There’s a new fresh produce market up in Morro Bay. THE AVOCADO SHACK. Kind of an interesting theme. You don’t often see brick & mortar shops dedicated to fruit and vegetables. It’s a small shop, but stacked high inside and out with layers and layers of fresh offerings. Gooseberries, basil, fresh farm eggs, mangos and papayas, oranges, garlic, potatoes, and berries, lots and lots of berries. And of course: avocados. 3 or 4 different kinds of avocados. Organic is an option, of course.
The Strawberry Festival in Arroyo Grande is now the Stampede or whatever as they attempt to turn the miasma of central valley and national traveling shit-show crap back into a local, small-time offering of goods. It will be interesting if the demographic changes from the Miss Me jeans, bible-belt swelter and crush of DO NOT GO THERE to something the locals can actually attend and feel good about. How about getting one of our TWO makers markets involved? Something that doesn’t slaughter village businesses for a day.
Brasserie SLO has opened fully and the usual nattering nabobs of gushingness have weighed in on how beautiful the food is. I’ve seen the winelist and been following the chef though the opening phases and while the food looks good, the winelist is a laughable gathering of 4X$ bottles only tourists with the absolute lack of palate will suck up. How many bottles of Epoch do you really need on a list?
Bear and the Wren has finally transformed the beloved sword-fight of Spikes into a cozy brick & mortar extension of their fabulous and inspired wood-fired offerings we all have come to love at remote events. Not sure how often the former demographic will get out of their mom’s basement now, maybe they can graduate to someplace just a skosh less creepy, like say McCarthy’s or something.
I finally got into Grape Leaf Deli in Morro Bay. Tried several times and have been buffeted by strange hours but it is really quite good. A simple menu of middle-eastern staples, all house-made and the quality shows. Far better than many of the also-ran staples of Halal around the county, everything shows vibrantly with hand-made care and genuine enthusiasm. I rolled the beef shawarma loosely and bit deeply into the curry-infused meat and raw white onion goodness, slathered thick with grainy, pungent hummus, drizzled with olive oil and smeared with chili paste. Pita puffy and soft, a brilliant toast on it, dolmas red inside and weedy with the grape leaves they sell over the counter for home-cooks and tabbouleh crisp and mild, thick with parsley.
After a decade-long hiatus from Shawn’s on Main, I visited Surfside Pizza. After what was easily the BEST restaurant Morro Bay has ever had, it was a bit of a let-down, with lackluster pies, no winelist to speak of, and a bare-bones dining room and ambiance. I guess my expectations were too high. I suppose I was expecting the SHAWN’S ON MAIN of pizza and it really is just a low-key surf joint.
Up the street along the Baja Cayucos strand, the beloved dingy watering-hole BOUY is slowly transitioning to a coffee house and beer pub. This will be interesting to watch.
That horrible corner spot in Grover at 13th is getting another paint-job makeover and a name-change. Can’t somebody just burn this place down and put it out of its misery? Build some condos or something. Paisono’s only *barely* worked after moving in and HOW many things has it been since?
While we’re in Morro Bay, I went in to WINDOWS ON THE WATER for the first time in almost 20 years. The last time I went to this stalwart–which has produced MANY of the chefs around town we adore–was long ago in another life and I went away with a bad taste in my mouth. Remember back then: The Inn at Morro Bay was the defacto place for a supreme formal dining experience where you plunked down a couple hundred bucks for a ridiculous dinner and wine and service. My how things have changed. Inn at Morro Bay ended up closing for 5? almost 10 years? opening up as the now weirdly-named 60 State Beach and the dining room and menu have been dumbed down considerably for the demographic. It’s good–I have eaten there many times recently–but it is not in the same realm as 20 years ago. But I digress. We were talking about Windows on the Water. This is now the pillar of the Embarcadero, service and winelist are exemplary, with food following closely behind. Everything is fabulously-presented, but suffers from the plague of plastering with sauce. We all know how middle-america wants their food: done and buried and Windows performs flawlessly in this regard. The steak is covered in blue cheese or sauce-poivre. The duck in cherry reduction. The sand dabs and basically all seafood swimming in cream, lemon, or both. The roasted Caesar a soggy muss and the abalone basically a chicken-fried steak. This is good food–don’t get me wrong–I just long for naked, REAL food up here on the Highway 1 corridor. Cass House’s closing was the end of such food out in this area.
