Love at First Bite
WRITTEN BY: JESSIE DAX-SETKUS | PHOTOGRAPHED BY: TASO PAPADAKIS
The world is full of many personalities—all are appealing in their own way. We all have social circles full of friends that complete a certain role within the group. There is the leader, the comedian, the caretaker, the bodyguard, etc. Restaurants also play this role in our lives if you think about it. How often do we say, “I am really feeling Mexican food tonight, ” or “Wow, a burger sounds amazing right about now”? We typically turn to our go-to spots; our friendly, reliable eateries that never let us down.
To kick off the new year, we have found some awesome restaurants with some strong personalities to add to your list of dependable places to make your staple. Let us introduce you to The Crow Bar and Kitchen and Crow Burger Kitchen, Jan’s Health Bar, The Slidebar Rock-N-Roll Kitchen, Avila’s El Ranchito Mexican Restaurant and Sessions Sandwiches. Once you meet them all, we’re sure it will be love at first bite.
AVILA’S EL RANCHITO MEXICAN RESTAURANT
2800 Newport Ave Newport Beach, CA 92663 949.675.6855
Find more locations at: www.avilaselranchito.com
THE EXPERT: MARIBEL AVILA, CO-OWNER/MANAGER
Across the world, many cultures have a very similar word that means “family.” La Famille, Die Familie, La Famiglia—they all encompass the bond we have with our beloved relatives. However, none of those words express it quite like they do at Avila’s El Ranchito when they soulfully say, “La Familia.” This restaurant is one that literally “runs in the family, ” as every location is individually owned and operated by none other than a member of the Avila clan. Not only is El Ranchito founded with a strong foundation of family, they have an incredibly strong history as well. A mantra they faithfully follow is that no one makes Mexican food as delicious as their grandparents do, and believe me, they stick to it. After being passed numerous family recipes and growing up alongside her father/best friend in the restaurant that she currently runs, Maribel Avila has followed in her grandfather’s footsteps by running three of Avila’s 11 restaurants alongside her father. She’s traditional yet fresh and exciting, adding new and inspired items to the menu while still keeping her grandparents’ coveted recipes alive and well. Not to be shown up, the margaritas are nothing short of inspired— they are creative, fun and bold. When asked what keeps people coming back for more, Maribel doesn’t hesitate to say food and family because that is what El Ranchito is all about. If you want some Mexican food like your abuelita makes, El Ranchito is the place, and their casa is su casa.
Q:How did El Ranchito get its humble beginnings?
Maribel Avila: Avila’s El Ranchito has grown from a very amazing beginning. My grandparents, Salvador and Margarita Avila, came with their kids from Guanajuato, Mexico and opened their first restaurant in Huntington Park, California in 1966. It was a tiny 21-person restaurant with two picnic tables inside. Their first day open they only made 12 dollars. They worked hard for their six children to have a life here, and they showed their kids how to work hard and earn a living. That same dedication to the business has continued for the past 40 years. We never take anything for granted, and know that our success comes from that same hard work my grandparents showed the family. Of course, we couldn’t be this successful without our loyal customers. No one dreamed of El Ranchito becoming what it is today. We now have 11 locations! Yet, my grandparents are still the most humble people I know.
Q: Would you say that El Ranchito places great importance on family?
MA: Family is everything. The Avilas consist of a total of 40 people! Not only is it so fun, but it also makes for a giant support system. We all encourage each other and want to see everyone’s locations succeed. Instead of there being any competitiveness, it is quite the opposite. We learn from each other, we communicate, and we want the best for each other. I don’t think my grandparents would allow it to be any other way. I get to work with my dad every day. I can’t explain to people what our relationship is like, except that it is rooted in so much respect. He has owned the Newport Beach location for 40 years, so he is wise beyond my years. I learn so much from him every day. I am truly honored to continue his legacy, and I will do everything I can to keep it alive. My dad is my mentor, not just at work, but his love and compassion makes him my best friend too.
Q: Would you say that each location has its own personality?
