sammies and more at Big Belly Deli

Austin and I have driven past Big Belly Deli off PCH so many times and keep reminding ourselves that we need to visit. So when our friend Selene suggested we have lunch there, we were all for it! I didn’t know there was another location in Costa Mesa, but that was the one we went to.

The restaurant is small and parking is a bit tough. There are a few spots in the back and a handful out front on the street. We went after the lunch rush so there wasn’t any issue with finding parking or a seat.

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We ordered the 6310 ($6.99) which seemed to be a hugely popular item according to Yelpers. A turkey, bacon, avocado, provolone, lettuce, tomato, onion sandwich with mustard mayo on focaccia bread. I really liked this sandwich, I mean who doesn’t like bacon right?

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The Rajun Cajun ($6.99) consists of spicy chicken and sausage sauteed with red onion and bell peppers topped with melted jalapeno jack cheese and aTabasco ranch dressing. I love the kick and the chicken and sausage worked really well together.

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If you’re looking for a hot sandwich, the Pastrami Reuben ($6.49) is a good choice. Hot pastrami is sandwiched between rye bread with Swiss cheese, 1000 island dressing and cole slaw, then grilled to crispy perfection.

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We also ordered Pizza ($17.99 large) — half with Pesto Pie — pesto sauce covered with ripe tomatoes, red onions, basil, artichoke hearts drizzled with a garlic herb dressing. It was good but needed more seasoning. I preferred Marcy’s White Out a little more. Seasoned chicken, red onion, mozzarella, tomato and cilantro pizza without tomato sauce. I love white pizzas and this wasn’t bad at all.

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Big Belly Deli is great value for money. The portions are generous and the large pizza feeds four average appetites or 3 to 4 larger ones. You won’t walk away hungry!!

This week I have a $25 gift certificate for one lucky winner to check them out. Leave me a comment with your full name and tell me what your favorite sandwich is, or what your favorite pizza toppings are for a chance to win. Entries close on Sunday 11th. Good Luck.

Big Belly Deli
814 W 19th
Costa Mesa, CA 92627
Tel: 949-226-8333

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a real taste of Italy at Michael’s Pizzeria

I’m always on the look out for great pizza and Michael’s Pizzeria in Long Beach has long been on my radar, but I’d never had the chance to visit. Recently, I came with my son for dinner and found the restaurant really delightful and filled with my favorite color, orange.

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I was really surprised to find a full menu here since I had always thought it was predominantly a pizza place. Seeing all these items made me want to eat so many things and I was glad I had my hungry teenager with me.

We started with Insalata di Finocchi ($9) a shaved fennel, confit artichokes, goat cheese, pine nuts and arugula salad. I love fennel so I absolutely loved it. The salad was dressed lightly with olive oil and possibly a touch of lemon juice which is always welcoming. I dislike salads with too much dressing or, with chunky dressing weighing down the star on the plate.

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Anatra ($15) was eagerly relished by my son. Confit duck roasted in the wood fire oven with farro and figs was just delectable. The duck was incredibly tender, falling off the bone with barely a touch of the fork. The farro provided a nutty flavor with perfect contrasting textures, and the figs added a touch of sweetness. This was seriously good! My son wanted more, but alas, I was not able to indulge him since we had more food coming.

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I was excited to try the pizzas here so we decided on Prosciutto e Arugula ($16), two of my son’s favorite items together on the pie. The thin crust pizza was a tad too wet from the tomato and mozzarella, but the flavors were perfect. The salty Parma prosciutto married together very well with the fresh arugula for a lovely tasting pizza.

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The Salsiccia e Papini ($15) was my pick. Smoked mozzarella, sausage and rapini brought mouthful after mouthful of pleasure. The smoked mozzarella was outstanding. I loved the light smokiness with the great saltiness — yes I love salt — and a burst of the slight crunch from the rapini. This is going to be my pizza when I return again (my son’s been bugging me already to go back)!

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I wanted to try the Calzone Classico ($13) because I generally am not a fan due to the thickness of the crust. This was nothing like the ones I’ve encountered in the past. The lightness of the crust folded over the melting ricotta, mozzarella and prosciutto cotto. Topped with tomato and a little sprinkle of cheese, this is the best calzone I’ve ever had in California!

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We didn’t finish the pizzas obviously because not only did I want something to savor the following day, but I also wanted to try some of the desserts on the menu. I’m not a sweets fan, but Affogato ($7) is something I can never resist. Two scoops of hazelnut gelato with a shot of espresso — I go mine decaf — was a perfect finish. Even my son was hooked!

