Googling the Ritual, I encountered one review that remarked that the place seemed less ambitious than the nearby and somewhat similar Jayne’s Gastropub (a younger, scenier, excruciatingly louder take on a British “local”). In some ways, that’s true — Jayne’s ventures more widely into international dishes, especially in its appetizers, whereas Ritual’s more limited, concentrated menu cleaves closer to updates of old-style pub grub. But talking over the comparison, Marci and I decided that Ritual’s ambitions are simply different, and higher in some ways: They have more to do with consistent quality and careful cooking than the length or breadth of the menu. Having eaten at both, we enjoyed Ritual’s food better, and trusted the chef more. (And we certainly preferred the quiet ambience that let us gossip to our heart’s content.) If you live nearby and prefer an atmosphere that favors civilized discourse over a perpetual party vibe, this cozy tavern could easily become your hangout — your new weekly ritual.
ABOUT THE CHEF
The story is familiar: Chef Glenn Farrington came from a family with many generations of food pros behind him — his great-grandmother was a private chef at an estate on Long Island’s deluxe North Shore, and his ancestors in Ireland had often done the same (though in those days they were called “cooks”). As a teenager, he started out dishwashing in a neighborhood eatery and realized swiftly that restaurants were his natural environment.
He moved to San Diego 14 years ago. “The North Shore of Long Island wasn’t working for me. It’s remote from everything, and I just couldn’t see staying there and buying a house I couldn’t afford and having a bunch of kiddies to drive me crazy,” he says. “So I moved to Mission Beach, became a surfer, and lost my Long Island drawl.” He worked many front-of-the-house jobs at local restaurants, including Cafe Westgate and Trattoria Acqua, and gradually slipped into cooking, paying attention to what he saw in restaurant kitchens and learning from watching television cooking shows. “I was married for a few years and was a house-husband pretty much, and that’s how I learned to pay attention to a lot of shows and hone a lot of my things at home. Then I was working in the kitchen at Cafe 222 when I met Jay [owner of the Linkery], and he asked me to come to the Linkery. I couldn’t say no.” When Linkery co-worker Mike Flores opened Ritual three months ago, moving there was a natural next step.
I asked him about the Saddlebrush Gumbo — where did he get the name? “The term dates back to the Civil War,” Farrington said. “People who were originally from north of the Mason-Dixon Line moved back north when the Civil War started, and then, after the war ended, it was safe to come back down south. The Yankees who moved back were called ‘saddlebrush.’ I adapted this name because, the week we opened, there was an online review saying how it was a shame there were carrots in the gumbo. Another comment said, ‘Yeah, must’ve been a Yankee!’ So, being from New York — a true Yankee — I had to call it Saddlebrush. A customer who was eating it here told me the term and suggested the name. I had a great-great-great-grandfather who was a general for the South, so it only seemed fitting.
“I did a lot of research on gumbo, because I’ve always understood gumbo to be real serious business. You’ve got to do it right or don’t do it at all. And I found a lot of recipes with carrots. The authentic gumbo recipes — 150 different recipes — all varied. They all had some kind of roux, most had some kind of pork, chicken, seafood. So we decided to use andouille, Jidori chicken, and Gulf of Mexico shrimp, ’cause if you were from Louisiana, that’s the kind of shrimp you’d get. And when I tried the carrots in it, we had some people from Louisiana, real hard-line, tasting it, and they said, ‘Don’t change a thing.’
“My food philosophy is for us to use the best ingredients we can possibly find — especially with produce. It’s really key to have extremely fresh produce and as much organic as we can muster. We get our meats shipped from Niman through a meat jobber in L.A. We’re really strong believers in no hormones, etc. — as ethical in the animal-rearing processes as possible. It does cost more, but we manage — we don’t want to compromise the integrity of our mission.”
The Ritual Tavern
*** (Very Good)
4095 30th Street (north of University Avenue), North Park, 619-283-1618, ritualtavern.com.
HOURS: Tuesday–Sunday, 5:30–11:20 p.m.
PRICES: Appetizers, $5–$11; mains, $11–$20; desserts, $3–$7
CUISINE AND BEVERAGES: Classic pub grub plus more exotic ventures, all made with humanely raised Niman meats, Jidori chicken, locally grown organic vegetables. Vast list of local and international artisan beers; a dozen affordable international wines, nearly all available by the glass. Soft drinks include Mexican Coca-Cola (made with cane sugar, not corn syrup).
PICK HITS: Shrimp scampi; beer-battered onion rings, veggies, or shrimp; “Saddlebrush” gumbo; lamb sirloin; nightly specials; bread pudding. Also good bets: shepherd’s pie, Stone Smoked Porter shake.
NEED TO KNOW: Small parking lot behind restaurant. Cozy, conversational atmosphere. Several vegan and gluten-free menu items.