While it's been a few years, we were already familiar with the Holstein's concept prior to Costa Mesa's opening. We paid a visit over the holiday weekend to see what sets them apart from comparable meat-and-bun joints. This is far from a formal review, as we only tried one infamous burger. Though the stuff we did learn is handy dandy.
1. The Hours
They've almost mimicked Cosmopolitan hours, with a midnight closing time Sunday through Thursday and 2 a.m.(!?!) Fridays and Saturdays. An upscale concept open that late? In Costa Mesa? Besides Mesa? If you're neither a dive bar nor fast food, it's a tough market to crack down here. We don't know if the neighborhood is ready, but their reputation certainly helps.
2. The Beer
Saying Holstein's carries a lotta beer is a serious understatement. We're talking hundreds of bottle options. Enough to convert them to an iPad beverage menu later in the month. And they're still building that list. Mark your calendar for a slew of beer dinners in the works. Our only concern isn't selection, but expiration. Wines age well, but beer drinks better sooner than later. Our 21st Amendment Hell or High Watermelon was on tap, so we're sticking to that.
3. The Burgers
Of the burger listings online, the two we really wanted to try were (of course) the two that were not part of Costa Mesa's menu. Those were the foie gras Billionaire and beef brisket Longhorn. In lieu of those, they added a "perfect" turkey burger with onion marmalade, turkey bacon and a house condiment known as udder sauce. We attempted the El Caliente ($14), a patty topped with pork chicharrones, tequila-cilantro mayo and pickled jalapeno. There was a lot going on, and maybe that's why it wasn't our favorite.
4. Noshing, Grazing and Big Plates
Kitchen size is the biggest difference between Las Vegas and Orange County. With a back of the house that could fit another restaurant, you'll see twice as many salads, plus a series of entrees not offered out-of-state. Their Scottish salmon over sweet pea risotto ($22) was an unexpected alternative. You'll also find a New York strip ($29) and linguine with firecracker shrimp ($22).
A sizable appetizer list was where we spent the most time. Meaty, cheesy "Philly" egg rolls ($12) were like a deep-fried Hot Pocket experiment. Each one was a twisted, guilty pleasure. Truffle lobster mac and cheese ($14.50) is a rich signature dish, but our favorite was their Cuban-inspired street tacos ($12). Swiss, pickle, smoked ham and roast pork screamed Cubano in a crispy shell. Next time we're checking on their version of poutine and artichoke guac– both missing from Vegas.
5. Shakes and Goodies
While you can order a single flavor milkshake ($9), most folks request the alcoholic, bamboozled variety ($13). If you want to double down on dessert, then do a shake alongside the Moo-Moo platter ($11) — there's a little bit of everything plated. The best deal on the entire menu are nitro meringues. For a buck fifty apiece, they'll do tableside presentation, complete with swirly vapors. Diners choose between peppermint, stout beer and strawberry flavors. Order all three for each person, and break out your cameras.
What works for Holstein's Shakes and Buns is an expanded menu that gives hungry shoppers more than their name implies. Late night hours eliminate wondering if they're still open. Plentiful beer means one can sit down and relax for a while. First-timers to the concept should give their buns a spin. How they will fare based on price point and existing burger joints is the real test.
Holstein's Shakes And Buns is located at 3333 Bristol St, Costa Mesa, (714) 352-2525; www.holsteinsburgers.com.