The more life I live, the more things I forget that I thought I used to know. Then, after an extended, mostly subconscious, journey of searching for that thing I lost, I sometimes find myself almost where I started. Almost. Older and wiser, hopefully, with a different outlook, so, not quite the same, but, well, yeah…kinda. And that’s how we ended up at the Flying Pig Pub & Kitchen…Vista version.
The original Flying Pig Pub & Kitchen in South Oceanside was one of Fluffy Unicorn and my first loves, at least as far as quaint, local, divey gastropubs go. They were the first of their kind in the area; the current elder statesman and founder of the Cool Food movement that has put North County Coastal San Diego on the gastronomic map. The only reason there’s a food history in South O, as brief as it may be, is pretty much because these guys started it. The Oceanside location still has that old school vibe…put your name on the wait list, hang out on the sidewalk ’til called, but who cares? ‘Cause everyone’s a friend around these parts and you’re close enough to some of the of the coolest stretch of beach on the Left Coast for the salt in the air to frizzle your hair.
I’m not even sure I realized I had been resisting a trip to the Vista younger sister for awhile now. Far too long, in fact, considering her relative proximity to home base. Although I’d had a chance to visit the Vista Flying Pig Pub & Kitchen location during a function awhile back, I hadn’t actually tasted their food or experienced the place in its natural state of being, which wasn’t a problem for me until this visit. Now, in the interests of self exploration and internal betterment, I find myself tearfully asking my other self…”Why?” Short answer: because, Vista isn’t Oceanside or coastal…and I don’t even know what that’s supposed to mean anymore.
I suppose I was reluctant to acknowledge or even consider that this stalwart of coastal gastropubs could successfully transplant themselves inland. The good news is, they didn’t. There is not even a comparison to be made between the two, other than the relationship of timeless, classic, older brother to the hippest ever little sister.
The Vista Flying Pig Pub & Kitchen location has a welcoming, casual, coastal, relaxed feel that’s often hard to find even on the coast. Noticeably lacking is any of that forced, touristy beach vibe. With an expansive bar that opens onto a breeze laden veranda, there’s an energy akin to a tropical party for 150 or so of your bff’s…impeccably catered, of course. It electrifies the evening air, creating its own little pocket of turbulence right up to Flying Pig Pub & Kitchen’s property boundaries and, most definitely, a pace or two beyond.
For as busy a place as it turned out to be on a recent, beautiful Saturday evening, it’s also one of the more laid back settings we’ve experienced in awhile. It really shouldn’t be considering the amount of activity. Chalk one up for intangibles…those mystical ingredients for success that have to, by nature, come from some innate genius or ability to identify things that must exist, but may not be overtly physically palpable.
Depending on the timing of your visit, you may have to wait. You’ll find that won’t be a problem, as the wait line gently ebbs and flows, more like a rippling tide than a tsunami of humanity. From our view of the front door, there never appeared to be a wait of longer than 10 minutes, although there were times it looked as though it should have been thrice as long. Service was attentive and timely, considering the volume of guests filling the place. Water glasses took awhile to be filled, which was a symptom of the easily identifiable smell of success in the air and a condition just as easily remedied in the future by having the bussers grab a pitcher between trips of caravanning used ware to the scullery station.
In the end, though, platitudes and ambience aside, this great restaurant experience, as they always do, came down to the food. And, that, Flying Pig Pub & Kitchen has pretty much nailed. The food here has layers, but not in the haute cuisine, chemically altered or inventing the uninvented kind of way. There was layer upon layer of well developed, down home richness by a chef that clearly is not afraid of seasoning. It’s the kind of flavor that will appeal to everyone and, no, I don’t know how that’s possible.
Imagine that…another intangible.
There’s really no reason to search any further than the fried chicken sando here to understand what I’m talking about. Man, it’s just so simple. Which is what makes it so good. Toasted bun, fresh slaw, just enough salty bacon to remind you you’re eating at “The Pig”, monstrous chicken fried breast almost crispy enough to cut the roof of your mouth without actually doing so, hot enough to let you know it just came out of the fryer, but not hot enough to burn you, topped with bleu cheese and buffalo sauce.
Yeah, this is a thing that may and could have been done a million times, maybe just as good, but, certainly, never better. It was a savory bomb of creamy on earthy on spicy on juicy on salty on crispy held together by more creamy with a bit of crunchy. The complexity was in how to eat it with but one mouth. The sadness was in its rapid state of dematerialization.
The end result is, days later, I’m still thinking of it.
Every dish presented packed a flavor punch that was bold, rich and designed to ensure that no half empty bellies left the establishment. Offerings were comfortable sounding, with just enough edge to keep even the most inveterate foodie interested. From garden fresh produce (as in fresh from the owner’s new garden) to house made pasta and locally sourced seafood, there was enough of a cross section of cuisines on the menus to hold your interest without turning your menu browsing into a spin through a galaxy full of criss-crossing wormholes. The cuisine tended heavily toward the savory side of the spectrum, without a ton of sweetness in the food – a pleasant respite from some of the places that think you have to have that ever elusive “balance” of every known flavor in the universe in every dish (side note: you don’t).
The specials list, rattled off in somewhere under 5 minutes flat, was a bit long. Far too long for there to be any expectation of the average diner remembering it. It should have been printed. The cliffs notes version was a fish dish, two pasta dishes and two steak dishes. No worries, though. We were definitely going in for a couple of the specials and, how the hell he remembered it I don’t know, but our server was more than happy to rattle them back to us again.
Dinner here started as a reluctant meal that finished as a character exploration of what a great food experience is supposed to be. Welcoming. Thoughtful. Approachable. Appreciative. As in, “we sure appreciate the community we’ve made our home in, so let’s give them the best food and experience we can.”
Maybe I’m putting words in their mouths, but they kinda deserve it after what they put in mine.
I’m pretty sure we’ll see you there sooner or later…Flying Pig Pub & Kitchen, Destination: Vista is going on our very short list of regular spots…you know, the kind you don’t have to think twice about…unless it’s that damn chicken sandwich. Cheers, my friends!
Flying Pig Pub & Kitchen
230 South Santa Fe
Vista, CA 92084
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