PICTURED: Austen’s Cobb salad with chicken, bacon, egg and avocado atop fresh greens. Photo by Leslie Westbrook

by Leslie A. Westbrook

Austen’s at the Pierpont Inn
Ventura Pierpont Inn
550 Sanjon Road, Ventura

Heading home from Hollywood after Christmas, it happened to be one of the two worst days of the year to be on the road. It took six hours to get home. One of those hours was a break for lunch at Austen’s at the Pierpont Inn. (Online correction Friday, Feb. 14, 2020, the Pierpont Inn is no longer a Wyndham Hotel.)

We walked up to the lobby — but it wasn’t there, nor was the restaurant, Austen’s. We followed a sign pointing the way, but ended nowhere. There we spotted a second sign and after a bit of sleuthing found our way down the garden path to the lovely rose garden cottages and yet another sign leading us to the hotel restaurant’s temporary digs, where it will reside during a large construction project.

The restaurant’s temporary digs are rather cozy. There’s a covered outdoor patio with lovely views across a green lawn all the way to the Channel Islands (we could see Arch Rock!); the windowless dining room has a lovely historic painted fireplace. The bar is a sort of temporary set up, and the wine list is quite extensive and interesting.

The food, at least for lunch, was not spectacular, but it was satisfying and there wasn’t anything wrong with it, either. Our waiter, Martin, was most accommodating when we asked to sample a couple of wines before settling on a lovely, crisp Sonoma Sauvignon Blanc from Sean Minor, Four B ($10 a glass) and taking our order.

Sadly, there’d been a bit of a bait and switch. The lobster roll I’d craved after seeing it on the online menu was no longer available. So my friend and I decided to split the Impossible burger with a side of onion rings and the Cobb salad. The burger was fat and messy and vegetarian (coulda fooled me — apparently a “pork” version is coming out soon) with grilled onions and lemon garlic aioli spilling out of a lovely, soft brioche bun. Quite filling, but a bit pricey at $15.99. The salad was generous with lots of chicken, bacon, hard-boiled egg, fresh greens and a generous serving of avocado. We ordered blue cheese and ranch dressings on the side; the ranch was good for dipping the wide, crunchy onion rings.

Starters include flatbreads and crab cakes. There are five salads (including a panzanella steak salad) to choose from, with add-on proteins of grilled chicken, shrimp or salmon. Main course pastas at lunch include wild mushroom ravioli, chicken pesto and shrimp scampi over linguini ($19.99).

One would think that with the traffic delays, more people would have hopped off for a bite, as the hotel is in clear view of the 101. Instead, there was just one other pair of diners during our gridlock road trip stop: tourists from Colorado, who were very satisfied with their meal.

I was unsure as to where the kitchen was, and asked our server, who explained that there was a catering kitchen in the building.

I returned a second time to try one of the dinner menu items — the ravioli and the Caesar salad. The mushroom ravioli were rich and filling; plump pillows stuffed with a medley of mushrooms and swimming in a tasty gravy-like sauce. The Caesar salad was large, and consisted of fresh crispy lettuce dressed with a mild anchovy Caesar dressing and Parmesan shavings. The clam chowder was thick, creamy and also rich and delish.

There are eight desserts to try, but a hummingbird landing on a bird of paradise in the garden provided a sweet, less caloric ending.

I will go back when the new dining room opens, but in the meantime, Austen’s at the Pierpont Inn is still serving up breakfast, lunch and dinner for its hotel guests and locals who might just like feeling like they are on a staycation.