Next Door Bistro is proof positive that good things come in small packages.
Although the micro-bistro in downtown Paso Robles is big on flavor and presentation, it has a scant 14 seats inside. A handful more are available on the patio when weather permits.
Dining here is an intimate experience – just the way chef Ed Drake wants it.
“Our food philosophy is definitely focused on atmosphere and community,” Drake said. “When you go to a friend’s house and have good food and wine, the experience leaves an imprint of a memorable time. That’s what I want people to walk away with from here.”
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He credits his staff with helping to make that happen.
“I wouldn’t be where I am now without their commitment to the bistro and their support personally,” Drake said. “I’m lucky that we all fit together in this tiny space like puzzle pieces.”
Sharing an entrance with Di Raimondo’s Italian Market and Cheese Shop on 13th Street, Next Door Bistro opened in September 2014 as a joint venture between Drake and Di Raimondo’s owner, Jean Higgins. For some time, Higgins had been trying to develop a café/bistro concept in the space, formerly occupied by a bakery.
“We met through mutual friends,” Drake recalled, adding that “this opportunity came up at a good time.” He and his wife, Paso Robles native Caitlin Couture, had recently moved to the area so she could be involved with her family’s farming operation in the Central Valley.
Drake hails from Southern California, where he attended Kitchen Academy, then a sister school of the Culinary Institute of America. Prior to Paso Robles, he and Couture lived in Portland, where Drake cooked for such various aspects of the food industry as catering businesses, food trucks and the area’s Meals on Wheels program.
At Next Door Bistro, Drake’s approach is “definitely from-scratch, even minimalistic,” he explained. “I want the ingredients to stand out, but be cohesive.”
The specific menu items are inspired by several different cultural influences, Drake said.
For example, a starter of warm Castelvetrano olives evokes Sicily, while a sandwich of Manchego cheese and quince paste delivers classic Spanish flavors. The Ploughman’s Lunch cheese board of Stilton and English farmhouse cheddar cheeses, served with a pickle, house-pickled vegetables and bread, would be right at home in a British pub.
Other dishes include an open-faced beef/pork meatball sandwich topped with parmesan cheese frico (crisps), a salami/capicollo bistro grinder sandwich with Mobay cheese and a Butcher’s Block cheese board with chorizo chicken sausage and salami.
A vegetarian (though he tastes all of his dishes), Drake is mindful of having options such as a harissa egg salad sandwich and a Roots & Greens salad with lentils, kale and roasted root vegetables. And many menu items can be made to accommodate vegetarians and vegans upon request.
The daily soups are always vegetarian, and usually vegan and gluten-free as well. Seasonal ingredients are often highlighted, such as the asparagus soup Drake will be developing when the season gets into full swing.
In keeping with his emphasis on community, Drake looks to local purveyors for as many of his products as possible. Breads come from La Migliore Italian Bakery in Paso Robles and Brian’s Artisan Bread Co. in Atascadero.
“I also get grass-fed beef, local pork and organic chicken from J&R Meats” in Paso Robles and Templeton, he said.
As for the global lineup of cheeses and cured meats, most of those come from Di Raimondo’s – right next door.
Katy Budge is a freelance writer from Atascadero. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Next Door Bistro
Hours: 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursday through Monday
The scene: An intimate bistro with limited seating; peak times typically noon to 2 p.m.
The cuisine: From-scratch fare inspired by global influences; beer and predominantly local wine are available, as are to-go picnic options.
Expect to spend: Cheese boards $15 to $20, salads $10 to $12, sandwiches $8 to $14.