Thursday, February 23, 2006
When was the last time you had a sandwich on focaccia that had just come out of the oven? Not the sandwich, the focaccia. Or steamed up your car windows on the way to the office because the brioche stashed in your bag wasn’t but a few minutes old?
Such is the case if you snag lunch or baked goods at & Everything Nice in Oldtown Salinas. “Because fresh carbohydrates rule,” their Web site says.
It’s hard to argue with that.
It must have been 70 degrees outside the day the family and I stopped into the bakery for lunch. A perfect day for a late lunch after an Oldtown stroll.
It’s a tiny little shop, tucked right around the corner from the new Maya Cinemas, with room enough for a refrigerator case, some work space and two tables. It’s sparse, vacant-looking even, with its insanely high ceilings and a few obligatory wall paintings—and complete silence. But any creativity lacking in the decor can be found instead exactly where it should be: in the kitchen.
The refrigerator case was crammed with a menagerie of creations: cakes, tarts, salads—everything baked right there on the premises.
“It’s easy to go out and get a catalog and get everything frozen and present it as your own. But if we go that route, what’s the point?” said co-owner Mary Messenger.
I had my heart set on whatever the soup of the day was, long before we’d even walked in because of their Web site’s soup of the day description: “Selection varies depending on the day, wind speed, ocean current, and whatever happened to look good at the produce stand.”
That day, potatoes and leeks must have been beautiful. I ordered a small cup ($3.95). I didn’t want to leave it at just that, so I added a scoop of chicken tarragon salad ($2.50).
My mate Sparky is a traditionalist, so despite the plethora of sandwich creations on the menu—meatloaf with tomato jam; smoked turkey, red onion and tomato with cranberry mustard—he ordered a tri-tip sandwich ($5.95), though he did jump out of his safety zone long enough to order it on focaccia instead of baguette.
One of the little Sparkies had a ham sandwich with “just mayonnaise and lettuce and nothing, nothing, nothing else.” The other followed in Dad’s shoes and went with the tri-tip, but on a baguette.
Messenger served my chicken tarragon on a bed of lettuce. I thought I’d gone to salad heaven. It had big hunks of roasted chicken breast, slivers of red onion, celery, a couple of tiny raisins. It was all slathered in a tarragon mayo that Messenger and co-owner Rhett Loder make themselves. “It also has a secret ingredient,” Messenger teased. “Okay, it’s dill pickle juice,” she finally confessed.
My soup was hot. Not warm. Not kind of hot. Freaking hot. Little traces of potato hid at the bottom of the great big cup. It was soupy, not stiff with cream. And excellent.
Sparky was sitting over on his side of the table guarding his tri-tip sandwich with a fork. I tried to swoop in for a taste, but he looked like he wanted to stab, so I backed off and reached for Little Sparky’s instead.
He’s at the barter age, so I had to trade him a bite for a taste of my soup.
The meat was sweet. Not sticky sweet, just hinty sweet. “Because it’s marinated in a soy-based marinade forever,” Mary said. It was topped with homemade caramelized onion jam and Dijon mayo. Not a single shred of meat or bread was left on either plate.
I never did get my soup back. When I did remember and went looking for it, it was already gone. I was disappointed. And who knows when potatoes and leeks will again be the sexiest things in the produce market.
That’s the coolest thing about & Everything Nice, really. There are no rules. “If somebody comes in with a photograph, an idea, anything,” Messenger said, “we’ll give it a shot if we’ve got all the right ingredients.”
That’s the motto of the business.
Before opening 10 months ago, Loder had worked as a sous chef at various restaurants. Messenger was a writer. They’ve since built a cult following of “people who get what we’re trying to do food-wise.”
One of her favorites is a guy she calls The Iron Chef. “He comes in, tells Rhett he’s in the mood for something, like Mediterranean, and Rhett just loves it. He just goes to work creating.”
That’s the nature of their business: catering to customers, letting their imaginations run rampant—with princess cakes and cupcake trees and sandwiches and salads galore—and trying to make a go of it in the tough world of the restaurant business.
But their business plan seems to be working just off Main Street in Oldtown. It isn’t overly optimistic. It’s reality through the eyes of two people who know what food should be.
“What do we want for our future?” Messenger asks. “Easy. World domination through baked goods.”
& Everything Nice
8 West Gabilan St., Oldtown Salinas.
Open Mon-Fri 8am to 3pm.