Locavore Kitchen breathes new life into the space that was previously The Nugget and Arlington Tavern, filling a prominent location near the charming corner of Victoria and Chapala and across from the Public Market. “Our concept is local, rustic, California comfort food,” explains owner Andrew Crawley, describing an idea that most Santa Barbarans naturally support. “We do the best we can to keep as much as we can local.”
Opened in June, Locavore’s elevated yet unpretentious menu showcases the region’s wealth of agricultural, viticultural, and brewing talents in a comfortable setting, whether you pull a stool up to one of their window tables or slide alongside the remodeled bar. The redesigned space features customized light fixtures, white walls, and succulent-dotted tables, creating a bright, fresh aesthetic.
Crawley moved to Santa Barbara in February from Los Angeles, where he earned a culinary degree from the Art Institute of California. He spent much of his 30-year career as a chef and caterer (working in such kitchens as Mad Bull’s Tavern, Foxtail, and the Hyatt West Hollywood), but also worked in the design and building of restaurants. That experience led him to pay particular attention to the heart of the restaurant; as he explained, “The kitchen is virtually brand-new.”
From that kitchen comes a menu that’s both familiar — shishito peppers, roasted cauliflower, burger, goat-cheese-stuffed squash blossoms — and slightly exotic, with oxtail mac and cheese as an appetizer and wild boar tenderloin and roasted rabbit leg entrées. There’s a shorter menu for lunch — pork-belly sandwich, chopped salad, veggie polenta, and croque monsieur, among other highlights — and weekend brunch offerings as well, including contemporary classics such as egg in the hole, shakshouka, and chicken and waffles. Happy hour includes a taco of the week and a slider trio.
“All of our stuff is made in-house,” said Crawley, who is also serving at quite reasonable prices compared to many other restaurants in town. “All of the seafood comes out of the Santa Barbara coast.”
With that in mind, I eagerly ordered the Hope Ranch mussels, cooked with Topa Topa’s Chief Peak IPA, pancetta, and chimichurri, and served with Our Daily Bread toast points to soak up all of that gorgeous broth. We also enjoyed the cast-iron, free-range fried chicken, served with an ethereal thyme buttermilk biscuit slathered in honey butter. The spicy maple-glaze dipping sauce was the perfect costar for the tender chicken, magnifying its juicy flavors without overwhelming it. The house-pickled vegetables provide just the right hit of acidity to cut the richness of the dish and keep you coming back for more.
“I’ve been blessed with a great kitchen staff,” said Crawley, who’s particularly proud of his sous chef, Gabriel Garcia, as well as the in-house pastry chef, Steven Koflanovich. The latter is responsible for drool-worthy desserts and those incredible biscuits and cornbread that jazz up the comfort-food fare.
On the beverage front, Crawley pledged that “the taps will always be from Paso to Camarillo,” and the current lineup stars neighborhood favorites from Topa Topa, Third Window, and M.Special. He estimated that the wine list is about 85 percent regional, including nearby highlights like Santa Barbara Winery’s petit verdot, but it also contains some farther-flung offerings, like the crisp rosé from Côtes de Provence.
Already, Locavore is straddling the line between upscale and pub-friendly fare, which seems to be the goal. “Basically,” said Crawley, “I’m just trying to fill the niche between white tablecloth and grab and go.”
21 W. Victoria St.; 845-0499; locavore-kitchen.com