Well, boys & girls: it’s been a year… and what a blurry year. A lot has happened since March 19, 2020, and here we are in the surreal new normal. Covid-restrictions have come and gone; masking has become de rigueur, parklets seem to be standard–even to the extent of some restaurants seemingly DOUBLED their dining space (Giuseppe’s? Finney? Robins?) and still packed, reservations–something I LOVE, actually–are mandatory and while staffing remains problematic, everyone’s PACKED. One thing remains the same: I DETEST eating outdoors–so there was a little stretch there I found quite annoying. The only real remaining annoyance is how HARD it is to impromptu-walk-in at so many spots. You don’t just cruise into Hotel SLO and grab a cocktail at the bar anymore. You don’t call Grenada Friday afternoon for a 7PM slot for 3. And despite the sack-cloth and ash remnants still piled here and there, there’s a SHIT-TON of stuff happening–and frankly: it feels quite vibrant.
Bumblebee Soda in Morro Bay has new owners. I just want to get the importanter stuff above the fold.
The Michelin people handed out a few rewards. BELL’S in Los Alamos highly deserving, SIX TEST KITCHEN in Paso also getting a star. OX & ANCHOR got an honorable mention on the lead-up list, but didn’t get an actual sticker. Oh and have you heard about the new *Michelin for Millennial* awards? In a welcome hug to Gen-Y and Z’s cancelling snubbery of anything snobby, there’s a new participation award called Bib Gourmands: basically FOMO food you can eat with your hands any time of day. Lots all over California, but none on the Central Coast were announced for 2021.
Speaking of 6-Test, Tin Canteen came– and wowed– and fizzled– and went. I’m blankin out on who moved in and don’t even have the curiosity to google it. The dining scene in Paso sucks so hard right now. For YEARS I whined about Paso getting all the cool restaurants while SLO grinds on with the usual tourist-friendly suspects: and now it’s just the opposite. SOMM’S KITCHEN, Il Cortile and the Bistro is really all there is. HATCH disappoints every time I go (it always *sounds* good), had the worst dining in recent memory at Les Petites Cannailles (wait: that’s supposed to be French food???), and Alchemist’s Garden hasn’t blown up my skirt yet.
The GRENADA HOTEL and SKYVIEW folks have purchased River Lodge in Paso. God, I love that place. Will be interesting to see what she does with it. HIDDEN KITCHEN moved to Cayucos, but rumor has it the Cambria location is still open. Hasn’t been last few times I drove by though. Although Orange Fitness is open, nothing else at SLO PUBLIC MARKET is un-shuttered yet. Supposed to get a Brook’s Burgers. Fig Mt is still on the list, plus Poor But Sexy, some cantina and even dim-sum. #truestory: got a call from the people in charge there at SLO Public Market. I guess a potential tenant came into the leasing office waving a copy of my comparative spread-sheet I wrote 18 MONTHS ago. Of course it is ALL wrong now and they weren’t very happy. Tell ya what: I’ll write a new one, as the market is actually starting to look alive.
Special shout-out to BLACK CAT BISTRO, which has been my absolute GO-TO throughout all this. Comfort and Class, and you couldn’t DREAM a better place for wine-dinners (there’s been MANY)! Great menu that goes with all the wines we bring, great winelist to boot, perfect service and out-of-the-way vibe. MY FAVORITE RESTAURANT IN SAN LUIS OBISPO COUNTY RIGHT NOW. There. How’s that for a new category? McConnell’s Favorite Resty Right Now. I’m gonna make this a regular thing.
There’s a new wine-shop opening in Paso Robles, and Ash’s TASTE IN THE ALLEY is officially on the block, with a reduced price and positive upgrades. Shall we just get all the wine-shop news out of the way? OK fine. Downtown anchor Central Coast Wines has also sold–THAT will be interesting to watch. Something’s going into Luis Wine Bar. The Station has never re-opened as Acendo Coffee, despite a year of construction. Paso Market Walk has a GREAT new shop in it with ALL the cool local labels. Old Town Market in Orcutt closed to become a weed shop, then that dude started pissin people off and greased Adam Hill (RIP), so the HAPY people basically re-opened a smaller version of Old Town–including a rather decent selection of wines. Both STAX and The Wine Seller in Morro Bay have new owners: the former–which became basically a private club during restrictions–is just CRANKIN and has become the Central Coast’s LUXE steak & lobster spot. Yes you read that right. But it will set you back a few bucks. Down next to the Galleria, “Seller” decided to pun-ish us even more with “The Savory Palette“. The charcuterie plates are amazing, the wine-list so-so, but don’t go in a hurry. Also they have weird hours. Like 2-6 and closed a lot of Sundays. THE most exciting new wine-shop though is the one in–you ready for this?–Los frickin Osos inside HIGH ST. DELI. Oh and the wineshop in AG no one knew about–owned by Mr. Genarro–closed but since no one knew about it, does it matter? I wonder if SLO Public Market is getting a wine-shop? Because that would be kinda weird with SLO WINE basically across the street. Mo Elsayed continues to slay it at both Paso and Grover locations of THIRD BASE MARKET, and although the wine-shopping is above average, the SPIRITS are the main event and if you’re not buying your liquor at 3rd Base you are not only a fool but also paying WAY too much. Are we done with wine-shop-news? I think so. Oh wait. THEN THERE’S PARK SLO!
