Halle-freakin-lujah! Someone might want to check the ice situation in Hades or the status of pig aviation because the previously unthinkable has happened. At the corner of De la Guerra and the miracle mile of tacos and such that is Milpas, a small culinary miracle occurred back in mid-December: The Shop Café opened its doors, ushering in a new and long overdue era of tasty and affordable homemade American eats and — wait for it — high-quality coffee and espresso drinks in this otherwise ethnic- and fast food–dominated part of town.
Brought to the neighborhood by Chris Vigilante and his wife, Amy, (who live right around the corner) along with co-owners Scott Manser and Dudley Michael, the Shop is a product of four veteran S.B. restaurant- and bar-industry workers deciding to roll the dice, become their own bosses, and deliver a concept they’d long felt Milpas — and, really, Santa Barbara — was sorely lacking. As Vigilante, who previously headed restaurant operations at San Ysidro Ranch, said, “Amy and I live just down the street, and we always thought it was crazy that we would have to go like eight blocks to find anything even close to this. It just made no sense. … We had been talking about it for a couple years.”
Driving home one evening last summer, Vigilante noticed a “for rent” sign at 730 North Milpas Street, a place that has been a bit of a revolving door for taquerias in recent years and, before that, was home to the late, great Doghouse hotdog emporium. A lease was signed before the business plan was even finished, but the quartet of newbie owners rolled up their sleeves and, with some consulting help from Cádiz Executive Chef John Pettit, developed a modest yet wide-ranging and flavorful breakfast and lunch menu. Head chef Richie Maxwell was brought on to help deliver the magic, and, on December 16, The Shop Café opened for business.
My maiden voyage included a double Americano on par with any in town and a breakfast special known as the YOLO, savory fried chicken and sausage gravy served with homemade biscuits. As for the mainstay menu, which treads lightly on your wallet (items run $2-$10), there are roughly 10 breakfast dishes, from a scallion and black bean quiche called the McQueen and a flatbread wrap with eggs, bacon, and smoked tomato spread, to thick-cut Shop-made toast with homemade almond butter, bananas, and honey, or a fresh fruit smoothie. Among the 12 “later” dishes are belly stuffers such as the Mac on Crack — a heaping bowl of macaroni and cheese with gorgonzola, bacon, pecans, and apple slices — a buttermilk fried-chicken sandwich with apple slaw appropriately titled the General Sanders, and the sweet and dreamy Just the Tip, a tri-tip sando on Shop-made ciabatta with white cheddar, wasabi, crème fraîche, and onion marmalade. “We just want to be a neighborhood place,” sums up Vigilante, “with good food and priced so you can come and eat with us a couple times a week.”
The Shop Café is open at 730 North Milpas Street from 7 a.m.-4 p.m., Monday-Saturday, and from 8 a.m.-4 p.m. on Sundays.