The Middle Child only opened a month ago, but chef/co-owner Taylor Melonuk already faces some tough menu decisions. The restaurant’s peach-burrata salad was a best-seller from day one, but peaches don’t stay in season forever. So as we walk the Tuesday’s farmers’ market on State Street that’s just a half block from his door, he purchases 10 pounds of Cameo apples from Fair Hills Farm in Paso Robles, figuring that’s where the salad heads next.
“We can’t run peaches from Guatemala in December,” he insisted. “People ask, ‘Why pull off the menu something that’s going to make money?’ And I reply, ‘It’s not the product we want to put out.’ If you’re going to be shopping at the farmers’ market, you have to be much more committed to the program.”
Melonuk — who opened the restaurant with his wife, Brittany Melonuk, and partner Ivo Peshev (best known for his cocktail business the Flair Project) — previously worked at The Lark for years, but the team wanted to open more of a “hangout spot.” The name The Middle Child came from being located between the two downtown farmers’ markets — the Saturday one at Garden and Cota is only a whopping full block away. “We’re not trying to be the next James Beard–winning restaurant; we just want to be good,” said Melonuk, and there’s more to the name as well. “The middle child has to be tougher, has to work at it,” he said. “Even Santa Barbara is sort of in the middle — some say it’s Southern California, some say it’s Northern.”
The menu is written on huge paper rolls on the wall (à la Buellton’s Industrial Eats or Seattle’s Pike Place Market) for ease of updating. The goal, according to Melonuk, is “to be willing to be creative yet ask, ‘Does this dish resonate with the people in Santa Barbara?’” Currently, the menu features twists on classics, so there’s a turkey leg braised for 12 hours that ends up an outsized, super-flavored take on chicken wings, with its hot sauce and herb ranch, and a white shrimp dish redolent of garlic that reminds one of scampi, but is served over grilled bread, not pasta, and has a lemongrass kick, too.
“We make everything here — this didn’t come out of a Sysco box,” said Melonuk. “We want to know the people we’re getting the produce from and know the people eating the produce.” Part of the hope is to segue folks to the notion of better, farmers’-market-driven food. Of our shopping find, Melonuk explained, “That apple dish is going to taste glorious because of her apples, not because I’m a technique-driven chef.”
The accommodating vibe in the space that’s housed 18 East, Globe, The Pan, Café Luck, and Mousse Odile doesn’t hurt, either. The Middle Child welcomes parties, who can book the upstairs space all for themselves, and they plan to start a coffee program next month. There most likely will be brunch, and maybe some guitar or cello sessions. “It’s endless,” said Melonuk of the possibilities. “We’ve got the kitchen and the space.”
18 E. Cota St.; (805) 770-5626; themiddlechildsb.com