By Allison Costa
Brio Bakery, Ventura
Though it sits quietly tucked into the Vons shopping center at the corner of Telegraph and Victoria, Brio Bake Shop is one of those food finds that just might make you want to shout from the rooftops. Seriously. From outside on the sidewalk, you would never know that the little bakery boasts such an aweinspiring menu of pastries, breads and sandwiches, created under the watchful eye and skilled hands of the lovable Dina Collins, who, having grown up in the Puglia region of Italy, sports the most delicious of Italian accents. But rather than just Italian specialties like her focaccia bread, the options at Brio represent the culmination of a long career and time spent running her own bakery in Minneapolis (the place she called home before coming to Ventura). So, stop in sometime and introduce yourself, as Dina is always there. For those looking for fresh bread, don’t miss the focaccia and the four-grain bread. Brioche loaves are available by special order, as are cheesecakes and her tiramisu torte. Looking for a sweet morning treat? Pick up one of her brioche pastries filled with a decadent almond filling or the legendary doughnut muffin—so good, you’ll never need to hit the doughnut shop again. And for your next picnic, be sure to pick up a stack of Brio’s cookies—the snickerdoodle with brownie chunks, which manages to be salty and sweet, chewy and crunchy all at the same time, is a personal favorite.
Best of VC Marketplace
It all happened pretty fast. One day, Talia Wunder was clicking along in her career as an accountant, and next thing you know she’s a business owner setting up shop on Santa Paula’s 10th Street. Her new business, Best of VC Marketplace, offers only products from Ventura County. Though she sells artwork, jewelry (some of which she makes herself through her other business, Devon Design Jewelry), organic soaps and even furniture, the selection of local food products alone is worth the drive to Santa Paula.
Inspired by a similar business in Washington State, Talia saw a need in Ventura County for a shop dedicated to celebrating all of the wonderful products created here. She found her storefront on 10th Street early this year and opened her doors in May. Spencer Makenzie’s sauces, Kelsey’s Fudge, Ojai Olive Oil, Earl’s Gone Wild Barbecue Sauce and New Oak Ranch Lavender Jams are just the beginning of all the products available. And most days, when you stop into the store, Talia will greet you with a taste of one of her many delicacies.
Where else can you go and find all of the artisanal foods of Ventura County in one location? Wouldn’t your mother-in-law in Minnesota love a bottle of Ventura Limoncello Vinaigrette for Mother’s Day?
Most of the products are available online and can be packed and shipped worldwide. Be sure to ask about gift baskets as well.
On the corner of Third and C Streets in downtown Oxnard sits the most unlikely of businesses: a café and market specializing in the foods of South America. The restaurant alone makes a great destination for those looking for international cuisine. The menu offers specialties from Argentina and Uruguay, plus a selection of Italian dishes that are integral to some South American cuisines.
The kitchen rolls out golden empanadas, expertly grilled meats, seafood, tacos and pasta dishes as well. The beef Milanesa, lightly breaded and fried, makes for the ultimate comfort food while the chori-pan sandwich, made with homemade Argentinian sausage and chimichurri sauce, feels like a taste of South America on a plate. To go along with the food, South American beer and wine are available, as are authentic pastries and an enticing dessert menu.
The market side of the business offers a meat counter that specializes in South American cuts of meat. Grab a steak from the butcher, a jar of chimichurri sauce from the market shelves, throw in a box of Fantoche dulce de leche sandwich cookies, a personal favorite and you’re ready to bring a taste of South America into your own kitchen.
Thinking I might just skim it, take in a chapter here, a chapter there, I loaded Barry Estabrook’s newest book, Tomatoland, into my backpack alongside a slew of cooking magazines I’d been meaning to get to all summer long. Yet once I started the book—which, with a topic like tomatoes, you might assume would read like an academic textbook or school paper—I literally couldn’t put it down. That was me, on the beach with my nose buried in a story about the modern, industrial tomato.
Set mostly in Florida, the story starts with an education about the rampant use of pesticides required to grow tomatoes in the state of Florida. “An acre of Florida tomatoes gets hit with five times as much fungicide and six times as much pesticide as an acre of California tomatoes,” he reports. Bred for looks and no longer taste, one grower even remarks, “No consumer tastes a tomato in the grocery store before buying it. I have not lost one sale due to taste…. People just want something red to put on their salad.”
