would raise an eyebrow to. Something that emerged from a pan grease or is stacked high and drenched in maple syrup.

Still there are Saturdays where I lie in bed feeling conflicted, not knowing if I really want to go all out but still knowing I don’t want to be eating celery sticks. Presented with this conundrum I go to such a place where everything on the menu is somehow bad and good for you at the same time, Hugo’s in Studio City.

Arriving in the early morning hours with my girlfriend I could park easily, a feat which would become impossible if I had arrived anytime after 9. Seating choices both inside and outside were plentiful, so I took a seat on their plastic enclosed patio.

Opening the menu and you’ll see why I called this place somehow “bad and good for you” all in the same moment. Hugo’s is all about using organic ingredients and manages to turn the usual greasy spoon fare into a zen like experience. They have various vegan and vegetarian options and a variety of egg, pancake, and even pasta dishes. That’s right, pasta for breakfast. One popular item is their eggs benedict creation “Eggs Blackstone,” which uses black bean cakes in place of an English muffin. They also have “Strawberry Chai Pancakes” that come with organic maple syrup. With all this healthy eating expect a price bump from the usual diner food with everything hovering around $10.

For our breakfasts my girlfriend ordered the “Gluten-Free Carrot Cake Pancakes” off their specials menu. It was described as including “shredded carrots, walnuts, ginger, cinnamon, and nutmeg,” and coming topped with “sliced bananas, maple candied walnuts, and agave sweetened vegan cream cheese icing.”

I on the other hand couldn’t decide between the “pumpkin pancakes” or “cinnamon swirl french toast.” Since I couldn’t make up my mind I asked our waitress what she would pick, to which she gave me an even better option. I could order half and half and save myself from orderer’s regret. Thanks for the tip!

As far as looks are concerned Jenn's was certainly the most appealing. I could see someone ordering those for dessert. Although I was glad to see that my french toast wasn't just some generic swirl imprint but in fact rolled and sliced bread. The pancake appeared to me like any old pancake.

For the first few bites I actually thought it might be. I couldn't detect any pumpkin and started to think they left the pumpkin out of their pumpkin pancakes. But the more I ate the more pumpkin like it became. It seemed to me that maybe the batter wasn't stirred properly and perhaps led to this fickle cake. My french toast on the other hand was great. The cinnamon shown through brightly and I loved its pull apart consistency. The maple syrup I could tell wasn't some generic high fructose blend. This was the real deal. If you are faced with choosing between pumpkin or cinnamon, go cinnamon.

My girlfriends choice I think looked better then it tasted. When she cut into it I could see the carrots but the pancake tasted weak. I think Hugo's seriously needs to up the signature ingredients of their pancakes if they want to make them more of a winner. Still I should mention that they do have their cooking technique down. Both our pancakes were light and airy. A quality I look for in a well made pancake. I also loved the toppings that came with the carrot.

Usually when I go to Hugo's for breakfast I go for their egg dishes, with this visit being my first foray into pancakes. My experience is that they execute them very well and I've never been disappointed. So I think next time I'll either do the same or order the cinnamon french toast to assure I leave with a smile.
Hugo's Restaurant
12851 Riverside Dr.
Studio City, CA 91607

Get Directions
(818) 761-8985