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Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the culinary culture of Santa Barbara County’s wine country was thriving like never before, with establishments from Los Alamos to Santa Ynez able to compete with the best big-city menus. While the coronavirus dust is far from settled, there’s strong optimism that most of that edible landscape will survive the shutdown.
“It seems to us that being in the valley, our shop, as well as our friends and neighbors with restaurants and shops, have not been as hard hit as larger metro areas like L.A. — maybe even Santa Barbara — since we serve a smaller demographic with definitely less competition,” said Bob Oswaks, owner of Bob’s Well Bread in Los Alamos, which started a curbside takeout service more than six weeks ago. “And, with lower-density living, people seem to have less fear about visiting us.”
Yet that hasn’t helped the many Santa Barbara residents who love Bob’s bread, Full of Life’s flatbreads, Pico’s burgers, or Bell’s bistro eats. So a few weeks ago, many of the Los Alamos restaurants started delivering packages down to Santa Barbara on the weekends.
Oswaks first reached out to Clark Staub from Full of Life, and the first delivery was so successful that they roped in other neighbors. This weekend will be the third time the delivery service is operational, and participants now include Bell’s, Full of Life, Plenty on Bell, and Pico (which is also hosting fun how-to cooking shows via Zoom and also selling quite a bit of provisions through losalamosgeneralstore.com). For beverages, people can also order from Casa Dumetz, Babi’s Beer, and Bedford Winery.
To be part of this week’s delivery, see losalamosdelivers.com.
“Up until now, tourism made up about 40 percent of our business,” said Oswaks, who’s also developed a “B-L-D” kit to serve a family of four multiple meals. “Now we rely on our locals and nearby residents that appreciate what we provide and are so grateful that we’re open for them. We are starting to see people who are driving up from L.A., Ojai, and Santa Barbara who’ve been housebound for so long, so a two-hour drive is a nice diversion. I honestly don’t know how long this can keep us open, but we’re doing our best to make it work, keeping our staff intact and paying what bills we can.”
In Santa Ynez, while delivering to Santa Barbara is not yet happening, S.Y. Kitchen is now home to a pop-up market that’s open daily from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. The market is selling the restaurant’s homemade pasta (fusilli, tagliolini, or maccheroncini), sauces (including wagyu bolognese, cilantro pesto, and more), and chicken broths, as well as produce from Finley Farms, olive oil, cheese, bottled cocktails, and beer/wine by the bottle. Proceeds are going straight to the restaurant’s employee relief fund. They’re also still serving a pared down pickup menu.
“We’re trying our best to accommodate the wants and needs of locals, what they’re missing, what is comforting now,” said Luca Crestanelli, chef and co-owner of S.Y. Kitchen. “But some of that is also what non-Santa Ynez Valley residents enjoy about S.Y. Kitchen: what’s stable, familiar, but also special. We’re happy to fill that void for them, as well.”
Over in Los Olivos, the Wine Merchant & Café is experimenting with different regional cuisines while in Solvang, many of the Danish bakeries are open for takeout as is the Good Seed Coffee Boutique, Cailloux Cheese Shop, and Peasants Feast, which opened during the pandemic. Solvang’s Succulent Café and Santa Ynez’s Dos Carlitos are two restaurants that are now back open for limited service after initially closing due to the pandemic. For those seeking a smokier touch, Alisal Guest Ranch just announced four-course BBQ meal pickup starting May 3 and running through the month (Mother’s Day on May 10 not included). For $85, you get five pounds of beef short ribs, Green Goddess wedge salad, Bob’s ciabatta with herb butter, mac & cheese, cookie dough balls, and, for an additional cost, beer and wine. The meals, which should serve four to six people, can be ordered up to one week in advance and picked up on Sundays at Alisal, 1054 Alisal Road in Solvang, from noon to 2 p.m. See alisal.com/dine/order-bbq/.
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