Saturday, November 1, 2014     Volume: 15, Issue: 34
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Search or post Santa Barbara County food and wine establishments

Santa Maria Sun / Eats

Bite into this!: Local families are flocking to kid-friendly Chomp in Solvang

BY WENDY THIES SELL

When Aaron Petersen decided to open a restaurant in the building he owns on Solvang’s main drag, his children chimed in on the name.

“I was going to call it something like the American Grill or the American Tavern,” Peterson said. “And my college-aged kids said, ‘Dad, you’re a complete nerd. You cannot call it that if you want it to be cool and hip.’”


MOZZA-BURGER
Chomp’s caprese burger ($10.25) is fresh mozzarella, tomato, basil, and balsamic vinegar on an Edna’s Bakery bun.
PHOTO BY WENDY THIES SELL

So Petersen took their advice and put the younger generation in charge of finding a trendier name.

They used social media and ran a Facebook campaign. The name that won the most votes? Chomp.

“I said, ‘I don’t care what the name is, I just want it to say “Burgers, Fries, and Shakes” underneath the name, so people know what it is, not some fancy restaurant,’” Petersen said. “And Chomp was born!”

A year and a half later, the family-friendly burger joint with the modern moniker is a hit.

“It absolutely took off like a rocket! I think our feeling was correct, that locals were looking for a place with casual, fun food. Kids could be a little loud. We can sponsor soccer teams and football teams and basketball teams, and they’ll come in here. And that was really the concept,” he explained.

It’s not really a surprise that this restaurant would succeed; the Petersen family has decades of experience in the food and hospitality industry in Solvang.

Petersen’s parents—Earl, who recently passed away, and Dolores—ran the Petersen Village Inn, which the family owned for nearly 30 years.


SALAD WITH CRUNCH
Asian chicken salad ($10.25) is mixed greens, chicken, almonds, mandarin orange, wontons, and citrus soy sauce.
PHOTO BY WENDY THIES SELL

Petersen and his wife, Elsemarie, also own and operate the Greenhouse Café, co-own Mortensen’s Danish Bakery, and formerly co-owned Ingeborg’s Danish Chocolate Factory.

A Solvang native and former local football coach, Petersen wanted this place to cater to local families and sports teams.

He thought one of the key components was ice cream.

“High school kids come in after school and they’ll get milkshakes and they’ll split banana splits on a first or second date,” he said.

Chomp serves up generously sized homemade shakes with mix-ins, plus banana splits and sundaes.

Even with local beers—Firestone and Figueroa Mountain—on tap, and eight different wines by the glass at only $5 each, Chomp sells more malts and milkshakes to grown-ups than beer and wine combined!

Food wise, hamburgers are the focus: Angus chuck beef, fresh ingredients, and fun toppings.

The basic burger with lettuce, tomato, onion, and sauce costs $8.25. Chomp has several signature burgers, such as the Wrangler with hickory sauce, double bacon, and onion rings; the Egg Ranchero with a fried egg, pepper jack cheese, pico de gallo, salsa, and diced jalapeño peppers; and the Hula Hula with grilled pineapple, Swiss cheese, and Chomp teriyaki.

“One of the biggest pluses is our bread, our buns,” Petersen said. “There’s a saying in burger places: ‘It’s all about the buns.’ And it truly is.”


KIDS WELCOME!
Chomp restaurant in Solvang serves all-American food in a comfortable, family-friendly atmosphere.
PHOTO BY WENDY THIES SELL

Edna’s Bakery in San Luis Obispo bakes Chomp’s bread and hamburger buns and delivers them fresh every day.

Chomp customers also order a lot of salads, such as the King Cobb consisting of chopped greens, blue cheese, egg, chicken, bacon, avocado, tomato, and cucumber, tossed with spicy ranch dressing; and the Asian chicken salad with mixed greens, chicken, almonds, mandarin orange, wontons, and citrus soy sauce.

The menu also includes fish and chips, fish tacos, chili cheese dogs, grilled chicken dishes, and a hand-packed veggie burger with roasted eggplant, roasted red peppers, panko, cheddar cheese, chopped onion, and lime sauce.

On Wednesday nights, in addition to the regular menu, expect the unexpected at Chomp: Pasta Night.

Two of Chomp’s head cooks previously worked at Café Provence, the former fine dining restaurant at the Petersen Village Inn.

“So they were a little bored,” Petersen explained. “They came up with the idea to do pastas, four different types every Wednesday.”

They’re serving up everything from stuffed ravioli to tortellini to teriyaki pasta to lobster with cream sauce pasta.

“It really keeps my chefs happy,” Petersen said. “That’s really why we do the special dinners.”

He’s also keeping his customers happy by providing somewhere wholesome and safe to hangout, occasionally staying open late when the place is hopping.

Peterson recalls that a couple of weeks ago, by 10 o’clock on Homecoming night, Chomp was packed with high school kids and their families.

That night, the young and personable staff at Chomp kept the lights on late and didn’t lock up until midnight.

 

Contact Sun wine and food columnist Wendy Thies Sell at wthies@santamariasun.com.