Friday, April 06, 2018

Heavenly Organics Chocolates

Heavenly Organics is a organic raw honey manufacturer.  Not exactly what you normally read about on my blog.

But, in addition to honey and sugar, they make chocolate honey patties.  These are what peaked my interest.

They come in a bunch of varieties (ginger, almond, mint, peanut, even pomegranate), but all are based around chocolate and honey.

It turns out, this is not a combination I like.
Mint Chocolate Honey Pattie.
"Our Mint Chocolate Honey Patties have a dark chocolate shell made from 100% cocoa that is filled with 100% organic raw white honey blended with natural peppermint oil."

These have only three ingredients: dark chocolate + honey + peppermint oil.  Simplicity can be good.

The shell was a quality, smooth, snappy dark chocolate.  I liked the chocolate.
Mint Chocolate Honey Pattie: Inside.
Inside was the honey and mint filling.

It was almost like a caramel, but, honey flavored.  Mint honey flavored.  Which might be ok if you like the idea of mint honey.  But I wasn't so into it.  Nor was I into the honey and chocolate combination.

I didn't want to finish it.

Nice chocolate, pleasant smooth filling, but, flavors all out of whack.
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Thursday, April 05, 2018

HoneyMee, Los Angeles & Irvine

I'll keep this one short.

I discovered amazing soft serve ice cream in Los Angeles.  This discovery was hot on the heels of being introduced to the concept of "milk" soft serve in Tokyo at Silkream, but, it blew away the soft serve from Tokyo (which, I thought was really good to begin with!)

Honeymee makes only one flavor of soft serve: milk.  It is made from Californian milk, so, not quite like in Japan where the shops offering milk ice cream all rave about Hokkaido milk, but, more appropriate for a California location.  Milk soft serve may not sound very exciting, even less so than "vanilla", and the options for toppings aren't exotic either (and mostly are based around honey, which you might expect, given the shop name), but, I assure you, this is a case where simplicity works out.

As a soft serve lover, I'm thrilled to see that the world is now making soft serve even more gourmet, and I can't wait to return to HoneyMee to try more of their creations.

Setting

Honeymee has several shops in the Los Angeles area, the one I first visited was in Little Tokyo, in October.  When I returned to the great LA area, to Irvine, a month later, I was delighted to discover that they had two locations there as well.
Ordering Area: Little Tokyo.
The shop was rather adorable.  I loved the white accents and wood elements.  The menu is displayed, with full images of everything, on colorful screens in front.  It was very easy to know what you'd be getting.

The Irvine location was similar, just without the white wainscoting.
Seating, Honey Products: Little Tokyo.
Seriously, how cute is this?  The place just felt so ... cozy and comfortable.

I loved the assorted honey products they used as decorations, which were not even for sale.  They are just showing off other fun uses of honey and bees wax.

The Irvine location also had a wall of honey products.
Counter Seating: Little Tokyo.
The shop isn't large, but in addition to the little tables, there were also some counters along the wall.

The Irvine location was even smaller.

Food & Drink

Honeymee serves only 4 types of items: ice cream, milkshakes, tea, and waffles (only at some locations). The ice cream is what drew me in, but, my heart skipped a beat when I saw liege waffles on the menu.  I love liege waffles, and they are cooked to order! Alas, my visit was post-lunch, and I really wanted to just try the soft serve.  Next time.
Menu.
The soft serve may only come in one flavor, but, it comes in a number of styles.  The signature creation is the namesake "Honeymee", topped wtih a honey and a small chunk of honeycomb.  If the honeycomb itself is a bit too much for you, the "Sweetie" has just liquid honey.  Craving caffeine? Turn it into an affogato, with coffee and honey.  Or a matcha affogato with matcha and honey.  Not feeling the honey?  The chocolate or caramel sauce are options.  The most elaborate is the "Sweetie Fruitie", with honey and freeze dried fruit.

To any of the ice creams, you can add additional toppings: sliced almonds, granola, honey oats, coconut, sunflower seeds, oreos, honey, chocolate sauce, caramel sauce, sea salt..  The standard serving is in a cup (one size only), but you can upgrade to a waffle corn or ... a soft sweet hotdog bun!

For milkshakes, you can go fruity (strawberry, green apple), caffeinated (coffee, matcha), sweet (cookies 'n cream, chocolate, caramel), or floral (lavendar).

Coffee, cold brew, matcha, and assorted teas (sweetened with honey of course), round out the drink menu.

And finally ... waffles.  Liege waffles.  One of my favorite things.  And from reviews I read, HoneyMee does them justice.  They too come in only the plain base, but you can get them topped with honey, cream cheese, nutella, strawberry, blueberry, cream cheese & strawberry, cream cheese & blueberry, or of course, ice cream.  I was so tempted, but simply not hungry enough.

