I thought I’d be cruising in under the radar on a Wednesday night to grab a quick bite of the newest Chef Daniel Pundik creation at Local Tap House & Kitchen, one of Oceanside’s dining mainstays the last few years and huge local favorite. Instead, I got waitlisted, ate enough to feed a family of four for a week and left with my head spinning and mind working in overdrive to fill in the blanks regarding the huge news Daniel adamantly refused to share with me.
I have to admit, I don’t get by LTH as often as I’d like, for no other reason than I tend to stop a little farther down the road at Wrench and Rodent for my sushi fix whenever I make it to Oceanside. I’ve loved Daniel’s food from the first time I tried it and that opinion is not likely to change in the near future. It’s always flavor forward, in an Americana, recognizable way. There’s also a complexity to the food that exists in direct contradiction to its simplicity.
And, in this case, complexity is a good thing. For me, “complex” dishes fall into two categories. One is more confusion than complexity, resulting in a “what the hell is this and why would I ever put it in my mouth again?” experience. Dishes from the Local Tap House kitchen, thankfully, are of the other ilk. The one that manifests itself simply, as a mouth and palate full of proportioned ingredients and married flavors, punctuated by shortness of breath and maybe an occasional choking sound resulting from continuously cramming food into your mouth so as not to lose any flavor explosion momentum while dining.
It’s like Grandma went to culinary school – the spices are big, the flavors are huge, the ingredients came out of the backyard and bring the truck, ’cause you’ll need it to take home the leftovers in. There’s an ethereal sense that if you ordered the same dish minutes apart, they might be subtly, perhaps even vastly different, as Grandma might have decided that a dash more paprika, an extra pinch of salt or pepper, a couple more jalapenos or another handful of cheese might be appropriate the second go-round because, well…just, because. And, are you really going to tell Grandma she’s wrong?
And, the fact that I don’t make it in as often as I would like is apparently no detriment to business at all, as the 8:00 p.m. crew on a Wednesday night had every seat in the dining room and outside patio with a booty in it. How do I buy stock in this place?
The diversity on the menu at Local Tap House is always astounding, especially considering that the menu is almost completely revamped every three to six months. Locals can choose from numerous “meat and potato” style standards like short rib & pumpkin gnocchi, Grandma’s buttermilk fried chicken and jalapeno & cauliflower mac ‘n cheese. There’s also plenty on the menu to appeal to the more adventurous foodie, including local tuna ceviche with taro root crisps, scallops with coconut curry udon noodles and the newest dish that was posted on social media, prompting my 30 minute drive across the county at 8:00 p.m. on a Wednesday – the lobster, red shrimp, andouille and puff pastry pot pie.
The pot pie, yeah, it was worth the trip. Bowl lined with baked to perfection puff pastry, mouthfuls of lobster, whole red shrimp and andouille sausage, a gravy that kept on coming like Hulk Hogan chasing a vial of steroids and a mirepoix that swirled its way from the bottom to remind you that it had a mission…which happened to be fully accomplished.
But that wasn’t the highlight of the evening. Chef Daniel stopped by the table for a little chit chat and, somehow, probing questions were asked, vague statements were made and real answers are still absent from the scene of the crime. But, here’s what I was able to piece together in the limited cranial space I have left…
A new building has been purchased. I’m guessing it’s in Oceanside, because, what successful, inventive, artistic, cutting edge chef or restaurant owner in their right mind would move out of the hottest, fastest growing food scene in San Diego County these days?
A 50/50 partnership agreement may have been put into place between owner Gabe Hogan and Daniel for the new place. If it’s true, who didn’t see that coming? There are not many owner/chef relationships I’ve seen that embrace the camaraderie, respect and singular vision for success that these two share.
A contractor has been hired and the search for an architect is ongoing. Gabe built and renovated Local Tap House himself, with the help of a few local craftsmen, but probably wants the new place to have a bit more of a wow factor. Besides that, he’s a busy and successful restaurateur, now.
Taking the liberty of filling in all the words that Daniel wouldn’t say out loud, using my sub-par deductive reasoning skills, I’m gonna summarize like this: The new restaurant may open around April or May of next year, but even with accurate info, that’s a stretch and a guess, as a lot of factors can impact and delay restaurant openings. And, as more information leaks out, we’re going to find out that this project will be huge, at least in concept. The cuisine will no doubt be top notch, judging from the vast array of dishes Daniel has created at Local Tap House over the last few years. Wednesdays nights will still be busier than a lot of other places’ Saturdays, but there will be more seats to accommodate. I don’t see them getting away from what they’re good at, which is laid back Oceanside style service with a flair, delicious, inventive, filling meals and local ingredients prepared to serve local people.
I know. That’s a whole lot of words to tell you I don’t know much.
Here’s the Rundown on Local Tap House and Kitchen:
Location/Ambience – Located in the thick of things along Coast Highway in South O, Local Tap House is a comfortable enough space to eat and linger at while enjoying their great local beer selection and some pretty fine wines, too. Wood tables inside and out can be configured to fit any number or size of parties and the recent addition of more outdoor seating and wide open windows give the place a bit of indoor/outdoor tropical feel. Given that what we call bad weather in San Diego barely passes for fog in most other places on earth, it’s a perfect fit for the area. Parking is readily available on local streets.
Food/Service/Cost – Foodies that like to eat a lot of smaller portions of food are advised to bring plenty of help. These are working class portions, designed to make sure that no one leaves the table hungry. So, bring a person for each different item you’d like to try – 4 sounds like a good number and even then, clear your schedule, because you’ll be eating leftovers for a couple of days.
Service is exactly what it should be in O’side. Quick, efficient and with a smile. Server knowledge is great, punctuated by “that’s one of my favorites” and “yeah, that’s a great choice” like they actually know what they’re talking about.
Plan on $10 – $20 on average for a flavor-laden entree with more components than you probably have in your fridge right now and plenty to share. There are no reservations, but the wait list moves pretty efficiently. Give yourself an extra half hour or so during peak times.
However, if the non-information that I didn’t get from Daniel is even partially true, I’m not sure if the wait list will be an issue for much longer. I can’t wait to see what’s coming! See ya there and, Cheers, my friends!
308 S Coast Hwy
Oceanside, CA 92054