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But that wasn’t all. When I heard they made the crunchy shell of the Cannoli ($7) in house, I needed to try it. Filled with ricotta cream and chocolate chips, the only other cannoli I’ve ever had which tasted this good was in Italy! The shell was delicate and each bite just crumbled in my mouth. The filling had only a hint of sweetness which highly appealed to me!

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I’m looking forward to my next visit here. I’m not sure when I’ll be able to make it there, but you can bet both my son and I are anticipating it with bated breath!

Michael’s Pizzeria
5616 East 2nd
Long Beach, CA 90803
Tel: 562-987-4000

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Pitfire offers artisan pizza and more

I admit, I’m kind of a pizza snob. Frankly, there are only a few places I’d eat pizza at and Orange County isn’t by any means the epicenter of great pizzerias. This is why, when I tried the pizzas at the newly opened Pitfire in Costa Mesa, I was really impressed by how cool the restaurant looked, but more importantly, by the quality of the pizzas and especially, the prices. pitfire1 (640x361) Some seriously cool things of note in the decor includes Volkswagen cushions on the banquettes, surfboard-inspired tabletops, Volkswagen headlights which ‘spells’ out Pitfire in braille and the nautical theme in general due to its proximity to the water. The attention to detail brought a smile to my face. IMAG4463 (640x361) The restaurant is fast casual — you order up front and find a place to sit, but by no means is this some ordinary establishment. The staff are attentive, you can bring the kids, but you can also enjoy adult moments by savoring in some funky cocktails such as The Flamin’ P with reposado and jalapeno, an aperol infused Neroni, “The Duke” which has the sweetness of cherries or The Crystal Cove garnished with a stick of rosemary. cocktails The sangrias were my favorites though. There is a traditional, which they carry at all times, and then a rotating one depending on season. Right now they are serving Apple Pear Sangria ($4.50/$16 pitcher) which was a little sweet for me — I loved the traditional and had a couple of glasses of it — WOO HOO. sangrias (640x361) We started with some Flatbread & Ricotta ($6) — crispy flatbread topped with parmesan, parsley and a brush of garlic oil served with herb ricotta topped with diced tomato and olive with a drizzle of California extra virgin olive oil. Nice accompaniment with my drink, but I wasn’t filling up on this. flatbread and ricotta I was here for the pizza and I needed to leave room to try as many as I could, however, I don’t have room for everything so I’m going to highlight my favorites. I’m a huge fan of burrata so The Burrata Pie ($9.95) was definitely one I kept my eyes out for. Topped with tomato sauce, caramelized onion, creamy burrata, wild arugula, hazelnuts for crunch, and a pesto drizzle made a very interesting combination. I loved the marriage of creamy and crunch! burrata pie For pizza traditionalists, the Margherita ($9.50) will definitely please. Fresh mozzarella, tomato sauce, California extra virgin olive oil and torn basil make for a very simple pizza. margherita My son is a meat fiend so Sausage Party ($11.95) was a huge hit. Huntington fennel sausage, Zoe’s bacon, salami and prosciutto, tomato sauce with fresh mozzarella and a dense balsamic drizzle finished off this nice salty concoction. sausage party From the seasonal menu, Brussels Sprouts & Bacon ($11) was a huge hit with my son and I both. Brussel sprouts leaves, cream, bacon, garlic, parmesan — what’s NOT to love??? This possesses everything we love and I really didn’t want to share. brussels sprout Right now, the Tuscan Pie is available — the 10th anniversary special pizza pie — for a mere $7.95. Along with the pie comes an anniversary t-shirt to commemorate this event (passed out while supplies last). Red onions, grilled chicken, roasted rosemary potatoes, mozzarella, pesto and gorgonzola makes it the bet deal ever. It’s not on the menu so if you want it, make sure you ask for it. tuscan pie Veggie Platter ($9.95) was a generous plate of kale with golden raisins and pine nuts, fall squash with honey and mint, farro salad with roasted mushrooms and hazelnuts, roasted Brussels sprouts with garlic parmesan dressing served with heirloom beans. Everything on the plate was absolutely delicious. My mind was rolling around thinking I could pick this up to serve at dinner and it would be an absolutely fantastic addition. veggie platter For those looking for anything other than pizzas or salads, well, let me tell you there’s something for everyone. We tried the Handcrafted Chicken Meatballs ($6) which were tender and perfectly textured. I’m very fussy about marinara sauce and I had no criticism on the one here — it was spot on! chicken meatballs My son adored the Chicken & Mushroom Cavatappi ($10.95)  and the kid doesn’t even like mushrooms. He does however love  wild arugula and this was wilted into the pasta and worked very well with the porcini lemon cream and parmesan. cavatappi I’m happy that Pitfire is not far from me. This is a great place to pick up a pizza or two for dinner and for me, I can choose my own and not have to compromise on toppings because my son wants something else. We can both have our own pizzas — although I have a feeling we’ll both end up with the Brussels sprouts one!

