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The Central Coast of California has an abundance of absolutely amazing restaurants. It is really no surprise considering the Central Coast boasts several wine regions from Santa Barbara to the Edna Valley, it is located along some of the most beautiful coastline California has to offer, and there is amazingly diverse farmland just inland. The Central Coast runs from Monterey to Santa Barbara and the culinary scene is diverse but there is a growing trend towards farm to table cuisine thanks to the area’s natural bounty!
When we returned to California and temporarily settled down in the Central Coast, in the town of Grover Beach, we knew that we had to become regulars at some fantastic farm to table restaurants. We were in luck as Grover Beach and the surrounding cities, collectively known as the 5 Cities, are hiding some true gems of farm to table deliciousness!
Top 3 Farm to Table Restaurants in the Five Cities
The Spoon Trade
The Spoon Trade in Grover Beach was the very first restaurant we were introduced to when we moved to the Central Coast. Alex’s parents were already locals and after our first visit, we knew that we had to become locals too at this casual community oriented farm to table restaurant.
And when we say they are farm to table we really mean it. Even I was able to join in on one of their staff farm tours to see where they get their fresh local honey and much of their produce. The owners, Brooke and Jacob Town (who are Grover Beach locals), are committed to not only producing amazing meals but also creating a community with their restaurant, their patrons, and their local suppliers. Walking into The Spoon Trade, even the first time, feels like you are returning home.
The Spoon Trade is a casual eatery that focuses on California comfort cuisine. They are known for their house specialty of chicken and waffles and it is honestly the best fried chicken we have ever had. The fried chicken and housemade sourdough waffles (made with the house sourdough starter – yes The Spoon Trade and Grover Beach now have their own sourdough!) are drizzled with rosemary and local honey and then served with a side of housemade kimchi.
Besides the staple of their chicken and waffles, The Spoon Trade’s menu rotates constantly based on what ingredients they can get from local farms and farmers markets. Some days they will be serving up a dish like lingcod with local vegetables in a perfect light broth that is unbelievable satisfying or dig into their zaatar crusted pork loin served up with braised beans and an arugula and apple salad.
Don’t forget to sample some of their awesome appetizers or go crazy and make a full meal out of them! Their deviled eggs are everything they should be: creamy, decadent and with just a little spice; then there are their smoked baby carrots to dip in a herb creme fraiche. Or maybe sampling their succulent crispy Spanish octopus is more your style? Follow it up with their tri-tip tartare. Tri-tip is after all the favored local cut! Or perhaps you are feeling adventurous and would like to sample their creamy, sinfully delicious sweetbreads? You know Alex loves them!
Almost all of their food is sourced locally. They source directly from about a dozen farms in the county and make sure to visit the farmers’ markets at least twice a week. As Brooke says,
“The most important thing is that when you put that farro in your mouth, it is so full of life and full of commitment. You know, it is right from Los Osos… I am really proud of that…. They literally came from right around the corner.”
Clearly, the food is one reason to visit The Spoon Trade but did we mention their fully stocked local wine and beer list? They offer several rotating beers and wine on draft. Then their beer and wine list by the bottle (and the can!) reads like a love letter to the Central Coast.
Here you will find everything from a sparkling Pet-Nat from a boutique winery in the Edna Valley, to a Gruner Veltliner from the Santa Rita Hills to a powerhouse GSM from Santa Barbara County. They also mix in a few unknowns from the rest of California and around the world. Their wine list is sure to excite you every time you visit!
So have we waxed poetically enough about The Spoon Trade? What can we say? We set out to be locals there and fell in love not just with the food but the sense of community and pride of local ingredients that Brooke and Jacob have created with their first restaurant. We truly believe that The Spoon Trade will become a culinary beacon for the town of Grover Beach and help inspire more businesses to become all about eating and sourcing local!
The Spoon Trade
295 West Grand Ave. Grover Beach, CA
Monday, Tuesday, Thursday – Saturday 4-9:30 pm
Sunday 10:30am – 2pm and 4-8:30 pm
*They do not take reservations
Situated in the unassuming farming community of Arroyo Grande, Ember is taking the 5 Cities and the rest of San Luis Obispo County by storm with its innovative take on what the Central Coast has to offer from its fertile soils.
Chef/Owner Brian Collins, a native of Arroyo Grande, came back to his hometown after building an impressive resume. He graduated from the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco which then led to a 6-year stint of cooking under Alice Waters at Chez Panisse in Berkeley, California.
His heart led him back to the Central Coast though, where he became Chef at Full of Life Flatbread in Los Alamos, a small town in the Santa Barbara Wine Country. His flatbreads gained notoriety amongst food lovers and Full of Life Flatbread quickly became a culinary destination in California.
In 2013 he decided to begin a new journey and opened the doors to Ember with a simple tagline, “wood fired honest food” and Ember has stood by that message ever since.
Ember established its hearth in an old pole barn which they repurposed it into a home for us locals to come and enjoy Italian-inspired Californian cuisine with the spotlight being on the Central Coast. Brian took a quintessential lesson from the Italians – to take pride in and to celebrate regional ingredients.
It is noticeable right away as you enter the bustling restaurant, where Brain and his team greet you with a smile from their open kitchen which is the focal point of the restaurant, that you are about to enjoy something very special.
Fire is the key element in the kitchen as the locally sourced ingredients are prepared over the wood fire. Brian and his team follow the philosophy that wood fire allows them to “conjure the essential flavors of honest food” and present us with the best tasting ingredients.
