After reading a few articles on a San Diego artisan Fried Chicken Sandwich eatery arriving in L.A., we were curious. The Crack Shack opened up in Costa Mesa (and is expanding to Culver City and Pasadena soon). The pedigree sounded decent: Top Chef contestant Richard Blais developed the menu, and reading their website, it sounded hopeful: Using Jidori Chicken, Non-GMO Eggs, although fresh Produce from “Boutique Farms” sounded a bit ridiculous.
It turns out Crack Shack is like a “gourmet fast food” type of restaurant, where you order at the counter window, before taking a number and finding a seat. You serve yourself (get your own utensils, water, napkins, and buss your own table after). But it does come with free valet parking.
Here’s their collection of Sauces, which sound interesting, but seeing these industrial spigots and you needing to pump your Sauce kind of took away any illusion of this being a “chef driven” restaurant, making it definitely feel like you were eating fast food.
Mint & Chocolate Milk Shake:
This was refreshing! Tasting like you were eating a solid Mint Chocolate Chip Ice Cream in Milk Shake form. It got a bit too sweet after a quarter of the way through, though.
Mini Biscuits (6pc) (Miso-Maple Butter):
Clearly something like Miso-Maple Butter isn’t something found usually at most fast food restaurants, so we were hopeful Chef Blais’ personal touches might come through in the food.
The Biscuits arrived warm (not hot). The Miso-Maple Butter had some notes of Miso and Maple Syrup, but overall, the flavors were just OK. A bit doughy, bready, not very fragrant. And nothing like the made-from-scratch ones out of the oven we had at Plow.
Mexican Poutine (Schmaltz Fries, Pollo Asado, Jalapeño Cheese Wiz):
Our order taker couldn’t stop recommending the Mexican Poutine, so we decided to give this a shot (and it did sound tasty). The Fries themselves cooked in Chicken Fat tasted rather decadent, they were slightly crisped, but could’ve been crispier. But they were a bit oil-laden and greasy tasting (fried at the wrong temperature).
And there wasn’t anything here that evoked the feeling of “Poutine.” The Jalapeno Cheese Wiz tasted rather mass-produced and one note, the bits of Chicken and Pico de Gallo felt like separate ingredients. This did not really come together as one dish.
Deviled Eggs (4pc) (French Toast Crumble, Candied Bacon):
You normally don’t expect Deviled Eggs at a Fried Chicken Sandwich joint, but perhaps this was a bit of Chef Blais’ vision for the menu (to be more elevated)? The Deviled Eggs were OK. The filling needed a little bit of Vinegar and something else to punch up the flavors. Not bad, but nothing that made us want to order them again.
Baja Chop (Guac, Radish, Cotija, Charred Poblano Dressing):
I was hoping to get something healthy to balance out the incoming Fried Chicken, so I thought a Salad might be nice. And then we saw it (see above):
They might as well have omitted the Lettuce, because it was just a bunch of Cheese, Creamy Dressing and more Fat (Guacamole). It tasted like it looked: It was a mound of stuff, a bit of Lettuce completely overwhelmed by Cotija Cheese, Guacamole, Tortilla Strips and Dressing.
Coop Deville Sandwich (Fried Chicken, Pickled Fresno Chilies, Lime Mayo, Napa Cabbage, Brioche):
This was their “classic” Fried Chicken Sandwich. The first bite yielded a somewhat soggy Fried Chicken Breast. It had zero crispiness or crunchiness. Perhaps it sat too long? The Brioche Bun, Lime Mayo, Napa Cabbage, Pickled Chilies were probably meant to cut through the grease & fat, but it kind of overwhelmed the flavors a bit.
Firebird Sandwich (Spicy Fried Thigh, Cool Ranch, Crispy Onions, Pickles, Potato Roll):
Their Firebird was a spicy version, but not in the Nashville Hot Chicken style. The heat level was manageable (tasting like Jalapeno level or so), and it was pretty flavorful Chicken. However there was zero crispiness or crunchiness again.
The Potato Roll felt too dense as well, and while it held up with the Chicken and every bite, bit was also too thick.
This was such a far cry from Howlin’ Ray’s, it’s not even worth discussing.
Fried Chicken - 5 Pieces:
They offer a 5-Piece and 10-Piece option for their Fried Chicken. Surprisingly, there was a little bit of a crunch to each bite of the Fried Chicken (finally). The Chicken Leg and Thigh was moist and tasted fresh, and the seasoning on the crust was moderately flavorful (not too salty). But the lack of any crispiness and only a bit of crunch kept this from being anything other than the “not bad” level.
The Fried Chicken Breast was actually juicy (thankfully), and again, decent. If their crust was crispy & more crunchy this would’ve been much better.
Ultimately, The Crack Shack feels like an elevated fast food restaurant, serving slightly “fancier” items like Deviled Eggs, having a variety of Salads that have local produce. The Fried Chicken Sandwiches are disappointing though, a far cry from Howlin’ Ray’s. However, it’s better than Chik-fil-A at least.
When this opens up in Culver City (and Pasadena) it’d be a type of place to stop by if you were craving Fried Chicken but didn’t want to wait / drive for Howlin’ Ray’s (or Jim Dandy’s or Gus’).
The Crack Shack (Costa Mesa)
196 E 17th St.
Costa Mesa, CA 92627
Tel: (949) 383-5040