I’ve dined at Central City Market (CCM) in the Santa Maria Town Center several times over the past year, which was convenient since I travel there several times a month. Every meal I’ve tried at this unique garden-style restaurant and deli, from the first light lunch to outstanding winemakers’ dinners created by chef Ryan Gromfin, left me content and impressed. I love an eatery of this caliber where nearly everything is made fresh daily, including the pastries. And they carry an array of excellent Central Coast wines, amazingly priced at retail levels. It’s become one of my favorite Central Coast restaurants and it is well worth the drive.
- PHOTO BY STEVE E. MILLER
- Chef Ryan Gromfin of Centreal City Market creates delectables ranging from pastry to Chinese style salad with Ahi tuna.
I’ve mentioned CCM several times in wine festival stories because of their memorable, delightful meals. At one Santa Maria Valley vineyard event, Gromfin made outstanding lamb tacos that had me craving another taste. During a Stolpman winemaker’s dinner among the excellent five-course meal the standouts were the butter-poached lobster with scallops and shrimp on crusty bread, and the braised short rib with celery root puree, mushroom duxelles, and horseradish foam. While those dishes aren’t regularly on the menu, I mention them to illustrate the fact that Gromfin is a classically trained chef, and CCM is no ordinary deli. The winemakers’ dinners, which take place monthly (except the busy month of December), average $75 per person for food and wine—you can’t find a better price for the quality and generous portions.
I assumed the chef and his wife Erin Gromfin owned CCM, but the chef explained that it’s owned by Greg Kozak, owner of Santa Maria Town Center. Kozak hired Gromfin, a Johnson & Wales culinary school alumnus, to help him design and co-create CCM. Gromfin has an impressive restaurant background in five-star-rated hotels, the Peninsula Beverly Hills (he’s a graduate of Beverly Hills H.S.), and the Four Seasons Austin. He also cooked at the renowned Mansion on Turtle Creek Dallas.
CCM is also very popular for their catering service managed by Erin. I’ve found that they do a great job of serving foods that are equal to the quality you would be served in their restaurant. When they were away, sous chef Nick Nolan (formerly at Artisan in Paso) sent out equally delicious foods. The storefront looks like a delicatessen with refrigerated cases holding premade foods, plus professional cooking tools, cookbooks, wines, beers, sodas, and decadent desserts, but it provides great take-home food and beverages when you’re too busy to cook.
They create excellent incentives to entice people to stop by for breakfast, a midday snack, wine and appetizers, or a candle-lit dinner in the dining room, with weekday specials: On Tuesdays, it’s two entrées and two glasses of wine for only $25 with choices like buttermilk Southern fried chicken, angry mac and cheese, or grilled bacon-wrapped meatloaf; on Fridays, it’s Champagne and bubbles galore from 4 to 7 p.m. with $5 appetizers. Visit centralcitymarketsm.com for details about the specials.
“I describe the menu as comfort classics updated. We want to be like a five-star hotel where you’ll get great meals at breakfast, lunch, and dinner,” Gromfin explained.
- PHOTO BY STEVE E. MILLER
CCM has an excellent Sunday brunch (they’ll be open Easter Sunday with expanded menu; reservations are recommended). I enjoyed perfect eggs Benedict with generous slices of Canadian bacon on English muffins with poached eggs and hollandaise sauce ($14). My husband Dan loved the house-smoked pork in chile verde sauce atop a crispy corn tostada with pinquito beans, guacamole, and two fried eggs ($15). It was so irresistible he shared one bite. Now I can’t wait to go back and have it myself. Prices are reasonable considering the complimentary basket of mini pastries served during regular Sunday brunch.
As far as their mall location goes, don’t be put off. Frankly, I can’t believe the pessimists who claim: “I won’t eat at a restaurant that’s in a strip mall.” Some of the Central Coast’s finest restaurants opened in such places: the Neon Carrot in SLO and Chef Rick’s Ultimately Fine Foods (defunct). During my visits to Santa Maria to shop or see my doctor, I love the convenience of Central City Market directly across the hall from Macy’s (main level near Bank of America). It’s the perfect spot for a coffee break, made more enjoyable with a decadent treat from pastry chef Nova Bevier.
“We don’t want to be a special occasion place, we’re in the center and that’s why we offer free cooking classes,” Gromfin said candidly. “We want to be the place where people hangout for breakfast, or a snack, and the place where local winemakers come to conduct business meetings (they already do). I love that!”
Central City Market’s Free Cooking Classes
On the first Monday of each month, January through November, chef Ryan Gromfin teaches complimentary cooking classes beginning at 6 p.m. After demonstrating soup to his first “students” on March 5, they were provided a bowl of soup and a salad. While watching him from the dining room, guests can purchase their choice of beverage. Gromfin provides recipes with ingredients but no measurements so I advise taking notes while he demonstrates techniques. The chef offers many excellent tips while teaching you the most simple of procedures. Those tips will make all the difference in recreating the dish successfully, while improving your cooking skills overall. Dates for the next two months’ classes are April 2 and May 1.
“Next, I’ll do a fun spin on an easy way to make homemade pizza,” Gromfin noted. “It will be a chance to show people how to make dough from scratch and then we can make a few interesting things with it, one being pizza, and maybe tiramisu for dessert.”
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