Visit #1: Los Angeles

Dear Caramel w/ Granola. $4.70 + $0.30.
"True milk ice cream with Ghirardelli® caramel syrup & sprinkles of sea salt from France."

I'll admit that I wasn't really excited by most of HoneyMee's choices for ice cream styles.  I didn't actually want honey.  And I didn't want chocolate or matcha since I didn't want caffeine.  Which left ... caramel.  So, the "Dear Caramel" is was.

Next, toppings.  Here is where I usually go crazy, but, at HoneyMee, the toppings were all ... healthy.  Nuts, seeds, oats ... those aren't really my style.  I was going to skip additional toppings entirely, but they have a $5 minimum for credit card purchases, and a topping was thus needed to hit the minimum.  Thus, I *had* to order one.  I went for the granola, thinking that some crunch would be nice at least.

My creation was handed over a minute late, a with the caramel drizzled down the sides and on top, granola sprinkled over the top, and sea salt shaken on at the end.

Well, huh, it sure did look good.

And it tasted incredible.

The ice cream really was, well, "milk" flavor, for lack of any better description.  It was creamy as could be, not too sweet, but also not tart.  It just tasted fresh and pure, if that makes any sense.

The sweet caramel complimented it beautifully, and I think the honey probably really would have been perfect, particularly if you like honey.

The granola added a nice crunch, what I wanted, but, I'd prefer chopped pralines or at least nuts other than almond slices.  Still, I was glad that I "had" to order it.

My only real complain is that there was only a touch of salt.  The bites I got with the salt and caramel together were absolutely lovely, the salt amped it up just like I hoped it would, but, I think I only had 3 such bites.

Overall though, this was incredible, some of the creamiest soft serve I've had, it melted beautifully, and the simple toppings worked well.  While I do like places to offer more than one size, the size was just right, I was ready to be done with it by the end, but it wasn't too much.

I'd gladly get another, although I think I actually would try honey next time ...

Visit #2: Irvine

Yuzu Afogado.
"True milk ice cream with natural honey, yuzu peel & pulp."

In the month between my visits to Honeymee, they introduced a new topping: yuzu, sorta a marmalade-ish syrup.  I was super tempted by this, as it sounded more unique, but I also know that sometimes I don't like citrus desserts.

So I asked if I could try the yuzu first, and was given a little sample cup of it.  I quasi-liked it.  It was a bit tangy and a bit sweet all at once, and a decent texture.  I almost ordered it myself, but decided against it.

Yuzu is available on ice cream, as a milk shake, or in hot or iced tea.  One of my companions did get the new "Yuzu Afogado", which was just a regular Darling topped with the yuzu, pictured here.
Sweetie + Coconut Flakes + Black Sesame Cone.
"True milk ice cream with 100% natural liquid honey swirl."

After much agonizing, I decided to get the honey topping, since my conclusion last time was that I should try the honey.  And just for a bit more texture, I added coconut flakes, which I also thought would combine nicely with the honey.

And then ... I did a crazy thing.  I opted for a cone, rather than a dish.  Why?  Because HoneyMee also added 3 new cones, in vibrant colors, ready for Instagram of course, but also, they were flavored.  Brilliant green matcha, red red velvet, and black black sesame.  They looked cool, and, I would have happily tried any of the flavors.

I thought eating my ice cream last time with a spoon in a cup worked great, but ... I do have a fondness for licking soft serve from a cone, so, cone it was, and black sesame was my entirely random choice.

The first thing I noticed as my massive, single size only, cone was handed over: when you upgrade to a cone, you get a much, much larger portion!  I easily had 1.5x the ice cream as those with cups.

Next of course I noticed that it had a little shelf around it, to catch the toppings as they fell off, and, I think to prevent the cone from turning into a sticky mess when they drizzle the whole thing with honey (which was fairly fun to watch them do).

The honey was indeed the perfect pairing that I hoped it would be.  Sweet and sticky, and really, just perfect with the milk flavor ice cream.  Clearly high quality honey as well.  I was sad when I ran out of honey on the outside, even though, it really was a lot of honey.  I had a bit of remorse that I opted for a cone, since the cups were layered with the caramel/honey/chocolate/etc.

The ice cream was again very creamy, melted perfectly, and tasted like ... milk.  Simple, but so good, it is hard to explain.  I liked the coconut too, but there wasn't much of it.  Next time, I actually think I'd like to try honey and sea salt ...

The cone however was less of a success.  It didn't taste like anything other than a waffle cone.  My companion got a red velvet one, and he felt similar.  We also both wound up with very sticky, honey covered hands.  But, I did love licking the soft serve from the cone, so, not a complete loss.  And ... it also turned out that the inside of the cone was lined with honey!  So, even though I thought I had ran out of honey, once I reached the cone, the honey element came back.  I was thrilled by this.

