It’s not often that I take a bite of something that literally makes me squeal. But, sinking my teeth into a sandwich of super-lemony, marinated, smashed chickpea salad, topped with slices of avocado and fresh market arugula, all loaded onto whole-grain bread that’d been slicked with tahini-harissa dressing, I do exactly that.
(I’m not proud of the whole squealing-with-my-mouth-full thing, but I do feel it’s worth mentioning. Also worth mentioning: I didn’t even realize the damn thing was vegan until half of it was gone. That’s how good it was.)
I procured the magical sandwich in question at Book Ends Café on the day of its two-month anniversary. The tucked-away spot, located on the terrace upstairs from Antioch University, is beginning to generate some buzz, and with good reason. Husband-and-wife owners Dominic Shiach and Carmen Deforest have put together a sophisticated, tempting, and well-edited menu that has something for everyone. Yes, carnivores: Lest the above ode to that vegan delight leave you wary, fear not—the five-hour brisket banh mi (with jalapeño vinaigrette and smoked aioli) will have you squealing, too.
There’s similarly tricked-out chicken salad (studded with fresh peas and tossed in a yogurt chive-and-parsley dressing) and ham sandwiches (with Niman Ranch ham; in fact, all the meats are organic: “I’m not going to serve something I wouldn’t feed my kid,” says Deforest), as well as a pickled beet number with feta, kalamata olives, and smoked aioli. Fresh-baked quiche, a rotating selection of creative, market-driven salads, and a handful of locally made specialties like McConnell’s ice cream and Silver Fork Bakery brownies round out the goods. And alongside Book Ends’ house-made granola, much to Shiach’s delight, Renaud’s croissants are now on offer for breakfast, which is rather a coup: “We had to prove we knew what we were doing before he’d agree,” says Shiach.
He and Deforest do, clearly, know what they’re doing, although this is the first foray into the world of restaurateurism for either one. Just as their sandwiches are a little more interesting than you’d expect, so are their backgrounds: hers in fashion PR; his in film and television. (“You do a lot of business in restaurants in those fields,” he points out.) Eventually, though, Shiach grew disillusioned with the film industry, and he dropped it in favor of culinary school, focusing on the business side of things.
He, “a Scot raised in London, from a whiskey family,” and she, a native of Palm Springs, cultivated their foodie-ism while living in Los Angeles and Brooklyn, but it was their time in the Scottish Highlands where, they agree, there was hardly a restaurant to be found, when Deforest began to cook. (“A matter of necessity,” she says.)
After having their son, the couple decided to move back to California, and they wrote a business plan for a restaurant; a friend of a friend put them in touch with the president of Antioch, whose mouth watered. And, although it was not originally the plan for Deforest to be womanning the kitchen, it takes only a bite to show she’s right at home in it. Besides, they say, this relatively modest breakfast-and-lunch operation is a great way for them to get their sea legs.
Speaking of the sea, one can see it from the terrace, a spot most Barbarinos likely never knew was there — or available for the public to take advantage of. The huge outdoor eating area is warm and casual, the kind of place that generates regulars, of which Antioch staff makes up a sizeable constituency. Pointing to a woman across the large patio, Deforest says, “She’s a professor — she brings us eggs from her chickens; we trade her for lunch!” Turns out, another professor provides them with the kale used in the tabbouleh salad, and still another brings them herbs and carrots. (The rest is straight from the Farmers Market, which, on Saturdays, is right next door.) Students no doubt appreciate the Green Star coffee, also local. And another professor, walking out with a waxy bag and a big smile that can only mean one thing, is all about the baked goods. “We call him the cookie monster,” says Shiach. “He’s here every day.”
Passing me on his way out, I swear I heard him squeal.
Book Ends Café is located at 602 Anacapa Street, on the corner of Cota Street. Look for the sign and head up the staircase, then follow the squeals. Open Monday-Thursday, 10 a.m.-3 p.m.; Friday, 10 a.m.-2 p.m.; Saturday, 8 a.m-2 p.m. Closed Sunday. Call 963-3222.