MA: Each location is individually owned by a family member. Their personality is clearly visible in their own location. It is my favorite thing about El Ranchito. Each time you walk into a different location it is like stepping into a family member’s house. There is so much character and love at every restaurant. My uncle Sal’s location in Lake Forest is like stepping into a Mexican surf town. My cousin Marcus’ location in Orange is a historic building—it used to be an old church. Our location in Huntington Beach is a local hang out for some of the world’s best surfers. As far as the food goes, we keep the core items and recipes the same. For example, our salsas, our rice and beans, chile rellenos, etc. will be consistent throughout our restaurants. Then, each restaurant has their local favorites. You will find something different at the Santa Ana location than you will at the Corona del Mar location. We have found these differences to be fitting for each neighborhood.
Q: Do you have a special tie with any particular location?
MA: I manage the Newport Beach, Corona del Mar and Huntington Beach locations, so those are my babies. I grew up in the Newport restaurant. When I was a kid, my dad would bring me to work, and I would hang out with the employees there. Some of those employees are still working for us today, so I definitely feel at home there. I grew up in Corona del Mar; that’s literally my neighborhood. My customers consist of my elementary school teachers, my swim coaches and people I have known my whole life. I think the move from our old location to the new building across the street was a great decision. It has been fun to be a part of making such a new location so successful. I have learned the most from Corona del Mar.
Q: What about the atmosphere? What do you want your customers to feel when they are dining at El Ranchito?
MA: When a customer walks in, I want them to feel like they are walking into my grandparents’ home. They are the most welcoming and warm people I know. Anyone who meets them will agree. When our customers walk in, they know our employees’ names, they see familiar faces, they typically see a family member and they know exactly what they want to order. I love that. Our customers are amazing. Our goal is to feel the Avila family hospitality, or as we call it, “Sabor Latino.”
Q: You pride yourself on family recipes passed through generations—what are some of your favorites?
MA: People always ask me, “What is your favorite item on the menu?” and I have never been able to answer that! However, when I am traveling, there a few things I crave. For me, it’s a cheese enchilada and crispy beef taco. Our enchilada sauce is the best. It is my grandmother’s original recipe. My winter favorite is obviously Mama Avila’s Soup. You really can’t go wrong with a soup that is light, healthy and made fresh daily.
Q: Can you explain what you think “authentic Mexican cooking” is?
MA: People always have their opinion of what they think “authentic” means, but in my opinion, it is something that came from an authentic Mexican family home, and it was made with love. Authentic food must pay attention to freshness. Our goal with our food is to make sure it tastes like my abuelita’s day after day. My grandpa will randomly walk into the restaurants, unannounced, go straight to the kitchen and taste the food. These are my favorite days. He is checking every salsa, the soup, the rice and beans, guacamole, etc. Anything he says goes. If something needs more salt—do it. He knows best. This is my idea of authentic…. grandfather approved.
Q: What is an ingredient a true Mexican chef can’t live without?
MA: Chicken broth is the secret to making our Mexican rice and most of our sauces. The flavorful broth is what makes our food more home style than other chain restaurants. We make ours fresh every day, and it is the first thing a manager tastes before opening.
Q: When I go to a Mexican restaurant I look for a really good salsa. What is the secret behind a killer salsa?
MA: Freshness! That is hands down the most important. From fresh cut green onions to the perfectly chopped tomato; it makes all the difference. We do not blend our salsa, which gives it that delicious, chunky texture. Recipe consistency is another key factor, which can be hard because every chili carries a different level of “kick.” You combine these two, and you have a killer salsa.
Q: What are the menu items people come back for time and time again?
MA: Definitely our Mama Avila’s Soup. You can find fajitas and great tacos all around Orange County, but you can’t find our soup. People believe our soup has cold curing abilities. It is the ultimate comfort food. It is a chicken broth and rice soup that is prepared fresh every day. It is topped with fresh avocado, cilantro and tomato. It is so simple—but must be done just right!
Q: In a region where Mexican food is the norm, what makes El Ranchito different from the rest?
MA: Personal attention keeps our customers coming back and creates happy employees. Most of our restaurants have employees who have been with our family for over 25 years. The Avila family is grateful for their loyalty, and our customers appreciate the sense of familiarity.
