Phenomenal success as a chain store is something akin to writing a hit song. The world just didn’t know it needed to hear this music, and now it can’t live without it. We owe Starbucks the debt of gratitude for mass-establishing the coffee house in a world where previously a cup of joe was grabbed in tandem with a cruller or an Egg MacSomething. Apparently Santa Barbarans owe it more, a product faithfulness that enshrines the Seattle-spawned ubiquitous store as much for creating the need as supplying the piping hot fix.
FINALIST: Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf
Vices & Spices From Around the World
3558 State St., 687-7196
Now in its 35th year, some of us remember when it opened with the shocking premise that there was more than one kind of coffee and tea, and spices that didn’t come in little bottles from the Schilling company. In fact, the store has more than 50 kinds of bulk tea, including gyokuru asahi, which markets for $14 an ounce—that’s how much the illegal kind of tea cost when the store first opened. At least that’s what we heard. It’s the oldest coffee shop in town, but for variety and ravishing flavors of home-brewed libations, they’ve got it down to a tea.
FINALIST: Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf
Enterprise Fish Co.
225 State St., 962-3313
In 1977, when the Enterprise opened, there was nothing like a hip seafood place in this touristy beach town. Way ahead of its time in some ways, the clam and oyster bar and mesquite-grilled fish place was a high-tech retrofit of the one of the many landmarks visitors first saw coming through town on the 101. In the meantime, the place has evolved nicely and, even though the prices are a mite steeper than the old days—even adjusting for inflation—the Happy Hour is surprisingly low: $3.25 well drinks, $3.50 a glass house wines, and a weirdly priced $4 draft beer, though it is 20 ounces. These would be good prices in 1977, if memory serves. After visiting their happy hour, it probably won’t.
FINALIST: Boathouse at Hendry’s Beach
BEER SELECTION ON TAP
Zodo’s Bowling & Beyond
5925 Calle Real, Goleta, 967-0128
In the past there have been perhaps more amply equipped beer bars. There was a Goleta place next to Twin Lakes Golf Course that invited you to drink your way around the world. For a short blissful era there was The Brick Wall on State Street that pioneered the pouring of Chimays and other Monk-bottled high-alcohol brews. But Zodo’s has the fine advantage of existing in the present moment, being stunningly stocked with drafts and bottled exotica, and featuring fun galore from sports on television to that one sport that improves after a sip of suds, bowling.
FINALIST: The Brewhouse
S.B. COUNTY BREWERY
229 W. Montecito St., 884-4664
Brewer Pete Johnson believes they won this award because, as he put it, they heard how good-looking he was. Seriously, folks, Johnson really thinks they won it because they know how to make good beer. He brews a lot of traditional and favorite beers over and over, but sometimes, “I get bored,” he said. Then he comes up with stuff like habañero pilsner. “There’s not a lot of stuff that’s cold and wet and hot,” he laughed. But seriously, folks, “I think we won because we have so many great regulars and they like us. Well, I hope they do.”
FINALIST: Hollister Brewing Company
S.B. COUNTY WHITE WINE
Santa Barbara Winery
202 Anacapa St., 963-3633
“I wouldn’t want to be guessing, because people like our rieslings, our pinot gris, and sauvignon blancs. But if I was forced to, I would say it was our chardonnay,” said assistant manager Chris Bacon. No matter which wine it is, though, Bacon is grateful. “I’m absolutely happy we won,” he said.
S.B. COUNTY WINERY RED WINE
PLACE FOR WINE TASTING
Carr Vineyards & Winery
414 N. Salsipuedes St., 965-7985
It’s always hard to imagine which red wine the readers are voting for in this slightly ambiguous category. “If I had to guess, it would be the pinot noir or the cabernet franc,” said owner Ryan Carr. “That’s my favorite. But it might also be wines on tap we serve like the cabernet franc/syrah blend we call Quonset Hut red, that’s very popular, too.” Carr says the winery is fun to visit for a number of reasons, including the fact that they are a working winery—they were crushing grapes the day we called—and sometimes have live music there. “It’s very surprising that we won, and we’re definitely very happy,” said Carr.