Pitfire Artisan Pizza 353 E 17th Street Costa Mesa, CA 92627 Tel: 949-313-6333

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Roma-style slices at Little Italy’s Napizza

If you’re down in San Diego and somehow find yourself in Little Italy, stop by Napizza — I’m told it’s the Italian slang for getting “a slice” of pizza — and grab one from the array they have on display.

We stopped by to check this place out and was surprised it was SO packed. This fast casual spot is great for a quick slice, or, any time of day. I loved the cute decor and how they offer both outdoor and inside seating.

We started with Minestrone ($2 small/$4 large) a classic Italian soup with a variety of boiled vegetables but not done the way Americans are used to. Tomatoes are not the base in this soup, and the vegetables are blended together to give it a thick consistency. In fact, this is how I make vegetable soup at home and found it really comforting to see it prepared this way.

There is an array of salads and we tried the Fisherman ($11.75) utilizing wild arugula as its base with avocado, quinoa, balsamic marinated shallots, cannellini beans and homemade garlic. Topped with local seasonal catch — on the night of our visit, bay scallops — everything is tossed together with a very subtle parsley lemon dressing and generous enough to share as a side.

Pizzas here use a flour imported from Italy which gives the crust a different texture and consistency. The pizzas are square instead of round and each square slice comes with a variety of toppings.

BAPO ($4.75 slice/$24 half pizza) was surprisingly good with thin slices of red potato, nicely salted bacon and sprinkled with fresh mozzarella and drizzled with zucchini velvet, a creamy green sauce. I don’t usually like potatoes on top of pizza, but the thin slices worked very well here.

When we saw the Truffle Porcini ($5.75/$24 half pizza) we were immediately drawn to it, however, it was our least favorite. The porcini and cremini mushrooms were ample and flavorful on its own, but when paired together with the pizza crust, the mushrooms seemed to fade into the background. Even the truffle cream, fresh mozzarella and parsley wasn’t able to help it along.

However, the Old Fashion Amatriciana ($4.75/$24) won me back with its signature tomato sauce, fresh mozzarella, crispy pancetta and Roman pecorino cheese. This would have to be my favorite of the night. The tomato sauce was robust and hearty and required little else to make it shine. Everything else was just icing on the cake. So simple, yet so fabulous!

The other surprise of the evening was Z-Bomb ($4.75/$24). The slice looked plain, but the combination of the smoked turkey breast, zucchini and home made cream cheese truffle pate was an explosion in my mouth. The parsley and black pepper added freshness and complexity to an honestly delicious slice!

These are Lazio, or Roman style pizzas so don’t get upset when they’re not what you’re used to. They’re just as delicious, but just different to your usual pizza pie!

1702 India Street
San Diego, CA 92101
Tel: 619-696-0802

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incredible fare at Isola Pizza Bar

The last time I had a seriously excellent pizza was at Stella Rossa Pizza Bar in Santa Monica. It is so difficult to find a decent pizza in Orange County — well, one that constitutes as a perfect pizza in my book — and I am elated to report that I’ve found some in San Diego!

Isola Pizza Bar in Little Italy is one of those little gems which I hoped would have reasonably good pizzas but ended up being SO much more than just a pizza bar!

I loved the hustle and bustle of the restaurant and was offered a glass of Prosecco Nino Franco, Valdobiaddene, NY veneto ($10/glass) while we perused the menu. It possessed a lovely effervescent sweetness which was also light enough for this balmy evening.

The menu was simple and my eyes were immediately drawn to Polipo ($12), a salad of charred octopus, Kalamata olives, fingerling potatoes, celery, lemon and an Italian parsley based salsa verde. I loved the hints of tartness from both the lemon and olives, as well as the crunch from the celery.

Pepata di Cozze al Forno ($12), a beautifully prepared wood-fired mussels were cooked in white wine and garlic with cannellini beans, cherry tomatoes and chile. The mussels were melt-in-you-mouth tender and the broth they were swimming in was so delicious I couldn’t stop spooning it into my mouth. These are a MUST in my opinion.