2823 Newport Blvd Newport Beach, CA 92663, 949.220.9001 www.sessionssandwiches.com
THE EXPERT: MATT MEDDOCK, OWNER OF SESSIONS SANDWHICHES
There is a little extreme in all of us. Of course “extreme” varies from person to person because everyone’s account of the word is something a little different. Orange County is synonymous with the skate and surf scene, and although Sessions Sandwiches was founded on this lifestyle, it doesn’t mean that extremists from all walks of life aren’t welcome to come in for a quality bite. The West Coast is known as being a mixing pot of many different types of cuisines, but delis are not normally placed in that line-up— until now. Owner Matt Meddock has brilliantly taken Southern California’s sweet spot for culturally diverse dishes and contrived them all into none other than delicious sandwiches. Every ingredient is fresh and handpicked with flavor and quality in mind. The breads are trademarks that people flock for, the meats are nothing short of awesome, and the sauces are a work of art making for the perfect grab and go meal. As an avid surfer, Matt doesn’t just endorse this lifestyle—he lives it; packing sandwiches for his obsessive amounts of surf sessions throughout the years. He believes the sandwich is the perfect food for an active lifestyle, and if you have this lifestyle why not eat like a king? Whether you are riding the waves, feeling them wash over your feet or watching them from afar, Sessions Sandwiches is the perfect, laid-back spot to stop in and get your extreme grub on.
Q: What is a “West Coast Deli”?
Matt Meddock: We are the first restaurant in the country as far as I know to coin ourselves as a “West Coast Deli” which makes our job so much fun. Because it has never been done before, we really get to define what it is. A “West Coast Deli” is a deli geared toward the active West Coast person. Here in SoCal we are very in tune with food trends as well as social trends. Sessions is a deli where you can eat gourmet sandwiches that are inspired from various places around the world.
Q: How were you inspired by the overwhelming surf and skate scene in Orange County?
MM: I wasn’t really inspired by it—I live it. That’s what I do. I surf and have a passion for the ocean as well as Southern California. Sessions is really a restaurant that I built for me, and other people like me.
Q: What do you think draws the extreme sports crowd to sandwiches?
MM: A sandwich, in my opinion, is the go-to food for most people that are doing activities. You go surf for the day, you pack a sandwich, you go snowboard for the day, you pack a sandwich, you go skate all day, you pack a sandwich, etc. I feel people are drawn to Sessions because when they are there they feel comfortable. It’s a place built for them.
Q: When you say the sandwich is the “most simple, yet perfectly complete meal, ” what do you mean by that?
MM: We have made our sandwiches so perfect. Everything from the flavor combinations to the textures has you leaving Sessions feeling as if you just had a culinary experience—not just a sandwich. We also have done this with only a few ingredients, which makes it so simple.
Q: You have awesome names for your menu items. How do you come up with them?
MM: My partner, Max Schlutz, is the brainchild behind the names. He’s also the mastermind behind the menu. I’m very thankful for him.
Q: Many regions have signature sandwiches— what would you say is Orange County’s signature sandwich?
MM: Ironically our best selling sandwich is the Meddock Melee, and I feel as if that defines Orange County the best. It’s complete with roasted turkey, Swiss cheese, tomatoes, cherry peppers, razor onions, sprouts, adobo buttermilk dressing, and guacamole on squaw. This sandwich is packed with flavor, yet also healthy and has a kick of spice.
Q: Out of every sandwich on the planet…what would you say is your personal favorite?
MM: My favorite sandwich on the planet is the Sloppy Barney. It’s our pulled pork sandwich.
Q: Is there a technique to constructing the perfect sandwich?
MM: Yes of course. We start with the bread, which is dropped off daily from OC Baking Company, then the best meat we can source, next the fresh local produce, and topped off with our homemade sauces. All of our condiments are made fresh at Sessions.
Q: It looks like you place a great deal of importance on the quality of your ingredients… what are some of the awesome ingredients Sessions needs in the kitchen at all times?