Overall, I loved my ice cream, and although the cone had flaws, I'd certainly still consider getting a cone again, just because I like to lick cones.  Or I'd get the version in a bun.  Or on a waffle.  Or go back to the cup.  Really, I'd do any option, gladly.
Honeymee Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
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Wednesday, April 04, 2018

Waffling Leftovers: Donuts, aka, Waffluts.

Update Review:  Maple Glazed Raised Donut, October 2017

Another day, another (two) day old donut to waffle.  I know donuts waffle well, as I've raved about before, now, I'm just perfecting my technique.
Waffled Maple Glazed Donut Transformed.
I don't mean to brag, but, I think I just get better and better at this.

This was one of the most enjoyable waffle donut creations I've made so far!
The Original: Maple Glazed Raised Donut.
The original was a raised maple donut, from Bob's Donuts.  A classic, very good, raised donut.  I always enjoy these fresh.
Leftover Maple Glazed Raised Donut.
But sometimes, we don't finish the whole box of donuts.  And unlike everyone else who considers them trash, I've discovered the secret to leftover donut glory, so I save them.

This one was not only one day old, it was two days old.   It didn't look good.  It was seriously worse for the wear.  Of course I tried a bite, and it was slimy, and stale.  Normal people would throw this out.
Stale Glazed Donut: Ready to Go!
I of course, threw it right into the waffle iron, maple glaze side down.

350 degrees, closed the lid, walked away.
Perfectly Waffled Maple Glazed Donut.
Several minutes later, I had a beautiful waffle donut.

It cooked perfectly.  The maple glaze caramelized on one side, the other side crisped up nicely too.  I finally got the timing perfect, it wasn't too hard or crispy, still moist inside, just absolutely nailed it.

Really a thing of beauty.

I could have eaten it just like this, but, I didn't stop here.  Of course not.
Waffled Maple Glazed Donut with Vanilla Ice Cream, Bourbon Whipped Cream, Rum Caramel.
I turned it into a "masterpiece".

I drizzled it with rum caramel, and added little scoops of my favorite vanilla ice cream (Three Twins) and, uh, dollops of bourbon whipped cream (because I couldn't decide between whipped cream or ice cream, and just went for both).

It. Was. Wonderful.

The maple glazed wafflut was already great, and didn't *require* additional caramel, but, I certainly loved the extra sweetness, and the gooeyness, it added.

I was glad I opted for both whipped cream and ice cream, as they each offered something a bit different.  The ice cream gave a cold contrast to the hot wafflut, and melted in, softening those areas.  The whipped cream was fluffier and fun to dunk into.

I didn't actually add that much ice cream or whipped cream to start, and assumed I'd add a bunch more once I picked which I liked better, but actually, I found that this amount was perfect.  Just enough to accent the creation, but not take it over.

I really truly enjoyed this one, even though it wasn't particularly fancy, it just came out perfectly.

Original Reviews, Published June 2016

Today's story combines two of my favorite things: donuts and waffling.

It begins with leftover donuts.  When this crazy "problem" happens, most people throw them out.  Day old donuts are always stale and sad.  Sometimes a fritter can make it a second day, particularly if you warm it up, but, in general, donuts just don't keep.  We've all learned that.

I usually try to stash extra donuts in the freezer before they get to the stale state, or, I turn them into donut bread pudding.  But the other day, I had a day old donut.  I didn't have the motivation to make bread pudding, or donut french toast (another common answer to the "what do I do with stale donuts?" question).  So I waffled it.

I'm surprised it took me this long to think of waffling my leftover donuts, honestly.  I've put everything else in my waffle iron, as you've been reading about for months now.  Plus, these days, donut hybrids are all the rage.  Why haven't we heard more about donut waffles?  Wonuts? Doffles?  Waffluts?
Waffled Leftover Donut a la Mode!
Anyway, rambling story short: Leftover Donuts?  Will they waffle?  ZOMG yes.

I've previously declared waffled leftover pizza to be my biggest success, but I think these go in the same category of game changing discovery.  I can have one biggest savory and one biggest sweet success right?

Just like I haven't ever looked at leftover pizza the same way since discovering waffling, I'll never look at leftover donuts the same way.  My freezer stash is going to stop growing.  And, just like with pizza, I think I actually prefer the waffled version over the original, no matter how good the original is.

I'm ridiculously excited about continuing my waffluts adventures, as I think many varieties of donuts would work great.  And cinnamon rolls.  And fritters.  So. Many. Possibilities.

