If you want proof that Santa Barbara is still a small town, look no further than The Shop. I learned about the eclectic cafe from Julienne chef Justin West, who was grabbing coffee with his kitchen crew at Handlebar Coffee Roasters and used to work with The Shop co-owner Chris Vigilante at San Ysidro Ranch and Wine Cask. Yes, you’ll find a lot of interconnectivity along the American Riviera, and The Shop, which opened on December 13, 2012, thanks to Chris Vigilante, his wife Amy, Dudley Michael and Scott Manser, is no exception.
The Shop occupies the former home of Taqueria El Refugio, next to a tire shop. Order at the window and proceed to either a sun dappled outdoor patio with picnic tables or dining room with painted whisks, skillets, ladles and silverware. No matter where you sit, expect to hear songs like Stealers Wheel “Stuck In The Middle With You” and Dr. Dre’s “Nuthin’ But a G Thang.”
Head chef Richie Maxwell presides over a menu that includes breakfast items, sandwiches, salads and “shopmade” pastries, which are tantalizing impulse buys when standing at the window. Nobody’s from the South, but Southern influences seep into specials like the shrimp po’ boy, shrimp and grits, and Yolo, a sausage gravy, fried chicken buttermilk biscuit. There’s even a General Sanders fried chicken sandwich. Apparently the Colonel got a promotion.
Shop Burger ($9) is 1/3 lb, and an 80/20 beef blend from Santa Barbara’s Shalhoob Meat Company, bound with light breadcrumbs. Tangy bread and butter pickles, crisp shredded iceberg lettuce, green goddess dressing, and spicy horseradish cheddar join the meat in a waffle batter bun that demonstrates sweetness similar to Hawaiian bread.
Cecilia ($10) is a well-balanced, gluten free salad containing squash, quinoa, shaved almonds, red bell pepper, earthy black eyed peas, sweet corn kernels, hearty kale and savory feta. The name came about because Cecilia sounds better than Celiac, victims of which for who the salad is intended.
The Shop bakes everything in-house, including chapati – a wheat flatbread – which Chris Vigilante and another partner learned about while working on a charitable well project in Uganda. Chapati now factors into breakfast wraps like the ironically unglamorous Rolex. We scored a slab of banana bread ($2) which was well spiced and sported supple fruit.
It’s no secret that locals have a handle on what’s new and fresh in town, and when those locals are also talented chefs like Justin West, take heed. There may just be another Shop around the corner.