MM: Our adobo buttermilk along with our pickled mustard seeds fly off the shelf! They are also my two favorite ingredients.
Q: Do you take customer sandwich requests? If so, what are some crazy examples experienced?
MM: Customer service is a priority to us, so we will make anything anyone wants. The craziest sandwiches ever though are the ham and cheese or the turkey and cheese sandwiches. I feel so sorry for the customer as they are about to miss out on a culinary masterpiece!
Q: Usually sandwich “restaurants” are pretty grab and go and not typically a sit down experience—would you say you have deviated from that stereotype?
MM: I feel that with the gourmet sandwich you need to sit down and enjoy your food. We may have deviated a bit, but we strive to deviate from the norm.
Q: Although you have a few other menu items beyond sandwiches, do you plan to stay pretty true to your “West Coast Deli” theme or are you going to bring other players to the game?
MM: We are planning on letting Sessions evolve, and right now that could be all different directions. Sandwiches will always be our foundation.
THE SLIDEBAR ROCK-N-ROLL KITCHEN
122 E Commonwealth Ave. Fullerton, CA 92832 714.871.7469 www.slidebarfullerton.com
THE EXPERT: JEREMY POPOFF, OWNER OF THE SLIDEBAR ROCK-N-ROLL KITCHEN
Ever wonder what it is like to be a rockstar? The red carpets, the music, the parties, and the VIP treatment—it all sounds pretty amazing. Most of us can’t experience this god-like status, but we can experience the VIP treatment at The Slidebar Rock- N-Roll Kitchen. This larger than life establishment is more than just a bar—it is a lifestyle. Any kid growing up in the 2000s, especially in Orange County, knows the band Lit and their guitarist Jeremy Popoff, who is the proud owner of The Slidebar. This laid-back rocker took all he knows and loves about the music scene and welded it into this perfect fusion of bar meets concert venue meets restaurant. But bars aren’t known for quality food, right? Wrong. With Chef Oge Dalken as his axe man, the food in this kitchen is as epic as the solo in “Sweet Child O’ Mine.” A way to describe the cuisine at The Slidebar would be comfort done so wonderfully right. Who doesn’t like a mac n’ cheese like Mom used to make…with a sexy twist? Perhaps you would like to attend a laid-back weekend barbecue? Maybe you are feeling particularly dare devilish and want an alligator sausage? The Slidebar has fixings for anyone from brunchers, to bar folk, to hardcore foodies, to anyone just looking for some good eats. This isn’t just a bar you come to for the drinks and the entertainment—the food also holds a predominant power stance. If you’re in need of VIP treatment, The Slidebar has the hookups.
Q:I love me some good ole’ rock-n-roll, but why open a rock bar in Orange County?
Jeremy Popoff: I grew up here, and my band Lit played around here. When we had some success and were able to buy houses, we chose Fullerton. I have always loved the downtown area and wanted to be a part of it. I also wanted to celebrate and give back to the music community that we were a part of.
Q: Tell me about your décor. How do you acquire all of the awesome paraphernalia from such amazing bands?
JP: All of the memorabilia is from our friends—bands from OC, bands that my band has played with, bands that have played Slidebar. All of it has a personal connection to us. What makes it really special is that most of the stuff hanging from our walls was personally delivered by the artists.
Q: I see that The Slidebar has a ton of concerts on your calendar every month. How do you select the bands to play at your venue?
JP: We have bands from all genres play. Rock, country, hip hop, tribute—the list goes on. We have secret shows from huge bands, and we have shows from local up and comers. We even host kids from local schools through Project Rock Band.
Q: Would you consider The Slidebar to be more of a concert venue, restaurant, bar…or a fusion of all three?
JP: We are definitely a fusion of all three. I’ve invested a lot in the sound system on all three stages, for our jukebox and music video system. It’s not just a “hang it and bang it” attitude with the bands or the DJ. The food is top notch and way above the caliber we could easily get away with. We take every aspect of what we do very seriously.
Q: Let’s talk about the food. How would you describe the menu?
JP: It’s food you crave—only better than you expected. We are taking the foodie approach to classic bar and comfort food. Familiar and delicious food made with farm to table, local, organic, responsible ingredients.