Oh, and in case you think donuts and waffles are just breakfast food, they don't just need to be waffled for breakfast.  Add a scope of ice cream or whipped cream, and they make for an amazing dessert too.  (Heck, add those things at breakfast time if you want, you know I did!).

Trial #1: Glazed and Jelly Donuts

The first variety I tried was a simple glazed donut, day old.
Sad Day Old Glazed Donut: Before.
Yes, this looked pretty unappealing.  It was kinda mushed.

I tried a few bites of it, but, well, it was a day old donut.  It was kinda stale, and tasted oily.
Glazed Donut: Almost there!
Into the waffle iron it went.

No extra steps here.  Insert donut, close iron, walk away.

So simple.
Glazed Donut-Waffle Success.
After a few minutes, I pulled it out.

Extraction was simple too.  It released easily, and left very minimal mess behind.

And ... it was magic.  Not only did it transform the sad, stale, flat donut into something I liked, I actually liked it more than the original, even when fresh (and this was a very good donut, from Bob's, to start!)

All the contact points where the donut touched the waffle iron became crispy and caramelized, like a Li├Ęge waffle or kouign amann.  Inside stayed moist, fluffy, and doughy.  It was the best of both worlds.

It was fine as finger food, but even better when I added whipped cream and ate it with a fork and knife.  Think french toast or decadent waffles.  I'm sure it would have been great with a scoop of ice cream too.

It reminded me of the crazy crueller french toast served at Lou's in Hanover, NH.  This is a signature item there, made with their glazed cruellers turned into french toast, served with syrup and whipped cream.  When I had it at Lou's, I discovered that I really liked it with their homemade jam on it.  Which of course made me think ... jelly donuts!
Waffled Jelly Donut.
The next time I had a glazed leftover jelly donut, you know what I did.  It went into the waffle iron the next morning without hesitation.  Spoiler: it was everything I wanted it to be.

I've made leftover jelly donuts several times, and somehow always failed to take a photo.  I blame this on just how ridiculous good they are.  I can't wait to eat them, hot off the grill, jelly spilling out everywhere.  These really are my favorites of the waffled variety, and the molten hot jelly is a thing of wonder, no matter how lackluster the jelly is to begin with.

I finally remembered to take a photo of a chunk, so, you finally have evidence.

The exterior result is the same as the glazed donut.  Crispy, caramelized, awesome.  And then inside ... molten jam.  Once I got past the shock of burning the inside of my mouth from hot jam, I loved it.  The glazed donut was a success, no question, but the jelly donut?  Even better.

Trial #2: Glazed Crumb Donut

Glazed Crumb Donut: Before.
Ojan had a glazed crumb donut, and I convinced him to let me waffle half (half was the compromise, he's sick of me waffling everything, and really just wanted his normal).
Glazed Cake Donut: Waffled!
It waffled just like the others.  The cake crumbs on the outside were pretty lost though, it became indistinguishable from the plain glazed.  Which wasn't a bad thing.

Ojan of course preferred it unwaffled.  Sigh.

Trial #3: Maple Glazed Bar

Maple Glazed Raised Bar (half).
I didn't take a photo of the full size bar, but, it was massive.  I ate a big chunk of it the first day I got it, gave Ojan a big chunk, and still had this much left.

The next morning, I ate another chunk, but it was certainly worse for the wear.  The outside was crusty in a way it wasn't originally (both the glaze and the donut itself) and although it wasn't oily originally, it seemed more oily and stale tasting on the second day.

I saved the final chunk for later that day, with plans to waffle it of course.
Maple Glazed Bar: Waffled.
It looked pretty much like all the other glazed donuts when waffled.  It got a fantastic crispy exterior from the glaze, although much of the glaze did run out into the waffle iron (creating a maple candy that I was thrilled to extract before it cooled too much!)
Maple Glazed Wafflut Sundae?
Since it wasn't breakfast, I decided it was totally acceptable to turn it into a sundae, topping it with whipped cream, sprinkles, and little chocolate balls.  I loved it.

Trial #4 Another Glazed Raised Crumb Donut

Day Old Glazed Raised Crumb Donut.
Another day, another leftover donut.

This was the same kind as trial #2, just even more worse for the wear.
Waffling ...
Same process as all the others, except ... I let it go too long.  It wound up crispier than I actually wanted.

As before, the crumbs were pretty lost once waffled.
A la Mode.
I salvaged it by adding ice cream on top.  This was not enough, don't worry, more scoops were soon added.
Read More...

Tuesday, April 03, 2018

Hatch, Irvine

Irvine (ok, Tustin) is not exactly a destination city (except for that whole Disney place of course).  And it is certainly not a culinary mecca.  But, it was my destination, as my company has an office there, and I was in town for a week for work.  And, I needed to find a place for my small group (4 of us total) to go for dinner.

