Creative eats in the most unlikely of places
By Allison Costa 03/09/2011
Kitty's Country Kitchen
1051 E. Channel Islands Blvd., Oxnard
$5.95 - $18.95
As you pull into the parking lot at Kitty’s Country Kitchen in Oxnard, you’re probably thinking that this could be any old breakfast joint attached to your standard road-trip motel. But a closer look at Kitty’s menu reveals some serious chef brainpower lingering in the eaves. In addition to traditional diner fare, Chef Robin Nishizaki is dishing out some not-so-typical dishes like applewood bacon pancakes, parmesan-crusted patty melts and a chipotle three-bean chili.
Over the past few weeks, I’ve stopped in at Kitty’s once for breakfast and again for an early Sunday dinner. Each time, the service was prompt and friendly. And though the restaurant borders on cavernous, with its high ceilings and enormous dining area (it was an IHOP in its former life), the atmosphere is inviting and the space sunny.
The breakfast menu is filled with classics like Belgian waffles and corned beef hash, mixed with other not-so-typical dishes like Rice Krispies-encrusted french toast and a hobo scramble filled with spinach, onions and ground beef finished with parmesan.
Scrambled with onions and lox, the NYC Scramble is a refreshing play on eggs. We enjoyed the interplay between the smoky flavor of the fish, the mild eggs and the well-seasoned hash-brown potatoes cooked with peppers and onions. Yet the coral-colored salmon nestled among fluffy, pale yellow eggs left us longing for a bagel and cream cheese to go with it. The huevos rancheros were satisfying, but standard in their preparation: flour tortilla layered with chorizo, black beans, cheese, eggs and salsa, a spicy morning wake-up call, calmed by the soothing guacamole and sour cream.
As expected, the true show-stopper of our meal was the bacon pancakes. Inspired by a jar of bacon jam he received as a gift, Chef Robin first threw some leftover bacon into a batch of pancakes he was making at home. At Kitty’s, thick sweet cakes the size of a dinner plate are each filled with a generous handful of crispy bacon. As they drink up the sweet syrup and melting butter, they become almost otherworldly, a place where sweet and salty live happily ever after. The flavor combo just may leave you wondering, “Why didn’t I think of that?” It is such a simple concept, yet so brilliant — and at Kitty’s, the execution (grand) and the presentation (a jaw-dropping stack of four cakes) leave a lasting impression.
Though I opted for a steaming cup of hot chocolate topped with a spray of whipped cream to go with my breakfast, my java-drinking friends found the coffee a bit weak.
Like the breakfast menu, the lunch and dinner options at Kitty’s are standard diner fare (think chili cheese fries, tuna melt sandwich and chicken-fried steak) with a few hidden gems if you look closely. When we stopped in for dinner, we started with a cup of Chef Robin’s chipotle three-bean chili, curious to taste the recipe that won him fourth place in a chili contest in Las Vegas. The chili is thick, jammed with ground beef, tomatoes, black beans, pintos and kidneys. Topped with chopped onions, cilantro and grated cheddar, it first appeared to be a run-of-the-mill chili, but then the smokiness of the chipotle spoke up, imparting a nice background flavor without making the chili too spicy.
When asked about his inspiration for the parmesan-encrusted patty melt, Chef Robin says he wanted to create a way to pick up the sandwich without getting your fingers greasy, and the parmesan crust acts as a perfect barrier. Marbled rye is filled with a juicy burger patty, loaded with grilled onions and a bit of Swiss cheese. The sandwich is then pressed with shredded parmesan before the whole thing spends some time melting together on the stovetop. The burger was cooked perfectly, with the dark crust and juicy inside that can only be achieved on a flat-top griddle. The unusual addition of the salty tang of the parmesan made for a nice redo of a traditional diner sandwich.
Now, let’s talk pot roast. I have to say, I’ve never before ordered pot roast in a restaurant. To me, it is a dish for a wintry Sunday afternoon, a dish that should come to the table after a bit of preparation and many hours in the oven. To me, it is a dish to be eaten at home, savored at the table with family. Yet for some reason, on this Sunday night at Kitty’s, I was drawn to it; and Kitty’s didn’t disappoint. The large portion of meat was so tender it shredded easily with a fork, and some of the corner pieces had a bit of crunch to them. The silky gravy pooled over the meat and a mound of mashed potatoes. The dish, which truly tasted homemade, was served with steamed vegetables.
Bottom line? Kitty’s is a fine new addition to the Oxnard diner scene. Though many of the dishes are average diner food, others just might knock your socks off. My only wish? That the menu offered more opportunities to taste Chef Robin’s talent and creativity.