Longtime Paradise Café manager Jim Mishler took over the old Downey’s space on State Street and is serving “simple food, done well.”
Paul Wellman

While a restaurant named Roost conjures up ideas of chicken specialties, that’s not why owner Jim Mishler chose that name for his new spot on State Street. Rather, he hopes that, like birds, guests will come to “roost” inside — to congregate, relax, and comfortably share in a good meal.

After 31 years working as the general manager of the stalwart Paradise Café, Mishler knows all about that behavior, as the Anacapa Street restaurant is a beloved hangout for generations of fans. “The most important thing about it was just developing relationships with customers,” Mishler explained of his time at Paradise. “I really want to generate that kind of goodwill here.”

When he left the café in 2017, Mishler heard that another Santa Barbara institution, Downey’s, was going to close its doors so that owners John and Liz Downey could retire after 35 years in business. Mishler jumped at the chance to open his own place in the bustling Historic Theatre District and was honored to take over the hallowed space and invigorate it with new energy.

After stripping down the building to the bare bones and highlighting the rustic brick, Mishler added delicate touches like yellow flowers on the tables and paintings by regional artists. “We just kind of exposed the skeleton of the place, and it was beautiful,” said Mishler, who opened Roost in mid-May.

The menu does indeed feature roasted meats, including delectable rotisserie chicken (raised free-range by Mary’s or Rocky’s in Petaluma) and Wagyu beef from Snake River Farms in Idaho. “All of the animals are raised humanely,” he explained. “Those kind of practices have always meant a lot to me.”

Mishler’s easy hospitality and comforting dishes nod to his South Carolina roots, while his emphasis on organic produce sings of Santa Barbara. “The food quality is so high we don’t want to get in its way,” said Mishler, who describes the menu as a “little blend of Santa Barbara meets the South.”

This geographic fusion shines in the zesty pimento-cheese dip appetizer and the stuffed pasilla chile, a green chile boat oozing fresh shrimp, corn, and jack cheese in a sea of creamy grits. Other standout items include the ahi salad, featuring sashimi-grade tuna, and their Wagyu sirloin with roasted greens and rosemary potatoes.

The wine list, while not extensive, is well considered, with solid selections from around the world and fair prices that dip further during the Monday-to-Friday happy hours. That includes Fiddlehead rosé, Weatherborne grenache, and Melville syrah from nearby and Slovenian pinot grigio, Washington cab, prosecco, and a Côtes du Rhône. The beer showcases Central Coast classics and newbies, from Firestone and Figueroa Mountain to SLO Brew, Captain Fatty’s, and M.Special.

For dessert, the Roost cheesecake, with a bright layer of lemon curd atop a perfectly creamy cake and hugged in a thick graham-cracker crust, brings the meal to a stunning close. Created by dessert guru Kevin Slemmons, this finale embodies Roost’s “simple food, done well” ethos, and may have you dancing in your chair. Expect to be flying back to Roost in no time.

1305 State St.; (805) 845-6337; roostsb.com


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