Ember’s focus on farm to table and its wood fire philosophy stole our hearts and we quickly became loyal followers. We took full advantage of their amazing menus that change monthly depending on what is in season and what is fresh.
Reading the monthly menu was food porn to us. We salivated over the soups & salads, the shared plates, the wood oven baked pizzas, main courses cooked over open flame under his coal section and we fell head over heals for their desserts. The innovativeness of each menu kept bringing us back and it became a mission for us to eat everything each monthly menu had to offer.
Dreams of slow roasted porchetta with arugula or the Ember Nicoise with spicy rare ahi tuna and snap peas crept into our minds. We longed for a bite of wood fired duck cannelloni with artichoke. We could then follow it up with some Cayucos abalone and crispy pork belly. Or maybe just a slice of his wild ramps pizza with caramelized mushroom, garlic cream sauce, walnuts, goat cheese, and Italian parsley? We could then treat ourselves to the Ember pork chops or the gargantuan rib eye for us carnivores. We would then make sure to finish off the night with the beloved oven toasted marshmallow ice cream cake.
It really did not matter. Every month Ember’s menus treated Ashley and me to a journey through the Central Coast including a hand-crafted list of local wines and beers to wash it all down.
Ember brought fine dining to a farming community but left the pretentiousness at the door. They created a home for us locals to come in and enjoy what our region has to offer. Brian and his team say it best,
“Ember restaurant in Arroyo Grande is all about serving authentic hand-crafted food cooked by a wood fire. We aim to create the ideal environment to experience Central Coast food and wine.”
1200 E Grand Ave. Suite 101, Arroyo Grande, CA
Sunday, Thursday and Wednesday 4 – 9 pm
Friday and Saturday 4 – 10 pm
Closed on Mondays and Tuesdays.
*They do not take reservations
Six Test Kitchen
Tucked away in a garage in the suburbs of Arroyo Grande is a slice of culinary heaven. (Yes, we said garage) Ricky Odbert, Chef and Owner of Six Test Kitchen and Arroyo Grande local, has set up his garage as a professional kitchen and is preparing to educate and serve dinner at his 6 seat chef’s counter.
This is a truly unique dining experience in the heart of the Central Coast with one goal
“… an educational one, offering a singular and unique dining experience. By garnering relationships with local artisans, farmers and fisherman, we tell a story of the seasons through the ingredients available to us on the Central Coast of California.”
Thursday through Sunday four to six diners join Ricky in the converted garage to enjoy one of the most creative and innovative 14-course menus on the Central Coast. The menu that Ricky creates is always unique, innovative and locally sourced even though you don’t know what is coming. Ricky does ask that you pay ahead of time but that creates some mystery and excitement about the coming meal. Once you arrive, sit down and let the 14-course menu take you on an explorative journey of cuisine around the world through the farm to table produce of the Central Coast.
Think tapioca chicharron with cream and the most perfectly crafted lasagna with local mushrooms, broccoli, and parmesan. Or chicken with cabbage and cauliflower presented in a way you would never expect. Every dish that is placed in front of you is a surprise and a revelation.
Seriously, this meal is a gastronomic journey and a once in a lifetime experience and we promise that you will never have a culinary experience like this one. When do you really have a chance to watch your meal prepared right in front of you with the intimacy of just five other people around?
Ricky is a master. Everything is done with skill and the whole meal is a presentation, not just the final dish. Building on his experience from working in several Michelin star restaurants included Masa and Meadowood in St. Helena, CA he creates beautiful almost works of art in every dish he presents. This meal is like a performance art as you watch him produce these meals out of ingredients you recognize and yet when they arrive on your plate they are totally transformed.
While the meal is presented with Michelin star perfection, the atmosphere is casual and relaxed. Ricky wants this meal to be an education but not a lecture. Think more of a friendly discourse about food (and wine too – of which you can bring your own!) between friends and you start to understand the atmosphere of a dinner with Ricky. This is more like going to dinner at a friend’s house, who just happens to be an amazing chef and magically created 14 stellar farm to table courses for you to try!
Six Test Kitchen
Thursday and Friday 6:30 pm
Saturday and Sunday 6 pm
By Reservation Only
The 5 Cities is a budding culinary hotspot that has been embraced and fully supported by the locals and is just starting to attract outside attention. The locals have always been in tune with the farm to table trend. Throughout the area, local farmer markets take place every day of the week! The tight-knit community of the 5 Cities has always found the importance of local produce.
It is only in the last few years that the amazing local produce is being taken in the hands of locally grown chefs. They have seen what the area has to offer and have come back from the high-end cuisine destinations like New York and San Francisco to embrace the Central Coast and show off its local bounty! The 5 Cities have always been proud of their region from the beautiful hiking trails, lakes, wild reserves and of course the beautiful Pacific Ocean. They are now taking pride in the food that is being served and it is the chefs with roots here that have been leading the charge!
Stay Local at La Fonda in Avila Beach
Want to visit the Central Coast? Be sure to stay local! Our favorite little beach town to stay in is Avila Beach and it has numerous lovely little places to stay but our favorite has to be La Fonda. This intimate boutique hotel is inspired by a Mexican hacienda and you will instantly begin to unwind as soon as you cross its threshold! The best part is not only is this hotel locally owned but it is also located just ten minutes away from these amazing farm to table restaurants and a two-minute walk to the beach! What more could you want?
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