Sold on California Soul Food
The dude with white hair down past his shoulders motioned to us from behind the bar, asking if we had a reservation since the place was packed on Friday at 8:30pm. Even though we shook our heads, he gave us a friendly nod and worked his way through the crowded dining room, proudly waving us towards the only remaining table.
Circa looked like a working, shoebox diorama of a restaurant. Seating was almost too close for comfort, eking by with only an inch of elbow room in between tables. But this community of close eaters was about to teach me an important lesson: how to love thy neighbor’s dinner.
Circa claimed to have “California soul food”, conjuring images of fat-free chicken and gluten-free waffles or whole wheat “faux” mac-n-cheese or something equally gag-worthy. But instead, Circa delivered a magical mash-up that blended farm-to-table freshness and comfort food favorites (i.e. Green Bean Casserole: organic brown beech mushrooms, goat cheese cream, fresh oregano, crisp onions - $8).
Cast Iron Fried Jidori Chicken: duck fat roasted fingerling potatoes, bacon braised collard greens, blonde ale gravy ($17)
My decision was easy enough since the woman at the table to my left ordered the cast iron fried chicken and I thought, “I want that.” It came wrapped up in a neat package with lots of moving parts, all fitted together in a well thought out plan of edible engineering. Every element was more than I’d hoped for: golden coins of potatoes were fork tender, yet still firm, crisped with duck fat. The bacon waved in identifiable slices amid a pile of rich, collard greens, stewed and lush, but not mushy. The chicken’s skin came off in crispy pulls to expose the tender flesh, ripe with natural juices, and bright notes from the blonde ale gravy brought a bouncy bite to a potentially heavy dish. The portion was on the small side, but enough to sooth the beast (= my appetite) and I truly enjoyed every bite.
“It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood, a beautiful day for a neighbor. Won’t you be mine? Won’t you be mine? Won’t you be my neighbor?”
I felt like Mr. Rogers as my gaze gallivanted around neighboring tables, winking hello and studying every dish that put down roots in my area. I longed to make friends with them all. And I went for it...by awkwardly gawking at the couple on my right while they plunged into their desserts, and I nodded admiringly, knowing I would soon follow suit by ordering the same.
Cast Iron Skillet Apple Pie: spiced date vanilla bean ice cream, caramel ($10)
I felt like Laura Ingalls celebrating some special occasion where Ma busted out the cast iron skillet for a personal-pan-style apple pie, and its novel presentation and flaky top crust were praiseworthy.
Berries & Cream: fresh berries, lemon lavender anglaise, pistachio ice cream ($7)
The lemon, lavender anglaise daintily fluffed itself beneath a skirt of fresh berries, leaving behind a perfumed trace of lavender and the clean cut of citrus = a palate’s happy ending.
Coming Full Circa
Bratwursts, pork belly, lamb shanks, pork and beans, burgers – Circa had comfort food covered. Their beer menu had a bounty of microbrews and desserts were given the same attention to detail as dinner. I was also interested in checking out their brunch menu for the Chilaquiles Skillet: corn tortilla chips, pork chorizo, stewed white beans, poached eggs, red chile sauce, cilantro, pickled radish, farmer’s cheese ($12.50) and BBQ Benny: slow-cooked bbq pork butt, poblano cornbread, cilantro, poached eggs, hollandaise, homefries ($13), along with the $5 Happy Hour menu during the week.