Anne Marie Panoringan
Voice of OC’s food columnist — reporting on industry news, current events and trends. Panoringan’s prior work includes writing about food for 8 years at the OC Weekly in which she interviewed more than 330 chefs, restauranteurs and industry professionals for her weekly On the Line column. She has been recognized by the Orange County Press Club and she also is a recurring guest on AM 830’s SoCal Restaurant Show.
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In the midst of this year’s pandemic, Surf City Still Works craft distillery pushed themselves beyond expectations. Not only did they run a successful pivot to hand sanitizer production (note: they have since ceased production, refocusing on crafting spirits), but record sales and a desire to expand SCSW’s brand into new areas meant an intense year for the group that established themselves back in 2017 by Josh and Elena Kornoff. Currently, they are under construction, expanding their site to include food.
Director of sales and customer experience, Ben Carpenter, offered a tour of their expanded site, currently under construction with a hope of completion in winter/early spring 2021. Situated around the corner from their original distillery space, we talked about the multi-faceted undertaking.
Their Huntington Beach facility will have an expanded tasting room, designed to seat upwards of 100 guests. Their full-service kitchen hidden behind a wall will allow for dining and catering options. This directly ties into Carpenter’s expanded responsibilities, ultimately hiring, training, and conducting continued education for the dining team. He’ll also develop the distillery tour experience and curate the tasting room’s beverage program with its bar manager.
Included in their upgrades is a new still which will increase production from five gallons a minute up to eight gallons a minute. Housed in the adjoining room, the centerpiece to Surf City’s production was a tricky install. The column of the still was so tall, they had to cut into the ceiling to accommodate for its extra height.
From here, production flows into a bottling space – a canning line for their selection of craft cocktails to-go, and product storage. Surf City was ahead of the pack when they launched canned cocktails in early 2020.
Listed at 10% A.B.V., their quartet of flavors mixes their signature spirits into combinations to liven up any pool party. My preference was for the Goldenwest Martini, blending Pierside Bourbon, green apple, lemon, and honey – best served on the rocks. Spirits fans will appreciate the virtues of their Pierside Honey, a twist on the house bourbon. When asked about its special attributes, Carpenter explained the use of local clover honey, cinnamon sticks, cloves and orange peel in the maceration process, “Most brands create a honey liqueur to add to their whiskey, which brings the A.B.V. down to the 35% range. We maintain an A.B.V. of 40%, or 80 proof.”
Additional features to look forward to from the distillery include brewing in-house seltzers, a line of bitters, and liqueurs. Also worth noting was a storage closet situated in their administrative office area. Initially, I was perplexed at his focused attention on this room. However it quickly dawned on me right before he made the reveal: a tucked way speakeasy for bespoke experiences.
The aggressive expansion of Surf City Still Works may seem excessive, but with 25,000 square feet to work with, it will surely become a Huntington Beach destination for locals and spirits aficionados.
Giddy Up! Opening Coverage of Stanton’s (More Than A) Food Hall: (part one of two)
Now, the official grand opening is slated for the weekend of Oct. 17. With 20 food vendors on their roster, I hoofed out to Stanton for some soft opening dining. After four visits (and nine eateries), my initial thoughts are that this collective of dining and retail experiences has surpassed its counterparts. A thoughtful layout with ample walking space, the design allows for heavy foot traffic along its perimeter, with a trio of outdoor patio seating areas in addition to indoor options. Unique murals inside and out provide an upbeat aesthetic.
And the food? Not factoring in my recent coverage of Banh Xeo Boys and Bearded Tang Brewery, my favorites are at the end of this list.
Kra-Z-Kai’s Laotian Barbeque: Use your hands and gnaw on some pork ribs, stat. Since your digits are already getting sticky, request some sticky rice to keep the ribs company. Ranked No. 18 in the U.S. by Yelpers, I can taste why. Their deep fried pork and lemongrass sausage came in second for flavor. While not the only local eatery to serve Laotian cuisine (most also cook Thai under the same roof), it is the first Laotian barbecue specialist in OC. Kra-Z’s original spot opened in Corona back in 2018.
Tenori: Rice balls that are nori (seaweed)-wrapped around savory fillings are the meal of choice here; perfect for snacking or taking to-go. Previously in the Chino Hills Cravings food hall, they’ve since closed that location and tightened up the selections. Check out their KBBQ, a dish which is a blend of beef, onions, soy sauce, garlic and sesame. I’m always down for some Spam musubi, so get your quick fix here.
Sizzle: The sister concept to Tenori, it is forthcoming next door. They cook teppanyaki-style, which is Japanese eats fired up on an iron griddle. Fans of pork tonkatsu curry, sizzling beef and salmon entrees are in for a treat. Personalize your order with a variety of sauces, fries and rice.
Hook & Anchor: Rodeo’s sole full-service dining room specializes in seafood. They’re offering a physically distant bar counter and enclosed patio in addition to indoor seating. Their fish and chips were crisp, but we preferred the swordfish in a custom Hook plate, where you select from a changing selection of proteins, vegetable and grain sides, and condiments.