If you are a shrimp fan, Gamberetti alla Diavola ($12), also wood-fired in the pizza oven, is salty and tart in a light tomato sauce with white wine, garlic, capers, Kalamata and chile. I was so delighted to find two triangles of polenta on the bottom of the plate which was sublime when eaten with the broth. Again, this is highly recommended and should be shared if you want to leave some room for pizza.

But before pizza, I was intrigued by lardo on the menu. The last time I had lardo was in Italy and I’d never seen it on any menu in southern California before now. Vannellini e Lardo bruschetta ($8/4pcs) is served on a piece of toasted bread topped with cannellini beans, lardo, a splash of extra virgin olive oil and rosemary.

Lardo is a type of Italian charcuterie — a piece of fatback cured with rosemary and other herbs and spices. I remember having a hard time eating lardo on its own while in Italy, but here, with the beans and bread, the entire thing was a rich, decadent treat. Since each order is four pieces, definitely share because you don’t want too much of a good thing when there is a lot more to experience.

After all this deliciousness, we still had to eat the pizzas. Burrata e Pomodorini ($15) is one of the restaurant’s favorites, and mine as well seeing it is topped with burrata, sweet cherry tomatoes, fresh oregano and basil. The pizza is thin — very thin — and held up well even with the toppings. When I picked it up, it didn’t dip in the center, an this in my book is an absolutely flawless pizza.

We also ordered the Guanciale ($15), a white pizza with broccoli rabe, guanciale, cherry tomatoes, mozzarella and fennel pollen. Both pizzas were perfectly executed and only required two to three minutes cooking time in the pizza oven imported from Italy.

An impeccable evening isn’t only about the food but also, the service. Our server Alex was extremely knowledgeable about the food, wine, but to top it off, he was passionate and entertaining throughout our meal. He will tell you about the wines from the owner’s family’s vineyard in Italy and describe the notes and finish like the ultimate sommelier so you get the best experience ever. Isola Pizza Bar is much more than pizzas, it is your gateway to dinner in Italy, right here in southern California.

Isola Pizza Bar
1526 India Street
San Diego, CA 92101
Tel: 619-255-4340

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Z Cafe’s unveils new menu items

This fast casual spot at South Coast Plaza’s Crystal Court is one of my son’s favorites. He loves the pizzas AND the salads. In fact, he can polish off a pizza, salad as well as a few garlic knots all on his own.

I was invited to taste the new menu items recently and was not surprised to find them all as delicious as expected. What was even more impressive was the fact that they now carry gluten free beer (on top of their gluten free pizza crust) and the beers tasted no different from any decent beers you will find out there.

Fresh Guacamole ($5.95) is a house-made guacamole which utilizes seasonal fresh corn on top of the avocados. The mound of guacamole is a very generous portion and is topped with pico de gallo and served with crispy Z bread — the Z Cafe pizza dough rolled out thin and baked.

On the topic of sweet corn, the soup of the daily was a creamy Roasted Sweet Corn soup ($2.95/cup, $4.95/bowl), perfect for those who love corn and soup, corn is at its peak right now and the flavor is optimum!

If you’re into salads, the Arugula ($7.95) is not as simple as it sounds. Organic arugula is is tossed together is toasted slivered almonds, grilled pineapple, house ricotta in a lemon vinaigrette.

The Barbecued Chicken sandwich ($8.95) is a good mix of chicken, grilled red onions, mayo, mixed greens and tomatoes on a ciabatta roll. The sandwiches at Z Cafe have always been an ideal choice for lunch whenever I’m shopping at Crystal Court.

Pizzas are a favorite here and the two new additions have ethnic influences sure to please those wanting something different. Thai Chicken pizza ($9.95/$16.95) is really unique with grilled chicken, red onion, cucumber, pickled carrots, cilantro and a peanut sauce. The flavors are lovely with a slightly hot and sweet taste throughout.

Mexican pizza ($9.95/$16.95) consisted of mozzarella, lime chipotle grilled asada, red onions, pico de gallo, roasted sweet corn, avocado, sour cream, cotija cheese and cilantro. I love the chipotle grilled asada which can also be found on the grilled steak salad. I definitely preferred this combination on the salad rather than the pizza.

Right now, during the month of August, if you make a purchase of $15 or over, you will receive a $5 coupon towards a purchase in September. Take advantage of this opportunity now, it ends on August 31st.

Z Cafe
3333 Bear Street
Costa Mesa, CA 92626
Tel: 714-545-5500