I selected Hatch, known for a few random things: sliders of all varieties, tiki cocktails, craft beer, and great side dishes.
"Why have one dish when you can have three? At Hatch, choose from Moo, Oink, Flap, Swim, or Sprout and have your sliders done two ways with a plethora of lip smacking sides and appetizers!"
Yup, potentially very gimmicky (sliders, so often dried out because they are so small, right?) and please, tiki drinks, yet, it got great reviews.  So, we went.
A Fried Feast.
Our group of 4 arrived around 6pm on a weeknight, and got the last seats.  We sampled a large variety of the menu, including appetizers, sliders, sides, and of course, dessert.

It was good.  Fried, comfort food, casual setting, but, I was pleasantly surprised.

And, uh, the dessert?  Epically good.  More on that soon.

The Setting

Hatch is located inside of Union Market at The District, Tustin, a collection of food stalls, restaurants, and small shops, but, it isn't in the central area with the other food choices, rather, it is over on the side, and has its own distinct seating space.
Bar.
I was shocked by how small Hatch was inside.  A not very large bar, only 2-3 small tables, and a single couch.  There was also a few tables outside.

If it was warmer, the outside tables would have been nice, located alongside a fish pool, but, it was kinda chilly for outside dining (although they had heat lamps), so we opted to take the couch, the only available option.

The couch was rather awkward to eat any sort of meal on, with a small low table not really big enough for all our food, and, uh, this was a particularly messy meal, but, we did the best we could, and didn't make nearly as big of a mess as I thought we would.  The couch was great for sinking into in complete food coma after the meal, but also meant it was very hard to peel ourselves out of it at the end.  I think I'd opt to wait next time for a real table, but, it worked out better than I expected.
"Grass" Wall.
I failed to get many interior shots, but, the decor was fascinating, including things like a wall with turf panels.

Food & Drinks

As I said, Hatch is known for both the food and the drinks.  On the drinks side, it is the craft beer (20 on tap) and the tiki drinks (yes, served in tiki glasses if you want).  On the food side, its all about sliders and fried things.
Madison Ave. $10.
"Creativity is fueled by rittenhouse rye whiskey, a little carpano artica formula sweet vermouth, along with a touch of sherry, a smidge of vanilla bitters, takes you to teh heart of downtown manhattan."

I didn't opt for a tiki drink, as fun as they sounded, as, well, I just never pick rum when there are other options.  Plus, sweet rum tiki drinks didn't seem like the right pairing for sliders and fried food.

I went for the single whiskey drink, the Madison Ave.  It was basically a Manhattan, garnished with cherries and orange peel.  A strong drink, decently balanced, but, strong.  Good for sipping, certainly not for gulping.  Fine for what it was.
Menu.
The Hatch menu is primarily sliders, broken down into categories based on the protein, 3 in each category ("Moo", "Oink", "Flap", "Sprout", and "Swim").  Sliders come 2 to a set, mix and match, with a 1/2 portion side (fries, rings, or salad).  They don't seem to be available a la carte.  The only other entree on the menu is a loco moco bowl with your choice of protein.

The rest of the menu is dipping sauces (12 of them!), things you can add to sliders (e.g. bacon, cheese, fried egg, etc), and appetizers.  The appetizers are the same as many of the sides (fries/parmesan garlic fries/sweet potato fries, onion rings, chopped or caesar salad), plus wings, and two varieties of loaded fries.

Basically, sliders, sauces, and fried things.  Mmm, comfort food.
Specials.
In addition to the regular menu, there were a few specials - 4 starters, 4 types of sliders.  Starters were another type of fries (chili cheese), a "vegetable" (brussels sprouts with sausage), another crispy fried thing (chicharones), and wings.  Sliders were pastrami, lamb, and two beef additions (southwest and chili).

Nothing on here really called out.
Hatch Fries. $8.
"Braised pork over fries topped with gravy, kabayaki, cilantro, cole slaw."

The Hatch fries are considered an appetizer, but really, are a meal on their own.  A huge pile of fries, smothered with toppings, including a generous serving of braised pork.  Like I said, really, a meal.  And I treated them that way, sorta having the Hatch fries as my main, just with, uh, onion rings and salad on the side.  I skipped the sliders.

The Hatch fries were pretty awesome.

The base was a mountain of fries, thin, crispy, nicely seasoned.  They know how to do fries at Hatch.

On top of that was a pile of braised pork (very, uh, porky?), a smothering of gravy (salty, flavorful, excellent, pountine-esque), a drizzle of kabayaki (which I didn't know when we ordered, but turns out to be the sweet soy sauce that Japanese eel is often coated in, which was amazing, adding a sweet undertone to everything), and garnished with slaw (which added a bit of freshness and crunch).


