The Seabird Resort’s Executive Chef Kurtis Habecker is no stranger to the bounty of West Coast ingredients. An Orange County native, he’s spent years exploring the flavors of California. But even he has to admit that San Diego and the Oceanside area offer something truly special when it comes to locally sourced produce and proteins. As he puts it, “the number of farms in and around San Diego is shocking.”
Highlighting those farmers and producers is central to Habecker’s approach at the casual Shelter Club, lively pasta-focused Piper (opening for dinner October 21st), and The Shore Room. For Habecker, the bounty of the region makes eating and cooking locally thrilling. “There are so many microclimates within San Diego, we have access to incredible seasonal ingredients much longer than most places,” he says. Here’s a Habecker primer on his favorite places to eat, the producers he can’t wait to share with diners, and an inside peek at the concept behind Piper.
The Up-and-Coming Local Dining Scene
Oceanside is the Brooklyn of San Diego. In high school I would drive down and surf Oceanside Harbor, and I love to see how far it’s come since then. My chef de cuisine Jason Carter grew up in Oceanside, and he’s a part of this new generation that’s elevating these experiences. There are quite a few people who have just gone for it and created something really interesting.
Wrench and Rodent is always a fun stop. They have an amazing sushi program, and they’re actually dry-aging their own fish. Campfire, down in Carlsbad, is a wood-fired cooking concept; the food is solid and very seasonal. It’s different from Piper but a similar approach to seasonality and thoughtful design. Bagby Beer Company is making special brews just for us, and it’s a great place to hang out.
Putting Farmers and Producers Front and Center
We’re trying to find people who are passionate about what they do and elevate them, and in turn they will elevate us. The Shore Room overlooks Oceanside Pier, so what could be better than eating the freshest seafood? We’re working with a few local fishermen to get the catch of the day, like some really beautiful black cod.
Seed Greens grows living microgreens in a coconut shell pot. We’re keeping them right on the line at Piper, so if you’re sitting at the counter, you can see us clip them in front of you.
Chrystal’s Pure Honey makes an amazing citrus blend honey. The gentleman who runs it timed the production process so the bees fed off orange, lemon, and grapefruit trees, and the flavor is so intense you would swear he puts citrus rind in the honey.
Prager Brothers has a location in San Diego, and they work with all their own sourdoughs. When you taste them, you just fall in love. We’re showcasing some of their breads — we want to produce as much as we can in-house, but some people are making stuff that’s so good you just have to work with them. Prager Brothers get all their eggs from Schaner Farms, so they introduced us, and it turns out they grow great onions and garlic we’re going to use as well. As you meet people your network grows, and it’s wonderful to be a part of this larger community of people so committed to doing their own thing.
Piper: An Ongoing Dinner Party
Piper is the embodiment of someone who is world-traveled, has their own garden, and loves to have people over for dinner. We’re trying to re-create that feeling of coming to someone’s home — it’s warm, it’s welcoming, and you’re eating what was picked fresh that day.
There is a focus on pasta and noodles, but it’s not an Italian restaurant. San Diego cuisine borrows a lot from Baja California, and those ideas of freshness, acidity, and texture all influence what we’re doing. There’s a center island with ten seats where we’re featuring a special menu and making pasta right in front of you. It’s elevated but still very approachable. There’s a wood-fired oven, so there’s also the excitement of live fire cooking. Things will change as we’re creating: Ingredients are always coming and going, so we’re going to be ready at any time for what’s coming up next and how we can tweak things to best serve the season.