August 23, 2016 – As we’ve been reporting for several weeks, acclaimed chef Brad Briske has left La Balena in Carmel to open his own restaurant. Now we can finally reveal the location of the restaurant and it’s none other than the former Main Street Garden in Soquel, where he once worked. It was the first restaurant where Briske had the opportunity to create his own menus, set up his own sourcing and butcher his first animal.
The new restaurant will be a deeply personal place with an impressive menu and reasonable prices. It will be called Home.
One of the most unique aspects of his plan will be made possible by the restaurant’s back garden, where Briske plans to set up an outdoor cooking station with a large wood-fired grill—something he loves to cook with and has become known for as an acclaimed farm dinner chef for Outstanding in the Field and other hosts. The garden already contains a wood fired pizza oven, and Briske’s aim is to surround it with herbs and specialty greens that will go straight into his dishes and also add to it a rustic outdoor bar with wine and beer on tap.
“I want to keep it creative and fresh and young and energetic,” Briske says, adding that he will also showcase the whole animal and local, seasonal, organic vegetables that he has become know for at La Balena in Carmel, where he had been executive chef for four years before resigning last month. But his new restaurant, to be called Home, will be “more my home cooking, the food I like to eat with my family.”
Luckily for the devotees of the hand-made gnocci and pastas and deep fried chicken he prepared at La Balena, those will be on Home’s menu. But Briske will also cook with ingredients that the Northern Italian focus of La Balena did not include, such as avocadoes, ginger, lemongrass, cilantro and Mexican chiles.
The garden station won’t open until spring, but right from the get-go when Home opens in mid to late October of this year, Briske will introduce other special features, like a 7pm nightly tasting menu to be served to small groups at a communal table in a side room of the restaurant.
The tasting menu will require 24 hours notice, helping keep down waste and enabling him to charge only about $70, or less than half what many tasting menus cost. “It will be small and fun, with old silver platters and china,” Briske says.
Briske says he wants the service at Home to be excellent, but the vibe to be informal and homey. To that end, he’ll decorate the 45-seat main dining room with his parents’ hippy chandelier from 1970s and he’ll install a “family table” from his own home, complete with the glitter, glue and paint from his daughters’ craft projects, where the girls can always sit with his wife, Linda. (And when they are out, another family will be invited to sit there.)
“The number one goal is just to focus on quality of life,” Briske says, noting that Home will be closed on Sundays and Mondays and he wants to limit reservations so that he’ll have time to bring food out himself and visit with customers during service.
Briske also looks forward to monthly community parties to which he’ll invite his local farmer-suppliers and other friends who perhaps don’t get out so much. On those nights, the food will be self-serve, the drinks inexpensive and the music flowing.
Home will open Tuesday through Saturday at 1pm with sandwiches—beef tongue with salsa verde and braised osso buco are some options that Briske is thinking about—available on the front patio. Before regular service starts at 6pm, he’ll offer a special early dinner option with wine or beer and a price as low as $10.
Once Home is up and running, Briske plans to launch a food truck, and after that, a nearby deli. The final part of his plan is a buying a farm where his family can host agritourism guests.
Home’s location was most recently owned by Luca Sergio Viara, who called it Gioconda. Before that, it was Main Street Garden, and the spot was also well-known for its turn as Theo’s in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
For Briske, the chance to purchase and recreate the restaurant is a dream come true. His culinary career began at New York’s Natural Gourmet Institute, when the Grass Valley native was a vegan. Following his studies, he interned at Millennium, the acclaimed vegan restaurant in San Francisco.
After Millennium, Briske followed fellow Millennium cook Sean Baker to Menlo Park’s Flea Street and later, Santa Cruz’s Gabriella Café. Eventually, Briske landed at Main Street Garden, where he had his first chance to join a restaurant as its chef. It was there that Briske (who is no longer a vegetarian) began butchering and cooking whole animals.
It was also at Main Street that Briske by chance cooked for then-Casanova chef John Cox, who was so impressed that he told Briske to let him know if he ever wanted a job. In 2012, Briske took Cox up on the offer, but Cox (now of Carmel’s Cultura — comida y bebida) left shortly thereafter and Briske, after meeting La Balena owners Anna and Emanuele Bartolini at a dinner he cooked at Live Earth Farm, joined them as their chef.
La Balena became a huge success, and in 2014, the Bartolinis and Briske shared an award of Best Chef/Best Restaurant conferred by Edible Monterey Bay’s readers. Briske says he deeply appreciated the new level of professionalism he learned from the Bartolinis at La Balena and the creative freedom the Bartolinis gave him to develop as a chef. But Santa Cruz never stopped feeling like home and the Bartolinis recognized that.
“We wish Brad all the best and are so happy he was able to find his dream spot with an outdoor oven and a garden, back in the community where he feels more at home,” says Anna Bartolini.