Makin’ bacon isn’t a crude double entendre for Jeff and Matt Nichols — it’s something they take very seriously at Sides Hardware and Shoes: A Brothers Restaurant.
“Prior to opening, serving breakfast was new to us, so we wanted to honor our commitment to made-from-scratch and working with the best ingredients,” said Jeff. “So we started playing around with curing our own bacon, the Brothers’ Bacon Steak. When you take a pork belly and go through the process of brining, roasting, and smoking, you then have a choice of how to slice it. Since our product is a cross between pork belly and bacon, it led naturally to a thicker cut.”
Indeed, this chunkier bacon should please any pork-o-phile, although Matt, who mostly developed it along with chef de cuisine Seth Nelson, modestly called it “a work in progress.” He explained, “It took about seven or eight batches to get it where we liked it. We wanted it to be unique, and I think we did a good job of accomplishing that.”
Unique seems to come naturally for the Nicholses, right down to their distinctively named restaurant; if you didn’t know, the building originally housed an actual hardware and shoes store run by a man named Milburn Sides. The Nicholses, who had last cooked at Mattei’s Tavern (hence the current spot’s URL, matteistavern.com), and who have bought and are spiffing up Santa Ynez’s Red Barn for a fall opening, aren’t merely looking for historical locations, however. As Jeff half-joked, “Pretty much all that’s around here is old buildings.”
Fittingly, the Nicholses do things the old-fashioned way, taking fresh, local ingredients and making them taste better than you could ever imagine. That comes from their youth in the Midwest. “We were blessed to grow up in Ames, Iowa,” said Jeff. “We didn’t realize it, but we had a foundation of what quality ingredients were. Our grandfather was a horticultural professor, so we had great gardens outside our backdoor, and we had raspberry season, strawberry season, rhubarb season, tomato season. We knew what a tomato was supposed to taste like and to use it only then. Every season has its own amazing nuances.”
This summer includes some brilliant chilled soups of the day, adorned with a dollop of savory ice cream, say a dill yogurt amid a cucumber soup. Getting a spoon with both expands the palate and multiplies flavors in fascinating ways. “Now we’ve got a chilled sweet corn soup with a frozen chipotle chili crème fraîche sorbet,” informed Jeff. “It’s real good.”
And if the casual vibe of Sides, down to its wines-on-tap program, isn’t enough for the hungry, just wait. “When we signed the lease at Sides, we knew it wasn’t quite the place to do Brothers Restaurant,” Jeff admitted. “So then we did a full-court press to get the Red Barn, where we will be doing all our classic preparations like at Mattei’s, including the prime rib.”
Sidle up to Sides Hardware and Shoes: A Brothers Restaurant, 2375 Alamo Pintado Avenue, Los Olivos, (805) 688-4820, brothersrestaurant.com/.