After the Thomas Fire and Montecito mudslides devastated Santa Barbara’s retail and hospitality industries, opening a new business seemed out of the question. But the need to push past such fear-induced stagnation was why interior designer Kyle Irwin and his business partner Susie Bechtel decided to open up Field + Fort, their experiential retail store and restaurant in Summerland.
“It was time to swing the pendulum heavily in the other direction,” said Irwin of transforming the 5,000-square-foot, former home of Cantwell’s Market into the space of their dreams. “We had an opportunity to do something really positive for the community. It was positive for us too — it was a healing thing.”
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Now with the rise of COVID-19, the restaurant is meeting the socially distanced moment through a variety of adaptations. They have moved all ordering and dining into their ample outdoor space, offer curbside pickup for their online menu, package all items to-go, and remain vigilant about cleaning.
“We really thought, how can we make it so that everyone feels safe and comfortable?” said Irwin. “I think we figured it out.”
Field + Fort’s slogan is “Essentials for elevated living,” and this thread runs through everything in their store, which features home decor and specialty goods, and the adjoining café called Feast, where Chef Austin Moore puts a gourmet spin on classic dishes.
“I like food that is comforting and brings back memories,” said Moore, whose menu reveals Mediterranean and Middle Eastern influences. “But I also strive to create dishes that are unique in some way.”
A good example is the omnipresent offering of avocado toast, which is served here with preserved lemon, kohlrabi, and urfa pepper. Moore also takes the average egg dish to new levels with a California Shakshuka, made with roasted peppers, tomato, baked egg, avocado, and cotija with fresh levain. Said Irwin, “We have people who come in for breakfast and stay for lunch and take a rotisserie chicken home for dinner.”
Moore credits his mother, Kim Schiffer, who ran Fresh Eats Catering for 25 years, as an inspiration for his cooking. He’s worked professionally in kitchens for more than 15 years and returned from the culinary hotbed of Portland to imbue Field + Fort’s cafe with a tantalizing energy. “He brought the food up to the level of the retail,” explained Irwin.
I was blown away by the burrata, served with tender roasted butternut squash, fennel, gremolata, romesco, and griddled bread as well as the unique Italian black rice porridge. The “sweet” version was garnished with seasonal fruit (this time gorgeous roasted pears), labneh, candied pecans, baharat butter, and orange-blossom honey. It’s hard to go back to oatmeal after such a nourishing morning treat.
Moore sources as many ingredients as he can from the Santa Barbara Farmers’ Market, and the menu changes seasonally. Coffee comes from Joshua Tree Coffee Roasters, and pastries are either made in-house daily or sourced from Baker’s Table in Santa Ynez.
“It was kind of like creating a home,” said Irwin of their desire to inspire a sense of community with their communal table and menu items that are perfect for sharing. One of Irwin’s favorites is the Jerusalem board, which features labneh, soft-boiled egg, feta, beet hummus, herb salad, seasonal pickles, and fresh bread. Indeed, with a charming ocean-view patio, friendly service, and soul-filling food, Field + Fort is a home you’ll want to return to again and again.
2580 Lillie Ave., Summerland; (805) 770-7897; fieldandfort.com
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