The longer you’re a vegetarian, the more you tire of always eating “light and healthy” — or, at the very least, of having salad as your only option when dining out with meat-eating friends as they enjoy richer dishes. But that’s not a problem at Chase Bar & Grill, a State Street mainstay since 1979, when the Caligiuri family brought its home-style Italian cooking to Santa Barbara all the way from New York. The restaurant is well known for quality meats and fish, but vegetarians can find a touch of indulgence in their eggplant parmigiana entree.
One of the original dishes from the first Chase menu, the eggplant is sourced locally from organic growers, lightly breaded, grilled then baked in a homemade marinara sauce, topped with mozzarella cheese, and served with a side of pasta. “This is one of our most popular dishes,” said owner George Merino, explaining that even the non-vegetarian diners are fans. “People have this idea of, ‘Oh eggplant? Ugh!’ But wait until you try it! It’s one of my favorites, one of my go-tos.”
The restaurant is very much a family affair, with Merino’s mother passing it on to him after running it herself for decades; additionally, the executive chef and bartender have been on board for more than 30 years. “My mom always says [the restaurant] is like an extension of her living room,” said Merino. And even though Chase Bar & Grill celebrates tradition and classic East Coast authenticity, they are happy to accommodate for dietary restrictions upon request. “People are much more sensitive to their diet now,” said Merino, who sees more special requests these days than ever before. “I think we’ve become healthier as a community.” The increase in demand may even lead to more veggie-friendly dishes in the future, Merino hinted, but for now, the eggplant parmigiana will make vegetarian diners content.