FINALISTS: S.B. COUNTY WINERY RED WINE: Wine Cask PLACE FOR WINE TASTING: Santa Barbara Winery
RESTAURANT WINE LIST
813 Anacapa St., 966-9463
There may be only a few better wine lists in the world. Now that Doug Margerum has returned to the Wine Cask—and, more importantly, the wine selection he pioneered and assembled since the late 1970s, meanwhile becoming a great winemaker himself—the list and the cuisine certainly would satisfy the craziest oenophiles anyone could throw at the restaurant. You want some Santa Rita whites? How’s about an Haut-Brion? A glass of Sauternes or a beerenauslese for dessert? Maybe just a glass of the house white or a flight of Margerum’s best? It’s all here at prices that range from about $30 a bottle to $3,000. Spanish, Italian, German, and Napa are spoken here, too. With a name like Wine Cask, what did you expect?
1221 Chapala St., 845-5247
Part of being a big winner is being small, says Winehound general manager Bob Wesley. “I think we’re popular because we have the things that people want and sell them at a good value. Plus we are a really good source of South Coast wines,” he said, including occasional super-rarities like extremely limited bottlings from vino-genius Manfred Krankl in that limited abundance. “But the advantage to being small is that we can move. If someone is closing out and making a good offering, a bigger store would have to check up the corporate ladder. We can just go,” he said. The value is passed on to the buyers, who, in turn, vote for the store. Hope it doesn’t make their head get all big now.
FINALIST: East Beach Wine Co.
Elements Restaurant and Bar
129 E. Anapamu St., 884-9218
General manager Cynthia Miranda—no relation to Carmen—thinks there is not a lot of mystery surrounding their universally praised martinis. “For one thing, we have a lot of specialty martinis, a long list. But mostly, I think, when people talk about the Elements martini they mean the Firetini,” she said, explaining it’s house-made habañero-infused virtues in terms of kelvins of heat. “But they’re also huge,” she said, defending the $12 price tag. “A martini here is worth two at most other places.”
FINALIST: Harry’s Plaza Café
Carlitos Café y Cantina
1324 State St., 962-7117
There are as many appellations of tequila nowadays as there are wine regions in France. It probably takes a lifetime of shots, blended and unblended cocktails, or sipping the fiery distillation of the agave plant to tell the difference between an añejo and a reposado; or whether it’s Tesoro or Cazadores Reposado that goes with the mole. Carlitos can help you attain such useful education, but they also make margaritas that help you transcend all categories, which would make even a Taoist monk happy. At Fiesta or any time when your lime, salt, and agave levels are down, Carlitos is the cantina más mejor (trans: mo’ better booze) according to our readers.
FINALIST: El Paseo
536 State St., 966-4638
They have a reputation to uphold and prove, and they’ve been pouring their hearts out for more than three generations and four decades to keep it held up and high-proofed. The closest thing we have to an honest-to-God Old California West saloon—only Musso and Frank’s in Hollywood is more legendary—Joe’s has been feeding and liquoring up happy customers at rates that would destroy the staff at a lesser establishment. (Just go by some Saturday night and feel the heat coming from the room.) It’s changed locations once and owners at least twice since the 1950s, but in the hearts and minds of Santa Barbarans, it’s always been the cup full and a half.
FINALIST: Harry’s Plaza Café
The Neighborhood Bar & Grill
235 W. Montecito St., 963-7600
Maybe it just seemed like the right name, or maybe it’s great. “I know we didn’t tell people to go out and vote for us, so we must be doing something right,” said Neighborhood owner David Burkholder. “This place is like a playground with cocktails,” he quipped, stressing the everyday good bar atmosphere coupled with generous Happy Hours where practically everything is $4. “It’s a fun, everyday, off State Street kind of place,” he said.
FINALIST: The Brewhouse