There are many reasons to eat breakfast or lunch at Sides Hardware & Shoes: the bright location right off Grand Ave in Los Olivos, the great fresh and local ingredients in the dishes, the ever-changing menu, the brothers Matt & Jeff Nichols (longtime chefs in the Santa Ynez Valley, known for the now-closed Brothers’ Restaurant at Mattei’s Tavern). But the biggest reason is the house-cured bacon steak.
Named for the building’s original shop name (a man named Milburn Sides sold shoes and hardware to townsfolk in the early 1900s), Sides is the newest addition to Santa Ynez Valley’s dining choices. No, there is no sign on the front of the restaurant (you have to know where to look for this long-known building that’s housed various cafés, just a block off the main flagpole intersection in town) and yes, they serve bacon the size of a steak that they cure here in their kitchen. It’s a 4-day process involving maple syrup, sugar, salt, applewood smoke and more, and the meat comes from Salmon Creek family farms, which raise natural, sustainable pork.
This means breakfast is a must at Sides; the menu is one of the best in the valley. It’s peppered with egg dishes like chorizo and feta omelets, huevos rancheros and a goat cheese and vegetable scramble (or sometimes quiche), all served with roasted potatoes, rapini or tomatoes – whatever produce happens to be in season.
There is also French toast with blueberry-cornflake-crumble and syrup, cinnamon raisin beignets and other baked goods that would rival French boulangeries. They find their way to my table and into my mouth.
But breakfast isn’t the only reason to eat at Sides. The restaurant serves three meals a day, 6 days a week (closed on Mondays). Lunch is a real gem, especially if you happen to get a spot on the outdoor patio on a sunny day with some girlfriends who don’t have to go back to work. Then you can really enjoy the fennel and goat cheese crostini, beef carpaccio with arugula and shaved Parmesan and any of the market salads you see on the menu.
Any burger on this on this menu is a must – the Mexicali burger was topped with guacamole with a crispy tostada slid between the burger and bun. Also not to be missed is the sandwich list: thick grilled cheese, hammered pork with mustard seed slaw and roasted turkey with avocado – I take mine with sweet potato fries. The soups, market salads and fish tacos are all fresh and satisfying.
Dinner is also solid. The brothers have a simple menu of bistro fare such as fried chicken, beef and lamb sirloin, sea scallops and vegetable quinoa. And don’t forget the fried Brussels sprouts with sherry vinegar & capers; if you order one serving per person it won’t be enough! They buy as much organic ingredients as they can with much produce coming from local farmers such as Finley Farms, Jacob Grant and Paul Palmer. Beef is from an all natural farm in California (Kobe beef from Idaho), lamb from Colorado and pork from the plains states (all meat is from Newport Meat Company). Important Note: look for the bacon steak to appear throughout the dinner menu too and choose anything on the dessert list – it’s all excellent, especially the house-made sorbets.
The wine list is as local as you can get. Wines on tap include wines from Qupé, Kaena and Andrew Murray, all just around the corner in town. The bottle list includes local valley favorites like Palmina, Alma Rosa, Brander and Beckmen. The winemakers themselves are known to dine here, as well as local farmers and cattle ranchers, gardeners and shop owners. Everyone loves a good bacon steak.