Of the many Los Olivos restaurants, Sides is one of the best. There are many reasons to eat 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 and The Red Barn in Santa Ynez). But the two biggest reasons are the house-cured bacon steak and the fried Brussels Sprouts.
Named for the building’s original shop name (a man named Milburn Sides sold shoes and hardware to townsfolk in the early 1900s), Sides retains its historical charm, just a block off the main flagpole intersection in Los Olivos. 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.
Don’t miss their daily lunch, and try to get a spot on the outdoor patio on a sunny day (preferably 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.
And don’t forget the fried Brussels sprouts with sherry vinegar & capers; if you order one serving per person it won’t be enough! The kitchen team buys 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: Choose anything on the dessert list – it’s all excellent, especially the house-made sorbets. Ask for the dark chocolate one!
The wine list is as local as you can get, with wines on tap from many spots just around the corner in town. 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.
The fried Brussels Sprouts feature the acids of Sherry and capers instead of the sprouts’ typical leading star: bacon. At a restaurant known for its house-cured bacon steak and twice-won titles at the annual Bacon & Barrels festival, one notices the lack of pork in this dish.
To make this at home, trim the stem off washed Brussels Sprouts and cut them in half. Heat peanut oil in a deep fryer to 350 degrees – grapeseed and cottonseed oils also have a high smoke point (olive oil won’t work). Fry them for 2 minutes or until golden brown – before they get mushy inside. Remove them and tosses them with Sherry vinegar and kosher salt, then finish them with a handful of capers.
It’s important to use the best ingredients, which means Spanish Sherry – the place where Sherry originates – and when it comes to capers, smallest are best.