Side-By-Side *will they ever open* candidates PARK 1039 and KULT have both opened. Really don’t deserve to be lumped into the same paragraph–as each have bolted out of the gate at iconic–and very individual–status. Eaten at Park a couple times now: crazy esoteric winelist probably far beyond the grasp–and budget–of most downtown demographic but a welcome addition to snobs like me, with their anti-Paso grouping of wines, full-time somm and definitive small plates. Most of the dining is in the parklet–and imussay it IS one of the coziest in town. Don’t come here wanting steak and Austin Hope though. Ça n’existe pas. Surprisingly enough THAT’S ACTUALLY NEXT DOOR. One door west, KULT is a carefully-manipulated *guest-list* access-only spot with sake cocktails and gorgeous plates, their entrance procedures nearly guarantee a boomer-free environment and while the wine-list lacks substance, my experience there has so far been outstanding. And just as the highlight of the curt menu IS a rib-eye as gorgeous as the remodel–plus they ONLY sell Daou–don’t get the idea this is Black Angus or Cattleman’s. Oh no this is way unique. These are the NITE CREAMERY people and they CLEARLY have a vision and are stickin to it–despite mainstream marketing. Just go. Check it out. You’re going to love it or hate it–there is no middle ground.
Speaking of Nite Creamery, my original excitement on CREAMERY MARKETPLACE re-birth has fizzled. Does BEAR & THE WREN ever even open??? Does CIDER BAR SLO even exist??? Has anyone actually ever been inside the French coffee/bakery??? Raise your hand: you get a gold star. MISTURA’S move from Paso seems to be successful–place was packed last 2 times I’ve been there–and next door MAMA’S MEATBALL continues to crank out the top 1 or 2 Italian in town. Yes, I just said that. Around the corner CIOPINOT and LA ESQUENA TAQUERIA swapped locations and GOSHI still makes the best sushi in town. So at least there’s that.
Speaking of so-so Italian: NATE’S ON MARSH has taken over Gennaro’s, with a the short-lived star of THO at the chef-station. Up on Garden, LA LOCANDA has changed ownership, though a recent visit there displays little change. And speaking of Mistura, a Peruvian girl has taken up residence at SIDEWALK MARKET–boosting out a short run with TAQUERIA 805 behind the counter (which was AMAZING!!!)–and the food is really REALLY good. Hold on while I google it for you. COYA Ancestral & Gourmet. Go ahead: order something you can’t pronounce. You’ll love it! RAKU has closed their location on Monterey and opened out on Foothill with an expanded menu promising NOODLE-HEAVEN. In addition to multiple ramens–all with different noodles–there is soba and udon and yakisoba and fried and cold and OMG… like I said: noodle paradise. And–unlike the former occupant–open for lunch. BLUE SKY BISTRO sold to the Bubba’s Big Bad BBQ folks and will become Slappie’s Chowder House, ending the reign of a STALWART local’s spot in Morro Bay. Went there yesterday and have to immediately retract EVERYTHING I’ve ever said nice about Blue Sky. This place is currently an absolute TRAINWRECK. 3 Cats or 9 Cats or Too Many Cats or whatever at Stynberg Gallery on NoMo can’t seem to find a new tenant–or owner.
SLO Brew downtown–errrrr: THE CARRISA–long shuttered, has somewhat re-opened as an events center. Not horribly unlike CASS HOUSE GRILL, which–though shuttered to the public–pops up for various events. Out at SLO BREW ROCK, Chef Fundaro continues to kill it, but has yet to put duck confit nachos on the menu. All the menu is available over at ROD & HAMMER’S distillery tasting room–including their own wood-fired oven on the patio. LOKUM Turkish coffee and pastry has opened downtown SLO. Well, now THERE’S and interesting situation. Haven’t made it in yet, but dying to. Mid-way through this whole thing MONIKA’S MACARONS opened on Garden Street. Such a pretty little spot. And I am on a 30-dollar-dozen-weekly macaron habit there. The pistachio OMG.
