Chop Shop
4351 Valley Fair St.   
Simi Valley

For those who enjoy restaurants with a sort of higher-end dive bar feel, the newly opened Chop Shop in Simi Valley certainly fills the bill. Formerly the location of Stray Steer Steak House, co-owner Trevor Wise and his partners have transformed the facility into a shiny bar, accented with reds, blacks and chrome. Even the gas-pump door handles on the entrance set the interior theme; and when you enter, a very full bar dominates the opposite wall. As you walk in, you notice a dance floor and musician area; and the design very much tells the patron that this is a spot for drinking, music and lots of camaraderie.

This, however, is a food review, so it must be said that the sparkling space is also a dining establishment. Nothing on the menu is unique or unfamiliar, but many dishes (or food sections) are cleverly named, thus inviting the hungry for food sampling and meal offerings. In “Major Services,” there are a variety of hamburger choices. On my most recent visit, I chose the Southwest Green Chili Burger, with pepper-jack cheese, green chilies, onion, tomato, guacamole and supposedly crispy onions. The server informed me, the crispy onions were a big hit. Alas, on my burger they were just ordinary, chewy and grill-fried. The server’s response was, “Oh, I guess they are just always different.”

Other burger options include the Skatelab BBQ Burger: crispy onion, bacon and barbecue sauce. My companion chose this, and we both thought it was good, but run-of the-mill and ordinary in concept and taste (and again, grilled onions rather than crispy). The buns on the burgers are buttery and hold up well with lots of ingredient additions, but their taste and texture seem packaged and processed rather than freshly baked. Cheese choices for all burgers include American, cheddar, Gruyère, Swiss, jack or pepper jack. Burger “fixings” are mushrooms, bacon, green chili, guacamole, pineapple, onion, jalapeños and horseradish. Burgers are served with either fries or fruit kebab, and can be beef, chicken, turkey or vegetarian.

In the section called “Oil Changes,” sandwich offerings include a shrimp po’ boy, a slow-cooked pulled pork, a tri-tip, a tuna salad, and what is billed as a Grown-Up Grilled Cheese (using a mixture of Gruyère and white cheddar). As plates went by, the sandwiches looked tasty and adequate, but presentation was not the selling point. In the several selections I sampled, nothing stood out as unique and carefully designed, but certainly satisfactory and hearty enough.

At the table next to me, one diner ordered the house salad: mixed greens with Fuji apples, toasted slivered almonds, crumbled goat cheese, with a honey balsamic vinaigrette. His companion ordered the Chop Shop salad: iceberg and Romaine lettuce, tomatoes, grilled corn, red onions, cilantro, black beans, carrots, cucumbers (with a choice of dressings). When I asked him how he enjoyed it, he said, “It was good and fresh, but kind of busy and not very interesting.”

I’m sure the Chop Shop is very busy at happy hour (4 p.m. – 7 p.m. Monday-Friday) when 22-ounce domestic drafts are $3, imported drafts are $5, Wines are $4 and all well drinks are $5.  Also the $5 appetizers — mozzarella cheese sticks, mac and cheese balls, hot wings, spinach artichoke dip and onion rings with fried pickles — are good accompaniments to the many drink offerings.

The Chop Shop is not a place for foodies in search of the next new trend. It is, however, a very welcome addition to the beverage and entertainment scene in Simi Valley. One great patriotic touch the owners have included in their restaurant concept (thanks to co-owner Wise, who served in the Army) is a free dinner to any military personnel who served in Iraq or Afghanistan. The Chop Shop is a little out of the way and a little hard to find, but the many planned bands and musical offerings certainly bode well for the establishment’s long-term viability in the area.