It‚Äôs a good time to be a restaurateur in Downtown Santa Monica. With all the overdevelopment occurring it seems like the city is going for some kind of world record. It‚Äôs like an old-fashioned phone booth stuffing, or clowns cramming into a car. Or maybe the city is like the crazy cat lady (or man) that just can‚Äôt say no to another stray. Nevertheless, hoards of people spell great opportunities for restaurants ‚Äî that is if they offer delicious food at the right price.
The big strain falls upon us food critics. Restaurants open and close at such a frenetic pace it‚Äôs a challenge to stay on top of things. I can hardly cram a cafe‚Äôs food down my review hole before a new one opens up.
That was the case for Jack N‚Äô Jill‚Äôs, which I have always viewed as a Santa Monica mainstay, that is until it is gone. Owners of the Seasalt Fish Grill, located on the 500 block of Santa Monica Boulevard, have acquired the adjacent storefront of the now departed Jack N‚Äô Jill‚Äôs. If you were walking down the street with your phone glued to your face, you would never know there was a change. After all, the Jack N‚Äô Jill‚Äôs trademark yellow facade remains intact, but upon closer review there is indeed new signage that reads Country Kitchen.
Country Kitchen is an apparent parlay from Seasalt Fish Grill‚Äôs immediate success (Check out my review of Seasalt at “More fish in the sea,” Tour de Feast, May 24-25). The menus are very similar, almost interchangeable. Just swap out chicken for fish or vice versa. The dinning rooms are the same as well. Both have a small set of tables up front, with stairs leading to a second floor of more tables bunked over the kitchen. Even the restaurants‚Äô logos are alike.
With Seasalt‚Äôs lunch lines usually out the door, Country Kitchen gives customers an alternate option with a menu focused mostly on poultry. Mostly that is. Deviations such as burgers, steak sandwiches and beef bowls seem a bit out of place for a restaurant that has rotisserie chicken as their main selling point. I guess some people go to Red Lobster and order the sirloin steak, otherwise it wouldn‚Äôt be on the menu.
Getting back to the basics, the rotisserie chicken is Country Kitchen‚Äôs signature dish. For good reason too. The chicken is cooked just right, but it‚Äôs the spices that give Country Kitchen‚Äôs birds a slight edge over places like Koo Koo Roo or the California Chicken Cafe. Seasoning choices include chipotle BBQ and the signature salt n‚Äô pepper. The chicken plates, served with mashed potatoes, gravy and seasonal vegetables, are substantial and range from $10 to $15 depending on white or dark meat plus extra sides.
On a less slow-cooked note, the salads such as the California Berry, Quinoa Veggie Harvest and Farmer‚Äôs Backyard Kale Caesar are all sensible fresh-eating options. But like the devil on the other side of the shoulder, the fried chicken sandwich beckons. The deep fried chicken filet, topped with a pickle, dijon slaw and garlic aioli is tough to resist. It‚Äôs a really good sandwich that is seemingly really bad for you.
Whether it‚Äôs to accommodate the displaced Jack N‚Äô Jill‚Äôs crowd or not, Country Kitchen serves breakfast with a number of items, most notably the chicken and waffles.
When I think of the words “country kitchen,” the Cracker Barrel gift shop comes to mind. There really isn‚Äôt anything “country” about the Country Kitchen. But I suppose MTV has nothing to do with music and Lucky Charms have never been proven to actually be lucky. Semantics and a crowded menu aside, Country Kitchen does excel with their chicken, which is important since the restaurant‚Äôs logo is a silhouette of just that.
If you‚Äôre on foot or on bike, the Country Kitchen is worth a shot. But I wouldn‚Äôt recommend a drive into Downtown Santa Monica during business hours, even to my worst enemy. The crowds will subside post Labor Day, but the construction certainly will not.
More restaurants, more reviews. As I wrote this, three restaurants opened on Main Street. I better get my bike.
If you go
510 Santa Monica Blvd.
Santa Monica, Calif.
Michael can be seen riding around town on his bike burning calories so he can eat more food. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/greaseweek