It all came together very well.  Near perfect crispy fries, crunchy slaw, super flavorful savory gravy and sweet kabayaki.  It was like Canada meets Japan, in a way that totally worked.  The combination of sweet and savory was addicting.

I couldn't stop eating these, long after they ceased being fresh.  Honestly, even as they cooled down, they barely degraded, the gravy just soaked in more.  I didn't really love the pork, and might ask to have that left off actually, but, just the fries and other toppings were a home run.  My favorite of the savory dishes.
Onion Rings. $6.
I was craving onion rings since having some great ones in London, and, having read such good things about Hatch rings, I decided to order a full portion, rather than the half portion that would come with sliders.

The onion rings were very good.

Super crispy, well coated in crunchy batter, clearly freshly fried.  No slimy onions, no breading that fell off.

Very good execution of onion rings, and I'm glad I tried them, although, the half portion would have been fine.  My second favorite of the savories.
Hatch Sauce, Buffalo Sauce, Togarashi Sauce ($0.50 each, 1 included with each side).
Each order of fries/rings/etc comes with a single dipping sauce, from an extensive list.

Since I love sauces, I couldn't pick just one.  One of my fellow diners just wanted ketchup with his fries, so, I also took his extra sauce slot, ordering 3 in total just for myself.

I opted for the hatch sauce (bottom right), because I felt like I should try their house sauce, and, creamy sauces are great with rings right?  It was basically thousand island, fairly tangy, good pickle flavor.  Likely better on a burger than with the rings though.

Next, I went for the togarashi.  I love togarashi seasoning in general, and when the server described it as togarashi mayo, I knew I had to try it.  Me and my mayo sauces ...  It was spicy, flavorful, creamy.  My favorite of the sauces I tried, but still not entirely what I wanted with my rings.

My final selection was the buffalo sauce, just to have something that wasn't all mayo.  It was spicy buffalo sauce, about what you'd expect.  Fine, but again, not quite what I wanted with my rings.

In retrospect, I probably should have just gone for ranch, bbq ranch, or  perhaps the roasted garlic aioli (that I was planning to order before I saw the togarashi).  Or maybe the sweet chili?

Still, I loved the selection of sauces, and I'm glad I got to try so many.
Garlic Shrimp Slider, Garlic Parmesan Fries, Sriracha Ketchup, Tonkatsu Slider,  $14 + $1 +$1.
Every member of my group got entirely different selections.

This diner went for one "Swim", garlic shrimp, and one "Oink", tonkatsu.

The garlic shrimp was a rather awkward slider, with shrimp stacked up with bacon, corn salsa that came spilling out, and chipotle aioli, but he enjoyed it, his favorite of the pair.

The tonkatsu was a sight to behold.  Hard to see here, but a long thin cutlet that extended far outside the edges of the bun, with lots of sauce, and, um, a sunny side up egg.  Of course that yielded both 1) egg porn and 2) a mess.  I was impressed with how well he did actually at confining the disaster.

This diner opted to upgrade his regular fries to garlic parmesan, a wise move.  The fries were covered in grated parmesan, super flavorful (of course I tried them!), and really well (generously) coated.

He also went for the sriracha ketchup, which was, well, spicy ketchup.  It had a nice zing to it.  It was very tasty, and perhaps it too would have been a better match for my onion rings.

I'm glad I got a chance to try both these fries and the ketchup, they were both winners.

Seafood sliders all incur a $1 extra charge, as did the garlic parmesan upgrade.
Fried Soft Shell Crab Slider, Chopped Salad with BBQ Ranch, Pork Belly Slider. $14 + $1.
The next diner also went for a Swim and a Oink option, but she went for the fried soft shell crab and the pork belly (both options I would have selected if I was getting sliders).

The pork belly was a huge, thick piece, totally not shaped to fit within the confines of the bun at all.  The bun was a mere suggestion of where to hold the thing, not a proper container for it.

She also didn't want a side, so, I volunteered to take hers, and selected the salad (a very boring move, and not like me at all, but, we were already getting loaded fries and rings, and, reviews for the salad were all really strong).

"Mixed greens, tomato, fried onions, corn salsa, bbq ranch."

The salad was ... um, a salad?  I really don't know why people rave about it.

Mixed greens, some cubes of tomato, corn and black beans, crispy onions on top.  I wish I had known it had black beans in the "salsa", as I don't like beans, and would have left that off.  The crispy onions were good, but, we had so much other fried food, I didn't need them.  It was all fine, but, um, just salad.

I did really like the bbq ranch, great bbq flavor, but the salad was just barely drizzled with it.  Interestingly, I asked to have the bbq ranch on the side, because I wanted to use it as yet another dipper, and I was assured it was always served that way.  It was served dressed, way too lightly, and none on the side.  I didn't bother ask about it, but, it was sad, because it was my favorite of the sauces.

