Even before arriving — but immediately corroborated upon taking our seats under a sunny Saturday-morning sky — I realized that The Lark would be an ideal place for weekend brunch. Located blocks from the beach, amid the awakening buzz of the Funk Zone on sprawling patios perfect for seeing and being seen, the restaurant that elevated this neighborhood from wine-taster’s paradise to legitimate culinary destination was overdue for attracting an earlier crowd.
“It was on our wish list for a while,” explains Chef Jason Paluska, who developed the dinner-focused kitchen for its August 2013 opening. They tried out Easter and Mother’s Day brunches early on, and they went well, even shedding light on a brighter face to the restaurant, whose dinner service sports a more noir-ish, mysterious vibe. But it was a logistical challenge to pull off both breakfast and dinner, said Paluska, admitting, “It went on the back burner, probably for too long.”
The idea came up again at the beginning of this year, as everywhere pulled out of our pandemic haze. “I wanted it to feel composed and polished before we did it, but we’ve got all these years in this space. I feel like we’ve figured out how it works,” he said. “I finally felt pretty confident that we could pull it off and hang onto it. I don’t want this to be a temporary thing.”
It won’t be, as The Lark’s brunch, which launched last month, is deliciously designed and stylishly casual in all the right ways. Though more focused on eggs, salads, and baked goods than dinner, it still pops with Paluska’s trademark template.
“I like orchestrated dishes and have an artistic approach, but not in a cocky way,” he said. “I like to use colors. I like to cook with spice. I like dishes to have enough complexity where they’re exciting when you eat them.”
Here’s a look at the excitement that my family experienced, not including the gin fizz, Bloody Mary, and spritz cocktails that my wife and I also enjoyed.
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West Coast Oysters
Aside from the briny, shootable shellfish, the highlight here is the Bloody Mary granita. “I’ve been messing around with bringing cocktails together with oysters,” said Paluska, who experimented with a dirty martini granita before. “I’ve probably created too many granita flavors over the years.” This one is high in acid and loaded with just the right amount of flavor to let the oysters star. “They go out chilled, and it’s such a refreshing way to enjoy them,” he said. ($4 each)
Strawberry Pink Peppercorn Pop-Tart
“We wanted to find a way to add a savory edge to a pop-tart,” said Paluska of this collab with the Helena Avenue Bakery next door. “It’s not spicy; it’s this subtle pepperiness that pairs with the fruit. With that laminated dough, it makes for a real cool bite. It was always a goal to be a little playful. If brunch is too serious, it’s awkward. Nobody puts on a tuxedo and goes out to brunch.” ($8)
Cast-Iron Pecan Caramel Sticky Bun
Sticky bun: cast iron. Not too big. “I grew up outside of Houston, cracking pecans with my grandparents,” said Paluska of this classic pairing, which comes out in a cast-iron pan. “I think about pecans when I’m trying to relay my identity onto the menu.” ($10)
Di Stefano Burrata & Ventura Strawberries
A while back, Paluska started trying typically cooked ingredients raw, like tomatillo. “That is an untouched thing that is so underutilized — same thing with rhubarb,” he said, noting its sour pop. “It’s also a nod to the season.” We also liked the double-crunch of hazelnut and crostini. ($17)
Farmers’ Market Frittata
This is more like a thick quiche, but with roasted maitake mushroom, French brie, and a “tangy but creamy condiment of pecan romesco,” said Paluska. ($18)
Southern Fried Chicken and Sourdough Waffle
“I didn’t want to do big, thick, and heavy,” said Paluska of this thin, crunchy waffle, fermented for 24 hours and served with a slug of chile de árbol honey butter and a Vermont syrup gastrique spiked with zesty sherry. “I’m thinking about the opposite of a hangover brunch.” The traditional buttermilk-brined chicken thigh is on-point too. “We have a lot of practice on fried chicken over here,” he confirmed. ($24)
Duroc Pork Belly Benedict
Much love to English muffins, but Texas toast might be the best showcase for poached eggs and pork, topped with grilled jalapeño hollandaise and tarragon. “I’m a huge fan of jalapeño, and it finds its way into most pockets of the menu,” said Paluska, who throws in pickled jalapeño here as well. “We’re pretty jacked about using this high-grade Duroc pork,” said Paluska of the dish’s centerpiece, which he cures for three days, throws into a 12-hour confit, and finishes with a quick grill.
Wild Gulf Shrimp & Anson Mills Grits
We didn’t even have this dish, an ode to the flavors of a Cajun crawfish restaurant in his hometown. But it’s a testament to Paluska’s dedication to supporting companies like Anson Mills, which is returning forgotten grains to their rightful place on the table. “They’re all about pressing heirloom grains, and the fact that we can source them is pretty killer,” he said. “The texture difference is ridiculous.”
Brunch hours: Sat.-Sun., 10:30 a.m.-2 p.m.; 131 Anacapa St.; (805) 284-0370; thelarksb.com