Side Door

SideDoor, Five Crowns’ confident new gastropub in Corona del Mar, has proved itself a formidable player.

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Lawry’s gamble pays off with Five Crowns’ new gastropub in Corona del Mar

It’s hard to miss the big red antique key hanging near the door on leafy Poppy Street in Corona del Mar. Simply cross the threshold to unlock the warm, welcoming world of the new SideDoor.

Open since November, SideDoor is a freshly minted English gastropub within the ivy-wrapped walls of the venerable Five Crowns. Though part of it annexes the venue’s old bar, SideDoor is an entity of its own, carved mostly from what used to be first-floor private dining rooms. Designed by The Hatch Group, the new room looks old and fittingly English. Customers can enter from the Five Crowns lobby, but it’s more charming to get the bartender’s hearty welcome the instant you slip through the Poppy entrance. This route also bypasses the decked-out parties assembling for special-occasion feasts of prime rib.

Inside, SideDoor is unfussy and easygoing. On my visits, we seat ourselves, one time choosing a booth, another a table by the fireplace, and a third a quick stop at the bar. Reservations aren’t accepted, so during peak periods you roost where you can. At first, this lack of ceremony feels unsettling for a Lawry’s restaurant, but any incongruity quickly dissolves into a genuine come-as-you-are vibe.

A menu that’s updated daily adds spontaneity. Executive chef Dennis Brask, king of the kitchen at Five Crowns for 21 years, shuffles the options with a cardsharp’s flair. Between my visits, interesting dishes disappear, replaced by a fresh wave of appealing items. It’s a smart strategy for luring us back often. A single page organizes food into bites (snacks), soups-salads, plates (entrées), sandwiches, sides, and desserts. A separate column lists about a dozen boutique cheeses and several cured meats, cut and sliced to order at a charcuterie station opposite the bar. Flip the menu over to find a long list of craft beers and ales, on draught or bottled. A tight list of wines sells by the taste, glass, and bottle, or in flights. Premium spirits get meticulous billing alongside a rotating quartet of captivating cocktails, including the Squeaky Hinge made with small-batch Bulleit Bourbon and IBC Cream Soda.

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When the request is simple, say a prime rib sandwich and a pint of Belgian Maredsous 6 pale ale, service is a breeze. But linger too long over the menu’s many options, and a conundrum results.

Order everything at once and the table becomes congested with food because servers don’t stagger deliveries; everything arrives as it’s ready. Attempt to control the flow by ordering in phases and risk long delays while servers wait on other tables. Most evenings, we opt for the slow approach, which makes for protracted dining. But all agree the food is worth the wait. An adequate supply of wine and cocktails bolsters our patience.

Of the snacks, warm Marcona almonds and olives make a fine complement to an opening beer or cocktail. Feta-filled prunes wrapped with prosciutto are unremarkable. The winning nosh—beef-fat French fries with aioli—is listed as a side dish. They’re crunchy outside, velvety inside, and bear the savory resonance of beef. Salty pancetta and nutty sherry enrich a squat bowl of smooth butternut squash soup.

Two salads are impeccably fresh and finely tuned—warm, fat asparagus spears, crescents of persimmon, and speck bathed in brown butter; and a salad of bouncy, peppery arugula with sharp pecorino cunningly tamed by a vinaigrette studded with sweet morsels of Medjool dates.

I can’t wait to dip my fork into a chicken potpie capped with a gorgeous flaky crust. Plenty of tender Shelton Farms chicken shares a delicate sauce with carrots and celery still bright with flavor and texture.

I am alone in liking the Cornish pasty, a meat-and-potato pastry pocket others deem boring. I enjoy the traditional style of its simple filling, plus it’s partnered with spicy mustard to add at will. The rich short rib outclasses most of them out there—and they are ubiquitous lately. Braised with Guinness, the tender beef is darkly complex and inventively paired with creamy Irish oatmeal that mimics risotto.

Aside from the fries, the Stilton-cheddar mac ’n’ cheese is the other winning side. Smashed cauliflower with brown butter is a bland letdown, but it’s hard to focus on sides when artisan cheese and charcuterie call.

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At $16 for a sampler of five, it’s a best buy given the reputation and uniqueness of the suppliers. The choices change often, particularly the cheeses. By now, you may not be able to try exceptional treasures such as Andante Dairy Minuet (cow’s milk), Vermont Shepherd (sheep’s milk), Snow White cheddar (goat’s milk), and sopressata by Berkeley’s hip Fra’Mani.

If beautiful cheese won’t suffice, desserts include a first-rate warm figgy pudding with whisky sauce, and a rather sweet lemon curd brulée with shortbread cookies ideal for sharing.

There’s much to like and look forward to here. As I write this, I see intriguing new menu items appearing online, such as wild boar sausage with spiced tomatoes, and crispy pork croquettes with lentils. More than once I am envious of SideDoor’s neighbors who are just a stroll away.

It’s heartening to see a deep-rooted, old-vine operation such as Lawry’s tackle a thriving, hot concept like the gastropub—and deliver such a confident interpretation. Gastropubs are entering the game with considerable velocity, but newcomer SideDoor has shown itself to be a formidable player.

SideDoor

Best Dishes
Beef-fat fries, asparagus persimmon salad, arugula salad, chicken potpie, prime rib sandwich, charcuterie samplers, figgy pudding, Pimms No. 1.  

Price Range
$5 to $16.

Note to Self
No reservations; seating is open. Dress is casual, unlike Five Crowns.

FYI
In addition to SideDoor and Five Crowns, the Lawry’s group operates Tam O’Shanter in L.A. (established 1922) and three Lawry’s Carvery fast casual eateries. 

Loyalty Deals
Lawry’s VIP Rewards gives extras, freebies, and $25 gift certificates for every $250 spent at any Lawry’s operation. Details at www.lawrysonline.com.

23801 E. Coast Highway
Corona del Mar
949-717-4322
www.sidedoorcdm.com

Published April 2010

Gretchen Kurz is an Orange Coast contributing editor / Photographs by Priscilla Iezzi 

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