Soule Park Bar & Grill
1033 E. Ojai Ave., Ojai
$5.25 – $23.95
A number of people I know who have lived in Ojai for years, and even decades, have never eaten at the Soule Park Bar and Grill. This under-the-radar, reasonably priced spot for breakfast, lunch and dinner seven days a week has the best views in town. Yes, there’s a full bar — the first question asked of me by an Ojai couple who even have views of the Soule Park golf course, where this restaurant is located, from their living room.
Located on the edge of town, my visit began with a lovely drive up the long road called “Shady Lane” to a rather nondescript building that houses the pro shop and restaurant.
The cavernous main room is divided into two sections, anchored by a unique, multisided stone fireplace. One I call the romantic side (it’s dark) and the other, with bright lighting and one solo painting of Ojai, the cafeteria side. There are wood floors, big picture windows, simple tables and very comfortable padded chairs on wheels, which one imagines might be kind of fun to roll around after too many martinis. There’s a great outdoor deck, with umbrellas, arguably the best dining spot, weather permitting.
I didn’t know about this hidden spot either until recently. I popped in for a reasonably priced lunch with a view about a year ago, half a tuna sandwich and homemade tortilla soup from the Soule Sandwedge & Soup choices. The small cup of chicken tortilla soup was light on the tasty broth and thick with carrots, zucchini, tomatoes and generous amounts of cheddar cheese and crispy tortilla strips. The half-sandwich was generous with tuna salad, a flavorful slice of red tomato and a crispy lettuce leaf on fresh wheat bread, making for a perfectly satisfying lunch for a bargain $6 then ($7 now) with a million-dollar view.
At that time, dinner was served just three nights a week — and the lease was soon to be up for grabs. Contenders included the Ojai Valley Inn and several individuals, one of whom took over last June. I waited for the dust to settle before slipping in for dinner. The restaurant is now open seven days a week for all three meals.
At the end of January the views were just as lovely, even though the green mountains that embrace the valley were scorched by the Thomas Fire. The greens were lush, oak trees unmarred, and the pond a deep green.
Most appetizers are fried: calamari, chicken strips, beef taquitos or potato skins (which waitress Madison recommended), so I asked about the Caesar salad ($4).
“I like it with bacon,” Madison suggested. A HUGE Caesar arrived — not only with bacon but also with chicken. Whoopsy! I wouldn’t be charged for the chicken she assured me, as it was their mistake. The entree size gave me an idea of the perfectly serviceable Caesar with croutons and, yes, bacon (good idea). Burgers (there are nine!) are all priced under $10; a hot dog is a mere $5.25.
Sandwiches, salads, burgers abound. Five entrees include rib-eye or New York strip steak (10 ounce for $20.95, 14 ounce for $23.95, the highest priced item on the menu); the “popular” Soule apricot chicken ($18.95), chicken breast topped with apricot sauce; pan-roasted salmon (caper cream sauce); grilled shrimp (butterflied and “smothered in cream sauce”); fettuccini Alfredo served with garlic bread ($14.50-$19, depending on whether you add chicken, shrimp or salmon) and eggplant parmigiano, with garlic-butter pasta and garlic bread ($14.50), which I ended up choosing. Madison told me they were out of eggplant, so I chose the fettuccine with shrimp.
If you love noodles and cheese — and have a hearty appetite — this huge, rich version surround by half a dozen plump shrimp (more than enough for two to split) will not disappoint. The heavy dish improved the more I dug into it. (The garlic bread was toast, light on the garlic).
The new, super-nice leaseholder, Keith Brown, stopped by my table to chat. He told me that he has plans to upgrade the interior later this year (the banquet room was just refurbished), and that he’s keeping prices affordable.
The bar was full of boisterous golfers — who dig the low-priced beers — bragging after their day on the course. Wines by the glass — most $7-$11 (Justin cab at $22 a glass is the highest) — include some Central Coast wines (Qupe) and Napa (Beringer) and French labels (a rosé and a Rhône blend, Ventoux Xavier).
Madison told me that they were “working on a happy hour” — you’re on your own for that for now — but I think you’d be happy here at any hour thanks to the million-dollar view with down-home prices, basic fare and good intentions that all add up to a great little secret spot.
Tell ’em I sent you — and I hope the regulars aren’t pissed with me.