One might recall when the term “renegade chef” meant someone who served up something like deconstructed clam chowder — a potato here, a mound of cream there and a solitary clam staring blankly from a half-shell. Nowadays these rebels are more avant garde, combining things like sea salt caramelized apples with liquid nitrogen-ated miso ice cream. They are daring, bold and walk on the wild side of mies en place.

Enter HopScotch Tavern‘s newly appointed Executive Chef: Cody Storts. Since this renegade chef commandeered HopScotch’s kitchen everything’s been open game. Collectively, he and his crew of mercenaries refer to themselves as the Culinary Militia and — be it savory or be it sweet — they know no boundaries. His loyal band of chef recruits hail from such hot shot establishments as Marché Modern, Haven Gastropub, The Loft at The Montage and Chapter One: The Modern Local. They are armed to the teeth with enticing machinations employing killer toys: food dehydrators, chamber vacuum sealers, immersion circulators and the like.


Chef Cody himself has been entrenched on the line since he was 16 years old. Since then, he’s helped open 19 eateries in either a managerial or consultant capacity. (We can’t mention them specifically due to certain details in his contracts, but part of their names may or may not include Asylum, Truck, Street, 17, Parlor…) Now it’s his own time to front and he’s dealing with the real blood and glory on the chopping block.

It’s going to take numerous tactical progressions to indoctrinate the dining community into the new program at HopScotch. However, Chef Cody is confident that they’ll grow out of the tried and tired fare that the tavern started out with at its inception. He’s been weaning them off gradually and leading them unwittingly and quite willingly into more adventurous territory. Recently, we were invited to a private tasting to experience some of the more food forward items changing up their original menu. Although Chef Cody is notorious for his ever evolving offerings, most of these beauties will be featured mainstays.



Grilled Pork Banh Mi

First of all, kudos go out to Dean Kim of OC Baking Co. for all the wonder breads that emerge from his magical hearth. This hybrid of ciabbata and sour dough — not too dense and toasted to an unimaginable crunch on the exterior, yet billowy and pliable on the interior — is the ideal canvas to sop up Chef Cody’s take on the popular and versatile Vietnamese sandwich.

The marinated planks of pork belly are intense in their a la plancha grilled flavor without being overpowering and so tender that a mere wink will have them succumbing with ease. These graze happily beneath an idyllic blanket of fresh chimichurri, microgreens coriander and house-made giardiniera. The herbaceous and piquant flavors do well to foil the richness of the hallowed pork belly.


Bradley Burger

If this burger were to be named after a period in time, it would be called the 80s — the decade of  indulgence. Not only is this All-American behemoth oozing with a juicy, buttery beef patty, but it is sandwiched between two sheets of ridiculously crisp, griddled cheddar cheese; bedecked with a luscious, thick slab of quivering bacon; crowned with golden onion rings; and slathered with a house-made smoked in scotch mesquite tomato ketchup.

How to devour this? Compress with your palm to a manageable height and experience a party in your mouth like you were shutting down Studio 54 in a gold lamé jumpsuit. Just like the exclusive club of yore, you will need the secret password to be granted access.


Country Fried Chicken

We like to call this entree a Mountain of Picnic — country fried chicken with all the fixings in one heaping serving. Imagine yourself in the Georges Seurat painting, spending a splendid afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte. This would be what that monkey on a leash is plotting to snatch from your woven basket.

The chicken is buttermilk soaked for 24 hours in secret spices and sous vide until thoroughly cooked, yet still maintaining its integrity of succulence. It’s then dredged in a blackened seasoning and deep fried to skin crackling goodness. Underneath it, a bed of tangy cole slaw cools the tongue. Fingerling potatoes coated in a honey dijon, sour mustard seed and tarragon dressing warms up the palate again. Spangles of hot pickled watermelon rinds, with just a hint of cinnamon, adds another warming/cooling element as well as a surprise flair.


