Alegria is the newest wine bar to open in downtown San Luis Obispo, at the corner of Chorro and Palm streets, and I believe they have a very good chance of succeeding. They offer an excellent selection of value-priced wines with a focus on Spanish varietals and other distinctive wines with a great story behind them. Of course, their selections won’t be limited to varieties like Albarino and Tempranillo. They also feature notable wines from Paso Robles, Santa Maria Valley, and Oregon, among other regions. Brothers David and John Hance run the business with the help of their wives and partners, Christine and Lisa, respectively.
- PHOTO BY STEVE E. MILLER
Christine explained that they wanted to create a place where people could meet and relax while sharing a glass or bottle of wine. They set the wines at fair retail prices, but if you buy one to drink there, they only charge a $5 corkage fee. That’s very reasonable, considering that restaurants generally charge $10 and up for corkage, even when you’re buying a multi-course meal. Alegria will have a revolving list of wines available by the taste or glass, priced from $3.25 to $5.25 a taste, or $5 to $10 a glass. It provides the opportunity for finding great new wines for your cellar without spending a small fortune.
“Our wines will be constantly changing so there’s always something new on the shelves,” Christine said. “We have a few wines that are well known, but we’ll have some unique wines that seem to have a place in the line-up.”
Christine’s husband David, whose day job is marketing and PR for Clayhouse wines in Paso Robles, created the wine list and does most of the wine buying. You’ll also find a selection of Clayhouse wines available for purchase. Christine also proudly pointed out the selection of serving ware and table linens, crafted by local artists, that are available for purchase.
Alegria offers a limited but tasty menu of appetizers. Chef Russell Thomas of Two Cooks Catering created the menu and taught the Hances how to prepare the dishes. Choices include freshly made flatbreads, cheese spreads, olives, and marcona almonds, and prices range from $4 to $9. While I was there, John prepared a fresh flatbread topped with taleggio cheese, pancetta, Anaheim chiles, shallots, and red bell pepper that was quite tasty. I asked him if he had been a professional chef and he said: “Absolutely not!” The more difficult dishes, like char sui pork bites, are made by Thomas at his professional catering kitchen.
Open Wednesday through Sunday from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., the shop is open till 11 p.m. on Friday and Saturday evenings. Sit at one of the tables for pretty views of San Luis Mountain, the Mission, and the old home of Chong’s candy store. Just two blocks off Higuera, Alegria is sure to become a favorite meeting spot for locals.
Boom or bust?
Downtown SLO is booming with the opening of new eateries to entertain us, though it’s too bad most of them are chains. It really doesn’t matter whether they’re a chain of half a dozen or thousands, the food is formulaic and can’t compare to our unique places such as the Koberl at Blue, Meze, or Cass House. Sadly, the hospitality business is struggling—both restaurants and wineries alike—and it stinks that good people are losing their businesses. During tight times, people are seeking good value for their dining dollars, yet they still want good quality and decent service. Yeah, I’ve seen the queues streaming outside the new chains, which promise better-than -average food than Mickey D’s or Carl’s. The trouble is that the food hasn’t impressed; it was typical of any chain with stingy portions and inferior meats and cheeses on sandwiches and salads. Not only that, they’re really hurting our small mom and pop eateries. It will be interesting to see whether or not they can keep that business once their shiny newness dulls.
Nevertheless, with all of the promising talk about Eureka! Burger Bar, I was as eager as anyone to bite into a burger there. I love a good cheeseburger and crave them at times, but I’ve never found satisfaction in chains. Granted, I gave our new Chipotle a great review and received an e-mail saying I should be ashamed for supporting it instead of our mom and pop restaurants. I replied it was clear she didn’t read the article—within the first paragraph I had explained that this was one chain restaurant of a different color, indeed. They only buy meats that have been sustainably raised, and they buy local produce and support Cal Poly’s organic and sustainably farmed produce.
Eureka boasts of buying local produce, too, but the only information about the meat is that it’s Angus beef. I enjoyed their cowboy burger, a beef patty covered with two strips of bacon, cheddar cheese, and thin, crispy onion rings. That part was pretty tasty, but I dissed the bun, akin to white balloon bread. It didn’t hold up. I did enjoy the crispy, hot fries. My husband Dan enjoyed the bison burger but didn’t find it over the top.
I revisited with a girlfriend and ordered the sweet potato fries. The honey drizzled on them seemed odd, so I was surprised how much I liked those fresh, hot fries. The fish tacos were overcooked, nondescript white fish. The shredded cabbage and mango, even the corn tortillas were fresh and the sauce tasty; too bad they couldn’t keep that goodness in the fish.
Service has been dreadfully slow every time, and smiles just don’t make up for it. I’ll admit it was early to review it. But considering they’ve had enough experience in opening five eateries before this one, they need do a better job if they want this place to succeed.
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