The salad is also available in a full portion, for $7, or with chicken, steak, or salmon added for additional fee.
Soft Shell Crab Slider.
The soft shell crab slider was by far the best looker.

While the tonkatsu and pork belly extended past the confines of the bun, the soft shell crab was far more dramatic.  A full softie, fried, and stuffed into the bun with tomato, greens, and the togarashi aioli that I had.  She preferred this to the pork belly, and I think we were all amused watching her navigate it.
Grilled Caesar Slider, Regular Fries,The Hatch Slider.
The final dinner went for the classics, a "Moo" and a "Cluck: regular beef burger, grilled chicken, plain fries.

He did ask for no tomatoes on either, and they came with.  He asked for ketchup, and it never came.

The chicken grilled ceasar slider looked pretty simple, grilled chicken, greens, tomato, and some caesar dressing.  But the "Hatch", the signature basic beef slider, had a fun element: a "cheddar hat", a slice of fried cheddar, rather than just melted on.  Fun!  He preferred the caesar though.
Aloha. $6.
"Fried bread pudding with ice cream and caramel drizzle."

Hatch has only a single item on the dessert menu.  And it is fried.

After such a heavy meal, we were all stuffed.  Really stuffed.  But I had read such great things about the fried bread pudding (also, um, I love bread pudding, and this was fried!), that I really wanted to try it.  I asked if others would split it, and everyone basically concluded that they were too full.

Undeterred, I ordered it anyway.  I'm a dessert girl, and always order dessert, unless I really, really don't like the options, and this one sounded too good to pass up.

I'm both glad, and not glad, I did.

Glad, because it was crazy good.  Like, amazingly good.  Not glad, because, well, the others were all stuffed and actually have restraint when full.  Myself?  Not so much.  I have no idea how they managed to just have a single bite, and then let it sit there.  I couldn't.  No way.  It was too good.

So, what was it?  I guess, "fried bread pudding", but to me, it was like an even more crispy apple fritter, just with a different shape.  The exterior was crazy crispy, the interior soft, doughy, and moist.  I'm pretty sure it had chunks of apple.  It had plenty of cinnamon spicing.  It reminded another diner of a churro.

The ice cream was standard vanilla ice cream, not particularly exciting.  I do love warm desserts paired with ice cream, but for this, I found myself just wanting some whipped cream, or perhaps a custard (sorry, recently back from London, got used to custard with all my puddings).  I mostly choose to eat it without ice cream, but, I think I would have enjoyed it slightly more with whip.

I think it would make an excellent breakfast as well, paired with a coffee ...

Overall, I really loved this thing.  It was hot, fresh, crispy, doughy, sweet, spiced ... and huge.  The portion of two large chunks was far, far too much for a person to take down.  Even just one of the chunks was bigger than an regular apple fritter.  Massive.  But delicious.

The $6 price was incredibly reasonable for such a large fresh dessert.  I'd gladly have this again, just, likely, I'd skip the main meal, and come just for dessert.
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Monday, April 02, 2018

Group Picnic Catering @ Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk

Sometimes, you don't just eat food at restaurants, or in your home, or in a friend's home.  Instead, you attend catered events.  Like ones at the beach boardwalk in Santa Cruz.  For hundreds of people.

And ... the quality is about as you'd expect, although it was a very professionally run, smooth operation, no easy feat for a group that large.

The Setting

We had a large group, and thus had several private spaces, both inside and out.  There was a main food serving station inside and one outside, with the same menu in both places, plus several large banquet rooms with seating inside, and plenty of picnic style seating outside.  It was relatively easy to flow through the spaces, our wristbands allowed easy access to both.
Inside Bar Area.
I failed to take any other interior photos but it was just a large banquet hall with several rooms.  This is the bar where soft drinks were served.  As you can see, it was very spacious.
Picnic Area.
Outside was tons of picnic tables, some on fake turf, some on a deck, some on the beach.

The Food

The Santa Cruz Boardwalk group "Beach Party" Packages have several options for each course, along with some standard items.

For sides, all menus include veggie baked beans, and a choice of two salads (garden salad, pasta salad, potato salad, Asian salad, 3-bean salad or Caesar salad).  Our hosts picked the pasta salad and garden salad (the ones I'd consider the least interesting!  I was hoping for potato, Asian, or at least caesar), but the dressing for the garden salad was surprisingly good.

All menus also include veggie burgers, but then our hosts were able to pick 3 main meat entrees from the list of hamburgers, hot dogs, BBQ chicken, BBQ ribs, pulled pork, a fajita bar, teriyaki chicken, coconut shrimp and tri-tip.  Ours picked BBQ chicken, BBQ ribs, and hot dogs (likely because we had so many kids attending).  We also had two other veggie entrees (stir fry and ratatouille).  None of these were great.

