Kirk and Barrie Sowell have headed south — to the south side of Morro Bay, that is.
The couple have already made their mark with fun, fresh fare at Frankie & Lola’s Front Street Café at the north end of town. In mid-May, they also took over the existing Pelican Grill at the south end of the Embarcadero and re-opened it as Miss Lola’s Southside Grill.
You’ll find the same attention to ingredients and whimsical menu monikers in both of the Sowells’ restaurants. However, while the tiny Frankie & Lola’s only serves breakfast and lunch, the Grill serves lunch and dinner and has much more space.
The goal for the Grill was “to have a menu that crosses over,” said Kirk, a graduate of the California Culinary Academy. “We want a place where people can come and have a hamburger one night and then something like fresh pappardelle pasta with asparagus and pancetta another night.”
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At Miss Lola’s Southside, patrons order at the counter and then their food is brought to them, whether it’s in the circular open dining room with floor-to-ceiling windows or outside on the “dog-encouraged” deck. Fitted with wind screens and heaters, the deck is almost always an option, even in the often chilly air of Morro Bay, and it’s a particularly popular spot when there’s live music on the weekends.
In coming up with the new establishment’s name, “we wanted something with a little tie-in to the other place,” said Barrie, adding that the “Southside” not only refers to the restaurant’s location, but also to the Southern-inspired dishes that often pop up.
For example, a recent specials board included local halibut grilled with fried green tomatoes and served with Creole remoulade, and a stalwart of the regular menu is the Morro Bay oyster po’boy sandwich with crunchy, just slightly sweet red cabbage cole slaw.
From about any table at Miss Lola’s, Kirk can look right up the Embarcadero and point to the place where he gets most all of his fish “right off the dock,” and he’s proud to be able to be to serve “Morro Bay oysters, which are the best, a world class product.” The Sowells also count on local producers for everything from microgreens, to avocados, to sourdough bread.
In addition to daily house-made soups and nightly homestyle dinner specials such as meat loaf and mashed potatoes, the grill’s usual menu offers burgers, salads, and hot and cold sandwiches.
Several fun grilled cheeses are available, ranging from the Shazurkey with Jack cheese and Ortega chili, to the Snootie with Brie cheese, cranberry chutney, apple and turkey.
Other options include a hearty spinach and white bean salad with pancetta and crispy onion strings (try it with the house balsamic dressing), a slow-cooked and thinly sliced tri-tip sandwich with caramelized onions and house-made aioli, or a vegetarian “Burger none the less” made with sundried tomato soy sausage, cheddar cheese, all the usual fixin’s and Thousand Island dressing.
Given the casual dining atmosphere of Miss Lola’s Southside Grill, most people wouldn’t guess what’s going on in the kitchen.
As Kirk noted, “dishes are cooked to order, and before that, we’re making everything from scratch: hamburger buns, tortillas, rye bread, French fries, onion rings, sauces, dressings, pastas, clam chowder, pecan pies, cheesecakes. ...
“People want good food that’s simple, but done well,” he said. “It’s an approach that rings true over and over again, so we’re bringing the same intensity and level of technique that you’d find in haute cuisine. After all, the basic preparations for either style should really be the same.”