Highlight of my last weekend was FINALLY sliding into Pig Iron at the Templeton Mercantile. Been watching this thing from the sidelines for a couple years now but just never pulled the trigger. Nice location, plenty of sunny people-watching–not that Main Street Templeton is exactly a PARADE, but still. There’s also quite a bit of indoor dining–but few taking advantage of it. I suppose when it’s 105 up there in a couple weeks that will change. Opted for the tiny bar crowded with cocktail-fixins and a jovial staff idling along between-rush. They do drinks really nicely here from a small but carefully-selected stack of bottles. Winelist appears at first to be just another locals-only collection of the usual suspects, but closer attention shows these are NOT your every-day bottles from such producers. Tooth & Nail Counoise??? SHUT UP AND TAKE MY MONEY. Ok, but the food. I don’t eat breakfast (very often) but could not resist the ALL DAY BABY skillet because, well: polenta for starters, poached–not just boring hipster *runny eggs* but actual real life POACHED–eggs, bacon bits and spinach PLUS fresh spring weeds. Keep your chilaquiles and and Denver scrambles or silly huevos rancheros… this assemblage is an absolute Grand Slam (see what I did there?)
Meanwhile in the freeway-bypassed not-so-sleepy burg, Kitchenette has transferred to the Streetside people, growing their small empire to what: 5? 6? 7? Appears re-opened. Will be interesting to see what they do. Wasn’t much of a fan of Kitchenette–though I know popular opinion runs the other way… There’s also something like Jack’s or something across the street from Pig Iron I’ve never seen in my life… Old news is that tiny little Jay’s? JJ’s? what was it called? gas station-turned-burger-joint went into Rangeland (yes, the natural meat company and winery) hands, and I actually almost prefer the former ‘diner’ style of sandwich. It’s like their trying too hard now, and the umami suffers… I still have not tried the Greek place at the north end of the strip. Consensus on that runs practically 50/50 OMG YOU MUST and don’t bother.
Speaking of 50/50, I was in Italy for a week and completely missed the PARK 1039 drama. And it actually took almost another week before stumbling onto it. I guess they might have even closed for a minute. Only clues now are a cheery social media campaign emphasizing “new directions” and “kitchen reset” and “chef roll-outs” culminating in this week’s series of “soft openings”. The 50/50 part is the story I’m getting: almost perfectly divided between *massive scandalous and COMPLETE mid-shift walkout and shut-down* -OR- “2 people quit. That’s it.” I really don’t think much will affect the buzz this place has garnered and the void it filled in downtown SLO. Also, the bar is open, greatly boosting inside dining along EASILY the noisiest street in town.
And speaking of small empires: I’ve eaten at 3-1/2 of the 5 local Blast situations. The *1/2* refers to the TWO TIMES I have tried to dine at the 825 location on Higuera–walked out both times before ordering. Just can’t do it. HOWEVER!!!! Do NOT judge this book by their downtown-SLO cover! Both the Orcutt and Paso Robles locations have an INCREDIBLE menu, plenty of seating and actual ambiance, plus an actual winelist (Paso has about a dozen very serviceable wines on tap and Orcutt has probably 200 bottles on a who’s who page). Haven’t been to the Pismo location yet–they took over the artist formerly known as Marie Callanders where the Nipomo Grill people were–that should be interesting. BTW the San Luis Obispo location is currently closed for remodeling. Had a whoppin burger at the Paso spot the other day. Beautiful patty, definitely hand-formed and superb-quality meat with proper accouterments. Kinda bland though. Needed *something*. Not sure what. Salt maybe. Salt & Pepper? Maybe a dollop of mustard or something. I did NOT have this criticism of my burger in Orcutt a few months ago.
Further north in downtown SLO, Kitchen 805 and Federico’s remain shuttered (keep reading–they’ll get mentioned again) and no sign of fresh leases; Poly-bro anticipated Wetzel’s Pretzels looks close, and underneath Sephora an interesting convergence of styles is doing brisk business. SEEDS–ok so gotta be honest: with a name like that and seeing the demo I immediately went unwashed/organic//vegan/smoothies/yoga but it’s really not that at all. There’s coffee coming from a lovely 3-pot La Marzocco, there’s smoothies–yes–but also sandwiches and salads, all DEFINITELY not vegetarian. Bright and open: I WILL try soon.
Oh and while we’re on the subject of Poly-bro and *dirt food for dirt people*, Brad, Thad and Chad are delighted ANOTHER hot chicken place to open. That brings the county total to FIVE. I mean WHAT is the deal with hot wings. This doesn’t even count the multitude of places who already–and have been–producing hot wings. Now there’s a sudden urgency to add a *Southern* twist to them, and the newest one: Dave’s? is going in in practically the same parking lot as Buffalo Wings. Can we just carpet-bomb the whole niche?
