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