Oak and Main
419 E. Main St., Ventura
805-648-6862 or www.facebook.com/oakandmain/

Most of us do not hold sports bars to a high standard. Serve up some wings and nachos, a decent selection of beer and good happy hour prices, and you’ve satisfied expectations. Rookees in Ventura was a perfectly adequate sports bar, and I was happy to occasionally catch a Kings game there while I sipped a cocktail, even if the food was forgettable.

The new owners of Rookees, who now call the establishment Oak and Main, are trying to create something worth remembering.

When it was taken under new ownership in the fall of 2018, the digs got an upgrade: a new foyer, lounge chairs and loveseats scattered about the dining room, dark wood tables and high tops with elegant black stools. The new owners kept the TVs, but added a stage and dance floor with live entertainment a few nights a week. And the menu was all new, too, with some bar-food standards mixed in with salads, sandwiches and pizza.

I had gone once before in November for lunch, and was pleasantly surprised by a juicy, delicious burger made from a house blend of sirloin and brisket. It was good enough to bring me back for dinner later in the week, where I dined with my family on tasty thin-crust pizza, spicy fish tacos and a to-die-for fried chicken sandwich.

It closed not long after — for good, it was suspected. Instead, it changed hands again, and re-launched in late January with the same name and décor and another new menu, this one emphasizing small plates. I’m happy to report that despite the chaos, Oak and Main is still a contender.

On my third trip, I was relieved to see that two of my favorites – the burger and that wonderful chicken sandwich – were still on the menu (in the “Comfort Food” section). The vast majority of the menu was unfamiliar, however, giving me and my husband much to explore.

First up: the wild shrimp cake, made from fresh shrimp that’s been chopped, seasoned and pressed into pancakes, then nestled onto a portion of creamed corn. On top: a smoky Romesco sauce. It was a tongue-tingling mix of flavors, from the delicate shrimp to the smoky and spicy sauce to the rich and sweet corn. It’s easy to see why this is such a popular dish.

We also were impressed by the fried Brussels sprouts. Despite a nice char, they did not taste burnt – a feat unto itself. The pungent greens were beautifully complemented by crispy bacon and a balsamic glaze, and we relished the combination of sweet and salty, savory and fresh.

Both of these items came from the “Tapas” side of the menu, and thus were not especially large. So to round out the meal, we added the fish and chips to our order. While the batter was a little thick for my liking, it wasn’t overly greasy and the fish was fresh and tender. All things considered, a bar food staple done well.

One of the highlights of our previous meal had been the cocktails — specifically, a spicy margarita and the elder old fashioned. Neither was available on this outing, so I tried an Irish whiskey sour instead. It was very attractive, with a few stripes of bitters and a Luxardo cherry decorating the foam on top. Flavorwise, I found it quite tart but overall less complex than our previous drinks. A bit of a miss for me — but the only one in an otherwise lovely meal.

Snoozeworthy sour not withstanding, Oak and Main is definitely leaving the sports bar behind. Real care has obviously been taken with the recipes, ingredients and preparation, and there are some very good items on the new menu (which I’m told will be expanding soon). The craft cocktails are solid, too. If Oak and Main can manage to keep the doors open, I’ll gladly walk through them again.