I have been watching Bravo’s “Top Chef” show for as long as I can remember – and over the years, I’ve visited a handful of restaurants from the cheftestants. I also attended one iteration of ‘Top Chef: The Tour“!
So, imagine my excitement when I heard that Chef Richard Blais, winner of Top Chef All-Stars, was bringing his fried chicken concept ‘The Crack Shack’ to Orange County. Hip hip hooray!
I first experienced The Crack Shack last year, when my co-worker Tara suggested we swing by for lunch during a work retreat in Downtown San Diego. We ended up ordering lots of different food to share, such as buffalo mushrooms and the housemade biscuits served with miso-maple butter (of which I wish I had a vat full to swim in.) However, for my entree, I went with The Border Slaw (papaya, mango, jicama, coconut, chili, pineapple) and topped it with fried chicken breast – because why not? The combination of the slaw with the crispy fried chicken was absolute perfection and I was hooked. It had always been on my list to also visit Blais’ Juniper and Ivy (and I finally did, but that’s a blog for another time!)
In a wonderful bout of happenstance, I was invited with a guest to attend a media preview event of the Crack Shack Costa Mesa before its grand opening this Monday, November 20th (thanks to the great people at Travel Costa Mesa).
The restaurant takes over a former Chase Bank on 17th and Orange in Costa Mesa. After speaking to the Director of Development, Joshua Lichtman, we learned that the team maintained the original floors and transformed the bank vault into a keg cooler – but they gutted the inside and brought the outdoors inside with a retractable roof. This location is larger than its San Diego predecessor, which is primarily an outdoor establishment built from a shack (which is the origin of the restaurant’s name), and has an upper level for extra seating. The window treatments reminded my husband of the Chinese tea houses we visited during our time living in China. (You can’t tell from this angle, but that black space is actually the open retractable roof!)
Event guests were treated to miniature versions of The Crack Shack’s signature sandwiches, salads, slaws, and “other cluck” – a culinary celebration of both fried chicken and eggs. We ate until we were stuffed silly and there honestly wasn’t one dish that I wouldn’t recommend on the menu. There are even some options for vegetarians and pescatarians when the restaurant opens its doors on Monday – something for everyone! I know, I know, you want to see the food. On to the food!
We also got the chance to meet the main man himself, Chef Richard Blais. He led us through a great kitchen tour of Costa Mesa’s space, but he made it a point to highlight the other owners and team that brought the Crack Shack to life – Michael Rosen (CEO), Daniel Pena (Director of Operations), John Sloan (Culinary Director), and Executive Chef for the Costa Mesa location, Mike Gil. Chef Richard showed off the housemade English muffins and then offered my friends and me each a chocolate chip cookie straight off the tray – we happily accepted! Much of the kitchen staff have grown with the company and many have honed their skills in the Juniper and Ivy kitchen, bringing chef-driven, casual fare to an elevated level for the Orange County crowd.
One last surprise included the appearance of Orange County chef Amar Santana, the man behind Vaca Costa Mesa and Broadway by Amar and a fellow Top Chef Alumni. As Blais said, “he crashed the party because he can’t stand that I’ve come into the neighborhood”.
The Crack Shack opens its doors this Monday, November 20th and is sure to be a hit amongst the Costa Mesa crowd that has already been smitten with the likes of Sidecar Doughnuts and Pie-Not Aussie Pies.
Will you be visiting The Crack Shack when it opens?
Disclosure: I was invited as a media guest to attend this sneak peek event prior to the grand opening. All opinions are my own.