Q: How do you keep the menu exciting? Do you have any innovative creations that you would like to brag about?
JP: I recently brought in Chef Oge Dalken. He had a lot of success at Chapter One in Santa Ana along with several other spots around the country. Keeping things exciting will not be a problem.
Q: What is the most popular menu item?
JP: I would say that our Mac n’ Cheese is our most popular item. It has been for almost nine years. Chef Oge has put his own version on the new menu, which is equally as indulgent and tasty as the last recipe. Mac n’ cheese has always been a favorite of mine. My mom and grandma made the best, and it was a holiday staple at my family gatherings growing up. It had to be legit to be on our menu because it’s personal to me.
Q: Tell me a little about your weekly barbecues.
JP: I always felt that Sunday brunch could be a regular part of people’s weekend routine and not just something you do on Mother’s Day or Easter if it was casual and affordable. Our brunch is very laid back and loud. People are having fun, celebrating, enjoying the weather and each other. The food is awesome. We have a fresh omelet and Benedict station. We are grilling racks of ribs and kabobs. Mimosas are flowing, and we have the best Bloody Marys around. It’s been a big success for us, and it’s a good hang.
Q: You guys even have rockstar VIP status…can you tell me about your bottle service?
JP: We like to be ready for anything and anyone. We have celebrities come in all the time. Some want to be seen and go big, some want to lay low and chill. If you want to come in with a group and do bottles, we will set you up with a great table as well as your own server and make sure you are well taken care of. If you want to come in solo and grab a Bud Light and some wings, we got that covered too…and you will still be treated like a VIP.
Q: You have some signature shots on your menu… what makes a really tasty shot?
Q: What makes Slidebar a spot for both rockers and foodies to come together?
JP: Rockers get hungry, and foodies like music too. We are taking a foodie approach to more approachable food. We don’t need to reinvent the wheel because the wheel works. Putting killer ingredients in the hands of a passionate and talented artist and focusing on familiar, and great food with personality and creativity added to it—that’s what we are trying to do. If you put a Les Paul plugged into a Marshall amp and hand it to Joe Perry from Aerosmith, be ready to be blown away. Chef Oge is more than capable of standing on top of a mountain with his hair blowing and shredding a 10 minute guitar solo, and he will from time to time in order to shake things up.
JAN’S HEALTH BAR
501 Main St, Ste D, Huntington Beach, CA 92648, 714.536.4856
250 E 17th St, Ste D, Costa Mesa, CA 92627, 949.650.4856 www.janshealthbar.com
THE EXPERT: POPPY HOLGUIN, OWNER OF JAN’S HEALTH BAR
Our bodies are temples—everything we put in them has a consequence whether it is good or bad. Of course, a massive slice of pizza with a side of mozzarella sticks tastes and is delicious, but it probably isn’t the cleanest option for our bodies. On the other hand, the thought of having nothing but steamed veggies for dinner is not necessarily everyone’s cup of tea. Never fear, clean eating can be extremely tasty with help from Jan’s Health Bar. How does a Tuna and Avocado Sandwich and Banana Date Shake sound? Pretty amazing. How about a fresh smoothie or juice that is made to order with only the freshest ingredients? Yes please! These mouth-watering items are also incredibly healthy, keeping your beach body well intact. Loyal customer, turned faithful employee, turned proud owner Poppy Holguin keeps Jan’s legacy moving forward by keeping classic menu items available while bringing new and exciting dishes to the table as well. Poppy believes a healthy lifestyle is very important, but she also feels that a little indulgence plays a big part in that lifestyle as well. If you want a cookie, you should have it. Chips? Do it. If you are going to eat those things, Jan’s has them, but in their purest forms…and they are amazing!
Q:Surfing plays a big part in Jan’s Health Bar’s history. Can you explain that history?
Poppy Holguin: In addition to starting in a surf shop in 1972 on Main Street in Huntington Beach, the menu was inspired by surfers who needed healthy food for a day of surfing. Jan’s famous hefty size Tuna and Avocado Sandwich and Banana Date Shake did just the trick! Soon her client base expanded beyond the local surf crowd and became an institution on Main Street in Huntington Beach.
