Grits in Fullerton Upscales Your American Dinner
"I try to hit every sense in each bite."If there is one thing we can count on Chef Cody Storts to do, it's to make good food. He possesses a particular acumen for the right mixture of ingredients onto a plate, no matter the style, and everything is presented in a bold, satisfying way. You've certainly seen the likes of the chef in several restaurants in Orange County over the years but Grits is his first full-fledged restaurant that was introduced to the Fullerton community initially as a brunch destination. However, that fare has changed a little bit and recently, the hot spot has thrown dinner on the menu. We were invited in to give this a gander, and we left with our bellies quite a bit fuller and our faces grinning wide.
"We are nothing more than a group excited about food."If you've only ventured here for their brunch in the past and have fallen in love with those offerings, fret not because that popular mealtime is still here to stay; in fact, some of the more popular items offered during brunch has carried over into dinner. What the new mealtime has done is granted Grits' patrons more time to enjoy each other's company and good food. We saw plenty of emphasis in the menu for diners to pay attention to the experience and not their phones, to the food and not snapping shots of the dishes (whoops - we had to take a few photos ourselves during this meal).
The restaurant has a strong focus on local craft beers on draft, a trait that we definitely support. I enjoyed a glass of Smog City's Nothing ($6) during the tasting and learned about the various other fun events on the horizon for Grits. The personality of the entire crew there really shone through with their creative plans such as hosting a "bloody" game meat-oriented menu for Friday the 13th in May and conducting a "Brunch Showdown" between Orange County chefs. The personality of the kitchen crew burst onto the scene right when the first plate came out. We dug into their Jalapeno Cheddar Grits ($4 - white grits and roasted red Fresno chiles) first, enjoying its creaminess and slight bite. If you're going to call your restaurant "Grits," you have to know how to do right by your namesake and they do.
Grits, however, are not the mainstay of the menu but rather just a side dish. Several options for starters can tempt you on the dinner menu but overall, the makeup of every dish had some basis in classic American dishes. We began with the phenomenal Thai Balls ($17 - buttermilk fried pork cutlet, jalapeno, shallots, cilantro, maple syrup, and fish sauce), translations of the well-known Danish æbleskivers better described as pancake puffs. The pairing of these soft, sweet poofs next to crackling, savory pork pieces made for a fun combination that hit several senses in one go; the Asian influence in sauce and herbs rounded it all out for a complete, all-encompassing flavor experience. Despite the many textures and tastes, the dish still managed to be balanced well and delightful to eat.
We examined a riff off an American classic through their Gnocchi Mac & Cheese ($15 - ricotta gnocchi, Gruyere, white Cheddar, bacon, and cornbread crumbs) which did not pull through the typical oozing mac-n-cheese look but rather commanded that impression in the mouth-feel. Soft gnocchi smothered in a white cheese sauce was a pleasure, and instead of being entirely one boring texture, everything was accented by the crunchiness of bacon and breadcrumbs.
To stave off guilt from too much indulgent food, I put in for their Salmon Lox Salad ($15 - cumin vinaigrette, spiced pickles, cilantro, and black garlic crème fraîche) which still had a very savory element with the crème fraîche underneath the greens. If you like a tangy salad with saltiness from lox, you might want to direct your eyes this way. The black garlic inclusion sealed the deal.
Those who have enjoyed the brunch here may have already experienced the beauty that are the Biscuits & Bone Marrow ($14 - sweet butter, fresh fruit, and seasonal jam). Our butter that day was an apple butter and the jam, a combination of berries. There was an interesting interaction going on for this particular dish because the buttery biscuits underneath the bone marrow pieces were the perfect vehicle to deliver such luscious fatty marrow into our mouths while the light sprinkling of powdered sugar and the inclusion of berries kept everything from being too rich. Remember to use a spoon to scoop out the treasure inside these bones instead of your tongue - that'd be a mess, albeit delicious.
Going into dinner mode allows Grits to throw down much heavier dishes that pay homage to American cuisine. Take, for example, their Lamb Spare Ribs ($32 - sweet rosemary butter glaze and duck fat mash) which come out in elegance. Cooked to the perfect red inside, the lamb was my absolute favorite of everything we had. It satisfied the carnal need inside with its perfect ratio of meat to fat to crisp. Additionally, how do you say no to a potato mash made more wholesome with duck fat?
If you prefer a less messy route for your dinner but still want a meat bomb, try the Meatloaf En Croute ($19 - spiced meatloaf in puff pastry, duck fat mash, and hunter sauce) which seemed to me like a glorified beef wellington. Flaky, buttery element - check. Flavorful spiced mound of meat - check. Lick-your-fingers-clean sauce and roasted vegetables - check. This dish looks entirely American but with much more finesse and finer ingredients. It's familiarity done better.
To finish the feasting off, we remained for a few bites of bread pudding which was presented in slices of brioche that had been buttered up and covered in sauce. If your sweet tooth is throbbing right now, you might want to catch Grits at 133 W Chapman Ave. #102 Fullerton, CA 92832 sooner rather than later. Also, because they do their food in-house and from-scratch, there is a possibility that dishes you love one day are gone the next based on seasonality so make sure to check in for which freshest food is available. I, for one, do quite enjoy seeing what Chef Cody can cook up because his mark on the culinary scene is definitely food that doesn't suck.
Photography by Duc Duong. More photos available on Facebook here.