Daphne’s California Greek has been household name across Southern California for decades. With humble beginnings in San Diego, the Mediterranean fast-casual concept quickly evolved into a franchise with locations across the state. Now owned by Elite Restaurant Group, with brands such as Slater’s 50/50 and Paxti’s Pizza also under its wing, Daphne’s has gotten a facelift in both its modern décor and new menu novelties.
Growing up in North County San Diego, Daphne’s was a family staple for me. I was one of three children, and we had very different palates. Daphne’s was one of the few places my entire family could agree on, and our go-to dinner before or after catching a movie just across the way. It didn’t take long for me to find my ‘usual’: the spicy gyro pita, with Daphne’s signature fire feta—a creamy, spicy feta cheese mix—that’s simply addictive. And so it goes with the typical Daphne’s customer, coming back time after time for those lifelong favorites.
The historic customer base also poses a challenge for Daphne’s, which in turn is also looking to attract new customers with a revamped menu that reflects more of today’s food trends. Balancing the new and the old puts Daphne’s on somewhat of a tightrope, yet one that they’re getting pretty comfortable with.
Daphne’s added chicken shawarma to their menu not too long ago, and it’s been a smashing success. Cooked using a centuries-old technique and served with roasted bell peppers, feta and pesto, generous layers of succulent and just-spicy-enough meat go quite well wrapped in Daphne’s perfected warm pita bread. Then there’s the new pita burger series, which subs out a traditional bun for two of those warm pitas, with a grilled burger patty plus a variety of Mediterranean toppings, from gyro meat to that iconic fire feta.
The gyro fries are a must if you’re looking for Mediterranean-American indulgence, cooked with red onion and fire feta and topped with gyro meat. And if you’re wandering, you’ll find fries on menus all across Greece. On the more traditional side, Daphne’s plates and bowls bring a bit of old and new as well. Shrimp has recently made its way onto the menu, with a quality and excellent smokiness that you’d never guess would come from a fast-casual setting.
Daphne’s has held onto its classics as well, keeping their long-time loyalists happy. Their gyro meat is as good as ever, shaved from a vertical rotating spit that will have your mouth water. Biting into a gyro pita with that—you guessed it—fire feta, a portal of nostalgia opened back up. For more information, visit Daphnes.biz.
Georgia’s is a breath of fresh air for LA’s food scene. In an age where global fusion, hyper-seasonal menus and quickly revolving food trends have gotten chefs and owners so entrenched in trying to catch ‘the next big thing’ that their restaurants lost their identity in the process, Georgia’s is a place that stays true to its roots. This steadfastness has secured the restaurant’s authentic dedication to Southern comfort and soul food, unaffected by the ever-shifting food tides on the surface. Now with two locations across Long Beach and Anaheim, Gerogia’s has made its name in family recipes served in generous portions at fair prices, paired with some of that amazing Southern hospitality.
Co-Owner Nika Shoemaker-Machado is the type of restaurateur you might see more of in the movies than in real life. What a rare treat to have the owner not just walk the dining room floor, but actually sit down at virtually every table and strike up a conversation with Georgia’s regulars and newcomers alike. Her warmth is contagious and the pride she takes in serving her mother’s recipes should be the envy of anyone in the business. Everyone on staff is much the same, providing unparalleled service for a fast-casual restaurant, and tending more to guest needs than you’ll even find at most full-service restaurants. She must take after her mother, Gretchen, who despite approaching 80 is known to be a hoot and a holler at the table, and of course a mastermind in the kitchen.
Gretchen inspired a broad and delectable menu with the recipes she learned to make with her grandmother. I grew up visiting my grandparents in Atlanta, with soul food becoming a childhood staple and a source of deep nostalgia. So upon biting into Gerogia’s signature fried chicken, where powerfully rich, juicy meat melds with a perfectly light and crunchy cornmeal crust, time stopped. I found myself in a simpler time, a better time, where carbs weren’t a crime and fried wasn’t an F-word. Then, as the clock began to turn again and I reopened to the contemporary world around me, I sought deep relief in knowing that a place like this provides that kind respite 2,000 miles away from where it typically exists.
Nika admitted that while she and her sister did get to grow up with her mom’s recipes served at home, they were only reserved for special occasions and sadly not every-day occurrences. And with dishes like Gretchen’s special jambalaya, red beans and rice with andouille sausage, pulled pork and of course that fried chicken, such a reality seems to be both a crime (for missed opportunity) and a blessing (for arteries’ sake). Dishes like these escalated Gretchen to culinary fame within her social circle, bringing her to cater weddings, business lunches and other events for many years. To this day, Gretchen comes into the kitchen from time to time and cooks almost entirely from memory. Actually getting her recipes written down to execute at scale was a challenge.
