Left Coast Cool
The city’s culinary scene is stronger for the change, we believe. But we also appreciate the yearning many have for familiar food.
We find it helpful to remember that a dish that might seem unusual or even exotic to one person may be traditional comfort food to another, offering a favorite taste not easily found elsewhere in the area, or inspiring memories of friends and family gathered for a meal someplace far away.
Like Kansas City, for example. While barbecue is easily found in Irvine—the Korean variety, especially—we haven’t had a restaurant focused on the style made famous at places like Joe’s Kansas City, B.B.’s Lawnside BBQ, and other favorites found in Missouri and Kansas.
So when we read that Left Coast Brewing Company wasn’t just going to be a great place to enjoy the San Clemente brewery’s craft beer, but was also going to specialize in the style of barbecue that originated in KC, we were intrigued. Who doesn’t crave pulled pork, brisket and burnt ends—other than vegans, of course.
The restaurant’s executive chef Jason Tsiames is from Kansas City, though he’s lived in California for some time, heading up Oggi’s Pizza, the sister company of Left Coast.
The Left Coast food menu is not extensive. There are ribs, of course, and brisket, chicken and pulled pork. The meat is served as platters or as the filling in two kinds of sandwiches. One is simply your choice of meat, sauce and pickles on a nice brioche bun. The other is called a Specialty KC Sandwich, and includes hot links, onion rings and “spicy” barbecue sauce on a brioche bun.
The quotes around the word spicy are mine. Left Coast offers four sauces available at the self-serve containers on the back counter: original, tangy, spicy and white barbecue sauce. I was surprised that the white version is my favorite, with a nice vinegar and pepper bite.
Perhaps it’s a personal bias based on an affinity for Texas barbecue, a prejudice I’ll readily admit, but the sauces at Left Coast aren’t spicy enough. Traditional Kansas City barbecue sauce does tend toward the sweet side, certainly. But an extra spicy option would be a welcome addition.
Other menu items of note include three types of Mac-n-cheese, including a tasty “Mac Daddy” that includes caramelized onions and smoked pulled pork on top.
There’s a tasty cornbread served in a cast iron skillet (it’s hot, so don’t let the kids grab the handle!), three varieties of salad, fried pickles, French fries (though they still call them “freedom fries” here), sliders and chili. Burnt ends can be sampled several ways, on their own either fried or in sauce, or added to select dishes.
For those unfamiliar, burnt ends aren’t really burned. It’s fatty bits of brisket cut into small cubes and caramelized in sauce, drippings and usually some brown sugar.
There are two ways to order at Left Coast. If your party is small, it’s easiest to sit at the bar, where you can get food and beer at the same place. Otherwise, the food ordering line is just inside the front door, with dishes brought to your table fast-casual style. To order beer, you have to go to the bar.
The two-station ordering is a bit of a hassle, especially when the place is packed, which has been often. Switching to full-service would seem to be the best solution.
So how is the food? It’s mostly fine, if considered as bites to go with the beer rather than dishes that support the new restaurant as a dining destination. It’s not the definitive take on barbecue we were hoping would open in Irvine.
There’s no smoke in the air as one enters the restaurant—considered the sign of serious barbecue.
The fried side dishes and simple sandwiches, especially the pulled pork, work best. The KC ribs were more or less inedible, sadly. When we couldn’t pull the slab of ribs apart by hand we took that to be a bad sign.
We couldn’t cut a single rib off with a steak knife, either. We tried gnawing around the edges of the bone instead, and got a few bites that way. Alas, it had the appearance, texture and taste of well-boiled-meat—and not in a good way.
Overall, we wish there was more of a bite to the sauce, more bark on the meat.
While the restaurant is quite busy now, based on several visits and multiple tastings, we don’t anticipate hours-long lines like at Franklin Barbecue in Austin or other spots with cult-like followings.
And that’s ok with us, because we’ll mainly be here for the beer, and the fun-loving ambience of the place. This might be Irvine’s best bar, with an open design and inviting interior. The service has been welcoming and quick, while the clientele include craft beer lovers out to have a good time.
Left Coast offers 24 beers on tap, including Trestles, Asylum and Hop Juice, a triple IPA with a strong 10% alcohol by volume. The Irvine location also offers seasonal and specialty beers brewed on site.
While spirits are not available yet, Left Coast will be the first distillery in Irvine. The location’s license will allow not only limited tasting and bottle sales, like at many distilleries, but a full craft cocktail menu.
The owners are SoCal locals, it’s not a big chain and the food and drink are decidedly American—all things many Irvine residents have asked for. Hopefully, the menu will evolve over time so as to measure up to the rest of the experience.