Popped in for a FLAVOR FACTORY re-visit for lunch and a quick burger the other day. Holy WOW is this food good. That is easily the BEST burger on the central coast. The patty so fresh and MEATY, real and virile and alive.
Speaking of burgers, way down in Grover Beach, I was waiting for tire service across the street and stepped past Garlands into another diner: local breakfast favorite LIL BIT’S CAFE. I don’t really eat breakfast–I DO eat a breakfast of sorts but NOT anything CLOSE to “american breakfast” and generally attach an asterisk to any recommendations associated with the bacon or biscuits & gravy crowd. But sitting at the chrome bar being offered drip coffee and ordering their stock burger, my mind was blown. Heady, hand-formed beef, crispy on the outside and rare on the inside. Buttered brioche and fat slathers of beautiful lettuce ruffles, ripe tomatoes and crunchy onion slabs–I have a special category for *diner burger* FAR removed from *gourmet burger* that is so popular these days, and while the brioche almost causes me to move this OUT of the diner grouping, THIS is far and away the finest diner-burger I have had in some time. Crinkle-cut fat fries, light golden and moist, you WANT to dip them deeply in ketchup but they don’t really need it. I WILL go back for this burger. It’s a smallish affair compared to some of the near-pornographic piles you see on Instagram, but literally PERFECT size for normal human-beings. Warm-up hon?
Tried 2 different THAI ELEPHANTS this week, the one in Morro Bay and the one in the corner by El Rancho Marketplace in Pismo where Kunfusion used to be. Browsed through a more typical Thai menu out on the coast for dinner–green curry and a thickly-sauced rib pile–but at the Pismo location for lunch, could not avoid their flashing “PHO” neon in the window. The former pleased heavily with a cloudy green broth around tender pork and meat falling off the ribs–the latter a strange interpretation of my favorite of noodle soups. A distinct allspice, cinnamon and nutmeg nuance permeated the broth, casting what I am assuming is their signature twist to this Viet classic. It’s quite good, just not a *purist* dish.
Speaking of pho, I have not been into my favorite of SLOco: Dragon Palace, since they are rumored to have dropped the “Chinese Buffet” portion of their menu and gone all-Vietnamese. Believe me, it is at the top of my list.
While we’re on the subject of noodle soup, popped into HARADA and had a bowl of fat udon noodles in a flowery broth. Of course I had to browse around through the roll- and sushi-menu. Another restaurant I had not visited in almost 20 years, and in the age of strip-mall and noisy, bustling sushi-spots we seem to be inundated with, THIS is a welcome sigh back to the golden years of Japanese restaurants. Duskily-lighted with pillowed benches, rich fir lattice and lantern–solemn and formal–I had forgotten how much I treasure these quiet–almost meditative–spots. Yes, there’s a jubilant bar, but it is out of sight from the dining room, not injected into it–as we are all used to.
Have you been to HONEY GIRL CAFE? This tiny closet of a spot used to sell ice cream but now is a full-service restaurant, with coffee starting at the wee early hours for commuters and a curt but well-rounded lunchtime sandwich and salad menu. I’ve eaten there twice recently: everything fresh and crunchy and hand-prepared to order.
HALFWAY STATION cranks up the weekends in style, with interesting music for grown-ups and good food and wine. Feb 15 RyanDelmore; Feb 22 Mark Adams. Open til TEN Friday and Saturday.
On the taco front, I am rescinding my decades-long endorsement of the Cayucos Gas Station as best tacos up the HWY 1 corridor. They have definitely slipped. It is not my imagination. Where once they were runny little morsels of deliciousness, they have become dry, cubed, bland meat–on par with the worst of Paso, Atascadero, and SLO–the picante rojo has disappeared, and while there is a perfect crust still on the tortillas, there just isn’t any goodness to them and all the snotty verde–they now give to you on the side–or lime juice or taco sauce in the room can’t revive them. The tacos inside the Sinclair station at MORRO DELI are now the best up in there. No, don’t even talk to me about Boni’s.
You’re used to the fabulous hamburgers, but did you know HOUSE OF JUJU in Morro Bay makes AWESOME flatbread? Yes, that’s PIZZA to those of us without our pinkies out. See, pizza costs more when it is not perfectly round. No, but seriously: there’s a grouping of optional sauces (NO red sauce on the list) and a not-over-complicated list of toppings, and these things come out SMOKIN. I HAVE to work out some sort of corkage situation with these people because I can NOT drink their wine.
Goodnight now. You hang up first.