Twice a month, legendary bartender/chef/restaurant insider Dave Mau pops by Stick A Fork In It to chime in about a random OC food or drink musing of his choice. Enjoy!!
Awhile back and over a few beverages, I got into a lively discussion with some of my fellow peeps in The Biz about the merits of garlic cheese bread in all its variations and, most of all, where to find the good stuff. We all agreed North Woods Inn still had some of the best and there were quite a few standouts south of the 91 as well. From the tone of our conversation – it was quite profane and opinionated–you would have thought we were discussing sushi grade fish or the finer aspects of Chateaubriand. It seems my fellow Chefs and servers have strong feelings about this otherwise simple dish.
Granted, we're not talking about some over engineered gastropub bread with housemade brioche, Tasmanian shallots and three different aged, artisanal cheeses. We're talking the down-and-dirty, Yankee Doodle Dandy version, overflowing with garlic, seasoned salt (maybe some Worcestershire or anchovy paste) with well broiled cheese on a chunk of French, white or even sourdough bread that looks perfect nestled up to a slab of pot roast or a Salisbury Steak. What were our picks here in OC? Drumroll…
I like Stubrik's well enough–it was me and wifey's OC go-to during our early dating years. It's no secret that the two ex-Sid's bartenders appropriated more than just his epic baseball cut top sirloin when they opened their joint (and I'm not talking about Sid's beef stroganoff either.) Stubrik's contribution to the OC's cheese bread lexicon is a worthy nod to their former employer and reminds me of a time when that ramshackle barn-like structure off Old Newport Blvd was a veritable beacon of old school charm (oh, by the way, Sid's bread was and still is the best). Stubrik's does a passable job as a follow up–maybe what I taste in their offering is sentimentality. But it is worth a stop on a random F-Town run.
EWWWWWW! Triangle Square! I have to admit feeling a little soiled every time I set foot in there–too much Botox and overpriced accessories (including all the Newport Coast bimbos) for me. If there were ever an earthquake nearby, it would take out 30 percent of the certifiable OC douchebag crowd at Saddle Ranch alone. The downstairs parking structure smells like the bathroom in a Turkish prison and they have parking for "tall trucks only," which should read volumes about what is going on there. Black Knight is a rebranded gastro lounge (whatever that is) and their cheese bread has a nice crust and herbaceous spread on top. It looks like they use the pizza oven next door to bake it so there's a nice crisp on the bottom that most others don't possess. (Ninety-nine percent of the time, garlic bread is slammed in the salamander above the line to cook from the top down.) It comes with their $6 all-you-can-eat spaghetti on Mondays and it's one hell of a deal. Actually, the pasta was spot on. Despite its surroundings, I might actually come back on a Monday-but I will bring my Red Bull-flavored vape, so I'll fit right in.
Color me shocked. I steer clear of corporate joints like I steer clear of Ebola. If it weren't for the beaming endorsement of a buddy who knows his way around a loaf of cheese bread, I never would have bothered. The one off the 405 and Brookhurst Street is apparently the go to location and their bread at happy hour is a nominal $3.50. I once had an old-timer tell me that the key to good garlic cheese bread is using Caesar salad dressing as the base and building on it from there. Black Angus' version reminds me of that, with three cheeses and a slight citrus/anchovy paste tang. I'm not a fan of their fare, otherwise, but their other happy hour food offerings are passable and cold beer is cold beer.
BILLY'S BY THE BEACH
Billy's in Newport has a heavy pouring hand, friendly staff, all the charm of a seaside joint in Waikiki–and I can't believe that, up until a few days ago, I had never set foot in the place. Their bread is cheddar-y, with slices a bit thin for my taste, but a perfect balance of garlic and sweetness. It's an unusual combination. The bread itself tastes like King's Hawaiian and the perfectly-dappled ocean sunlight beaming into the room offered an attractive garnish. Oh, and the five dollar Mai Tais weren't bad either. I got out of there with a healthy buzz and a loaf of cheese bread for under 20 bucks. That is a rare thrill in an area notorious for gouging people who have more money than sense.
ZUBIE'S DRY DOCK
There's only one Zubie's and I really can't say how much I love this place. It's not fancy by a stretch and possesses the salty feel of a joint frequented by surfers and aging, blue-collar argonauts who nurse those happy hour domestic drafts like nectar. Their oyster bar, where you can walk up and order various appetizers, is a great concept, although I do miss the days before the dining room pager. Back then they had what seemed to be a World War II-era PA system and, between the accents of the counter staff and the busted speaker, you couldn't tell whose name they were calling out to pick up their food. Their bread is the most cheese-heavy of all the local places, with a smear of the butter/garlic/cheese mix topped with even more cheese and broiled perfectly. The $6.95 full order is an ample portion and hearty enough to feed a crew. Partner that with their nachos or epic oysters Rockefeller and you're gonna be stuffed. Also, make sure to tip the legendary Martin behind the counter–he's an institution.
It was agreed at our discussion that La Cave reigns as the Mecca of the OC's cheese bread scene. The room, itself, is obviously great and I think they have the best steaks around, despite the objections of my foodie friends that think getting gouged at a chop house is a good idea. (That 12 dollar side of creamed spinach costs exactly 75 cents to make–you just got had!).
La Cave's bread is positively dripping with butter and cheese and has the old-school charm of North Woods version with a solid slap of Worcestershire that wafts into your nose effortlessly. It comes heaped in a basket quicker than you can say, "Where's my bread?" There could be a down side, though. It might actually be too good – but that's a great problem to have.