Jeff and Maegen Loring expected to have more of a break from the restaurant business when they shuttered The Park last year.
“We were just looking for a catering kitchen,” said Maegen.
Instead, they wound up launching The Neon Carrot, a casual deli-esque restaurant that opened in May on lower Higuera in San Luis Obispo.
The existing interior of the restaurant had a full-tilt tiki hut theme, which Jeff transformed into a sleek space with stylish industrial lights hanging from the high ceilings, tables for two along the walls, and a couple of large, inviting communal tables in the center of the room.
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As for the restaurant’s distinctive name, Maegen explained that it dropped out of the blue: “My old logo for the catering company was a carrot and one day I just said to Jeff, ‘I still really want to have a big neon carrot in the window.’ ”
The idea behind The Neon Carrot’s menu “is to really be able to express the season. We go to farmers markets two or three times a week,” said Maegen, adding that she looks to the produce itself for inspiration. “It’s really my favorite way of cooking, and it’s fun to sit here and figure out what we’re going to have the next day.”
Some of those seasonal specials have included a summer squash basil soup, crispy cheese-filled risotto cakes with “salsa rico,” and a strawberry apricot tart. Since the menu is still a work in progress and will change frequently, “we’re experimenting with the specials to see what people are interested in.”
“Seasonal” is a word you’ll see throughout The Neon Carrot menus, probably as often as “housemade.” Maegen and her collaborative staff (including a pastry chef) make everything possible from scratch, from ricotta cheese to hamburger buns to salad dressing.
Breakfast offerings include toast with housemade ricotta and rhubarb jam, blintz with seasonal fruit compote, and a fried egg sandwich on a housemade bun with tomato, basil and crème fraîche. Other freshly baked treats might consist of a rustic market fruit tart, chocolate pudding with salted peanut brittle, and the luscious Neon Carrot Cake.
The lunchtime menu sports two worthy hold-overs from the Lorings’ previous menu: a salad with Pacific Rim crab cakes and The Park burger with Hearst Ranch beef or a housemade veggie patty.
New Neon Carrot options include a quesadilla with squash blossoms and roasted pasilla salsa, an Italian grinder sandwich, and deli salads such as orzo and classic potato salad. Also, don’t miss out on the simple but sublime Carrot Club with turkey, avocado, bacon, lettuce and zesty lemon-caper mayonnaise.
In the beverage department, the restaurant offers drinks such as locally roasted Joebella coffee, housemade basil lemonade, organic bottled juice and Mexican cola. For potent potables, choose from an eclectic selection of domestic and imported bottled microbrews, or from an equally well-thought-out, food-friendly wine list.
“We’re trying to be local with that as much as possible, with the emphasis on the Edna Valley,” said Jeff, “and it’s a manageable list that we can change often.”
The Neon Carrot is open for breakfast and lunch, and the Lorings have also started Friday evening happy hours. Each week celebrates a different theme, such as the recent “Southern Food” night with fried green tomatoes and remoulade, black-eyed peas and Swiss chard, peel-and-eat shrimp, pulled-pork sliders and banana cream pie.
The new venture has enjoyed “a really great start,” said Maegen. “We wanted a place that was vibrant with a good sense of community, and I think we’ve got that.”