Despite Jay-Bird’s Nashville-style Hot Wings’ popularity and causing a thankful *busyness* to SLO Public Market, that place really has flushed out nicely of late and definitely has a pulse. Work has started in earnest on the cantina, and the distillery-side looks near-opening. Kitchen & Vine packs in the Ladies Who Lunch crowd, Torricella Pizza is slingin pies and fresh pasta dishes–but you have to go around the corner for the obligatory glass of wine with your Italian food. And let me tell you: Bottlecraft has a STUNNER of a wine-list. Ok first of all: you’re not gonna like it. Let’s just get that part out of the way blunt-like. 99% of the people reading this will HATE this wine-list. There’s no Sans Liege GSM or Chamisal SS Chard or Austin Hope Cab here, boys and girls. It is geeky and glorious and natural-er and fresh and lively and bright and PLEASE JUST TRY SOMETHING! You will never have heard of any of these wineries and they will be way out of your comfort zone but just TRY something. Lots of stuff by the glass and you’re GOING TO LIKE IT. What else in the public market? Oh Bao is never open–that’s not even news anymore–and maybe the cookie place has closed? BTW the pizza at Torricella is PROPER. No, seriously.
A little further out, across the street from the shuttered Farmhouse Corner Market, it appears my fears are confirmed: Brisket has disappeared from the SLO Brew Rock menu, not mere coincidence with Will Torres replacing Tom Fundaro. So we’re down a great BBQ option, pretty much leaving G Bros and CC Meat Market as sole-contenders in the brisket game. Go eat your tri-tip and be sad.
Clear across town, the Stynberg building has papered windows and a nasty rumor floatin around Blue Mango Group bought it. Robin is not returning my phone calls.
Headed out to the coast, Morro Bay stalwart Sabetta’s Pizza is no more. Wonder what they’re gonna slide through that glory-hole into the bar now? Best part of that whole place is the pictorial history. If you’ve got a few minutes, cruise down that hallway inside that tiny ‘mall’. GOBS of Morro Bay history… Speaking of history: George Leage died a couple weeks ago at 85. I mean sheesh: what an amazing restaurant career and legacy. He told me my concept of closing the Giovanni’s Take-Out Express parking lot for pedestrians and dining was “the stupidest fucking idea ever”, but we didn’t listen to him. Might just have to pop into GAFCO for a cheers to George. I liked him a lot… At the opposite end of the Embarcadero, 3 Stacks & A Rock has finally opened in the World’s Saddest Aquarium and across the street the Umi Sushi folks have opened a boba dispensary downstairs… The former 3 Stacks location up on Main Street has papered windows and a liquor license and is the new home of Federico’s Hawaiian Fresh Mex formerly in downtown SLO. Gee that’s fresh. Between 41 and San Juacinto there’s Maya, El Viejon, Taco Temple, Lolo’s and Chapala so hey let’s open a Mexican resty, shall we? Rings right up there with the NEW Mexican place–now open–AGAIN–on Heroin & Hooker St. in SLO (that’s Olive St for you in AG)… And I finally figured out the mystery at Milano’s/Thai Bounty: ONLY MILANO’S CUBAN is moving upstairs into the brand new building across from the doomed stacks. The Thai portion is staying put down at the South end. I think this is a strong move, as the combo confused EVERYONE and the Cuban side suffered immensely from this strange mash-up requiring much explanation. I HATE explaining. Oh and Milano’s is somewhat open as of last week. Not sure the Liq lic has transferred, but OMG he now has the best dining view in Morro Bay… There’ s new Chinese place up in the curs-ed location at the top of Morro Bay Blvd. Giancarlo has got a new job though, he’s out at Ocean Grill Avila–as Bryan Mathers is taking a break from resty biz for a while.
Did someone say STEAKHOUSE??? The pseudo-Paso wine brand known as Hemingway is working the McKlintock’s spot over for–wait for it–HEMINGWAY’S where the industry rumor is: no plate under $100. Still kinda machinating on the logistics of that piece–just heard it yesterday sitting at the Piccolo rooftop bar. Also got into Mutiny Burger on the park where the old black & white checkered diner was. Interesting place. I ordered–as usual–the basic burger first before adventuring into the gourmet versions. It arrived a thin crunchy smash-patty, a few onions and some sauce. I immediately started criticizing it. No lettuce & tomatoes??? One bite changed my mind instantly–several more and the burger was GONE. I love it when someone takes a dish that looks pretty much like every other version on PAPER, but then do something so unique it blows your mind. Fries proper shoestring, but preparation is serviceable but mediocre. Apparently the chicken sandwich is DIVINE. I’ll be back.