Q: So, your very first job was at Jan’s when you were in high school, and it was love at first sight. What made Jan’s your home away from home?
PH: I have been a customer at Jan’s since I was eight years old, so it felt fitting to be my first job. Working at Jan’s, which at the time was located inside Huntington Surf & Sport, allowed me to be part of a business that was the gathering area for the local surfing community, neighbors and beach goers. Even though I worked, I was able to see my friends and meet new people every day, and on top of it, I served a product that I loved.
Q: What made you make the jump from employee to owner?
PH: I stopped working at Jan’s around the age of 19 but never stopped being a customer. During my 15 years working in legal marketing, I always kept an eye on Jan’s. Jan was passionate about her product; she was self-sufficient, independent and had an amazing work ethic. She was an incredible inspiration as a businesswoman. After running it for 38 years, Jan was ready to sell the restaurant, and she wanted to sell it to someone that understood her mission and respected the product in which she created. There was no other opportunity other than this that I would have left my first career for.
Q: Jan’s claims you prepare quality food with “clean ingredients prepared in a simple matter.” Why is that an important mantra you rally behind?
PH: Long before it was trendy, Jan’s was all about serving healthy food made with fresh ingredients from local vendors. While the benefits of eating healthy are endless, our goal is to help the customer cut through the confusion of the latest health trend or “diet” by providing them with a menu that contributes to a healthy lifestyle. Over the years, we have added new items that fit with our mission such as acai, kale, and some of our smoothies, to name a few. However, 90 percent of our menu has been the same for over 40 years, which just shows that fresh food prepared simply never goes out of style.
Q: How does your menu actively inspire a healthy lifestyle?
PH: We keep things simple and satisfying without weighing you down. Our customer base lives an active life be it surfing, fitness, parent, CEO or all of the above! They need healthy eats to keep them going. We always use fresh, locally sourced ingredients whenever we can and make sure that every item on our menu contributes to a healthy lifestyle. Jan’s is a lifestyle that helps our customers make healthy choices while giving them the fuel they need to get through the day.
Q: You mention it is ok to indulge in moderation. How do you carry out that philosophy at Jan’s?
PH: I like food, probably more than the average person. Most of the time, I arrange my day and activities around where I want to eat. Being healthy is also really important to me, so I had to find a way to balance my desire to indulge with my need to be healthy and treat my body right. The menu options at Jan’s reflect my own personal philosophy around food. It’s delicious and nutritious and sometimes a little indulgent. Our philosophy for a healthy lifestyle at Jan’s and even at home with our own kids has always been moderation not deprivation. If you want to have a scoop of ice cream in your smoothie, side of chips with your sandwich, or even a cookie…we say indulge, but the one thing we can guarantee is that the items we have on our menu are in their purest form with natural ingredients. We say it’s okay to indulge once in awhile and then get back to that ever inspiring journey of living a balanced, active and healthy life. Our philosophy is not revolutionary, but is something Jan’s Health Bar has stayed true to for over 40 years.
Q: What is your favorite fruit or veggie to cook with and why?
PH: Right now I can’t get enough Brussels sprouts. I couldn’t stand the sight of them 15 years ago, but now I can’t resist when I see them on a menu. I also cook them at home at least twice a week.
Q: Tell me about your fresh juices. What are your recommendations for a newbie in the juicing world?
PH: We have been juicing for over 30 years. We offer an extensive list of juices. I always GO GREEN (a name of our most popular juice), which is loaded with nutrients and vitamins. If green drinks intimidate you, there are two tricks to make the greens taste better. Use a few mint leaves in the mixture of spinach and kale and it cuts the bitterness. Apples are also great for adding some sweetness, and if you really have a sweet tooth, add pineapple. You can then slowly change the ratio of sweet to more green once you can tolerate more hardcore green juices. Truly, you’d be hard pressed to eat a half of a bag of kale and spinach in one sitting, but you can easily squeeze that much into a juicer. Juice isn’t a replacement for whole fruits and veggies, of course, but it does let you fit in ones that you might not eat otherwise, like beets or carrots, especially at breakfast, which is usually a no-vegetable meal. Tip for juicing at home: get a great juicer. It can be a bit costly, but an investment towards your health.
