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Features

Why I’ll Never Find The Perfect Breakfast Burrito

There’s a special place in my heart dedicated to breakfast burritos. I’ll smash a breakfast burrito any time of day, because there’s nothing better than an entire breakfast meal wrapped inside a warm tortilla. With that said, there are several characteristics a breakfast burrito must have, in order to make it an above average eating experience.

Even though you can basically wrap anything in a tortilla, like a glazed donut or a pancake, sometimes the simplicity of perfectly cooked hash browns, the fluffiness of scrambled eggs, the warm gooeyness of melted cheese, and choice of meat is all that is needed to tame the rumbling sensation in your stomach. I prefer bacon, but if I’m feeling crazy, I’ll go bacon and sausage, but never sausage only.

My first real experiences eating breakfast burritos came in high school. Maybe my peers and I were lucky, but the entire student body knew the most delicious breakfast burrito could be found at Classic Burger, in West Covina, Calif., literally one mile from campus.

ClassicBugerWestCovina

I can’t count the occasions my friends and I would sneak off campus and dart to my 1986 Buick Regal, risking truancy violations and dodging encounters will Officer Cole, the school’s police officer,  just get our hands on what could possibly be the best breakfast burrito in Southern California.

Even some teachers would send students to get Classic Burger breakfast burritos. I’m not naming names, but you know who you are.

It’s impossible to quantify what makes a breakfast burrito ‘perfect’. It all depends on individual taste and preference, but after trying a burrito from HAM ‘n SCRAM in Westminster, Calif., I knew there was nothing that could compare to my childhood favorite.

Ham-Scram-Burrito

Ironically, before eating the HAM ‘n SCRAM, I was told it was one of the best burritos around. You can imagine my disappointment when the first bite was followed with the aftertaste of burnt hash browns. It was the first time I realized how fortunate I had been growing up. Even today, living less than a mile from my high school — I am still able to enjoy the same mouth-watering, slightly greasy burrito with bite-sized chunks of the crispiest bacon.

I learned early on that a Classic Burger breakfast burrito is best eaten with ranch dressing and a little bit of Tapatio. Explaining this to members of FOODBEAST family, I received mixed reactions. To my surprise, Elie, who is normally open when it comes to food, couldn’t handle my ranch and hot sauce burrito topping combo.

ClassicBurgerBurritoBreakfast

“Ranch and Tapitio? Yo, that’s fuckin disgusting,” Elie said.

What can I say, it’s habitual — and that’s the most interesting part. Everyone has their own preferences. In that sense, I’ve noticed that regardless of how good the burrito tastes on its own — there can be variables that change the dynamic of the experience all together. Like, my obsession with eating Classic’s breakfast burritos with ranch and Tapatio, it’s just how I learned to eat them.

Another example of variable change inside the breakfast burrito experience, is Surfin’ Donuts Coffee House in Laguna Beach. SD’s salsa is the best I’ve ever had the pleasure of adding to my breakfast burrito, Surfin’s burrito is known as The Doughrito — because it has a pancake inside. Even then, the salsa made it that much more memorable. Is it ironic, though, that the most memorable part WASN’T the pancake?

It was through this analysis, I realized the quest for a perfect breakfast burrito would be an unending, flavor-packed adventure that varies in every community.

Still, I was unsatisfied. I needed more proof. Having written for FOODBEAST for six months, I kept hearing rumors that KTCHN DTSA, located in the 4th Street Market in Downtown Santa Ana, had a killer breakfast burrito — and it’s true.

KtchnBurrito

Two words: Chile. Verde.

“Oh, my God . . .” is the only phrase that can be used to describe the first mouthful of this saliva-inducing behemoth of flavors found inside KTCHN’s breakfast burrito. Perfectly fluffy eggs, pico de gallo, fried potatoes and chile verde pork make this burrito one-of-a-kind.

KTCHN may have solidified the answer for us, but the search continues.

We may never be able to pick the world’s best breakfast burrito, and that’s OK. As my love for the breakfast burrito continues to evolve, I will continue to discover what someone else’s favorite burrito spot is — while continuing to cherish the years I spent eating my hometown favorite.

