When Maggie’s at State and A closed after only 14 months in existence — didn’t it take longer to renovate the place? — the social mediascape was full of good-riddances for both the high-priced food and the restaurant’s out-of-place tapestries. Thankfully, the prime corner location is returning to a more down-home Santa Barbara vibe now that the Bennetts are in charge. The family, which also owns Brophy Bros., On the Alley, Arch Rock, the Cliff Room, and Farmer Boy Restaurant, just reopened the property as Benchmark Eatery, which is already attracting crowds for great people-watching and a wide variety of food and drinks.
“It’s just like the art wall by Arna Bee,” said owner John Bennett during a recent conversation on his lively patio, where the other tables dined happily on chicken wings. “I asked her to create a wall where everyone could identify with something. Our menu has the same premise.”
Approachability is key for Bennett. “Santa Barbara is misunderstood,” he said. “There are more normal guys getting by than the jet-setting community.” With the motto of “Just B.E.,” Benchmark is much more concerned with the latter folks, and the restaurant’s under-$10 burger stands as a sort of symbol to affordability.
So how does Benchmark compare with Brophy’s, the Bennetts’ longtime flagship? “This menu is a little more chef-driven,” said Bennett, giving a nod to consulting chef Jason Banks. “It’s not primarily seafood but has a lot of vegetarian dishes. It’s a lot more broad. It’s more metropolitan and not so beachy. Still, it represents Santa Barbara pretty well.” So along with the carnitas tacos and grilled ahi, you have veggie sopes and a kale antipasto.
One big similarity is that the location is perfectly designed for meeting new people, just like the ever-buzzing Brophy’s. “The double-sided bar — that forces interaction. It’s a key feature in this industry,” Bennett explained. “A lot of people are lonely, so if you put together a venue that helps them catch eyes and feel love, it makes a difference.”
Keeping it simple, fun, and delicious, though never precious, is the Bennett mantra. “We know what we don’t do — we’re not finer dining — but we know what we are,” he explained, and that also means catering to families. “We don’t want to make money off your kids,” said Bennett, whose kids’ menu items are in the $5-$6 range. “Every manager here has kids, and there aren’t enough restaurants that serve that market. If they take one bite and throw it down, you don’t feel hurt in the pocket.” Dulling such parental pains is also made easy by the numerous craft beers on draft and an “interesting enough but not über-trendy” cocktail list created by bar manager Randy Brown (formerly of El Encanto).
“We’re kind of simple people, and to provide a quality service, you have to be present,” said Bennett. “We aim for an honest and simple product. It’s not just serving food; it’s serving the customer’s needs.”
Get comfortable at Benchmark Eatery, located at 1201 State Street. Call (805) 845-2600 or see benchmarkeatery.com.