Q: You have some really original smoothies on your menu. How do you continuously come up with new and creative ideas?
PH: There are some tried and true smoothies such as the Peanut Butter Banana, however; we are always being innovative with different ingredients and seasonal options. Depending on which smoothie you order, they can be meal replacements. They are filled with vitamins, protein and essential nutrients.
Q: It appears that Jan’s places great emphasis on the vegetarian and vegan communities. What are some awesome menu selections for those groups?
PH: Our most popular option for vegetarians is the soy turkey. Our vegetarian customers enjoy it on our classic salads, protein bowls and the most popular, the Soy Turkey and Avocado Sandwich. It’s one of our top selling sandwiches, so many of our non-vegetarian customers enjoy it as well. We are known for the greatest tasting and largest serving of avocado on a sandwich, so our vegan crowd loves the Avocado Sandwich.
Q: Speaking of community, Jan’s has a strong sense of community and has been inspired by generation after generation of loyal customers. Can you explain how your customers have inspired you and your menu?
PH: It’s the customer loyalty and their love for our food and brand that has kept Jan’s in business for over 40 years. Jan’s has been a part of my life in some shape or form for over 30 years. When I see our customers enjoying it the way that I have, I can’t help but feel closer to our community and proud to be part of a place that people come to over and over again. I’m committed to serving fresh, high quality, affordable food prepared in a simple manner to them for years to come!
THE CROW BAR AND KITCHEN
2325 East Coast Hwy, Corona del Mar, CA 92625, 949.675.0070 www.thecrowbarcdm.com
CROW BURGER KITCHEN
3107 Newport Blvd, Newport Beach, CA 92663, 949.673.2747, www.crowburgerkitchen.com
THE EXPERT: STEVE GEARY, OWNER
The streets of London are known for one very predominant legacy—their pubs. Their charm is that of legend, gaining notoriety throughout Europe and reaching fame in all of the 50 states. People travel far and near to have a quality pint, and experience what England has to offer. In more recent years, the gastropub has been introduced into British culture and has been perfectly emulated in the United States—The Crow Bar and Kitchen, owned by Steve Geary, is one of the front-runners for this phenomenon. The idea of having a quality brew accompanied by a quality meal is now a reality for Orange County locals as the Fish and Chips, Beer Braised Natural Short Ribs and Grilled Duroc Pork Tenderloin all grace the menu of The Crow Bar and Kitchen nightly. Maybe you are more of a burger person— what if you want a good old fashion comfort meal with your craft beer? The Crow Burger Kitchen specializes in gourmet burgers such as the Cheeseburger, Cheeseburger, Cheeseburger offering a three-cheese blend, a delicious onion ring and a mouth-watering garlic mayo nestled on an English muffin. Contemporary London charm is the Crow Bar and Kitchen’s middle name and has something to offer every palate. At the same time, if you are looking for a diverse, flavorful, and creative list of burgers to choose from, The Crow Burger Kitchen is also the place to grab a good brew with some good friends.
Q:You were involved in real estate for 25 years. What made you move to the restaurant business?
Steve Geary: The hospitality business had always been a major part of my life with many friends and extended family being part of the industry. Combined with my enjoyment of fine dining, wine and the social environment that came along with that, it was apparent that when the time came for me to transition into new challenges, it would be in this direction.
Q: How would you define a gastropub?
SG: Gastropub is a British term for a public house, or pub, which specializes in high-quality food; steps above the more basic “pub grub.” The name is a combination of pub and gastronomy and was coined in 1991 when David Eyre and Mike Belben opened a pub called The Eagle in London. Staying true to the format requires a menu that complements the assortment of beers and wines the gastropub offers. Some describe gastropubs as the Anglo- equivalent of the French brasserie, Italian trattoria or the Japanese izakaya.
Q: What’s the inspiration behind the name?
