So there we were at Crescent City in Tustin, standing in the narrow pathway leading to the cashier, staring as if in a trance at their encyclopedic list of a menu -- which was printed on a laminated sign as tall as I was -- when a large, hulk of a man in loose-fitting black pants with white stripes strode in through the door past us. He was bald, save for some grey patches of stubble that peppered his chin and the rear of his scalp. With his thick jowl and eyes that looked like he just woke up from a restless nap, he couldve been Abe Vigoda's doppelganger, except a decade or two younger and much better-fed.
Noticing that we were becoming dizzy at the countless possibilities of what to order for lunch, and still not any closer on deciding, this man stopped cold in front of us, turned to face me and said in a low rumble, "Whaddaya feel like? Steak?"
"Steak? Umm", I stammered, pausing as my brain tried to process who this stranger could be, and more importantly, why he cared about my lunch.
"I'm the chef," he quickly clarified, sensing my growing uneasiness at his curiosity.
Relieved and elated, I asked him with renewed enthusiasm, "What kind of steak? And how do you serve it?"
"It's strip steak, served in a sandwich with a salad or fries."
"Sounds great!" I said.
He nodded approvingly, and returned to the kitchen -- presumably to slap a steak onto the grill.
The cashier, overhearing the exchange, followed, "So that'll be a steak sandwich. What kind of bread?"
Not expecting that we had more decisions to make, we begrudgingly asked what our choices were. As she began reciting what was available, the chef interrupted, his voice booming from the kitchen -- "Have it with the croissant!"
"You heard the man, I said, smiling at the cashier.
Later, while we waited for our steak sandwich to arrive, we noshed on the Popcorn Shrimp ($6.95) we had ordered as an appetizer. It came on a small hill of freshly fried, crispy fries. The shrimp, round and plump spheres the size of gumballs, made for pleasant palate teasers, each poppable, like deep-sea Bon-Bons.
Hidden within the crevasses of its crunchy battered crust, the succulent and slightly sweet morsels harbored the slow, latent burn of Louisiana hot sauce; the cumulative effect of which numbed our lips, giving us the sensation of being stung in the mouth by a chili pepper bee. Our only regret was that there were just enough of these ocean nuggets to tantalize, but too few of them to satisfy.
Thankfully, the skirt steak sandwich ($7.95) came just in time. The meat was beefy, bold -- flavored deeply from its crust to its still-pink center with red wine. Cut into fajita-sized strips and stuffed inside a buttery croissant, it was the star of the sandwich, supported by an eclectic cast of characters, which included sharp, crumbled bleu cheese, crunchy bits of chopped pecans, and spicy red onion. Was it typical of a New Orleans sandwich? No idea. But it was damned tasty, proving that sometimes it's okay to listen to a stranger, especially if he turns out to be the chef.
2933 El Camino Real
Tustin, CA 92782