CalTerra Trattoria, in the Vons shopping center in Atascadero, is an energetic hybrid of neighborhood diner and upscale cuisine.
At first glance, CalTerra is all diner, with closely spaced tables, an open kitchen that’s usually cookin’ at the pace of a short-order joint, and a counter where you can sit and watch the staff keep up with the requests for just-squeezed orange juice and French press fair-trade coffee.
Those beverages should be a clue that CalTerra is putting out some serious food, and it’s doing so with a team that can boast credentials such as the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York, and Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Pasadena.
The idea of CalTerra got its start when then-roommates Kevin Burke and Brandon McPartland (the CIA grad) began tossing around the idea of opening a restaurant.
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More than six years later, on Jan. 2, that became a reality with the support of Burke’s parents — Tom and Alfonsina Burke — and the addition of his daughter, Whitnie Burke (the Cordon Bleu grad), as pastry chef.
“So much for their retirement,” Burke joked about his parents’ participation, adding that “when they became involved, this really took on a life of its own.”
Armed with only their Zumex juicing machine, which was bought before they even had a lease, the CalTerra team designed and built out the space, largely by themselves, using Burke’s background in construction and restaurants, and zealously sourcing bargain equipment and supplies from Craigslist and auctions.
McPartland pointed out that a freezer was intentionally not among their acquisitions, so everything there is made fresh.
Breakfast covers the gamut from a classic meat and eggs combo to the brioche bruschetta — freshly baked, toasted brioche bread with mascarpone cheese, honey, fruit and almonds.
You can also order items such as eggs Benedict with hollandaise sauce made from scratch or a breakfast panino with a fried egg and grilled pork loin, and both are served on house-made English muffin bread.
Choice of side includes the typical hash browns, as well as the more unique options of jasmine rice and pumpkin sage polenta.
Some of the breakfasts are also available at lunch, or you can go for spaghetti with veal and ricotta meatballs, a tri-color chopped salad with blue cheese and pears, or a daily special like the recent fork-tender osso bucco with risotto.
Sandwich options include a hot tri-tri dip with fontina cheese and julienne fries, a grilled eggplant with roasted tomato, or a 7177 Club with avocado, arugula and your choice of tri-tip, pork, grilled chicken or double bacon.
CalTerra recently opened for dinner Friday through Sunday, and the already festive interior sports a whole new look at night, with rich brown linen tablecloths and dividers between the tables for a more intimate dining experience.
The evening menu is full-tilt Italian, serving up dishes such as Bucatina alla carbonara, Veal Saltimbocca, and a generous bowl of cioppino.
Plus, you’ll also want to save room for house-made desserts such as the chocolate banana mousse tart. (The option to serve beer and wine is in the works.)
As Burke notes, the aim of CalTerra is not only to serve tasty fare and take care of its customers, but to do so at reasonable prices as well. Most breakfast and lunch entrees are easily less than $10, and nothing at dinner is over $20.
“We want you to say ‘Wow’ when you walk in, ‘Wow’ when you taste the food, and ‘Wow’ when we give you the bill,” Burke said.