“So, are you a foodie?” was the first question I was asked when I sat down for the sneak preview dinner at Fullerton’s own Early Bird. I had to think for a moment, but soon awkwardly explained that I liked food, and thought it tasted good. Perhaps not the best and most vibrant answer to give at a tasting where my task is to find the best words to explain the plethora of flavors swirling around my taste buds, but it was true nonetheless.
Normally, a fairly average gal like myself might feel the pressure of having to be some sort of food expert in order to truly weigh in on what tastes good and what doesn’t, but not me, and definitely not here at Early Bird. The “approachable and never pretentious” dinner menu speaks to me in a way that’s comforting and inviting, with interesting and innovative, yet palatable dishes that you don’t need a semester of French to pronounce. I felt like I knew every flavor I tasted, but would have never, ever, thought to combine them with the kind of delicacy and care that Executive Chef Frank DeLoach has.
DeLoach, a “simple man with simple needs,” is actually quite special, touting a resume littered with Los Angeles and Orange County’s best kitchens: Pizzeria Ortica, Mezze, Pinot Provence and Down Town Santa Ana’s popular The Playground. Having worked at many fine eateries and with many fine chefs, DeLoach has brought under the Early Bird wing Natasha Schneider and Tim Anderson as part of the family. He and his kitchen crew paired with the entrepreneurial leadership of Co-Owners Tank Menzies, Marcelo Caraveo, and Steve Sims, has made Early Bird OC Weekly’s Best New Restaurant in 2013. With their award winning breakfast menu, and soon to be award winning dinner menu, there’s absolutely no doubt as to why.
Their diverse dinner menu, although not your average diner fare, takes you back to the basic of American home cookin’, but with modern verve and a heavy hand of creativity. It doesn’t take an expert to know that this menu has class while wearing a blue collared shirt. For example, the Chips & Salsa, not chips at all, but fried pig ear with Black Garlic Salsa and Chimichurri on the side. The perfectly crisp “chips” paired quite well with the fresh and tangy flavor of the unique sides. I must say that the crispy, salty goodness of the Chips & Salsa brought me right back to hot summer nights on the porch with friends, beer in hand, of course. Speaking of summer, nothing quite brings me back like memories of those backyard gatherings and twilight dinners catered by the neighborhood’s “best cooks.”
*Chips & Salsa* – Asymmetrically chopped shreds of pig ear fried to craggy excellence, brisk and piquant Chimichurri, and immortalizing fermented Black Garlic Salsa.
Once the Twice Fried Chicken graced our table top, that feeling returned. My first thought was, “Well, I guess I’m finished tasting for the night,” but I was surprised to discover that the common thought that all fried chicken is a greasy gut bomb was gently escorted out of my mind and replaced with Early Bird’s much more delicate take on a classic. Although doubly fried, this vinegar and scallion dipped masterpiece was light and fresh, crispy and succulent, and most importantly, flawlessly delicious.
*Twice Fried Chicken* – Pungently satisfying vinegar dipped, crunchy double fried exterior; surprisingly delightful soft, moist, and tender chicken interior.
Now that I knew I had plenty of room in my stomach for more, I dug right into the giant plate filled with Pork Belly Po’ Boy sandwiches. The sweet bread, spicy Smoked Sriracha, and Bread & Butter Pickles mingled with the exceptionally tender and fatty Pork Belly in marriage of flavors that I instantly knew were destined to be together.
*Pork Belly Po’ Boy* – Bacon’s better half – alluringly delectable pork belly planks piled high, brimming over a soft and sweet bun, topped with house made Bread and Butter pickles, and delicately spicy Smoked Sriracha.
*Summer Squash* – Visually stunning chartreuse green and yellow summer squash, masterfully grilled, aside curled ribbons of squash, 3-2-1 pickled shallots, edible spring flowers, and fresh cilantro and herb mix nestled upon an artful smearing of pureed citrus and squash.
*Shishito Pepper* – Blistered Japanese Shishito peppers, Japanese citrus Yuzu, and smoky curled Bonito flakes.
What a better way to finish off this comfort food inspired myriad of flavor memories than to describe to you the dish I felt was made just for me: the Watermelon & Citrus Thai-Veche. If you can’t remember a time during summer on the hottest day of the year where you’d do anything for a slice of chilled watermelon, you might be crazy. If you do, then just take the simplicities of your child-like appetite and mix them with the modern sophistication of the adult taste buds you’ve acquired, and we have the herbaceous and zestful Watermelon & Citrus Thai-Veche. Thai Basil, micro-thin slices of citrus and micro greens atop large chunks of seasonal sweet watermelon cleanses and excites the palate with its newness and its familiarity; it’s no wonder that this dish has made its rounds in multiple incarnations.
So, I suppose in some way you can consider me part of the food lovers club; I can appreciate the simple yet profound way that food can take you to a time, a place, and a state of mind. And what is more profound than letting your tongue do the thinking for you, allowing it to judge a meal not only for its value as sustenance, but for its accessibility and lack of pretense? In this way Early Bird creates true and honest food that keeps hard-core food lovers chomping at the bit, and with their new tantalizing dinner menu launching June 5th puts a little foodie into all of us.
All photography: Brian Feinzimer of Feinzimer Photography
1000 E. Bastanchury Rd.
Fullerton, CA 92835
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