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#foodbeast

Double Playground Burger with Foie Gras

playground-foie-gras

Photo by Phillip Reardon

Categories
Restaurants

Chef Jason Quinn Talks Playground Restaurant, Daily Menus, and Pissing People Off

“There’s a million restaurants that will cater to you, and we don’t really like any of those places,” says Jason Quinn, ex-Food Network personality, ex-Lime Truck chef, and current Playground restaurateur.

We’ve covered Chef Quinn in the past, we’ve covered his win on Food Network’s Great Food Truck Race, we brought to life his fiery responses to opinionated Yelp reviewers, we’ve even gawked and salivated at his restaurant’s delicious and adventurous menu.

So why are people — us included — still talking about him? Because his take on food reminds us of a cross between Gordon Ramsay, Mario Batali and…well…that crazy ass 25-year-old Jason Quinn. If you go to his restaurant, he won’t change a damn thing, he doesn’t serve ketchup, and when you sit down for dinner with him, he’ll give you his unfiltered opinion on anyone or anything in the industry, in life, or that diarrhea-inducing hot dog stand across the street.

So today, when he sat down with our friends at Orisue for a quick video feature, he did just that — he spilled his soul, for better or worse, about the uncompromising way he runs his restaurant.

Quinn often jokes about how a select few customers will get upset when he refuses to make a particular dish without its initially designed ingredients. The joking doesn’t end there — when customers threaten to go across the street to somewhere else when a dish isn’t changed to their specifications, Jason has to hold steadfast to his restaurant’s game plan, stating “Well we just do it differently. Are you gonna make me go across the street? Yeah, if that’s what you wanna do, yes, you’re gonna have to go somewhere else to eat.

The topic of chef driven restaurants remains a hot button issue for the foodie community. While many appreciate the idea of going to a restaurant and enjoying a dish the way the chef intended it, there remains a select few who expect the ‘have it your way’ experience and will subsequently be met with a brick wall when visiting restaurants like The Playground.

Quinn is still jovial in his pursuit, though. Their restaurant isn’t out to nickel and dime the customer, but rather, to win you over. Didn’t think lettuce would work with that dish? Try it, if you don’t like it, they usually will cover that part of the bill. There’s a certain level of respect that can be attributed to an outsider group of chefs who want to make sure that if you don’t like their food, it’s because the way they designed it had a fault, not because you added ketchup to that sashimi dish.

What’s your take on Jason Quinn, chef-driven food, and uncompromising menus?

Categories
Features

YELPing Back — ‘Burn in hell,’ Says Notable Chef to One of His Customers

One of the more recent features YELP has implemented involves the ability for business owners to respond to their reviews, whether positive or negative. Obviously, this is opening the floodgates for extremely boring and politically-correct communication between consumer and producer…am I right? Right…..wrong. Let’s jump into this particular case:

Let me setup the battlefield: Negative Nancy Yelp Reviewer vs. Passionate Chef/Restaurateur.

As a prologue, on a recent visit to aggregate-review site Yelp.com, I was drawn to a particular back and forth argument occurring between some displeased customer and the owner of that very restaurant. Why should you care?

Well, the review seemingly reamed the restaurant at length, in fact the 1-star rating was over five paragraphs long, touching on everything from the forced 3% gratuity, refusal to cook Kobe Beef well done, chef’s family walking around “trying to be restauranteurs,” and soggy french fries, to name a few.

The owner’s response? Five paragraphs of his own, rounding out the entire piece with a real bruiser:

“Burn in hell.” — Jason Quinn

Popular food truck-chef-turned-restaurateur, Jason Quinn, has accomplished quite a bit in his short 25-years on the planet. His once-chef duties with The Lime Truck helped him secure a $100,000 prize on Food Network’s food truck show, and shortly after, he rode the wave of success to open up his own brick-and-mortar restaurant in Southern California — The Playground.

If you’re not familiar with Quinn from his appearance on The Great Food Truck Race, you’ll likely hear more about him through the reverberating halls of the foodie community. He’s a passionate fellow, quick to defend and boast about his craft, his people and the ultimate food art he produces.

