I won’t soon forget my first lunch at the Honeymoon Cafe; on my birthday last June with my good friend Steve Watson, who is the district manager for Southern Wine and Spirits. I ordered a salad, but when Steve ordered the daily special of the Hearst Ranch hamburger stuffed with blue cheese, I switched to try it. We watched our server take the raw patties to the patio grill to cook them and I kept glancing over eagerly anticipating their arrival to our table. When they were finally served (I’m impatient when I’m hungry) and I took my first bite, I was quite impressed. “Wow,” I said to Steve, “this burger is delicious.”
- PHOTO BY STEVE E. MILLER
I rarely order a hamburger anywhere for one reason: The one food I see the USDA recall most often is ground beef. (I receive e-mails of their warnings and weekly reports.) But it was the Hearst Ranch name that sold me because I know of their high quality standards, from raising the cattle to the beefsteaks and hamburger they sell. And most good local restaurants are now offering Hearst Ranch steaks.
Admittedly I wasn’t so thrilled by the ciabatta roll on the cafe;’s burger. I thought the crusty white bun was too crunchy so I simply put it aside and enjoyed the cheesy burger with lettuce, onion, and tomato, adding catsup and mustard. Even without the bun I raved about the Honeymoon Cafe; burger ($7.95) to everyone. I liked the fact they let you choose pasta salad or Kettle Chips with sandwich and burger orders, all priced less than $10.
I visited three times to try more of their creative dishes, and on my third visit finally introduced myself to the owner/chef, Christi Rivera. She told me she always stuffs the hamburger patty with different ingredients to make it special. During each of my visits I found the food fresh and original, which inspired me to return to get to know more about her style.
Rivera serves only breakfast and lunch but will prepare anything from her menu while she’s open. The last time I tried her breakfast menu, choosing huevos rancheros ($6.50). I was served a generous bowlful of black beans topped with two fried eggs, cheddar cheese, cilantro, and onions with a side of fresh corn tortillas. It was hearty, reasonably priced, and very satisfying.
When the Honeymoon Cafe; originally opened in downtown Pismo Beach it was pretty much limited to bagels and coffee, according to Rivera. During that time I never heard a word from
- PHOTO BY STEVE E. MILLER
Its new owners, Christi Rivera and Tara Jones, were so passionate about the Honeymoon Cafe;, their first attempt at running their own restaurant, they took it on without hiring help, not even a dishwasher. Word spread quickly about their delicious and reasonably priced menu, and the charming eatery began drawing crowds. Their “barbecued pancakes” (available weekends only) are cooked on the outdoor grill. Actually half of the outdoor cooker is gas fueled for the griddle and the other half wood-fired for the grill. The cozy tables around the grill, which provide alfresco dining nearly year round, usually fill-up first.
Rivera just celebrated the first anniversary of the Honeymoon Cafe;. Although the cooking and the philosophy remain the same there’s one big difference: She recently bought out Jones who is about to give birth and left to concentrate on her family. At that point Rivera was forced to hire help to keep the busy restaurant running smoothly. And from the friendly attitude of servers I’ve witnessed there during three visits, I could see Rivera’s as savvy about the business side as she is about the creative side.
- PHOTO BY STEVE E. MILLER
“I didn’t want to drop the business when Tara said she was leaving,” recalled Rivera. She met Jones when they both worked in catering for Chef Maegen Loring of the Park Restaurant in SLO. “I learned a lot from Maegen and I love food, it’s my passion.” At 30 years of age, Rivera’s been working in the restaurant business half her life. She started working when she was only 15 in her aunt and uncle’s steakhouse back east.
“Nearly all of my foods are organic or fair trade. I’m a locavore and purchase almost everything within 50 miles,” Rivera noted. “I don’t make everything here but I make most of it and I shop at the Farmers Market three times a week.” That allows her to keep the menu seasonal, like her “strawberry fields salad” ($7.95) one of her most popular lunch dishes.
“I’ve seen people get all stressed out about their restaurant because they have to dump so much money into the business. I buy everything C.O.D. and if I can’t afford it I don’t buy it,” explained Rivera. “When we started I grabbed some family and friends to help and went to thrift stores to refurnish the cafe;. Do that and then you’re not in debt.” She has no plans to grow the business any larger than what it is, pointing out, “When restaurants get too big they lose something.”
I thoroughly enjoyed meeting Rivera and empathized with her; this is no easy business to run, alone or with partners. But she embraces it fully and works hard at making this quaint cafe; exceptional for its food and ambiance. I walked away filled with admiration for this plucky young woman.
“Come back and try the BLAT, if you eat bacon,” Rivera advised me. “People really love it.” I’ve been craving bacon ever since, perhaps I can get it added to one of her delicious hamburgers.
You can reach New Times’ Cuisine columnist at firstname.lastname@example.org.