Did a little #dinertime at Springside Restaurant in the old bungalow on Spring St. Reminds me of Celia’s in Los Osos. What a charming spot and food decent enough. Got an albacore tuna salad sandwich crammed with alfalfa sprouts and tomatoes on untoasted wheat. Salad was a little bland, and sunflower seeds sprinkled on it created both an odd texture and roof-of-mouth consternation… Further dabbling in downtown Paso Robles included excellent cocktails (AGAIN) at Alchemist’s Garden (still haven’t eaten there), an excellent (as usual) lunch at Odyssey World Cafe, and FINALLY getting into La Cochesa–they’ve been there what: 10 years easy??? Great Iberian winelist–everything SOOOO young though, rather quite un-bodega-like–and beautiful cocktails. Menu’s kinda interesting in its not-quite-tapas meanderings. And pizza. Which… um… Well, anyway: I ordered a pizza because they actually have one piled with arugula, something I have found quite lacking here since visiting Naples. Prosciutto and arugula in a beautiful lake of sauce and cheese and on a perfect crust. I don’t understand the choice of meat though. Serrano seems like a no-brainer, and I personally MUCH prefer the texture of it to Prosciutto. I REALLY like their crust. It almost feels GF–you know how GF stuff kinda are plain-tasting and have this *powdery* texture? This is like that (I am NOT GF!), it’s merely a sensation in the mouth and I love it. Is the crust the star event or the careful counter-point? You can’t answer that… Oh and I went to the venerable Country Store up at the corner on 46. Whoooo boy that is some kinda corn-fed all-fried situation. OK, so it’s not ALL fried, the wraps looked amazing, people were lined up around the block for the breakfast burritos, and–being in Rome–ordered myself the 2-beef-hotdogs & tater tots lunch special! Instant regret… Did someone say regret? I went to KFC. The last time I went to KFC was 2 wives ago and in 1992–I remember it plain as day. I wanted to revisit, because I’ve been dabbling in the chicken of the area–including Popeyes and Chick-Fil-A and Grinning Bear–and in fairness felt I needed to revisit the Colonel. Instant regret.
TACO NOTES: As mentioned last week: La Parilla (Atascadero’s BEST taqueria) is open in Arroyo Grande. La Reyna has opened a sorta cantina-looking spot down along the tracks in Paso where an urban/industrial regeneration is taking place. Just drive down Railroad Street slowly from about 16th to 10th if you don’t believe me. There’s a LOT of shit down there you don’t know about… Also the former Panolivo location I have driven by–yes, slowly–several times now trying to figure out WTH is going on there. Tiny little sign–clearly in Spanish–denoting Mexican food and “Wine Bar” advertized prominently. One of these days… Across the street Paso Grill is off to a stuttering start, not sure what’s going on there: supposed to be SOULFOOD tho, whatever that is. Hey, I like catfish… Oh and 2 doors up from Railroad on 13th kinda across from The Backyard (where I tried to eat the other day but it’s all outdoor and awkward and just gave up) is Paso’s shining new jewel of the wine-world: VIN13, where @tattedsomm holds court over a RIDICULOUS pile of wine from everywhere on the planet in a beautiful location feeling like stepping into a Paris boutique. Wait. Til. You. See. This. Winelist. Place was packed the other afternoon when I popped in. That makes me so happy. Wait: that had nothing to do with tacos, McConnell.
You know what else makes me happy? In Bloom! Gotta say. Third time there now and opinion’s not changing. When was the last time I wrote a Top-5 Resty list for the entire area and not thematic? I think it’s been 6 or 7 years. Maybe it’s time? I quite feel the pendulum has swung back to North County. When I moved here 20 years ago I observed–loudly–ALL the great dining was in Paso Robles and SLO just slunk along pleasing the Poly-parent demo and–by association–New Times. Then Paso lost everything (except Bistro) and San Luis got Grenada and Luna and Blue and Cider Bar and La Locanda and Flour House and Mistura and Farmhouse; briefly Park and 7 Hands and Foremost…. And now? I dunno…. it seems like Paso is startin to sing again. The Bistro–of course–and Il Cortile and Alchemist’s Garden and Taste and Pig Iron (ok, that’s Templeton) and Les Petites Canailles and Finca and of course MY new crush: In Bloom.
OK and so here’s the deal: BEFORE you write me about something I missed, READ LAST WEEKS EDITION. And try to keep up, honey.
You also should probably follow me on instagram @eatdrink101 so you have something to do at lunch while ignoring your kids.