It’s safe to say, however, that Nika and team got those recipes down pat. Biting into that heavenly cornbread with a generous slathering of honey butter is the perfect segue into a meal where nutrition just needs to take a back seat. Because after a few of those BBQ pork ribs, velvety mac ‘n’ cheese and thick mashed potatoes, you’ll agree it’s worth it. Yes, you can pair it with beer, wine or even hard lemonade, but I prefer a sweet tea: t’s made quite properly here.
Save room for some sweet potato pie at the end, and maybe another round of cornbread.
Georgia’s Long Beach is located at 4101 McGowen St. Suite 155, Long Beach, CA 92630. Open 11a – 9p Mon – Thu, 11a – 10p Fri, 9a – 10p Sat, 9a – 9p Sun. Avg. out-the-door price for split appetizer, entrée and drink is ~$25/person. For more information call (562) 420-5637 or visit Georgias-Restaurant.com.
Seared ahi in one hand, braised short rib in the other, with a glass of chardonnay bouncing whimsically as it hangs around your neck. You’ve long since lost count of how many of Maggiano’s heavenly chocolate zuccotto cake balls you’ve indulged in. The clinking of glasses has become a natural symphony for the afternoon, a product of groups cheers-ing, vendors leaving patrons with a jubilant impression, or just those wine glass necklaces clanking against some fine Orange County jewelry. The clinking is briefly overshadowed by the commanding voice of Richard Blais as he creates an explosion of boiling water and liquid nitrogen, sparking a roar of applause. It’s an iconic moment at the Newport Beach Wine and Food Festival, where food fans are living their best life.
After building up quite a reputation in its first five years, the Newport Beach Wine and Food Festival continues to step up its game, providing a premiere experience for food fans, wine aficionados and starstruck audiences of celebrity chef cooking demonstrations. Three days of grand tastings and private events allowed guests to explore some of Orange County’s best culinary offerings.
Friday’s ‘Fire It Up’ kicked off the festival by setting a very high bar, whereby chefs showcased their grilling talents amidst an intimate shoreside setting. Taking place at the Balboa Bay Resort with some booths literally on the sand, this gourmet barbecue saw lavish displays of lamb, sausage, seafood and more ribs than you could imagine. Top Chef Celebrities Brooke Williamson and Casey Thompson’s gigantic shrimp and Chilean seabass were tastes for the memory books, as was Knife’s pork ribs, jalapeno cornbread and bacon jam. Patrons enjoyed Tackle Box’s Korean BBQ short ribs and Ms. Chi Café’s rack of lamb as well, alongside a myriad of wines and cocktails with live music performing in the foreground of a sunset ocean view in Southern California.
A seamless transition led to the first of the weekend’s two grand tastings, held at the Newport Beach Civic Center. Stretching across three massive tents, Saturday’s festivities boasted dozens of restaurants, bakeries, wineries and other drink purveyors. Five Crown’s chicken pies delivered savory, buttery sustenance, while Olea’s duck liver pate boasted the same traits in its own distinct way. Filomena’s Italian Kitchen served up a lovely penne alla vodka with sausage, and The Winery Restaurant’s lamb sandwiches were a smash hit. And then there was Bluegold and LXSO’s curry, which had people coming back for seconds, thirds and fourths.
The cooking stage was its own highlight, emceed by Orange County Local and veteran chef Jaime Gwen, whose energy and culinary knowledge pushed each demonstration to new heights. Brooke Williamson and fellow Top Chef Star Shirley Chung put on a wildly entertaining cooking demo that brought new life to vegan desserts, while Kelsey Barnard Clark led the audience in an alluring yet approachable way to cook up fried chicken and biscuits with Alabama style. The day belonged to Antonia Lofaso, however, who wowed the audience with simple and beautiful cooking techniques and a heck of a stage presence.
Sunday saw much of the same magic, with many new restaurants showcasing their own culinary novelties. Sprinkles cupcakes made its debut at Newport Food and Wine, doling out literally thousands of cupcakes to anyone with a sweet tooth. Crack Shack also came out for its first year, strategically steering away from its famous fried chicken (it’s nearly impossible to make fried chicken for the masses at a food festival) and instead showcasing some excellent grilled chicken ‘California Reubens.’
And with Crack Shack came Richard Blais, a long-time partner with the Newport Beach Wine and Food Festival. As predicted, the vocal culinary gastronomist completely stole the show. Some spectacular cooking certainly took place, but it may have taken a back seat to the hilarious jokes and banter commanded by Blais’ larger-than-life personality. He finished things off by bringing back the homemade flamethrower, sealing a show perfected for entertainment.
Additional events took participants across the region, from a golf tournament and brunch at Pelican Hill to a cooking demo and wine tasting with Nobu Matsuhisa himself at Nobu Newport Beach. For more information, visit NewportWineAndFood.com.
Benjamin Brown is a seasoned restaurant writer and hospitality consultant, serving up SoCal's hottest food news and reviews.