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Max's Kitchen

One of the sandwiches served at Max's Kitchen

One of the sandwiches served at Max's Kitchen in Oceanside is a Cuban panino. (July 23, 2010) Photo Credit: Danielle Finkelstein

Gary Schwartz opened Max's Kitchen so he could serve up good old-fashioned comfort foods at moderate prices. Simple enough, right? Actually, it's anything but.

There are reasons so many places don't hand-cut French fried potatoes or whip cream to order. Taking the time and effort to do things right demands a lot from a crew.

THE RIGHT STUFF

Max's wins my heart immediately with its sassy, grill-pressed Cubano panino made with roasted pork, ham, Swiss, pickles and mustard. Accompanying fries have the toasty flavor of real potatoes. A smoky burger is good and juicy, while the only problem with a Philly cheesesteak is the too-thick roll it's served on.

Love the homey, herbal meat loaf with mashed potatoes and gravy. And if the grilled pork loin chops with lemon-garlic sauce is made with a tad too much garlic, the meat is juicy and imbued with the flavor of the grill.

To finish, there's a lovely blueberry cobbler topped with freshly whipped cream.

NEEDS TWEAKING

The grilled chicken that tops my Cobb salad is woefully overcooked; so are glazed chicken kebabs. Shrimp and corn fritters are oddly bland, while fried chicken is made soggy by gravy and served with cold, burned waffles.

The real problem, though, is service. An order for "bubbly crusted macaroni and cheese" is forgotten. We inquire, and it arrives within minutes, the pasta and cheese simply stirred together in a bowl. I persist and ask for it the proper way. An unsmiling manager delivers what turns out to be a pretty good dish, although bread crumbs on top would have made it better.

An order for peach cobbler produces blueberry. "We asked for peach," I tell the waitress, who then admits there isn't any left. I order bread pudding instead. It's hot enough to seem nuked.

BOTTOM LINE

Paring down the menu and educating the servers would help this promising newcomer, which has potential for a full two stars.

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