Fillmore goes fresh and local
By JR Grant 03/24/2011
Double A Café
501 Santa Clara St., Fillmore
When I head east on Highway 126 and glance at the many fields, farms and fruit and vegetable stands, I lament that so few restaurants in Ventura County make use of our abundant local supply of fresh produce. Fortunately, the “shop and serve locally” trend is beginning to spread, and a young chef in Fillmore is very much at the forefront of this healthy and robust movement.
Dustin Alexander grew up in Fillmore, worked in many different restaurants in the county and, through his catering business, eventually became the chef for the Morris family in Fillmore. With their encouragement and support, Alexander opened the Double A Café on the revitalized Central Avenue in downtown Fillmore. A former old fashioned gas station has been transformed into a boxy yet comfortable café. Painted in grays and blues with rich red awnings, this welcoming corner location is fast becoming Fillmore’s “go to” dining experience.
When I invited a vegetarian friend to join me for lunch the other day, her enthusiasm perked when I told her about Chef Alexander’s usage of local ingredients. Of course, her selection that day was the roasted veggie sandwich: baby Portobello mushrooms, roasted red peppers, caramelized onions, lettuce and Monterey jack, sautéed and topped with a basil pesto aioli. After seeing the expression on her face after her first bite I knew Chef Alexander had won a new fan.
For my lunch that day, I ordered the half soup, half sandwich combo. The soup was a curious eggdrop soup, the base broth flavor was reminiscent of the dark vegetable broth for minestrone (probably as a result of using the roasted veggies), with carrots, baby pea pods, mushrooms and laced with delicate egg strands throughout. The flavor was hearty and full, and a good match for the signature sandwich: turkey, jack cheese, tomatoes, caramelized onions, avocados and chipotle aioli.
A favorite lunch of mine is the green-chile burger: a blend of Anaheim chilies, cactus paddles, tomatillos, and cilantro with jack cheese topping a hearty grilled hamburger. Other sandwich options include the portobello burger, sausage (beer simmered brats) and peppers (again with those delicious caramelized onions), and another friend’s favorite, the classic B.L.T., the difference being that Alexander coats his thick bacon with a local honey-ancho-chile glaze, and uses the tomatoes from nearby Beylik Family Farms.
There are also several delicious salads using local greens; my favorite is the Harvest salad with mixed greens, candied pecans, diced Granny Smith apples and dried cranberries in a tangy and spicy citrus vinaigrette. One slight criticism would be with the potato salad served with the roasted veggie sandwich. Although spicy and tasty, it was lacking something: the dressing seemed like only an ancho aioli over potatoes. I also wanted the crunch of diced celery or the punch of diced scallions.
Starters include skewered shrimp with a light rum and brown sugar glaze, with fresh lime and cilantro and a small, cooling cucumber salad. Also good (and definitely large enough to share) is the grilled garlic toast topped with a wild mushroom medley sautéed in garlic and herbs.
My favorite dinner-menu item is the 10-spiced chicken in a peach au jus. A seared chicken breast is covered in mysterious spices, redolent of thyme, sage, cocoa and cinnamon. The sliced peaches on top are sautéed in a stock and wine reduction. All delicious, and served over a freshly mashed sweet potato purée, with a side of perfectly cooked brussel sprouts tossed with that amazing honey-sweetened bacon.
Also good is the ribeye steak with a winemakers sauce. The steak is rubbed with coffee, cocoa and chilies, and then topped with portobello and zinfandel reduction. This is served with garlic mashed potatoes and seasonal veggies. At $18.95, this is the most expensive item on the menu and is truly a terrific and tasty value. For $4 less, and also an amazing value, is the honey-and-chile-glazed salmon, also served with the garlic mashed and veggies. Less adventurous diners can enjoy a very hearty Mac & Cheese (made with a gouda-cheddar combination and herbs and bacon) or old-fashioned spaghetti and meatballs.
Desserts are very simple and homemade: milkshakes, cheesecake and a pie selection (usually one berry and one cream). I particularly like the banana cream as it is more custardy than creamy and has a very rich flavor.
Fillmore’s motto is “the last best small town in Southern California.” And now with the addition of Dustin Anderson’s Double A Café, the local dining scene at this great new establishment will be consistently full of very satisfied patrons.