If you’ve caught wind of a new breakfast and burger spot in San Luis Obispo, chances are it’s the SLO Breeze Café.
This casual family-owned-and-operated restaurant quietly opened last August in a strip mall on lower Higuera Street, in the space formerly occupied by The Neon Carrot. Its high-ceilinged walls sport several historic pictures of San Luis Obispo County, and there are a dozen tables where you can enjoy your meal after ordering it at the counter.
This no-frills approach belies one of the key elements of SLO Breeze — the almost two decades of experience of chef Sam Zaugg. If he doesn’t seem old enough to have amassed that many years, it’s partly because he started as a young teenager in his grandfather’s bakery. From there, he went to culinary school and worked locally at such places as Los Olivos Café and Wine Cottage Bistro until the demands of the industry pushed too hard on his young family and he stepped entirely away from the kitchen.
Zaugg’s father, Wayne Hampton, was also experiencing a change of direction in life. The recent housing slowdown meant a reduction in his work as a construction superintendent, so he and his wife came up with the idea of opening a restaurant with Zaugg.
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“It seemed like the thing to do,” said Hampton. “He’s always wanted to do it, so let’s give it a shot.”
Zaugg jumped at the chance “when Mom and Pop approached me,” noting that the café’s breakfast and lunch hours allow for family time and let him apply his culinary skills to his motto of “using real ingredients to make it simple, make it pure, and make it good.”
On the surface, the basic SLO Breeze Café menu is basic. Breakfast offers scrambles, burritos and a two-egg/meat dish, while lunch serves up salads, sandwiches, burgers and hot dogs. However, a closer look reveals such items as house-made corned beef, hand-formed burgers, house-made dressings and sauces, and even house-made croutons.
You can get that corned beef on a cold sandwich with Provolone or on a hot Reuben with Thousand Island dressing on marbled rye bread. Other sandwiches include a Mighty BLT with thick-cut bacon and housemade garlic aioli, a California Club on a croissant, and a grilled veggie with eggplant, squash and a braised portabella on ciabatta.
Burgers (made from fresh, never-frozen beef) are served on Dutch crunch buns, and run the gamut from a classic, to an Ortega Chile Pepperjack cheeseburger, to the Maui Breeze — grilled SPAM with a slice of grilled pineapple on sourdough.
Zaugg has a lot of fun with his daily specials, and usually puts up a breakfast entrée, two lunch entrées, and a daily soup. Recent favorites have included everything from a French dip to a Fish Po’ Boy, a grilled chicken Caesar wrap to a pulled pork sandwich, an egg/bacon/cheddar Good Morning sandwich to the Edna Valley — a grilled chicken sandwich with pineapple, Brie cheese and Dijon aioli.
For other specials, Zaugg has also put a lighter twist on a Monte Cristo, and has done the crucial research (as in “a lot of input from East Coasters”) for an upcoming Philly cheesesteak.
“I wanted to bring back real food,” said Zaugg, “so we’re making everything possible from scratch. We’re also going to farmers markets when we can, using organic when possible, and we’re using breads from SLO Baked and Edna’s — it’s all about making good food, and supporting locals and the local economy.”