Sunday Brunch at Orange County’s Sidedoor
I had the pleasure of enjoying an amazing Sunday brunch at Sidedoor, the sister restaurant of Orange County gem Five Crowns, located in Corona Del Mar, California. Although Five Crowns and Sidedoor share the same building and kitchen, the similarities end there. At Sidedoor, chef Ryan O’Melveny Wilson strives to provide Lawry’s quality, small-plate meals in a relaxed English gastropub atmosphere.
When you first walk into the main entrance of Sidedoor, under its iconic red key, you can imagine the secret side entrance, through which guests might have come and gone in the exciting 1930s and 1940s, when rumor has it the building hosted illegal gambling and maybe even a brothel. The dim lights, real wood bar, hardwood floors, low ceilings, and English music provide diners a relaxing spot to enjoy great food, classic drinks, and entertainment such as discretely placed large-screen televisions, live music, and even art exhibitions.
Adjacent to the bar behind a thick piece of glass sits a cheese and charcuterie station with a gorgeous crimson meat slicer, fresh hunks of cured meats, and a fine assortment of domestic and imported cow, sheep, goat, and bleu cheeses that entices folks walking into the place and tempts guests as they drink in the bar. The platter we ordered included prosciutto from La Quercia, duck salami, several hard and semi-hard cheeses, fruit pastes, balsamic glaze, mustard, fresh fruit, candied nuts, olives, and cornichons; it was well worth the $23 price tag and a great starter to an amazing meal.
Of course, we had to try the drinks: my husband Ace ordered a Daiquiri #1, and I chose a Trader Vic’s Mai Tai. My drink might have been small, but it was mighty, served in a traditional highball glass filled with crushed ice cubes to dilute. Two of these and I was a happy Sunday bruncher!
For another appetizer, I enjoyed the potato leek soup made with crème fraîche and black garlic. The chef told me he balanced the garlic with finely chopped red onions. Black garlic is on my list of top 25 foods of all time, but I have never seen it on a menu until now. To make black garlic, “regular” garlic is fermented at a high temperature until it becomes black and sweet, carrying strong tones of balsamic vinegar and molasses. I can eat the cloves straight like candy but loved the subtle sweetness it gave the soup.
The green eggs and ham Benedict were also a favorite. Our server, Tracy, told us the green hollandaise sauce was made with whatever fresh herbs were available that day. The bright green sauce tasted uber-fresh over the sublimely poached eggs, prosciutto, and English muffin. And the accidental mix of the hash browns and the herb-laced hollandaise sauce was superb. The crispy pork belly with fried hen egg, rice, and gravy was an unexpected surprise; the textures and tastes melting together in harmony from the first bite to the last.
Although my tummy was getting full, I felt obligated to try both the fish and chips and fried chicken and waffles. Both were breakfast-like and pub-like; neither disappointed. I could not stop eating the lightly battered, huge piece of fish atop slim, fresh fries or the Southern-style fried chicken and waffles adequately covered with real maple syrup. The bone-in fried chicken breast was extremely tender and juicy and the waffle dense and cakey.
I wanted to try the prime rib chili, the applewood-smoked bacon, the Bavarian banana croissant, the Sidedoor burger, and the seared salmon salad, but enough was enough. No more convincing me this little jewel fits nicely in the crown.
On Sundays, brunch is served between 11 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. Seating is available on a first come, first served basis, and guests can enjoy the community table, banquettes, couches, or traditional tables/chairs while admiring real British antiques and décor. Two artists were featured on the day we were there; they both created art while guests watched. I caught Mohsen Salimi’s self-portrait while he painted in the background and John Cormac, of the English Tattoo Company, as he carved faces out of palm fronds while musicians played wonderful sounds from horns, drums, and other instruments.
Sidedoor has been rated 4 of 5 stars with 327 reviews among Yelpers and 4.5 out of 5 stars by 88 percent of the 143 votes on Urbanspoon. Orange Coast Magazine rated it the 2011 restaurant of the year.
Purchased in 1945 by Richard and Mary Frank, famed for their ownership of four other restaurants including Lawry’s Steakhouse, the Hurley Bell was renamed Five Crowns and served as a charming replica of one of England’s oldest inns, Ye Olde Bell. In 2010, in collaboration with three generations of the Frank family, Sidedoor opened and has enjoyed great success. We can’t wait to return to try more cheeses, meats, and main dishes we were too full to try this time around.