Seared Scallops

Anyone who has ever watched Top Chef knows that scallops are the favorite protein choice amongst the contenders. Richard Blais’ adulation brought him to create his Quick Fire winning torched banana dessert resembling these treasures of the ocean. Jamie Lauren featured them so frequently in her dishes, it spawned one of Fabio Viviani’s famous jeers, “This is Top Chef, not Top Scallop!”

Well, ladies and gentlemen, this specimen above is absolutely Top Scallop and it is a study in epicurean dichotomy. These Dry Packed aphrodisiacal orbs are hefty in size, yet light in texture. Caramelized with the perfect sear, but finished medium rare to highlight its delicate suppleness and creamy core. Swathed luxuriant in compound butter, the earthy, organic baby vegetables and the in-house giardiniera negate all the guilt and leave you feeling like a winner.


Cookies and Milk

The simplicity of this dessert is belied once you bite into its unassuming facade. With just the slightest crispy crumble on the edges and a soft, chewy interior all throughout, it becomes completely addictive as you discover its sweet and nutty components. Chef Mai dubs it “The Works” and it includes chocolate chips, pecans, almonds, cranberries and oats. Nothing else is as gratifying to wash this down with than ice cold milk. Leave this out for Santa — naughty or nice — and you’re guaranteed to receive all of the items on your wishlist.


Chocolate Pots de Crème

Once upon a time, we couldn’t get enough of chocolate to the point of being marked as a certified “chocoholic”. Sated beyond reproach, we grew weary of any type of dessert incorporating the cocoa bean. That is, until this sibling of the creme brulee came into our lives. If such a thing were possible, we would marry it.

Made with bittersweet chocolate, to ensure that it’s not sickeningly sweet, it’s dolloped with a Chantilly cream and comes with a consort of ganache and fresh strawberries. All of the oaths of heaven and hell will be muttered under your breath (or spewed compulsively out loud) the minute your lips come upon this velvety and satiny rapturous treat. It also includes a side of Snickerdoodles, which we assume are for added texture. But if you’ve gone as far as to covet this heavenly/sinful Pots de Crème all to yourself, chances are you’re wrapping up those cookies and slipping them into your purse or pocket to nibble on at home.


Corn Panna Cotta

Some might be shocked by the utilization of maize in this panna cotta rendition, but we can assure you that it’s definitely not that much of an anomaly. Sure you’re accustomed to cobs bedazzled with copious amounts of butter, chili powder or even grated cheese. However, countries such as the Philippines, Thailand and Peru have been channeling the sweetness of corn for ages in their desserts.

For this particular plating, the hard-working grain plant is showcased in three varied incarnations: In the panna cotta itself as a flavor agent, as a confit and finally as a streusel. The puckery tartness of the pickled blackberries and the pickling juice red wine reduction plays well off of the silken toothsomeness of the custard and the cereal crinkle of the streusel. All hail the incredible, edible corn. No shucking required.

Although, their elevated cuisine is comparable to several hipster joints elsewhere, there is no attitude at HopScotch. Chef Cody sees it as just everyday people who enjoy fine food and crafted drinks who come in and hang out — and they get served everything as un-sucky as possible.

This renegade chef’s mantra solidifies his fly-by-the-seat-of-your-shorts reputation:

“We do what we do…because we can. You think big, you go big.”

While it can all seem very daunting to overhaul an entire restaurant, the militia is primed for the challenge and simply put, they have  laid claim to HopScotch as their own. It’s a culinary coup of gastronomical proportions and they’re taking no prisoners.

Scheduled for Wednesday, July 31, guests will enjoy a five-course scratch dinner prepared by Chef Cody and his staff, accompanied by a range of beverages including crafted cocktails, whiskeys, and craft beer, each hand-selected by Director of Libations James Wood.

The first of its monthly pairing dinner program, guests at the inaugural pairing will be treated to a sample of the inventive culinary prowess HopScotch has become known for with courses including butter poached lobster, and beef cheeks with whiskey-soaked cherry demi sauce.

Details for this event can be found here or by calling 714.871.2222.

All photography: Brian Feinzimer of Feinzimer Photography

HopScotch Tavern
136 E. Commonwealth

Corky Nepomuceno

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