No longer just a feast for the eyes, the Steynberg Gallery in San Luis Obispo has developed into a place that offers something for all your senses — including a small but tasty menu that caters to vegetarian preferences.
Owner Peter Steynberg, who has a master’s degree in fine arts from Rhodes University in his native South Africa, opened the gallery about 10 years ago to be a venue for contemporary art shows, including his own oil paintings. However, given the vagaries of the gallery business, he came to realize that such a narrow focus wasn’t sustainable.
“We opened the whole place up to a coffee house about three-and-a-half to four years ago,” Steynberg said, a fitting move given the history of the distinctive Monterey Street building.
It dates to 1932, and was one of eight buildings constructed in California specifically for Farmer Brothers Coffee.
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Though the art deco façade has been updated a bit — Steynberg painted some striking South African-themed mural art on the outside and the elegant door is a Frank Zika design — all the work has been true to the period, and the interior even sports the original floors.
As a tea and coffee house, Steynberg Gallery hand brews all the coffee drinks you might expect, from cappuccinos to caramellos, and the beans are shade-grown and fair-trade certified. Tea lovers can steep themselves in the impressive selection of almost 30 teas that are available from local companies such as SLO Chai, Swan Sisters and Secret Garden.
Since its original scope was expanded, Steynberg Gallery has taken on a vibrant life of its own within the community.
The work of visual artists is still the focal point, and the gallery show changes every month or so.
However, on any given night, you might also encounter a poetry reading, a classical music ensemble, a Sierra Club meeting or a concert of world music.
The gallery has also become well known for its singer-songwriter events on Tuesday evenings, which draw local and national artists who hail “from Texas to Boston.”
In the past several months, Steynberg Gallery expanded its palette of offerings yet again. Beer and wine have been added to the beverage lineup, and there’s a food menu of “fresh stuff that we’re keeping simple.”
Breakfast, which is available all day, includes sweet treats from Splash Artisan Bakery and Cowboy Cookies, as well as bagels, breakfast bagel sandwiches, and breakfast burritos with egg, black beans and salsa.
For lunch, enjoy one of the veggie grilled paninis, or check out the daily specials board and see what market-inspired salad, soup or curry is being offered.
Everything is housemade each morning, including the salad dressing. Recent daily specials included a ginger sweet potato soup, a free-range chicken plantain and potato curry served over basmati rice, and an organic Greek salad with tomatoes, feta cheese and Kalamata olives.
“Whatever’s fresh is what we do that day,” said Steynberg, adding that much of the produce comes from the Saturday farmers market in San Luis Obispo. “We use local and organic ingredients whenever possible,” and the soups are “always vegetarian and often purely vegan.”
The curries tend to be vegetarian as well, and are inspired by Steynberg’s extensive experience with the Southern Indian cuisine that’s prevalent in South Africa.
These days, although Steynberg finds that most of his creativity is going toward cooking with oils rather than painting with them, he’s pleased with the direction the gallery has taken.
“It’s really become a sort of cultural center,” he reflected, “and we didn’t plan any of it — we’re still evolving.”