Continuing on our patio tour in October, we had a chance to visit another new and extensive impromptu outdoor dining tent, this one set up in the parking lot at Wool Growers and as at KC Steakhouse they gave it a fun name: Sheep Camp.
It’s an 1,800-square-foot dining space under a tent decorated with lights and Basque flags as well as an AstroTurf floor and white plastic chairs, and, as at KC, reservations are a must. We went on a Friday night to a 5:30 p.m. seating and the place was full (and loud — be warned about that). I swear there was so much laughing going on because people were tired of the pandemic and just needed to socialize, and as always Wool Growers fits the bill. It was such a fun atmosphere, with plenty of families there, a toddler boy near us putting on his own dancing exhibition. Too cute. The tables were adequately socially distanced but if you’re looking for a place where eight family members can eat together at one table this is the perfect spot.
The menu is a bit more limited: nine entrées if you don’t include just the setup. Let’s get the bad news out of the way: Pickled tongue is not included with the entrees. Probably another COVID-19 victim. At first, I thought it was a mistake of the waitress but then I looked back at the menu and it was not listed as part of the setup. I did notice it’s available as a side dish ($7 small, $10 large).
My companion ordered the scampi ($26) and I selected the fried chicken ($22). The courses began with that simple but soul-satisfying vegetable soup (as I said in the Pyrenees Cafe column, email me for the recipe or visit Wool Growers' website), beans, salsa, butter and Pyrenees sourdough. Don’t ever change any of that. Please. The next course was a salad, the tomato chunks in the vinaigrette with green peppers and purple onion, and we were pleased to see that rather than tasteless iceberg, they were now using red leaf lettuce, which has so much more personality, punch and probably considerable nutritional value.
That started us on a discussion that continued through to the entrees about why Wool Growers is so great: The quality of the foods in the setup is, in our opinion, simply unmatched. With the entrees, we received canned green beans with a bit of onion, spaghetti with tomato sauce and Parmesan cheese, and those amazing french fries. I know many write me to disagree when I say it, but these are the best in town, consistently, and I’m trying to think of when in my long life I’ve had better. (There was this frites place on the Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica back in the ’80s — since closed — that might have been better if my taste memory isn’t playing tricks on me.)
Why are they so good? They are so crisp on the outside, so soft and starchy sweet inside, and they come in such an assortment of lengths, shapes and sizes. Some pieces are like potato chips, some are stubs, some are long and twisted and doubling back. We asked a waiter who picked up some plates if he loved the fries and he said he ate them on every shift and couldn’t resist them. My companion did note that they were fried in the freshest of oils, and I remembered the torture of changing the oil in my dad’s restaurant when it went bad, but it was vital to a decent fried product.
But it’s more than that. The quality of the red, sweet tomatoes in that salad for the second course, the spaghetti that was actually al dente and the simple tomato sauce. Sure, the green beans were canned but my companion noted they were still firm and not overcooked. In short, I could see ordering just the setup without an entrée ($18) and walking away satisfied, especially because they’ll bring out more of those fries if you’re trying to carb up.
The entrees weren’t shabby either, to be fair. My chicken (breast, thigh and drumstick) was crispy in a simple batter, but it did not have that garlic-parsley drizzled over it and I missed that. Maybe I needed to request it? If you get the scampi, be sure to save some of that bread to sop up that light butter garlic sauce, which is the best reason to order those shrimp, which are so easy to eat because the shells have been completely stripped away.
One item we didn’t get that seemed popular with others was a bottle of house wine for $11 (red or white). I didn’t see a wine list, and our waiter had no draft beers, just bottles.
Wool Growers can be recommended for a fine dining experience.