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Shell Beach Brewhouse and Ember hit the South County 

click to enlarge RENOVATIONS AT THE BEACH:  The former Old Vienna restaurant building is being fully renovated inside and out to become the Shell Beach Brew House which will open sometime in mid October. - PHOTO BY STEVE E. MILLER
  • PHOTO BY STEVE E. MILLER
  • RENOVATIONS AT THE BEACH: The former Old Vienna restaurant building is being fully renovated inside and out to become the Shell Beach Brew House which will open sometime in mid October.

I’ve questioned, whined about, and lamented my South County neighborhood for many years. Why don’t we have more upscale restaurants opening in South County? Why so many chains? Why are most of our upscale restaurants in hotels? Why does Paso Robles get all the good restaurants (after all, South County wine country is just as good as North County wine country unless you’re counting the number of them)? So when I recently learned there are an amazing brewhouse and two exciting upscale restaurants being built in Shell Beach and Arroyo Grande, I’ve been so ecstatic I can’t stop talking about them.

That’s why I’m eager to get the news out about them—as if I really have to work at getting the neighbors excited about this! Residents know something is happening in these buildings that housed so many other businesses over the years, but don’t know the details of what’s to come. Well, I’m thrilled to share the news and to thank the owners of these fine new establishments for inviting me in for a sneak peek of what they’ve been up to lately. And the good news is the fact that they can’t wait to open their doors to the public soon.

The new Shell Beach Brewhouse on Shell Beach Road, owned by Bill Hales and several partners, should be open within weeks (hopefully by mid-October). It won’t be hard to find this long-established house/restaurant once you realize it was formerly Old Vienna. It’s a place long loved for their silly-but-fun annual Oktoberfest events, and many can admit doing the chicken dance there. The redux, however, will open something remarkably different and provide the neighborhood with what the residents are already enthusiastic about—a sports bar.

The tiny bar has been expanded to three times its original size, and there’s more table space in the dining room. Plus they’re adding patio tables out front that aren’t meant for smokers—what a smart concept. The partners purchased an old barn in Michigan to restore the weathered old building in Shell Beach. The mix of reclaimed barnwood and stone used inside and outside is artistic and gorgeous. But unlike SLO’s downtown bars, they won’t have live music and the Brewhouse will close at midnight. However, you can expect multiple large-screen TVs in the bar and dining room. 

click to enlarge INNOVATIVE PUB:   The tiny bar has been expanded to three times its original size. - PHOTO BY STEVE E. MILLER
  • PHOTO BY STEVE E. MILLER
  • INNOVATIVE PUB: The tiny bar has been expanded to three times its original size.

“We want to tie into the community. We’ll make it a family restaurant by creating an environment where people can bring the kids,” Hales explained. “And we’re adding a big bike rack out front. We want the guy who can walk over with the kids for dinner, enjoy a couple of drinks, and walk home safely.”

The Brewhouse will be managed by partner Eric DeMatteo and assistant manager and partner Crystal Jewell. She’s been working on the beverage lists which will feature at least six local wines, and 30 beers on tap, mostly small craft brands, and they will have cocktails. Executive chef Jason Gable, a native of Philadelphia, noted, “I want to give people a good product at a good price.” His menu, served throughout the day until 10 p.m., will have lots of shareable appetizers, flatbreads, crostini, original sandwiches, or full meals such as surf and turf and local fish. His classic Philly cheesesteak sandwich will be served on Amorosa’s hard rolls, a bakery established in 1904 in Philadelphia. His order will arrive demi-baked, but it’s finished baking in the restaurant’s kitchen.

“We want to make the Brewhouse a casual, innovative pub that offers craft beer and local wines on tap,” Hales promised. “And we’ll surprise people with really good food.”

In the old village of Arroyo Grande, the former JJ’s grocery store will house a new restaurant. Robert’s (the original is in downtown Paso Robles) is opening a second location with the same name but there’s no construction going on yet. Only a notification of application for a liquor license on the front window foretells of good things to come.

At the corner of Grand and Brisco Road in Arroyo Grande, a new restaurant is under construction with the goal of opening in early December. Ember, by chef/owner Brian Collins, will feature wood-fired flatbreads and rotisserie-roasted meats. Locals know and respect Collins, who worked at Windows on the Water, Lido, and Full of Life Flatbread. I always tell people about the fact he landed a job at Alice Water’s Chez Panisse in Berkeley after graduating from California Culinary Academy. Collins was the lead chef on the line for five years. When Alice and the executive chef went home, he was the chef at one of the most acclaimed restaurants in the world.

Collins describes his concept as Italian inspired California cuisine on Facebook (where you can view a video of the construction going on). But when I visited him he explained: “It’s not Italian, it’s not pizza, it’s cuisine that’s inspired by Italy, France, and Spain.”

The fresh-from-the-Farmers-Market 
cuisine will showcase a bounty of seasonal foods cooked over a giant wood-fired oven. That oven in the open kitchen next to the front entrance, in view from every point in the dining room, will be the focal point of the eatery. He will also have a brick fireplace with a rotisserie so guest can view the meats slowly turning and roasting over the flames.

The former barn-like building, the site of SLO Down Pub, has been stripped down, although the back production kitchen will remain in place. Using reclaimed barnwood and recycled metals in what Collins describes as a “funky” style, he intends to create a fun, casual ambiance that’s a neighborhood kind of place. Collins and his father Marc Collins, a professional contractor, are doing the interior reconstruction. Everything on site will be redone, thanks to the landlord, from the exterior of the building and windows to the landscaping and parking lot out front.

“Ember will be a culmination of my career in live fire cooking, Collins noted. “It will be a family-oriented restaurant.”

 

Contact Cuisine columnist Kathy Marcks Hardesty at khardesty@newtimesslo.com.

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