A restaurateur friend once told me that the secret to a great dining experience is authenticity.
It is authenticity that turned the Halal Guys from a small cart in Times Square into a cultural sensation. It is the authenticity of Twohey’s diner experience that has made them one of the area’s longest running eateries. It’s the reason why Canter’s Deli remains a local culinary heavyweight.
I seek out authenticity on my visits to area restaurants, speaking to owners, chefs and wait staff. I listen for passion, creativity and a love of the game in the stories they tell. Is the decor following an aesthetic because a restaurant consultant told the owner that “rustic” aesthetic is “in” right now or because there is a real connection to the food or the owner? Is the cuisine chosen for its trading value on social media or because a chef wants to do an earnest spin on a given dish? All of these things come into play. While food trends and hotspots live and die faster than a Kardashian marriage, genuineness cannot be faked.
The idea behind Braise & Crumble’s menu is offering items that cannot be easily found elsewhere; dishes that take time to prepare and serve. Cheesecakes made in-house, slow-cooked and braised proteins, bread pudding; it is as if they abide by some rule that no dish can have less than six hours of prep time in order to be on the menu. It is precisely the time and care put into each of B&C’s offerings that guests can taste in every bite.
I visited B&C shortly after the fried chicken po’ boy ($11) was recently featured on the Cooking Channel’s “Best Thing I Ever Ate.” Its fame comes for good reason. It has fried chicken nuggets piled high on an eight-inch French roll with pickles, tomatoes, pickled red onions, arugula, mayo, dijon mustard and topped with house-made Sriracha. It is a product of love and perfectly balanced flavors, the chicken made in small batches with temperatures hand-checked, following co-owner Shannon Hart’s grandmother’s decades-old recipe.
Modest in size, seating maybe 20, the restaurant is located next to the Ice House Comedy Club. Entering beneath the exterior awning, the exposed brick walls foreshadow charm, warmth and character inside.
Customers place orders at the counter, where they are met with a refrigerated display of some of the most enticing desserts I have ever come across. Exercising due diligence as a journalist, I did what it took to get the story — trying both the ooey gooey brownies and the seasonal maple cheesecake. The cheesecake captured the best parts of a maple bar and the richness of cheesecake, while the brownie reminded me of the made-from-scratch version that as kids we would eat fresh out of the pan. Rich and chocolatey, chewy with crisp edges, I preferred the original over the peanut butter, but both were impressive.
The crusted and dusted mac and cheese ($7.95) features deep fried jalapeno-bacon mac and cheese, crusted with seasoned panko, fried, and then dusted with parmesan snow. The texture is fantastic; creamy, gooey, tender mac surrounded in a crispy crumb shell and accented by smoky bacon and tiny bits of jalapeño.
The pig dip ($12.50) is piled high with delectable five-spice pulled pork, with garlic and pickle tapenade, mayo and dijon mustard on an eight-inch French roll, served with five-spice au jus. The five-spice flavor adds a warm, sweet, richness to the pork that shouldn’t be missed.
The short rib tacos ($9.95), suggested as a favorite for good reason, feature three-corn tortillas piled with braised short rib, sauteed mushrooms, jalapeno puree, sour cream and green onion, and come with a side. Erica Wayne, my predecessor and guide to the last 20 years of Pasadena dining, tried the short rib tacos for her 2016 review of B&C and described them so aptly that I must resurrect her description:
“One bite convinced me of their quality; meat smoky and subtly seasoned, apple hinting of vinegar and smears of tangy pepper purée,” she wrote.
Well, Erica, I promise the short rib tacos are packed with as much flavor as the day you first bit into them. With a seal of approval from two of Pasadena Weekly’s dining columnists, the short rib tacos are not to be skipped.
After eating, I just had to get the story of the unique spot, so I spoke to Tyler Wu, co-owner and co-executive chef alongside Hart. Wu said B&C is the long-running passion project of a bunch of kids who enjoyed cooking together and ended up going to culinary school. As a Pasadena native, Wu said the idea behind B&C is offering comfort foods that aren’t found in many other places in the area. They offer favorites that that are braised, slow cooked, or fried in small-batches. Wu says the menu is comfort food with a touch of Southern and a little bit of Asian.
The B&C team puts effort into making as much in-house as possible. Only three types of buns and the tortillas are brought in (though still local). Even the hardwood tables with galvanized bases were made in Wu’s backyard, and when they first bought the space that became B&C Wu was in there swinging a sledgehammer, building her dream restaurant from the ground up. That’s authenticity.
Braise & Crumble in Pasadena exudes authenticity with a confidence that I wish could be found more in our local restaurant scene. I will be back to B&C soon, whether it is for more short rib tacos or their eclectic Sunday brunch.