Bestea: Specializing in all things milk tea and boba, sip away on their honey tapioca spheres and green tea options. Their name is an ode to best friends hanging out over a cool beverage. Also available, snacks! Choose from fried finger foods and egg combos over toasted milk bread. Bestea’s long-term goal is to provide an elevated experience, comparable to ones at a craft cocktail bar. After sipping on a honey boba drink during my first visit, I intend to check out the rest and see how they progress towards their goal.
MFK Bakery: Short for “my first kiss,” this bakery offers a number of experiences. In addition to a sweets case, tea service and to-go picnic feasts are available. We reached for their strawberries and cream filled croissants, plus a petite vanilla cupcake with chocolate frosting. Note: Their frosting is made with pure butter, so allow it time to soften before munching.
Banh Xeo Boys: Written up previously in my meal kits feature, I inquired about their off-menu banh xeo roll option. Think a traditional banh xeo, but neatly wrapped with lettuce and veggies inside rice paper for burrito-style consumption. Save a knife and fork (or chopsticks) and dig in to one of my favorite bites this year. They are also located at Santa Ana’s 4th Street Market.
Bearded Tang: My coverage of Stanton’s first craft brewery began last month for their grand opening and initial brew release. They recently began serving “My First Kiss,” their first collaboration with MFK Bakery. A coffee porter with notes of stone fruit, chocolate and spice, complement your pint with something from the bakery. Personally, I’m smitten by their new collab with Bestea, a riff on the existing Lucky Fin Rice Lager. Infused with a hint of blueberry and butterfly pea flower, its purple hue will attract attention from more than Laker fans. Their eagerness to experiment in different directions early on not only demonstrates Bearded’s creative flex, but a playfulness that only adds to their personality.
Dot & Dough: The founders of these filled doughnuts take their flavor profiles seriously. Crullers and Boston cream are not the norm here. Instead, mochi, fried (malasada-esque), or fancy topped sweets envelope a rotation of fantastic tastes. On the fried side, choose the Taiwanese brown sugar filling — it’s reminiscent of a boba drink, but better. More of a fruity fan? The watermelon mochi doughnut had serious Jolly Rancher vibes. Extra credit for the iconic pink boxes, a juxtaposition of modern tastes in old-school packaging. Out of these initial nine menus, Dot & Dough came in second to . . . .
Fika Fika Creamery: D&D’s sister concept, their original outpost is in Arcadia. Of their dozen flavors, I was drawn to Young coconut ube (purple yam) and rich Thai Tea. An Earl Grey scoop echoes one of the doughnut fillings, while a Cappuccino version feeds the need for caffeine. Mango matcha and Jasmine green milk tea are on-trend, while Guava and Lychee refresh during the ongoing heatwaves. Fika’s appeal is evident by the empty slots of sold out flavors seen during my second visit. As someone who prefers savory over sweet, I surprised myself when asked what my favorites were thus far. No visit should be complete without making a stop at one of the sweet spots at Rodeo 39.
Knott’s Berry Farm’s Taste of Fall-O-Ween: A Review
Despite the closure of attractions at Buena Park’s berrylicious theme park, Knott’s managed to take elements of their two most popular seasons (Boysenberry and Halloween) and infuse them into a month-long food fest, complete with masks, sanitizers and promoted social distancing. Taste of Fall-O-Ween is going on Thursdays through Sundays to Nov. 1, with a bonus day of Monday, Oct. 12 for Columbus Day. Tickets are selling out for this leisurely outdoor experience, so go online now if you’re interested.
A few of the perks included with the tasting card ($35 for adults; $20 for kids 3-11 years) include in-and-out park privileges, free parking and the option for kiddos to go trick-or-treating at Camp Snoopy.
When it comes to visiting, earlier may be better, but I waited until after 4 p.m. to arrive to avoid peak temperatures. With over 30 food items to sample, there wasn’t enough stomach space to try them all. That being said, I will say the best tasting was the result of a recommendation by an employee while shopping for masks at the general store. Served at a quartet of spots throughout the theme park, we hit Calico Saloon before the sun set for Boysenberry Sangria. A most generous pour, our fruity red wine concoction was the antidote for excessive heat. Honorary mentions in the non-boozy category go to butternut squash soup in a bread bowl with chives at Wagon Wheel Pizza and an Orange Creamsicle ICEE float utilizing vanilla soft serve.
QR codes on your laminated card provided detailed maps and the method in which customer tastings are tracked. My favorite place to be seated was over at ‘H’ – Fireman’s BBQ. Not only did it have plentiful, distanced picnic bench seating, we found an outdoor farmhouse sink to wash off. Fireman’s also served the single spicy offering: a sausage with bacon jam in a hoagie roll. I was also within eyeshot of the longest line slinging their most popular treat: graveyard funnel cake at Ghost Town Grub. A chocolate/vanilla hybrid, fried goodness was dusted with Oreo “dirt” chocolate ice cream, a matching syrupy drizzle and candy worms.
While previous years attending Boysenberry festival included aisles of outside vendors, we spotted only a handful this time. Look for the Cookie Dough stand, handing out samples of addictive boysenberry and Dole whip flavors! After purchasing three bags, we realized after the fact that they are made by local favorite Great Dane Baking Company out of Los Alamitos. While a part of me misses the ride elements from previous festivals, this leisurely approach to the fall holidays was better than expected.
Anne Marie Panoringan is the food columnist for Arts & Culture at Voice of OC. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.