Niman

The Belly of the Funk Zone

 

The Loft space is used for special events including catered dinners and art receptions.

From the Culinary Trailblazers to the Newcomers

Words & Photography by Rosminah Brown

The Funk Zone has long been Santa Barbara’s quirky spot for warehouses, shops, artists, a smattering of bars and plenty of personality. In recent years the neighborhood has seen an explosion of activity as more artists and artisans have moved in. Luckily, the area has retained much of its offbeat charm. Many people have opened up shop in the Funk Zone because they were drawn to the character of the neighborhood. And for the really early adopters, the rent was great at the time.

The Funk Zone borders Cabrillo Street and the oceanfront on one side, State Street on another, which is both a blessing and a curse, depending on whom you ask. Some consider State Street part of the Funk Zone. And some are equally adamant that it is not. The actual borders are somewhat nebulous and hard to define. That seems to suit the area just fine, because the Funk Zone is indefinable. It’s a bit of blue-collar workspace, a bit of casual surf shops, a bit of street art, wine tasting rooms and a mixture of old-school residents, wandering street folk and tourists meandering through on surreys. What everyone seems to agree on is that it’s the up-and-coming spot of Santa Barbara.

Part of that has to do with wine. The Urban Wine Trail is now a popular destination for wine lovers, and while heading up to Santa Ynez and surrounds still makes a fantastic day out, the Urban Wine Trail allows residents and tourists to taste wine close by and often on foot. The train station is also a few minutes’ walk away—a convenient way for travelers to get into town, stay a few nights (the Indigo Hotel is a great option) and thoroughly enjoy time in the heart of Santa Barbara.

The food culture of the Funk Zone is likewise expanding, and I love it! There are now lots of options for all ranges of tastes and pocketbook. I’d like to highlight some Funk Zone foodies from the first trailblazers that took their chances on the area to the newcomers who are just opening up. Are you ready?


reds-bar-and-tapas

The Surf and Turf Bloody Mary, served on Sundays at Red’s Bar and Tapas, is a complete meal.

Red’s Bar and Tapas

Red’s is that funky casual-looking spot on the corner of Helena and Yanonali, with the long wall filled with a brilliant assortment of street art. And it is the space I originally set down as the benchmark watering hole of the Funk Zone. It started out as an eclectic, artsy, offbeat café in 2003, and upgraded to a full liquor bar in 2010. They specialize in Santa Barbara County wines, seasonal cocktails and true Spanish tapas, including gambas al ajillo (shrimp and garlic) and small plates of Spanish cheese, olives and cured meats. On weekends they host Viva España, offering flights of wine paired with tapas. And their weekend brunch Surf and Turf Bloody Mary is outstanding.

There are cushy areas to lounge in—no standard dinner tables—and the ambiance can be upscale and can equally get gritty. This is why I love Red’s; it’s my vision of what the Funk Zone is all about. There’s often live music on the weekends and the occasional sports game on the back wall. But come here primarily to relax and share small plates and conversation with friends, like you would on a sunny afternoon in Southern Spain. It’s best to follow them on Facebook or their blog to stay up to date on their latest events and specials.

Red’s Bar and Tapas
211 Helena Ave., Santa Barbara
Facebook.com/RedsWineBar, RedsBarAndTapas.wordpress.com


metropulos

Fresh salads from the Metropulos deli case, proudly made in-house.

Metropulos Fine Foods

Metropulos opened in 2005 at the corner of lower Garden and Santa Barbara Street, a delicatessen and market of artisan products—some imported, some local, all carefully vetted by its owners. There are items like Voges Chocolates from Chicago, Rancho Gordo beans from Napa. And when you’re ready to splurge, shop here for certified D.O.P. (Denomination of Protected Origin, i.e., the good stuff) balsamic vinegars from Italy. Poke your head into the little wine nook and you may be surprised at the range available, including some very nicely priced gems at $10 and under. On a local level, their in-house chefs prepare delicious salads for the deli case, and melt-in-your-mouth desserts. For lunch service they churn out great sandwiches (try the Metro Firehouse), and on Thursdays and Fridays only they have fantastic gyros. The gyro meat is made entirely from scratch in house and without MSG, unlike conventional gyro meat. The queue often goes out the door for these. Sometimes the gyros are available on Saturdays… until they sell out.

