The Saloon Ventura
456 E. Main St.
Whenever one walks into a restaurant and the first sound is the weighty Bonzo drum beat of Led Zeppelin’s “When the Levee Breaks,” it’s often a palatable omen. Such was true during a recent patronage session I had at The Saloon, one of my very favorite downtown Ventura hangouts. From the moment I first moseyed on in three years ago and saw the Old West time warp ambience, I was sold, and it quickly became my go-to for a beat-the-heat brew in between thrift store rummaging. My only discrepancy was the menu, which was heavily steeped in barbecue culture and the stereotypical accoutrements. That is not a knock on the chefs whatsoever, their preparation and presentation was a stone solid representation of an American classic, it’s just that barbecue isn’t quite my bag, being raised vegetarian and all. So when I walked by one day with hopes of catching a midday cold one and saw the place closed for renovations, I became curious. Would this only be limited to atmospheric attributes? Or was this a universal overhaul, menu and all? Sure enough, it was a tasteful marriage of restraint and necessity, bringing a pleasantly digestible shock to the senses for everyone strolling Main Street.
The décor became vastly brighter and purposefully focused, in a Sunset magazine sort of manner — whitewash walls with potted succulents symmetrically situated, a mid-century modern lounge scene and just enough Americana with the inclusion of a shuffleboard table. The menu has adapted a more Cali-centric identity, which can all too often emit an air of pretension, yet none of that is apparent here. Only comfort and culture exist in these revamped offerings.
Drinks always have been and always will be luxuriously top floor at The Saloon. The new batch of recipes, however, decided to build a penthouse on top of that. Consider the Devil’s Lettuce: vodka, chareau, lime, agave, arugula leaf and CBD oil. (For those of you out there not hip to what that is, Google it.) Manifested by my mixologist Jordan, this concoction danced a palate ballet of sweet, tart and mellow. The Saloon also pours the spectrum of local and craft beers, even offering the increasingly hard-to-find 22-ounce handle mug.
The first starter dish that popped out was my old nemesis Tempura Jalapeño Poppers — the crispy, cheesy thorn in my waistline. Yet my server, Devin, reassured me that these oversized beauties were void of any excess oily mess, and she was abundantly correct as they left the hands dry and the stomach happy. A sriracha aioli and agave syrup brought out yet another dash of Asian-Hispanic flair that worked flawlessly.
Also occupying a place among the starters is the charmingly nostalgic tomato soup, complete with the ambitious grilled mac and cheese sandwich. This treat hearkened back to the days of playing hooky from middle school just so Dad would go to Blockbuster and grab a bag full of new releases while Mom popped a can of Campbell’s (or Amy’s in my hippie household) and fired up the griddle. The soup was appropriately simple, lacking any braggadocious spice imprint and instead relying on quality heirloom tomatoes, celery and a careful kick of ginger. This provided the ideal dunking pool for its plate companion.
Continuing with the theme of nostalgia, The Saloon has focused on an abundant dish that represents the various and beautiful cultures that create the rich fabric of our tastebud tapestry –— sausage, or bangers as they are called. As diverse in flavor as the latitudinal lines they hail from, the new menu offers this global staple in many splendorous forms. I settled on an Eastern Bloc favorite, the Polish, and the more modern vegan style, the Field Greens. Each banger was classically accurate in quantity, flavor and presentation, providing, dare I say it, a bang for your buck. (Sorry, I had to.) Other options include a bratwurst, Louisiana Alligator, Santa Fe Chicken, duck and bacon, and bison. Each banger comes with a choice of two toppings — apple bacon sauerkraut (my favorite), caramelized onions, red pepper and onion, fried egg, or cheese sauce — as well as several appropriate sauces to indulge in.
In addition to the bangers, The Saloon boasts a bevy of classic sandwiches, such as the fried chicken with bleu cheese and celery and the short rib, blanketed in caramelized onions and cheddar cheese. It also plates a gorgeous burger that I will be going back soon to experience, and I suggest doing the same — just make sure to tie up your horse, aka feed the meter.