New and improved location

By JR Grant

In its new and improved location on Main Street in Downtown Ventura, Paradise Pantry keeps a loyal patronage with its selection of high quality cheese and wines and unique interpretations of comfort food favorites, including Kel’s Killer Mac and bread pudding.

In its new and improved location on Main Street in Downtown Ventura, Paradise Pantry keeps a loyal patronage with its selection of high quality cheese and wines and unique interpretations of comfort food favorites, including Kel’s Killer Mac and bread pudding.

I first became aware of Chef Kelly Briglio in 2004 at the opening of Westside Cellar, where she combined the emerging “small plate” food trend with wine pairings and unique artisanal food combinations. Aided by front-of-house manager Tina Thayer (who has the most amazing cheese palate I’ve ever encountered), Briglio’s restaurant became a standard Friday night stopping place for my dining companion and me. I was saddened when these forward-thinking ladies left the restaurant. I was encouraged, however, when they opened their own spot in 2007 further up Main Street.
You can now dine or shop at their larger and ideal Main Street location.

An extraordinary selection of spectacular cheese offerings.

An extraordinary selection of spectacular cheese offerings.

Although it was a spatially challenged location, and not quite the right fit for their dreams, they pursued both meal development and artisanal food offering possibilities. They continued improving their presentation and selection, and settled on a catchphrase for their approach to food, service and life in general: “We are quality- and palate-driven. Period.” When you now dine or shop at their larger and ideal Main Street location, it is likely you will return again and again for one of the most delightful, delicious and top-quality dining experiences (casually and comfortably) in Ventura County.

A refreshing and healthy soup with a terrific accompaniment.

A refreshing and healthy soup with a terrific accompaniment.

If cheese is your weakness, you need go no farther than the overflowing refrigerator containing an extraordinary selection. The other day I selected for the cheese plate Uplands Pleasant Ridge Reserve (seasonal grass-fed raw cow’s milk from southern Wisconsin), Jasper Hill Winnimere (from Vermont with the creamiest texture and hints of spruce from the extraordinary rind), and a sweet Valençay (made from raw goat’s milk with a blue/gray coloring, which was reportedly one of Napoleon’s favorite cheeses). Suffice it to say, if you want to taste, sample, learn or merely savor the delights of developing your own cheese palate, Paradise Pantry is the place for you: an amazing selection of spectacular cheese offerings.
For lunch the other day I could not pass up Kel’s Killer Mac: small macaroni, white truffle, garlic and roasted shallot topped with a smoked bacon, crisp prosciutto and pecorino crust. The combination of strong, smoky flavors and silky, creamy textures, with an occasional light crunch quite possibly made this the most delectable macaroni and cheese offering I’ve ever encountered. Upscale mac and cheese is very trendy and subject to the chef’s talent and creativity; this particular Kel special was unabashedly one for the books. Yum!

A combination of strong, smoky flavors.

A combination of strong, smoky flavors.

With the macaroni and cheese came the soup special of the day: organic corn, fennel and heirloom carrot chowder with small chunks of Yukon gold potatoes, garnished with sweet corn and pepitas. Not only was this gluten-free, refreshing and healthy soup a terrific accompaniment to the full-flavored mac and cheese, the savory combination was a perfect addition to the mini cheese plate — two artisan cheese samples, mixed fresh and dried fruits (figs, apricots), thinly (and elegantly) sliced apples, strawberries, grapes, candied walnuts, olives and artisanal bread (the old Anacapa Bakery’s recipe now especially baked for Paradise at Agostino’s in Oxnard). The entire meal was filling and delicious, with unique flavors at every bite, and certainly one of the simplest yet most memorable lunches I’ve had in many a long while.

A combination of strong, smoky flavors.

A combination of strong, smoky flavors.

Another of Chef Kelly’s specials are the crab cakes (fresh Dungeness shredded crab with avocado and topped with a Meyer lemon crème fraîche). These little cakes are truly mouthwatering, and in this simple presentation (combined with the unique Meyer lemon zest), any other variation will pale in comparison.

A one-of-a-kind artisanal, locally sourced bread pudding.

A one-of-a-kind artisanal, locally sourced bread pudding.

There are so many culinary possibilities at Paradise Pantry that this short review can’t begin to give you a firsthand report on every offering. I can’t conclude, however, without mentioning the bread pudding. OMG is the texting statement for this dessert. A one-of-a-kind artisanal, locally sourced (from Ojai) cinnamon country bread covered in oozing sweet and slightly burnt (in flavor) caramel with marcona almond bits and pieces with crème brûlée almond butter with fresh blueberries .… Ah, I’m salivating just remembering this dish. Yes, it is that good. Then again, I have become a complete fan and disciple of Paradise Pantry. Chef Kelly and business partner Tina have created an ideal foodie establishment in downtown Ventura. They may claim to be “quality- and palate-driven. Period,” but they are so much more, and Ventura County is now the better for it.