Following your savory meal, the dessert case beckons with fresh coconut macaroons and one of my favorites: the Murray River sea salt brown butter cookies. At $1.75 each, maybe get both. Order your food at the counter, then shop around and eat; your goods are tallied up at the cash register near the door. They are closed on Sundays.

Metropulos
216 E. Yanonali St., Santa Barbara
MetroFineFoods.com


organic-kitchen

Mixed farm lettuces with sherry vinaigrette in the dinner prix fixe.

Organic Kitchen
Events Unlimited

This space is one of the true hidden gems of the Funk Zone, because it’s been here for the longest time, yet so few know it exists. Those who find it are treated to the “Secret Garden” within its walls, and a front dining area with large windows and a vaulted wooden ceiling. First and foremost, this is a production space for catering and a commissary kitchen, where individuals and small businesses lease commercial kitchen space. Its residents include ChocolaTao, a medicinal chocolate bar company; Santa Barbara Fudge; as well as a supplier of deionized water and a fermented kombucha producer. It is a working kitchen, but walk-ins are welcome to pick up their specialty products.

Another resident is Mission Rose Pasta, run by Michael Glazer, who makes his fresh pasta in the kitchen and also offers small “pop up” lunches on Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, from 11am to 2pm. The dishes are left up to Glazer, who incorporates his pasta du jour with simple and fresh ingredients from local suppliers, like smoked paprika tagliatelle with sautéed arugula, leeks and asparagus. Or it might be a cool summer cucumber soup or gazpacho alongside fresh pasta tossed in butter and olive oil. They are primarily vegetarian and lunch costs $10.

Friday evenings he offers a prix fixe dinner by reservation: four courses for $30, and guests are encouraged to bring their own bottles of wine, preferably from one of the many wine rooms in the Funk Zone. It’s not a group dinner—guests can sit at their own tables. Occasionally there is a meat item incorporated into the menu, but the dinners mainly embrace the rich bounty of Santa Barbara’s seasonal produce. You can check out what’s next on Glazer’s Friday menu by joining his mailing list or visiting his Facebook page at Mission Rose Pasta. Go before the secret gets out.

Organic Kitchen, including Mission Rose Pasta
205 Santa Barbara St., Santa Barbara
Facebook.com/SBOrganicKitchen


the-loft

A team smoothly assembles a course of local scallop ceviche tostadas.

The Loft

The Loft is another hidden gem of the Funk Zone, with a deceptively small, casual-looking doorway alongside a series of well-worn warehouses on lower Helena Avenue. But once you step through the door and head down the hallway, it opens into a beautifully industrial minimalist space you’d expect to see in bigger cities like San Francisco or Los Angeles. The Loft is owned by Alvaro Rojas, who runs other hip properties in town like Alcazar on the Mesa, Milk and Honey downtown and the Bourbon Room in Goleta.

Rojas also collaborates with Spare Parts Bistro, a semi-secretive (but legal) pop-up dining experience. These suppers are five courses minimum, sourced locally and seasonally, and spotlight the subtle purity of truly fresh food. A summer menu is likely to have corn, tomatoes and squash, perhaps a risotto or fresh pasta, uni straight from the Santa Barbara waters, and often a sausage or cured meat as that’s a signature element of the Spare Parts ethos. Dessert could be a lavender panna cotta with local honey and flowers, or a beautifully presented ice cream.

It’s BYOB, with small glasses available for guests to sip and share with each other at the long, rustic tables the chefs built themselves using old timber “spare parts.” Join the Spare Parts mailing list at SparePartsBistro.blogspot.com to stay abreast of each week’s menu, or join their Facebook page at “Spare Parts Bistro” and with your RSVP comes the location of the dinner.

The Loft, similarly, is used for special events including art openings, and reservations are required, but keep an eye open and you’ll see the invitations pop up around town and online.

The Loft
48 Helena Ave., Santa Barbara
EventsAtTheLoft.com

seven-bar-and-kitchen

Seven Bar and Kitchen, opened earlier this year on Helena Ave., is one of the newcomers to the Funk Zone.

