I’m going to admit up front that I felt a deep sense of loss the day I walked by El Torito Market and it was permanently closed. It was bound to happen but it was still a shock that another piece of funky Leucadia has disappeared and it will be missed.
What replaced El Torito could not be more different from the gritty market that catered to a predominantly Hispanic clientele and those of us who were aware of its hidden charms. Nectarine Grove describes itself as “All your favorites made better for you from a paleo, gluten-free, and vegan friendly kitchen.” Given that and combined with the killer location, the place has been packed since day one with the coastal yogis and health-conscious folks that they are targeting.
I should probably give a couple disclaimers here before I go any further. I am a big fan of high-quality, locally sourced (when possible) sustainable ingredients and any restaurant that makes an effort to do business that way is doing things right, as long as those ingredients taste good and really are sustainably farmed. I am also not gluten intolerant or even sensitive and truly believe that good bread is one of life’s pleasures that can elevate sandwiches, pizza and even a meal itself to a higher level.
With that, and to balance out my preconceived feelings about the space that Nectarine Grove inhabits and the above mentioned rant, I made several visits including one with two very health-conscious friends and yogis from Ashland, Oregon, Johnanda and Shaktari Rose. Johnanda is an e-commerce consultant and Shaktari is a counselor and writer with a book on feminine mysticism in art coming out in August.
I’ll start with the positive and most of what they had to say about Nectarine Grove was very good. They loved the menu, the diversity of healthy drinks and the Blue-Green Algae shot with a Kombucha chaser they started off their meal with. Johnanda had the Avocado Toast that he described as “delicious, fresh and light that was both wholesome and delicious.”
We also shared the one size, $21 pepperoni pizza with grass-fed mozzarella and fontina cheese, spinach, red sauce and micro-basil and, of course, gluten-free crust. Both of them enjoyed the pizza and neither of them are gluten free. Johnanda did not compare it to regular pizza crust and mentioned that it should not be held to that standard. OK, I guess I can agree with that because this crust did not even come close to regular pizza crust.
The quality of crust, be it thick or thin, wood- or oven-fired, is half the joy of eating pizza for me. I was told by the server that the density of the crust made it heavy enough to feed two to three people and that explained the price.
While on the topic of gluten-free bread, or “paleo bun” as they call it, I also tried the Cubano (Cuban sandwich). Comprised of carnitas, prosciutto, provolone, tomatoes, spinach, pickles, mustard and a garlic aioli, it was an inventive twist on the classic Cuban and all of those ingredients worked lovely together. Had it been between some good bread and pressed on a flattop it would have been an epic sandwich. Instead, the paleo roll it was on was made this an average one at best.
The gluten-free only bread is really my only complaint about Nectarine Grove and could be easily alleviated by offering an alternative. Based on the popularity of the place, folks are obviously OK with what they are serving up.
Other than that personal hang-up there is a lot to love about this place. And seriously, with all of you out there who have decided to go gluten-free and are benefitting from it, you are going to love all the sandwich options including the Cali Club, Rosemary Chicken Salad, Twisted Italian and Reubenish.
Burgers and tacos are happening as well, all on grain-free buns and tortillas including an interesting looking Falalfel Taco with raw sprouted seasoned hummus, cashew tzatziki, cucumber, tomato, red onion, lemon and shredded romaine.
I’ve sampled two of the bowls that allow a choice of brown rice, Quinoa, spinach or butternut noodles as a base and add chicken, shrimp or carne asada for a bit more. The Chimichurri Steak Bowl was delish and my son loved the Fajita Bowl with chicken.
As Johnanda mentioned, the toast category is another winner and they come on either whole grain or nut and seed bread or paleo baguette and offer a fun variety of toppings that you can add an egg to.
Breakfast is happening at Nectarine Grove as well and there is a nice variety that ranges from the daily menu of Breakfast Tacos to Stuffed French Toast to Eggs Benedict with Brown Butter Hollandaise on the weekends.
Tucked in the corner is the coffee, smoothie, bone broth, Acai bowl and boost shot section that is a world unto itself. There are 10 smoothies available and along with Butter Coffee (not gone there yet), and several boosts including Neuro, Energy, Beauty and Detox.
Locally made Bamboocha Kombucha is on tap and there are a couple of dessert options including a Root Beer Float Flight that sounds fun and a Mud Pie.
Every time I’ve been the place has been jamming, which speaks to them providing exactly what people want in this area so give it a shot, there is a good chance you will find something that will bring you back.
Nectarine Grove is located at 948 N. Coast Highway 101, Encinitas. Parking is tough in the small lot in front so try around back or across Coast Highway near the tracks. Visit www.nectarinegrove.com for more information.