Rarely do the realms of “American food” and “New American cuisine” overlap. The first term conjures steamy biscuits with pepper-speckled gravy, double cheeseburgers and hefty steaks while the latter brings to mind dishes with modern sensibilities, both in technique and aesthetic, with ingredients that are farm to table, light, local and organic. But in finding our newness, we’ve mostly left behind those classic diner traditions, that—while built on the backs of European immigrant families—have become part of our national food identity.
Grits Fullerton—the 4-month-old brunch concept from former Hopscotch/Nieuport 17 Chef Cody Storts—is the new American classic, using today’s techniques to reinvigorate old favorites. Any morning that starts at Grits becomes a great morning, and, as Chef Storts recently launched weekly dinner service, prix-fixe beer dinners and all-you-can-eat fried chicken Sundays there’s no better time than now to experience this North County hotspot.
Grits is located on Chapman Avenue near Downtown Fullerton. They have their own parking lot, so you’ll always avoid the hangry/no parking thing that happens to me every time my wife and I have been arguing for the last two hours about where we’re going to eat.
The dining room is large and falls somewhere between a diner and a gastropub, with a long bar where you can pull up a seat to watch the kitchen crew create and plate. There are also low tables, high booths and a large patio, so space is by no means limited here.
The menu includes share plates, entrees, omeletes, sandwiches and dessert. Grits are always available in a couple variations as a side or an entree. Those breakfast classics I mentioned earlier are labeled “BORING” on the menu. But here, among exciting dishes like Biscuits & Bone Marrow or the Pork Cheek Benny, Bacon & Eggs or Biscuits & Gravy are snoozers.
I always start my meal with the $2 bowl of broth. On my first visit it was pork broth with bacon, leeks, golden raisins and cranberries; most recently it was Cinderella pumpkin, bacon and butternut squash. They pour it at the table. The steam engulfs you. Then the soup hits your tongue. The effects are soul warming.
I’m only noticing now the laughable contrast between my always-first course, the broth, and my always-second course, Crispy Chicken Skins. Chef Storts once told OC Weekly that the weirdest customer request he received was “fried chicken, crust on the side” and maybe this is his answer to that. No need to explain the merits of fried chicken skin, but these are seasoned with Fresno pepper jam for sweet heat, Maldon salt to pique the palate and just the right amount of micro greens to freshen things up (and justify this debatably as a salad with chicken croutons).
Go crazy or skew new with your entree selection, meaning pick something that you can’t find anywhere else, or choose a dish you’ve never had before and experience it for the first time. For many of my dining partners, ordering a bowl of grits checked that one off the list.
And always review the specials on the chalkboard. That’s where I went this time; an insane take on Steak & Eggs, with two golden sunnies, crunchy AF Yukon potatoes, a fat slab of perfectly-medium NY strip and a few dollops of bourbon-shallot foie gras butter right on top. Arteries be damned, we’re going to Adventureland.
My dining buddy/college friend Realty Rush (Go Titans!) went with the Five Egg French Omelet, California style, with avocado coconut puree, roasted cauliflower pico and tomatillo salsa. There’s also a Tex Mex version with mole, sofrito, cotija cheese and cilantro oil.
As with any proper French omelete, it’s the airy texture and the creamy custard between the set folds that make this method worth the work.
We went with dessert just to see what’s popping, and were presented with this Pumpkin Chocolate Almond Cake. It was the right level of sweet, very delicious and probably sold out and off the menu now. In general, if you have the room, save it for a few bites of the sweet stuff. Alternatively, if you love French toast, Grits French “Totes” uses numerous layers of almond lemon cake the same way the cake above is layered, then smothers the stack with milk jam, maple syrup and berries. It’s awesome, check it out.
Which is why I’m excited to see what Storts and Co. cook up next. There’s a lot going on so follow Grits Facebook page for all of the details and updates.
133 W. Chapman Ave. #102
Fullerton, CA 92832
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