San Luis Obispo’s Mint + Craft is re-imagining the concept of fast casual with a focus on farm-fresh ingredients and a globally inventive menu.
That approach is no surprise since the downtown café and mercantile is the latest venture by Robin Covey and Shanny Covey. The duo has championed fresh, local fare in their restaurants for more than three decades.
In 1985, they opened Robin’s Restaurant in Cambria, then extended their philosophy to Novo Restaurant & Lounge and Luna Red in San Luis Obispo, which opened in 2003 and 2010, respectively.
Mint + Craft opened its doors in April 2017, and Chef Michael Wood joined that team that September.
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“This isn’t anything we’ve really done before,” Shanny Covey acknowledged. “It’s fast casual, but not typical. We still bring your food to you, and the menu is more like one you’d see at finer restaurants.” The plating is also notable, with obvious attention paid to visual appeal.
In addition, some of the food preparation is a bit different due to the space constraints at Mint + Craft. Most of the main proteins are par-cooked at the restaurant’s San Luis Obispo commissary kitchen, which also handles the in-house baking for all four of the Coveys’ locations.
“We’re still doing a lot from scratch right here (at Mint + Craft), though, such as all the freshly made sauces and all the daily vegetable preparation,” Wood explained.
The bright, inviting café offers breakfast and a combined lunch and dinner menu daily. Both grab-and-go and eat-in options are available for every meal.
Place your order at the front counter, then have a seat inside at one of several tables or the counter. Outdoor options include tables on bustling Monterey Street or quieter spots in the walkway alongside the restaurant.
Morning items include a breakfast sando (sandwich), an eggs Benedict served in a pastry shell, or a yogurt and granola fruit bowl. Also popular are the open-faced “toasties” – a slice of whole grain bread topped with ingredients such as avocado and radish sprouts; options include the Monte Cristo with ham and cheese and the BLT-inspired Obispo.
Lunch and dinner options range from a bahn mi sandwich to beef short ribs and potatoes, from a Caprese salad to a cashew chicken bowl, from a sausage plate to a strawberry and arugula salad.
“A lot of people get the Indian vegan bowl” with red rice, yellow dahl and farmers’ market veggies, Wood said, “and not because they’re vegan – they just like it.”
A monthly evening event called Our Local Table also allows Wood to showcase his culinary talents in a different light. The four-course, family-style dinner is served at a communal table set with fine china and place cards.
“It gives us a chance to do more of what we’re already doing,” Wood explained. “It’s a little bit of fine dining, but we want to keep the prix fixe price point reasonable.”
Wood develops a different menu each month.
Among the dishes coming to the table July 18 are duck confit, a Caesar-inspired salad, pan-roasted snapper, California quail with black mission figs and a panna cotta dessert. Wine pairings are available for an additional cost.
“The thought was to build an event where you could also build community,” Covey explained. “It’s a way to build friendships through meals, to give people a chance to sit back, relax and get to know each other.”
Mint + Craft Cafe and Mercantile
848 Monterey St., San Luis Obispo
Hours: 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily; breakfast until 11 a.m. weekdays, 2 p.m. weekends; lunch and dinner after 11 a.m. daily.
The scene: Fast casual is kicked up a notch at this bright, inviting café. The mercantile features 300-plus items, including gourmet foods and hand-crafted housewares.
The cuisine: Fresh ingredients are showcased in a globally inventive menu for quick grab-and-go or sit down fare. Wine, beer and coffee drinks available.
Expect to spend: Breakfast $6 to 14, lunch/dinner $6 to 17; prix fixe dinners usually $35 to $50, wine pairings extra.