No longer just a watering hole

Source: Michael Ryan, smdp.com

Saturday, Sept 3rd, 2011

Sonny McLean's has a new chef pumping out fresh food thanks to frequent trips to the Farmers' Market. The Chef’s Burger with caramelized onions, honey bacon, chipotle aioli, tomato confit, gruyere, a bed of baby arugula, on a brioche roll is a prime example of the menu’s makeover. © Michael Ryan.

Sonny McLean’s serves food? That was my initial reaction as I bellied up to the bar for a cold one. The barkeep enthusiastically showed me a menu and pointed to a bunch of cooking trophies behind the bar won by their head chef. A new menu, bigger selection of beers, and a burger claiming to be the best on the Westside are compelling enough reasons to see what this new look Sonny’s has to offer.

Originally McGinty’s, then Red Setter, and as of not so recent, Sonny McLean’s, this establishment has always been an Irish pub at heart. Recently purchased by New Zealander and restaurateur Grant Woods, the main goal was to improve upon what needed to be improved, as well as preserve what makes Sonny’s Sonny’s. Revamping the menu and beer selection were necessary changes but the traditional Irish pub food needed to stay. Executive Chef Joseph Feldmann had other plans bringing in his own inspired menu. The final compromise, a bigger menu with both schools of thought. This did not mean adding to the existing menu but rather an entire overhaul. Subsequently, Chef Joe had to start from scratch, literally and figuratively. This means almost everything is made in-house, and not plucked out of the freezer and thrown into the deep fryer.

“Before I got here everything was deep fried. Everything was frozen. Nothing was fresh,” said Chef Joe.

Originally brought on as a food consultant, Chef Joe took the title as executive chef and has been trying to get the word out that Sonny’s is more than jalapeño popper’s and mozzarella sticks. Freeing up freezer space by reducing Sonny’s frozen items to peas, French fries, and gelato was his first step to taking a fresher approach in Sonny McLean’s kitchen.

“It’s all about freshness and people think it’s cheaper to go the other way, but it is just as cheap to go fresh,” the chef said.

Chef Joe practices what he preaches by making frequent stops at the Downtown Farmers’ Market. With a blend of Mediterranean influences, traditional Irish pub food, as well as your jalapeño poppers and mozzarella sticks (which are both house-made) the menu has made a dramatic turnaround. With a larger selection of beers and wines, Sonny’s has taken things to a new level.

Watering hole turned gastropub, Sonny’s has the ammo to rival some of the best bar food in the area. The Chef’s Burger with caramelized onions, honey bacon, chipotle aioli, tomato confit, gruyere, a bed of baby arugula, on a brioche roll is a prime example of the menu’s makeover. While it is tough to anoint any one burger as the best in town, Chef Joe’s creation is on point with any of the other high end burger places in the area.

Sonny McLean’s has achieved a good balance of high class food without a hint of pretentiousness. It is still a neighborhood place to have a pint and watch a game. They just have some seriously good grub, if you’re into that kind of thing. When asked if infamous Boston gangster and recent Santa Monica resident “Whitey” Bulger used to drink at Sonny’s, Chef Joe could not confirm nor deny such claims. And we will just leave it at that.

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