Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Temecula's Liberty Kitchen - Ramble On!

We were all really sad when one of our favorite Venice families, The Conways, moved to Austin, Texas (often said the Venice of Texas) a few years ago. We not only missed our dear friends, but also the fun they brought as the owners and operators of Little Radio, with events like Summer Camp (in a parking lot in Downtown LA) and constant awesome music shows. Well, I'm happy to tell you that Christina and David Conway (and their great kids) are back in California with a fantastic new endeavor, Liberty Kitchen, in Old Town Temecula. 

I finally made it down there (over there?) last weekend, and the only drag is that my new favorite restaurant is about a two hour drive away ... but that's better than Texas! When we drove up, it's clear to see why they chose to open up a place in Temecula ... the big, white, columned Southern looking building with a wraparound porch is a stunner, and smack dab in the center of Old Town like a centerpiece. It's beautiful ... and I imagine less than half of what restaurant rents are in Venice these days. So, the Conways went for it, and now Temecula is a real destination for Venice friends.

We arrived early in the morning so the boys could get some work done before the restaurant opened for business, so I had plenty of time to explore. The walls are done in a warm, cedar wood, and filled with posters and art from the Conway's travels and events (like the Railroad Revival Tour that went down a few years ago), making it all feel very personal - and cool.

Lucky for me, Liberty Kitchen serves brunch on the weekends, so I got down to it as soon as the kitchen staff arrived and fired up the stoves. It's true Southern fare, so you can expect all that good stuff like chicken and waffles, biscuits and gravy, chicken-fried steak, beignets (!), Cafe du Monde chicory coffee (!) ... you get it. It was delicious. And filling. And the real deal. There was a Bloody Mary bar set up d.i.y. style, with awesome bacon, fresh produce, various hot sauces, the end of the rainbow, really, for Bloody people. I went with the flight of mimosas, which meant three glasses (presented in old cheese boxes home-made by the Conways) of champagne with seasonal infusions. On this morning, it was strawberry, lavender, and chamomile, each so good I felt like I wanted to bathe in it (and one day may). I offered a taste of them to my brother, and he proclaimed the lavender one to be, "The best alcoholic drink I've ever had." High praise, indeed, as he's had a few.

Just as I was reveling in my brunch bliss, a honk outside made me even happier. I went out to the porch and there was my lovely (and supremely missed) friend, Christina Conway, pulled up in her 1967 cherry red Mustang! I jumped in and we went for a spin, and just pretty much laughed at how great it was to see each other - at their fantastic new place! SO happy for them! Oh, on our drive to find parking, there was an old timey Old West show going on up the street, and as a Venice dweller, I actually jumped when the gunfight happened. That show would not go over well up here, I'm afraid.

{Aside: As we were all fed, and the Conways had a restaurant to run, we took off to the Temecula wine country to do a little tasting, and to find the vineyard I'd been to 20 years ago that I remembered had the best bread ever. A brief Bing search (I switched to Bing after Google started eating up Venice), I found the spot - Maurice Car'rie! And they were celebrating their 35th Anniversary on this very day!

Oh, man. We ordered up the bread, got some Syrah, and settled in on the porch to take in the beautiful day and check out all the Memorial Day quilts on display for Veterans. Then the bread arrived, as glorious as I'd remembered it.

It's garlic sourdough, piping hot and fresh, with a wheel of Brie baked right there inside of it. We made new friends just from the people walking by to gawk at it. YUM. There was no way we could finish that thing, so off we went to taste more wine, see the Conway's new house, and kill time until the rest of the Venice crew arrived for the evening portion of the day!}

As the dinner hour arrived, we all trooped back into Old Town to meet up with everyone back at Liberty Kitchen. Mutual great Venice friends, Lacey Kay Cowden and Matt Ellis came down with their bands to grace Liberty Kitchen's new stage. The custom "Ramble On" sign backlit the musicians, and served as a good reminder of what to always do.

Before the music began, it was time to eat again. The Conways are wonderful, generous hosts, and we all had a fair sampling of the best this kitchen of freedom has to offer. We had every Cajun thing from fried gator (it tastes like chicken, as you'd expect) to duck tostadas, jambalaya to etouffee, and all of it was sinfully delicious. I think our standout favorites were the ridiculous shrimp and cheese grits (that I'm still thinking about) and the Roast Beef Po' Boy - that I'd never had or heard of but was absolutely out of this world crazy good. It felt like we had traveled much more South than just to Temecula, this felt like the bayou!

Lacey Cowden played as we ate, and mesmerized the entire room. Our friend had some calm come over his face as she played and said, "I really needed to hear this music today." What a great review! Cowden unveiled a couple of new songs, showing growth and depth that I didn't even think she needed. It was a beautiful time, with beautiful friends, exactly what you want a holiday weekend night to be. The music is the point in the evening, but there is plenty of things to do - board games, pinball, photo booths ... the fun is all covered here.

The dessert course (sweet potato pie) got lost on me, as I was now up dancing around to Matt Ellis and his great band, and it was gone by the time I got back. Instead, I opted for yet another of the crazy good cocktails served up by Liberty Kitchen's bar, with names like Texas Heat, Ramble On, and my favorite, The Stubborn Mule (that actually tasted like a spa green juice so you could kid yourself that it was great for you). Ellis and Company had these Temecula people grooving - whether they were tourists or locals, they were into Ellis's Americana on a perfect Americana weekend.

The one drawback to the day was that now we had to drive back to Venice. There was a BIG day  coming up in town, and we had to be ready to go in the morning, but next time - we're crashing down there. There will be several next times too, because Liberty Kitchen is booking all the great bands we've always loved, and keeping that Little Radio family together, wherever. What a cool thing the Conways have built there in Temecula, and what a great thing to know that Venice friends stay solid regardless of geography.

Book yourselves a table at Liberty Kitchen when you find yourself in the Inland Empire, or wine tasting, or just go ahead and make it your destination in the first place. It's worth it. Congratulations to the Conways and all of the wonderful Liberty Kitchen staff who were so gracious and fun in their welcoming of us to their fantastic venue. We'll be back soon!

Liberty Kitchen
28544 Old Town Front Street
Temecula, CA 92590

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