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Steaks are High
A comfort-food extravaganza at the Hungry Bear Restaurant
You will be surrounded by teddy bears, perched overhead, ready to pounce. There are little ones, big ones and ones wearing hats. There is a knitted poster of one in an American-flag sweater with a caption that reads “Proud to be a Bearmerican.”
2219 N. Harbor Blvd.
Fullerton, CA 92835
The rest of the place is just as unapologetically square, with floral-print wallpaper and fake ivy. It’s like eating dinner at your aunt’s house; the possibility she’ll come around to pinch your cheeks doesn’t seem far-fetched. Hungry Bear is her type of restaurant.
It’s busiest during the early-bird dining time. After that, the dining room empties out, especially past 7:30 on Saturday nights. Retirees love the place, as do workers from St. Jude Medical Center across the street. That last part seems morbidly comforting, if only because there might be a doctor in the house with a fully charged defibrillator. You see, the food here is terrific, but it isn’t what you could call “heart-healthy.”
Baked potatoes suffocate under generous scoops of whipped butter and sour cream. All dinners include the soup du jour or an unimpressive salad, as well as a gigantic, oar-sized plank of buttered garlic toast.
Almost all of the appetizers are deep-fried and served on metal skillets. Most—like the fried shrimp, fried clams, boneless Buffalo chicken and fried zucchini—won’t be any different from what you’d find at any other place. But their mushrooms are something else entirely, sautéed with onions and finished with a splash of beef jus. It would be easy enough to consume by itself, but I’d save some to complement one of Hungry Bear’s “Sizzling Steaks.”
The restaurant prefaces the list of beefy choices with a puzzling disclaimer: “Not responsible for steaks cooked over medium.”
In any case, you shouldn’t expect Mastro’s or Ruth’s Chris-quality cuts. With prices that mostly hover around $11, the steaks here aren’t fancy, but they’re still tender enough for dentures and full-flavored enough not to require the A1 the waitstaff will offer you.
Served on a heated metal plate, the rib eye is the thickest—and most expensive at $16.25. Except for patches of browning where meat met griddle, it’s as pallid and soft as a veal chop. The filet mignon is thoroughly brown and cuts with a fork. You can have it plain or wrapped in crispy bacon. I suggest the latter: If you’re going to have a steak here, you might as well have it covered in pork.
If fruit is more your persuasion, there’s the teriyaki-beef kebab, which has pineapple pieces skewered and smooshed between marinated hunks of meat. They give you a side of their house teriyaki for dipping, but the fact that it tastes more like soy sauce sweetened with sugar shouldn’t be surprising.
Their baby-back ribs, on the other hand, will be. It’s got a nice crusty char, falls apart if you breathe on it, and is 10 times better than most baby backs I’ve had in actual barbecue joints. You’ll need to muster every ounce of self-control to not finish the whole rack in one sitting.
Same goes for their fried chicken. A serving comes with half the bird disassembled into four parts (wing, thigh, breast and drumstick). Each piece is dusted with nothing more than flour and deep-fried with precision. The result is glorious and greaseless.
Without a heavy batter insulating it from the oil, the skin transforms into an unbelievably crunchy, chicken-flavored, kettle-cooked chip. The meat beneath is moist and tangy, most likely because of brining or a long soak in buttermilk. Once you’ve had it, you won’t bother with their country-fried breast of chicken, which is nicely done and smothered in gravy, but lacking in comparison.
The rest of the menu is populated by burgers, sandwiches, fish, seafood and even an itty-bitty section titled “For the Diet Conscious,” which offers a reprieve of cottage cheese, tomatoes, fruit or steamed vegetables as substitutes for their potatoes.
But who are you kidding? Even if you take them up on it, you’ll still want a dessert of homemade apple pie, served heated with a humongous helping of ice cream. You’ll know you overdid it when the teddy bears above you are replaced by angels.
The Hungry Bear Restaurant, 2219 N. Harbor Blvd., Fullerton, (714) 526-2711; www.hungrybearrestaurant.com. Open daily, 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Dinner for two, $10-$40, food only. Wine and beer.