Finally, they had the choice of potato chips or garlic bread, and curiously picked the garlic bread, a kinda strange choice given our entrees (don't chips go better with hot dogs and ribs? Seems like the garlic bread is more geared towards the tri-tip and teriyaki chicken crowd ...), but the garlic bread turned out to be the highlight.

The included dessert was fruit salad and ... ice cream bars!  The ice cream offered were Blue Bunny sundae cones, classic It's It, and Klondike bars, although the later were available in a very limited quantity.  Since I've had, and reviewed, the others before, I was thrilled that I was able to snag one of those limited items.
Buffet Spread.
The food was served buffet style, in several areas to accommodate our large group, one outside area, and one inside.  Each section had two lines for carnivores, and a separate line for vegetarians.  Everything was well labeled, and replenished constantly.  The staff here clearly know how to handle groups.
Regular Menu.
The non-vegetarian serving lines started with two salads, followed by sides, followed by three entree choices.  The menu was:
  • Pesto Pasta Salad
  • Garden Salad
  • Vegetarian Baked Beans
  • Garlic Bread Sticks
  • Hot Dogs
  • BBQ Chicken
  • BBQ Ribs
The BBQ items at the end were served by attendants, everything else was self-serve.
Garden Salad, Pasta Salad.
The salads were ... ok.

The pasta salad was corkscrew pasta in a creamy sauce, with shredded carrot and bits of olive.  Not particularly flavorful, not particularly interesting.

The garden salad had some redeeming qualities actually.  A good mix of assorted greens, including whole endive that I liked.  The carrots, cucumber, and tomatoes were pretty standard low end products, but the lettuces really weren't bad.

There were three dressings, ranch, thousand island, and another I forget.  I really liked the ranch, and went back for seconds of the salad, really just to eat more ranch.  I also found it made a great dipping sauce for other things ...
Baked Beans (V). Garlic Bread Sticks (V).
The baked beans were actually fine, fairly flavorful, nicely cooked and not too mushy.

But the bread sticks!  They were the star!  (Yes, I realize how crazy this sounds).

I really, really liked them.  They were soft and doughy, but a bit crispy on the bottom.  They were warm.  Really well seasoned, including something red (?) and a really nice garlic flavor.

I dipped mine in the ranch dressing, and loved it.  Even though I knew I had coupons to spend on the read boardwalk, I went back for another of these instead of going to get fries or something more fun, because I really, really, really liked them.
Hot Dogs, BBQ Chicken, BBQ Ribs.
The mains for carnivores were hot dogs, bbq chicken, and bbq ribs.

They were strangely controlling over the chicken and ribs, served by an attendant, with strict instructions that you could have one or the other, and only one piece.  But then they offered that you could come back as many times as you wanted from 11-3:30pm, as long as you got a fresh plate each time.  Uh, ok?

I didn't have the chicken or ribs, but I had a hot dog.  I love hot dogs, but these ... weren't great.  Classic beef, no snap nor char to the cases, kinda grainy inside.  Meh.

Our packets with our silverware included ketchup, mustard, relish, and mayo, which helped a little, but, meh.
Vegetarian Menu.
Each main serving area had a line dedicated for vegetarians.  The menu included the same first 4 items (the sides) from the other lines, but also three entrees:
  • Pesto Pasta Salad
  • Garden Salad
  • Vegetarian Baked Beans
  • Garlic Bread Sticks
  • Veggie Burgers
  • Steamed Brown Rice
  • Tofu Vegetable Stir Fry
  • Vegan Ratatouille over Steamed Spaghetti Squash
I found many vegetarians didn't know those lines were there though, and thought that they only had sides to eat.
Vegan Ratatouille (V).
"Seasonal veggies in marinara over steamed spaghetti squash."

I didn't try the ratatouille.  It seemed kinda random at a beach bbq.
Tofu & Seasonal Veggie Stir Fry (V).
I did try some stir fry, mostly just the onions and bean sprouts, but it was just flavorless mush.
Veggie Burgers (V).
I didn't try the veggie burgers, they looked rather standard.  On the side was lettuce, tomato, pickles, and red onion to top them, and seeded buns.

I did have some pickles, they were generic but tasty.
Drinks.
Soft drinks were available in many locations, some via self-serve soda fountains, others just laid out on the bar.  All sugary sodas, Pepsi products.

We also had a few types of beer (yes, Bud Light, Coors, and the like), and a single red and white wine to choose from.  I tried some of the red wine, it was unremarkable.

The wine/beer areas were also where ice cream was served.
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