Hozy’s Grill
1760 E. Lemonwood Drive
Santa Paula
$6 -$30

When a picky Ojai friend invited me to join him for dinner the other evening, I assumed we’d go to Suzanne’s, that always right-on-the-mark, high-end restaurant in Ojai.  However, my friend said we were going to his new restaurant find in Santa Paula, of all places. I immediately knew he had just discovered that great and unique restaurant hidden in an industrial park: Hozy’s. I was soon able to inform my friend that chef Merced Robles actually perfected his talent at Suzanne’s, and then joined owner Gary Holazpfel in what has got to be one of the finest company dining rooms in the country.

The owners manufacture specialty automobile fasteners, and as their clients are from around the world and used to fine cuisine, Holazpfel wanted to be able to entertain them in a world-class unique restaurant. Thus began Hozy’s Grill about eight years ago, and now, with its fine wine cellar and inventive fresh cuisine, the world-traveling visitor to Hozy’s will not be disappointed.  I’ve eaten breakfast, lunch and dinner there a number of times, and my palate has always been well pleased.  

Each time, I want to go back again for yet something else more wonderful. For example, the other morning a friend was visiting from Boston and wanted a unique breakfast.  Off we went to Hozy’s and ordered the French toast plus: a really fluffy and eggy combination that had been soaked through in dark rum, and then topped with whipped maple syrup walnut butter. My friend didn’t even feel guilty about eating the four pieces of perfectly cooked thick bacon that came along with it. A great blend of French roast coffee accompanied both her order and mine; I splurged and ordered one of my lunchtime favorites: a filet mignon chicken-fried steak topped with creamy country gravy and freshly cut hash browns. The tenderness and succulence of the steak gives new meaning to the Southern breakfast standard.

When I go to Hozy’s for lunch, I often opt for the cup of soup and mixed green salad. (The soups vary every day and are all wonderful.) Chef Merced is particularly noted for his clam chowder, and also his locally farmed, mixed-vegetable combination. While fond of the roasted red pepper and artichoke bisque, I particularly like his black bean with pico de gallo: spicy, filling, perfectly balanced, and an ideal soup for a brisk day.

I will also sometimes order the chili verde; Chef Merced and Hozy’s won the Santa Paula People’s Choice award for Best Chili Verde at a festival in 2007. While it has a very earthy chili verde flavor, for me it seems to favor the tomatillo sweetness rather than the pungency of a freshly roasted green chili.

The salads are very generously sized; I particularly like the Chinois, which is a mix of Napa and red cabbage with finely shredded chicken, snap peas, scallions and almonds in a very tangy rice vinegar and sesame dressing. Recently, I’ve had the chicken salad, which, at first glimpse, seemed ordinary and familiar (although a generous portion), but on first bite, every single flavor inside stood out: the fresh chicken, the apples, celery, onions, walnuts and golden raisins, each taste blended perfectly to give this chicken salad that something extra that makes you wish for more. (I had ordered the half sandwich/cup of soup special for $8.25.)  

The menu at Hozy’s is so vast one could write volumes, but I have to save room for the extraordinary dinners. The look of this restaurant is unique, with orange walls, yellow trim, black, fancy formica tables with silver trimming, sturdy white ironware and white cloth napkins, Formula 1 and NASCAR photos with autographed walls containing the names of some of racing’s most famous drivers. And flowers — flowers are everywhere.  The other day, I counted six vases of roses and six vases of French tulips — a dozen in each vase! All of this enhances the one aspect of Hozy’s that is truly unique: the fresh, delicious, innovative dinner cuisine.

If the abalone is on the menu (the menu changes weekly), order it. Farmed abalone from Santa Barbara that is egg-washed, then lightly sautéed in a buerre blanc sauce. This is truly one of the most delicious tastes from the sea, and Hozy’s prepares it perfectly. I can only say it again — order it and you will not forget its scrumptiousness. Another favorite of mine is the portabella ravioli: five homemade ravioli stuffed and smothered with a pancetta, porcini and chanterelle sauce. Absolutely outstanding.  The flat iron steak is memorable, but even better is the bone-in filet.

Of course there are memorable desserts, and the wine cellar will please even your pickiest guest. That is, unless they are so picky they wouldn’t dream of going to Santa Paula for a fine meal. Trust me on this one — you and your picky guest will not be disappointed in any meal at Hozy’s.