The American Caliban (substitute) wrote,
The American Caliban

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Zubie's, or a trip to Grandma's

Had dinner at Zubie's Chicken Coop last night in celebration of berg74's birthday. Happy birthday, Dan! It was great to see him and other friends I've missed, including a rare appearance from Jeremy & Vicka.

When I was a kid we used to drive all the way out to Lancaster on some holidays to visit my Aunt Midge (Mildred) and Uncle Lee. They were actually great-aunt and uncle, and were old my whole life. We would sit in their drawing room and munch on Jordan almonds and talk, and then sit down to a classic Midwestern/Southern holiday meal of some kind of Large Meat, potatoes, overcooked vegetables, two kinds of bread, a ceremonial salad, and great big glasses of iced tea. It was a trip back down the family tree, and they'd tell us stories of the family going back to the turn of the century and before. That side of the family had come to California on covered wagons, so the family stories were and are fascinating.

Zubie's is that place to me.

People who know old Orange County punk music may dimly recognize the name, because their original place is mentioned in the Vandals' "Urban Struggle" as the cowboy bar. It was next door to the old Cuckoo's Nest punk club, and the cowboys and punks used to get into it, which inspired that song.

That Zubie's is long gone, but the family has the Chicken Coop restaurant, which took over a former French place in the 90s sometime. It's eccentric. They serve pretty big portions of standard American home cookin' cheaply, which is an attraction. A full chicken dinner is $8.95. Their specialty is fried chicken but they don't call it that; it's "broasted," which is something old-fashioned restaurants advertised in my 1970s childhood. I think it must have been a fad around 1960. It's a brand name process for pressure-cooking chicken as you fry it that supposedly results in less grease. No one under 40 even knows that broasted chicken is fried chicken.

The sides are mashed potatoes with gravy and green beans. By mashed potatoes I mean very, very smooth whipped potatoes and bland light-brown gravy. The beans are prepared the way my grandmother did, southern style: a bit overcooked but with enough salt and grease that you do not care about that.

There is a house salad that comes with your dinner. The salads got all confused but I think that's what I got. For some reason it had shrimp in it. It was the iceberg lettuce salad of my childhood with a tremendous quantity of dressing. There were also rolls which were very soft and warm and required immediate buttering.

The chicken was pretty good if a bit dry, and there was a decent amount of it. The other diners got more food and many of them had to ask for to go boxes. Apparently overfeeding is one of the attractions of Zubie's. I'm glad I got the right amount of food, myself.

The menu was full of weird quirks and errors. The "Oyster Bar" page was also labeled as the To Go menu, and had two entries for fish taco at the same price with different descriptions: one was the "Grande" and other was advertised as having two filets and being the house favorite. The pizzas were advertised as being sixteen feet in size due to an apostrophe/quote confusion; it was not stated whether that was diameter, radius, or thickness. When the check arrived it was totally incomprehensible so we just did our best and made sure enough money was there.

As you probably figured out most of the clientele was over 65, with a few families. In general it wasn't a restaurant; it was a trip to someone else's grandmother's house. The food was home-style in both good and bad ways, there weren't many options, and everything was up to the standard of a conservative farm-style dinner in 1960. I assume they remain in business because of old people and because of the bar.

It's not the best restaurant in town but it's a gem. Mostly because it's a little piece of my great-aunt Mildred's generation sitting smack in the middle of go-go millionaire decadent Newport Beach within sight of nightclubs where strippers and mortgage brokers are doing tequila body shots and stuffing coconut shrimp into their faces. I like the contrast.
Tags: familyhistory, food, local, newportbeach, orangecounty, personalnarrative, zubies
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