A few of his competitors on The Great Food Truck Race were quick to pigeon hole him, and his team, as cocky and young — which frankly, isn’t too far fetched. They are young, but they’re winning, and the food is speaking for itself. Anyone who’s tasted a dish from The Lime Truck, or experienced a night of dining at The Playground can quickly attest to the quality of food they’re putting in their mouth.

Quinn is a skilled chef, and explains every dish he makes with the same enthusiasm one would use while describing their newborn baby’s first uttering of “momma” or “papa.” He’s a giddy chef — it’s refreshing. Just look at him busting at the seams in the video we shot of him a couple months back at a local food truck gathering [see below]:

Now let’s switch gears. We’ve established Jason Quinn’s passion, his built up anxiety for success, and now…we’ll explain how he does his darndest to stay active on Yelp. And by active, I mean he responds to a majority of his Yelp reviews, good or bad. To his credit, the majority of feedback he gets about his Santa Ana location is positive. Easy to deal with, for the most part.

With a running total of 84 reviews written of The Playground, the heavy majority of them fall in 5-star range, with the average rating standing at 4.5/5 stars. So what happens when a bad review comes in? Here’s a look at the full conversation, starting with the lengthy, negative review:

Full disclosure, I loved my visit to The Playground. Quinn was super hospitable when our friends had dinner, all the food was delicious, and everyone around was having a good time. The review above? Some could view it as narrow, and I definitely wouldn’t disagree, but playing devil’s advocate, there are far more disgruntled, naive and obscure reviews to be had on Yelp.

Trolls are a plenty on the Internet, and this person just doesn’t seem to understand the type of restaurant he/she walked into. Many a gastropub and chef-driven restaurant involves dealing with a certain heir…if you don’t like it, you don’t dine there. There are plenty of other establishments that will cater to your changing of their menu, your cooking suggestions, and more wallet-friendly dishes.

With that in mind, does that negative Yelper’s review warrant this response from chef Quinn? You decide:

One of the most interesting lines in Quinn’s response is his self questioning of his restaurant’s core drive, to be “chef-driven” or “hospitality-driven.” The option of being chef driven, while un-Orthodox, would at least give a semblance of a reason behind his passionate response.

In a chef-driven environment, the policies set forth by The Playground aren’t too out-of-bounds.But does that mean Quinn’s move to be so passionate and transparent (he openly expresses the $300,000 investment he made to open the restaurant) in his Yelp responses are a good business move?

It’s up for debate. Quinn hasn’t shied away from his response, he’s not chalking it up to a lapse of judgement, he’s kept his response up on the review website and even gone a step further, he’s opened up a “Dialog” section on his restaurant’s website. He discusses the incident at length. It’s actually a very interesting read, I’ve lifted some of their notes in response to the beef:

The artistic license we allow the kitchen touches on a sensitive tension between the chefs in the kitchen and the customers in the seats. The chefs design their dishes in the way they believe will highlight the quality of the ingredients, the culinary art involved and the customer’s experience. Every component of every dish is carefully considered and tailored to complement the other elements of the dish. Regardless whether you and I agree that they have created a masterpiece, they do their best to design the perfect dish.

If a customer orders risotto, he would never dream of telling the chefs that they should use a different white wine in its preparation; if the customer could detect and disapprove of the white wine being used, he would either not order the dish or say that it did not suit his taste. In that case, we would take it off his check and offer to substitute something more to his liking. (Much as we did for the infamous one-star reviewer.)

So what’s the next move? An open discussion.

Even if a chef can win an argument, should it be had in the first place? In an age of transparency, social media and direct customer interaction, there are indeed new liabilities that should be accounted for.

For many restaurateurs, they fear that one “unhappy” customer may spread those negative sentiments to his immediate network, and subsequently, his network’s extended network.

That itching task of trying to please every customer, which undoubtedly led to the phrase “The customer is always right,” keeps many chefs/owners up at night wondering if they did all they could do. It’s fair to say Quinn has that itch, he’s attentive to customers, he’s responsive on social networks and Yelp and does all he can to correct inconsistencies in service and quality.

Being an accessible, open and outgoing entrepreneur can have potential drawbacks though.

Possible case #1, telling a customer, publicly, to Burn in Hell.