With an aim to offer first-rate yet low-cost cuisine, Juniper on Fourth is one of a kind in downtown Solvang. Chef and owner Nathan Peitso described the new restaurant and bar, which opened in early October, as a product of our time.
“Everybody seems to be feeling a bit of a pinch. Gas is expensive. Housing is expensive,” said Peitso, who also owned Sear Steakhouse, the former occupant of the address now belonging to Juniper on Fourth, located on—take a wild guess—Fourth Place.
“It’s definitely a huge departure from the steakhouse,” said Peitso, who brainstormed a way to rebrand his former eatery into something “recession proof,” as $100 steaks haven’t been selling “like they once did,” he added.
The solution? Close the steakhouse for remodeling and reestablish the site as a family-friendly lunch and dinner spot with a focus on elevated comfort food and cocktails.
“I believe in getting out in front of a problem, so that’s what we did here. … It’s not a fancy restaurant, it’s just a really good restaurant,” the local restaurateur said with a laugh. “We wanted to offer something that was affordable and still really good, so you could go take your family out to dinner and not feel like you were mortgaging your future.”
During the makeover process, Peitso collaborated with his team’s general manager, Julio Peñuela—who the chef described as a human Swiss Army knife—on curating a menu selection for Juniper on Fourth that was tasty and filling but not overly complex.
“It’s a recognizable and approachable menu. The whole restaurant is geared toward feeling relatable,” said Peitso, who hopes patrons will walk away from Juniper on Fourth feeling like “this place gets me, and I get this place.”
While cheeseburgers and tri-tip and brisket sandwiches are among the lunch items at the eatery, there’s one protein offering situated between two buns that stands out above the rest for Peitso: Swedish meatballs. And based on a recent observation, his affinity for the savory treat could be genetic.
“The Swedish meatballs is what my daughter eats more than anything else now,” said Peitso, who also offers a non-sandwich iteration of Swedish meatballs plated with potato purée, gravy, and a lemon herb salad for a total of $8 on the eatery’s all-day “bar bites” menu.
While lunch is available at the restaurant Fridays through Tuesdays from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., the restaurant’s dinner service runs from about 5 to 9 p.m. Dinner at Juniper on Fourth includes dishes of fish, lamb, and quail.
Peitso’s personal favorite dinner combination at his new venture is the “Big Fish,” a whole fried rockfish served with house-made tortillas, salsa verde, and cabbage slaw.
“It’s gorgeous, it’s delicious, and it’s totally shareable,” Peitso said of the meal designed to feed many and priced at $40. “Most people love it. We sell a lot of those fish.”
Many of the dinner entrees at Juniper on Fourth are offered in both a large or medium-to-small portion size, for patrons looking to spend less and/or with no intention of sharing or bringing home leftovers.
“I find that, with my wife, most of the time when we go out, there’s leftovers because there’s too much on the plate,” Peitso said. “We’ve sized smaller portions so that they cost less, and what I found is people really respond to that. They’re really happy with it. … With careful attention and sourcing, you still can put out a really great venue at a really reasonable price.”
Juniper on Fourth also offers a diverse selection of desserts—including house-made panna cotta, fruit cobbler, and ice cream sundaes—and a rotating menu of draft cocktails, which are pre-batched with fresh ingredients and ready to serve inside the restaurant or outdoors in the venue’s scenic Tap Garden area.
“The cocktails are based on whatever we feel like drinking, really, and seasonality in the sense that if there’s something at the farmers market that looks like it could be pretty good in a cocktail, we’re gonna put it on the list,” Peitso said.
With the pre-batch approach, Peitso said the restaurant is able to economize labor and in turn keep cocktail prices low.
“We have $12 cocktails across the board,” said Peitso, who plans to offer cocktails for $10 each during an upcoming happy hour offering. “We want to make sure that everyone can afford to be here, and that when you’re here, you’re enjoying yourself—you’re not kind of negatively anticipating that big bill.”
Arts Editor Caleb Wiseblood is keeping his tab open. Send comments to [email protected].