Manresa sous chef Jacob Pilarski and Post Ranch Inn sous chef Matt Millea are teaming up again and stepping into the spotlight at the next pop-up dinner organized by Happy Girl Kitchen and featuring the vegetables of Dirty Girl Produce of Santa Cruz. The dinner at Happy Girl Kitchen Café in Pacific Grove on Sunday, October 7th will feature delicious harvest season vegetables, transformed by the highly creative chefs into an unforgettable feast.
Their pop-up dinner series has become wildly popular, not only for the amazing food, but also for the camaraderie that prevails over the farmhouse tables. Although the menu will be created the day of the event based on what ingredients are available, if their last dinner in July is any indication, it will be terrific.
“We’re a cannery, café and coffee house, and we love having community events,” said Todd Champagne, co-owner of Happy Girl Kitchen. He welcomed us to the space, full of vintage countryside aesthetic, a patchwork of found and built materials, vivid colors and simple farm stand style.
Todd’s main task for the evening, aside from making sure we were all happy in his space, was to be the resident DJ of the vinyl record collection. A diverse assemblage of albums take up the better part of one wall. They have been donated over time by patrons and friends, adding to the community feel. He did his job well, segueing from mellow classic hit to eclectic discovery over the course of the meal, which was a benefit for Food, What!? a youth empowerment program in Santa Cruz.
Which leads us to the food: eight amazing family style courses, all prepared with vegetables from Freewheelin’ Farm, and all beautiful.
It started with classic buttermilk biscuits, probably the best I’ve ever had, served with Big Sur thyme honey butter. Chef Pilarski has roots in North Carolina and surely this explains the simple biscuit perfection.
Next came roasted beets with strawberries, rhubarb, lime and chèvre made by Charlie Cascio of Sweetwater Farm. Charlie happened to be seated at our table and we had the great opportunity of hearing about his life adventures and skills—from apprenticing with a shepherd in France in the 1970s to being the head chef at Esalen to beekeeping and cheesemaking on his Big Sur property today.
Course three may have been our favorite, butter and saffron braised leeks with bits of dried strawberries and a savory pistachio-walnut topping. But then our fourth course arrived and was equally memorable: corned apricots (as in corn kernels) with basil, fennel, and apricot chili jam on a pool of corn pudding. It was the essence of the season.
Next came the everything carrots, inspired by everything bagels, coated in various seeds and garlic and drizzled with juiced and chopped carrot top greens. We then had a tender lettuce salad followed by the sturdiest dish of the evening, cannellini beans with preserved tomatoes and fresh hand-made spinach orecchiette pasta.
French-pressed Blue Bottle coffee was passed around, washing down the dessert, which riffed on a Southern specialty—molasses and stout shoo-fly pie. There is nothing like great food made with just-picked local produce. I’ll be back for sure, maybe with a few records to donate to the shelf.
For more information and tickets please click HERE.