SG: As the gastropub concept expanded throughout Great Britain following the opening of The Eagle, most of these establishments had very unusual, even whimsical names, many involving various types of animals, such as The Fat Badger, The Jugged Hare and The Cow, which led to The Spotted Pig in New York and Barley Swine in Austin. As we were dreaming up names while sitting on the patio at my home in Corona del Mar, The Raven was suggested, but that seemed too dark. Then came the play on words of “the crow” and “our bar, ” hence, “The Crow Bar.” The “and kitchen” was added to remind people that our place was going to be a restaurant first and foremost, as well as the comfort food aspect of our cuisine.
Q: Why do you feel it is important for your ingredients to be organic?
SG: The mission has always been to create a menu that celebrates local food, honors tradition and welcomes seasonality. We are proud to support sustainable agriculture as well as local farms and businesses in order to serve food that simply tastes better. We join others in supporting a bio- diverse, sustainable food supply, local producers, heritage foodways, and rediscovering the pleasures of the table. We purchase as much of our produce as possible from independent, local farms based on seasonal availability. Our meat and poultry is all natural, free range, and raised without the use of hormones or antibiotics. We make sure that our choices of seafood are abundant and fished or farmed in sustainable ways. It is our pledge to buy as locally and sustainably as possible.
Q: What are some of the most creative items that have graced your menu?
SG: Creativity comes in all forms on both menus with daily grilled cheese, flatbread and taco specials at The Crow Bar and Kitchen, or weekly specials like Chicken Pot Pie, Southern Style Baby Back Ribs or herb crusted Prime Rib. You can create your own burger at Crow Burger Kitchen with our build your own options, but my favorite has been the Breakfast Burger—a house ground signature burger patty, Tillamook cheddar cheese, hash brown crisp, smoked bacon or sausage patty, herbed mayo and a fried organic egg, all on our brioche bun. Amazing!
Q: How do you get the inspiration for your burgers and keep your menu exciting?
SG: A burger can take almost any form. Not simply ground beef inside, but maybe fish, veggies, pork, chicken, just name it. No bun, no problem. Wrap in lettuce or go topless—open face. Toppings, fillings, there are simply endless possibilities, akin to tacos, burritos or pizza.
Q: Tough question…what is your favorite burger on the menu and why?
SG: At The Crow Bar and Kitchen, no question—The Black Label Burger. It’s simply the best…like eating a steak. It’s made with 21-day dry aged prime rib eye with a pad of bone marrow butter and caramelized onions. It is simple and epic. At Crow Burger Kitchen, it’s probably the Cheeseburger, Cheeseburger, Cheeseburger.
Q: What is the most popular, “must-have” menu item?
SG: Duck Fat Fried Chicken available on Monday nights at The Crow Bar and Kitchen.
Q: I’m sure you’re quite the grill master. What are some tricks and tips for behind the grill?
SG: Sometimes, indirect grilling is better. The resealable plastic bag was made for marinating. A good way to oil your grill’s grid before using is to chop an onion in half, dip the cut side in vegetable oil, and rub it all over the grid. One inch is the best thickness for a steak, including fish steaks or pork chops. It’s the easiest to get right—a nice exterior crust and a juicy middle. Skewers get hot, and don’t press the burgers down with a spatula as they cook—unless you like a dry hamburger.
Q: I couldn’t help but notice your awesome selection of beer and wine on your menu. How do you pair the perfect drink with your cuisine?
SG: Like all of the food options at The Crow Bar and Kitchen, much depends on the guests. Our staff is expertly trained through exhaustive testing programs to make the best choices, be it beer, wine or whatever, to complete the experience.
Q: Do you think your passion for beer is as strong as your affinity for food?
SG: I would definitely say so, but it is broader than that. My bigger passion is the hospitality aspect of what we do. This all came from my wonderful Italian mom who showed me the joy she derived from taking care of the family. As the youngest, I was in the kitchen helping her get dinners finished and felt the enormous love that went into that, night after night, week after week, month after month, year after year. That passion hasn’t left her to this day. That angel of a woman passed that on to me.