Main Course California
1363 Donlon St., Suite 11
Open for lunch, Monday-Friday
$4.95 – $11.95

Tucked away in the most unlikely of locations, I found a little gem of a restaurant. Hidden in the business park behind the “old” Target in Ventura, Main Course California is a new but thriving catering and personal chef business, complete with its own tiny storefront where customers can order takeout or sit down and enjoy gourmet soups, salads and sandwiches at one of four small bistro tables. As customers browse the chalkboard menu on the wall and place their orders at the counter, they can also ogle over yummy baked goods, and ooh and ah over the cooler of prepared foods available for takeout.

It’s crystal clear that all who work at Main Course loves what they do. Executive chef and owner Rachel Main, who has roots in both Louisiana and Southern California, gets genuinely excited when talking about her business, the farmers that she works with, and even more animated when talking about how she uses their produce in her kitchen. She is proud to serve free-range poultry, grass-fed beef and all locally grown produce. As she explained, “First, our clients need to be able to afford the food. Second, it has to be local. Third, it needs to be pesticide-free.” And if the farmers are certified organic, she is even more thrilled.

This philosophy continues into all that they do at Main Course — from doing their local deliveries by bicycle to using biodegradable takeout containers made from recycled paper. Other than the occasional use of ketchup and canned chipotle peppers, they pride themselves on “not serving anything out of a can,” even making their own homemade pickles and roasted peppers.

This attention to detail and passion for preparing healthy food is apparent in all of the food they serve. The tomato soup tastes like pure unadulterated tomatoes, and that’s pretty much what it is. Main roasts the tomatoes with garlic, olive oil, salt and pepper until they caramelize, then purées them and adds a bit of sugar and a hint of truffle oil because she “just can’t help it.” The soup demands to
be eaten slowly, and tastes like summertime.

The brie and pear salad is one of a kind — a bed of buttery, smooth lettuce topped with a wedge of warm brie, giant candied but not too sweet walnuts, red onion marmalade and honey-bay pears that conjure up memories of Southern baked apples. The menu claims that this salad will make you swoon, and it sure does. The only challenge is trying to squeeze all of this deliciousness into each and every bite.

The peanut chicken salad is another winner, full of shredded free-range chicken, carrots and red peppers that are incorporated into the lettuce with a creamy dressing. Topped with roasted peanuts, this salad captures the essence of peanut, without being overly sweet.

The grass-fed, organic beef for the quarter-pound burger comes from Nick Ranch in Santa Margarita, which is about 170 miles from Ventura. To make the burger, the beef is mixed with smoked paprika, garlic, fresh parsley and fresh thyme — to the extent that the diner is happily shocked by the number of lovely green flecks inside. The soft bun is layered with the tender and moist burger, lettuce, tomato, the homemade pickles and red onion marmalade, which almost infuses the bread with a taste of butter and caramelized onion.

The roasted turkey sandwich, one of the house specialties, is a perfectly proportioned tower of flavors. From the firm, thick slices of sourdough bread to the gentle saltiness of the brined roasted turkey, to the sweetness of the onion marmalade and the roasted red pepper, and to the peppery bite of the arugula, each mouthful of this sandwich is a delight. The sandwiches are served with a variety of sides, including bacon potato salad and homemade potato chips — sliced super thin, gently fried, and dusted with crunchy sea salt flakes. They, too, will make you swoon.

The only downside to this heavenly little place is that even for customers who are dining in, the food is served in takeout containers. But honestly, the food inside the little brown boxes quickly overshadows this minor infraction.

Maybe it was knowing that the lettuce was grown in Santa Paula or that the beef in the hamburger was grass-fed, or maybe it was just because everything tasted so darn good; but the food made me want to truly slow down. There was no rush to clean my plate; rather, I wanted to savor each bite and take in all the flavors. What a treat to eat in a restaurant that focuses on providing great, classic food that is good for the body, the planet and good for our community. This little hidden restaurant is big on flavor, full of passion and potential, and bursting with delicacies. Now I just need to find an excuse to have a party, so they can cater it for me.