Estabrook tells the story of a couple whose son is born with severe birth defects after his mother spent years working in the tomato fields, often getting sprayed with toxic chemicals during her pregnancy. The story about their quest for justice will have you on the edge of your seat like a modern-day action movie. Yet their story is real. You’ll learn about how poorly many of the farmworkers are treated, often receiving antiquated pay, bound to a system plagued with fraud, one that many liken to slavery. Their stories just may leave you vowing to never buy a regular grocery store tomato again. In the least, you’ll never see a tomato the same way again.
And just when you think you can’t take any more, Estabrook gives us hope. Hope in the form of Lady Moon Farms, the largest organic grower of tomatoes on the East Coast, who proves that it is possible to grow good tomatoes without the use of pesticides. He gives us hope in the form of a lawyer dedicated to fighting for justice for farmworkers, a builder providing quality housing for farmworkers and a teacher providing a solid educational foundation for the children of the farmworkers who grow most of our country’s tomatoes.
This book is a must-read for anyone who considers themselves a foodie and pretty much anyone who has ever eaten a tomato.
The book is available in local bookstores and Amazon.com. For more info on the book visit Estabrook’s blog: www.politicsoftheplate.com
The One-Block Feast
The One-Block Feast, the latest book from Margo True and the staff of Sunset Magazine, is exactly what it promises to be: “An adventure in food from yard to table.” It is where how-to guide meets cookbook meets a selection of some of the best food writing around. Written in a whimsical and often comical tone, the book reminds us why we love Sunset and why True is the food editor for such a great magazine.
The book documents the staff’s experience working towards the lofty goal of creating four feasts over the course of a year, using only what they could grow or raise around the grounds of their Menlo Park offices. We follow their journey as they plan menus, plant their gardens and raise animals around them and then adapt their feast menus based on what actually works. We learn that some maggots are OK in olive oil production (who knew?), that when chickens molt they have no energy for making eggs and that when bees swarm they are actually very gentle. Great photos guide us as we learn from their adventures how to make salt, cheese, beer, wine, mead and tea. We even get lessons on how to pasteurize milk and de-slime snails.
We laugh as True and her staff find out their chicken is a rooster, and question our own convictions as they debate whether or not to eat him. We learn that vinegar needs a mother, akin to sourdough bread requiring a good starter. We see pictures and read recipes of gouda gougeres, honey ice cream, strawberry oven jam and a winter vegetable chowder, getting hungrier by the minute.
In the epilogue, True humbly states, “At the beginning of this project, I thought that a garden could be planted to follow a menu. Now I know that a menu follows a garden. Nature always leads, and a smart cook learns how to dance.” Hers is a true story of learning, adaptation, flexibility, food, community and, yes, adventure.
For more info visit www.sunset.com.
Ventura Food Tours
It’s always exciting to announce that one of our own has launched a new endeavor—especially one that’s right up our celebrate-local-food alley!
Allison Costa, a regular contributor to Edible Ojai & Ventura County and many other publications, has just launched Ventura Food Tours. Building on her experience as a food writer and her passion for all things related to eating and drinking in Ventura County, she has created a series of food walking tours designed to give a behind-the scenes look into the diverse culinary worlds that exist right in our backyard.
On her tours, guests visit a series of restaurants and shops where they not only get to taste some of the area’s best food, but meet the chefs and owners who are bringing it to us. From gourmet chocolate to local wines, tacos to cupcakes, her tours cover a broad range of cuisines and artisanal foods and beverages. Splashes of local history, architecture and food trivia are thrown into the mix as well.
Tours are offered Saturdays and Sundays, and private tours are available by request. For more information, visit www.venturafoodtours.com or call 805-295-TOUR
The MOB Shop
Sure, you could drive through Ojai, but wouldn’t you rather soak up the avocado groves and enjoy the scent of the orange blossoms from the seat of your bike? With the Spirit of Ojai bike tour, offered by the MOB (Masses on Bikes) Shop, you can do just that. Though the Meiner’s Oaks shop has only been open a few months, they are making a name for themselves with these one-of-a-kind rides designed to celebrate local history, local farms, local food, and the local scenery. Owner Kelly Pasco has made this “beautiful end-to-end bike tour of Ojai” that much more accessible to more people by making electric bikes available for rent. Groups ride the twohour route, stopping along the way at places like the Honor Farm and get the opportunity to taste local produce fresh from the field. The tour concludes at The Farmer and The Cook, where guests can choose to linger for a locally grown lunch. Stay tuned for more details about The MOB Shop’s move to a new location in downtown Ojai.
Allison Costa is a food writer and the owner of Ventura Food Tours LLC, a company that offers food tasting tours around Ventura County. Visit her blog at foodhapenings.com and for more info on her food tours visit venturafoodtours.com.