TACO BEAT: A new MORENOS TAQUERIA opened in downtown Pismo Beach down almost on the strip. Very nice. Good stuff. Speaking of tacos, did you know SANTA CRUZ EXPRESS out on Foothill has real goat berria every day??? SUPREMA MEAT MARKET is the new spot in Atascadero–just off the 101 by K-Man Cyclery . Great groceries–lots of interesting stuff–food not horrible; tacos serviceable. La Parilla Taqueria continues work on their Arroyo Grande expansion, but haven’t opened yet. Arguably Atascadero’s finest tacos, a welcome addition to the scene in SoCo. The Grover Beach GBEATZ parking lot food-truck party got a great foothold during all this, and continues to expand. The taco truck EL GUERO is there nearly 7 days a week, but *officially* the full grouping is Wed-Sun, with PLANT-IVY, BOARDWALK BBQ, GRINNING BEAR, and a Crepes place rounding things out. Sometimes more.
Long-awaited revival up on Atascadero Rd in Morro Bay: FLIPPO’S has finally opened, promising beer and batting cages. Because you KNOW those are a great combination. Hot dogs, nachos and Doc Bernsteins ice cream are on the menu. The best cubano in the county: Milane’s with the peculiar Thai/combo menu is taking a beautiful new upstairs spot several blocks North on the Embarcadero. Opening soon. The Bouy in Morro Bay has changed again from Dark Nectar Coffee to something I can’t remember. It was bad before and rumors are not much has changed. Oh yeah, and the ACTUAL Bouy moved over into one of the failed BBQ spots on Quintana and has odd hours and seems populated by a corn-fed grouping of friends and locals, with a laughable menu of frozen Sysco finger-food re-fries for food. Sushi pioneer HARADA in Morro Bay finally sold. A Bakersfield group has occupied the space: UMI SUSHI & SAKE and been there twice. It’s OK. Seemingly no relation to UMI in Grover Beach.
Random: BLAST 825 is taking over Fig Mt Brewing in Arroyo Grande–a very welcome addition for me, as Fig Mt just generally blew and my experience at Blast in Santa Maria is exemplary. EMBER takes reservations now. LIDO has been through, like, 3 chefs since I wrote this column last. MADELINE’S in Cambria West Village is open for lunch now–now THAT’S pretty cool. Enjoy Euro Market went away and we have another Hawaiian BBQ replacing it. Their fried chicken is out of this world. RAGTAG WINE CO opened a beautiful new tasting room in downtown SLO. With food. Need more of this in town. HIGH ST. DELI opened in Los Osos/Baywood Park with a grocery and amazing wine-shop. Menu’s a little different, but same great food and service. Speaking of LO, Jimmy Bump’s has become HAZARDS PIZZA & PASTA and I have not visited yet. Next door, the bakery (blankin out on the name) has lots of breakfast and lunch items on the menu. Always closed when I cruise by tho. Amid all this, the musical chairs of Baywood Tavern have continued. BEERWOOD is now in Baywood, with music and food and beer late into the evenings, and THE OLDE ALEHOUSE has been open for a while up in town-proper. Been there a couple times. GET THE (breaking bread bakery) PRETZEL. Oh, and Blue Heron closed. Finally.
Back in SLO, dim-sum is finally alive and well at OKI KOHI ESPRESSO BAR where I’ve actually never had coffee, but have an almost weekly date with the cold sesame noodles and other bites. Down the street, FAST EDDIE’S opened on Orcutt Rd. Great diner-ish menu, all superbly presented. Further up Laurel, THE WOODS KITCHEN & COCKTAILS is going in from the Naked Fish people. The distillery scene continues to heat up, with ROD & HAMMER’S SLO STILLS opening a gorgeous tasting salon out at The Rock and KROBAR christening a space on South Hig. Capriotti’s of Las Vegas fame opened a location out on Foothill and OMG you need that sandwich! Get the Italian, but be sure to opt for “pickles and peppers”. Skip ‘The Bobbie’. It’s just not good.
I know I’m catching up on over a year here, but @BITES also opened up in the old Carl’s Jr where New Frontiers used to be. THE most amazing banh-mi around and the pho is world-class. Speaking of Viet: FUEGO in Grover Beach makes a pretty good banh-mi. While we’re on the subject: sad-fact Dragon Buffet closed and is now a Mexican Ice Cream shop. So no more pho there. But there’s pho in Colony District Atascadero and at Elephant Thai Pismo Beach. Out in Avila, Chef Mathers continues to rock OCEAN GRILL, and Jose Dahan spent most of covid back cooking at BLUE MOON–but now I hear he’s gone again. They also have a new somm–a maitre du vin–older French guy with a cute accent… I mean: what’s not to love??? OLD PORT INN closed–dang, that might have even been BEFORE the lockdown. This past couple years is kinda fuzzy; is it that way for you too? Speaking of well-timed closings: Upper Crust closed, like, THE WEEK BEFORE the lockdown after a long run. 3 BROS or 2 FRIENDS or something re-opened there. It’s Italian. Ate there once. Not good. Just don’t.
OMG where do you stop. There’s just SO much happening everywhere you look. So much of this is old news, and I’m forgetting hundreds of things. Oh well, I’m done.
Go play outside or something.