Seven Bar and Kitchen

Seven Bar and Kitchen have set up shop where the well-known Pub was on Helena Avenue. The bar opened in March of this year, the kitchen three weeks later. They’re the rock and roll crew of the Funk Zone with a lot of upscale black and stone to the interior, and a lounge in the back that’s a mix of elegant booths and eclectic art. There are tables throughout the location, but the atmosphere is definitely closer to a bar with live music on the weekends and plenty of local art on the brick walls. Still, the kitchen is turning out food of a higher caliber than simple burgers and mac and cheese for hungry crowds. Ingredients are sourced locally and organically where possible, and the menu puts a creative twist on bar favorites. Sliders of beef or pulled pork are available for smaller appetites. Specialty items include cocktails using house infusions of strawberry, cucumber or Jamaica, the “7” Style Fries with caramelized onions, fresh garlic and crumbled Point Reyes bleu cheese ($10), and a whole line sandwiches named for the Seven Deadly Sins ($11 each). Try the Lust or the Sloth!

Seven Bar and Kitchen
224 Helena Ave., Santa Barbara
SevenSB.com

ls-kitchenLorraine Lim offers quick and simple sandwiches on the go.

L’s Kitchen

This is the working space for Lorraine Lim’s catering business; it also provides a selection of prepared deli sandwiches and Mexican food for breakfast and lunch. There’s nothing over $7 on the standard menu and the range includes tacos, burritos, tortas, quesadillas and fresh tamales. There are also specials posted near the door with a soup and quiche du jour and sweets like cookies and brownies. Most people get their food to go, but outside is a small dining area with umbrella-topped tables where you can wave to the Arts Fund Gallery and the Organic Kitchen from across the parking lot.

L’s Kitchen
121 E. Yanonali, Santa Barbara
805 962 7550

lark-and-lucky-penny

California asparagus and a soft poached farm egg, with preserved Meyer lemon, almond and guanciale.

The Lark and
the Lucky Penny

The newest addition to the neighborhood will be a grand collection of artisanal boutiques and tasting rooms (including Riverbench Winery and Figueroa Mountain Brewery) all in one spot, taking over the block that once housed the Santa Barbara Fish Market from the 1920s. The Lark is the primary restaurant within this block and it opens this summer. Its name comes from the elegant Pullman train that serviced Santa Barbara from 1920 to the 1960s at the train station just across the street from the Funk Zone. The Lark is a full-service restaurant seating up to 130, making it the largest in the Funk Zone, and one of the few places with a full bar (others include Red’s and Seven). Central to the restaurant is its wood-fired oven, from which come a number of hearth-cooked dishes that fall under the New American cuisine and draw inspiration from Mediterranean flavors. Perhaps the perfect place to come with friends to share and sample food from their rotating seasonal menu while sipping wine or cocktails sourced from the tasting rooms and the distillery in the neighborhood.

Last, but not least, is the Lucky Penny, also a part of the collective of artisan businesses that open this summer. It complements the Lark by focusing on a casual takeaway menu: fresh pizzas, pressed juices and café items. A great spot to linger in the courtyard or continue your explorations of galleries, shops and tasting rooms in the area. You might even eventually reach the beach or State Street… but then you’d be out of the belly of the Funk Zone.

The Lark and the Lucky Penny
131 Anacapa St., Santa Barbara
TheLarkSB.com • LuckyPennySB.com

georgias

Georgia’s Smokehouse ribs come sweet or spicy; hushpuppies with a tasty aioli dipping sauce.

Bonus Gems

Chicken and Waffles at DrakeWines (32 Anacapa St. in Suites B and C) on the first and third Fridays of each month. These are full-size waffles, topped with fried chicken and a Drake wine and boysenberry reduction, $15. DrakeWines.com

Food Trucks

The Burger Bus (top picks are the CB&J: cheeseburger with jelly, and fried pickles) or Georgia’s Smokehouse truck (top picks are the dry-rub ribs and hush puppies). You can often find them in front of wineries such as Municipal Winemakers (22 Anacapa St.), Oreana Winery (205 Anacapa St.), Pali Wine Co. and AVA Santa Barbara (116 E. Yanonali St.).

The Hidden Dolphin

Taqueria Altamirano
(217 Anacapa St.) has a simple assortment of Mexicanstreet food, like tacos and tortas. Favorite items are the cabeza (steamed beef head) and the chicken mole taco, which comes with half a boiled egg on top. Most tacos are under $2 each, cash only.

Want to learn more about the Funk Zone? Check out FunkZone.net for the growing list of business and events in the area. The website
is voluntarily created and maintained by its dedicated residents.


funk-zone-map

 

 


Rosminah Brown is a Santa Barbara native who types fast and eats slow. She once jumped in the Neptune Pool at Hearst’s Castle. She is still upset that JR’s BBQ closed. You can read her blog at gutfud.com

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterPin on Pinterest
Categories Summer 2013