38 MONTEREY COUNTY WEEKLY May 9-15, 2024 www.montereycountynow.com It was a Sunday afternoon at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca. Podium ceremonies for the Trans Am Western Championship event had just finished and a line formed at the Taste of Mexico food truck, and there was a multiple-exclamation-mark buzz about an unexpected dish on the menu. Among the list of tacos, burritos and other Mexican staples, the fusion of birria and ramen stood out. Before 2pm, it had also sold out. While ballpark fare began turning away from hot dog and popcorn basics decades ago, innovative fare came more slowly to the iconic and decidedly old school Laguna Seca. The beer garden known as Silverstone Pub has been a fixture, pouring local brews from Marina’s English Ales. But the arrival of Bear + Flag Roadside— dubbed “Trackside” in the paddock—in 2023 as the lone brick and mortar kitchen marked a culinary change. “During Rennsport we were taking 500 orders an hour—or at least that’s what it felt like,” recalls Parker Fisher, manager of the Carmel Valley restaurant who also helps with operations at the track. “We knew it would be successful.” Bear + Flag anchors a kind of outdoor food court where fans can find scaled-up offerings such as crispy brussels sprouts with strawberry balsamic, a play on poutine, but with lobster, fun fair stylings like mac and cheese griddled in a sandwich and rainbow salads. There are hip coffee drinks and bespoke cocktails. Of course, they have not abandoned more familiar spectator foods—bratwurst, burgers, ice cream. Yet wafting over it all, the tempting aroma of smoke caressing brisket, pulled pork, even burnt ends. Since opening at the track a year ago, Bear + Flag has found it necessary to grow. They added an outdoor grill and a bar serving craft beers. The venue also hired a full-time chef, Lorenzo Santiago, and a manager. Although the major motorsports weekends are limited to IMSA’s Motul Course de Monterey, taking place this weekend, May 10-12, the IndyCar grand prix in June, July’s MotoAmerica Superbike visit and the back-to-back weekends in August during Car Week— which would seem slim pickings for a permanent restaurant. But with smaller events and track days, Fisher estimates Bear + Flag is open at Laguna Seca 85 percent of the year. The restaurant has become the centerpiece of the food court, serving out of two sides—one facing its own picnic area, the other open to a row of food trucks. Chicken and the Farm, a Walnut Creek-based food truck with a menu of upscale wings and, among other things, lobster, made its first appearance at Laguna Seca during the Sea Otter Classic in April. They are returning for the IMSA weekend and will be back again in August. The couple behind Chicken and the Farm started working with Sonoma Raceway. When they saw the potential of Laguna Seca, they jumped at the opportunity. “When there’s sunshine, there’s some magic formula [that draws people to food trucks],” says Lyndsey Edwards, who operates Chicken and the Farm with her husband Brett. “It doesn’t have to be hot, people still buy ice cream,” agrees John Allchin of the soft serve trailer Cruising Cones out of San Luis Obispo. “And the people are friendly.” Fisher points out that the array of options mean that people gravitate toward the paddock food court before, after and even during races. “Everyone’s having a good time,” he adds. Fisher credits John Narigi, president of Laguna Seca, along with his team, for helping create a food scene at the facility. At the season-opening Trans Am race last weekend, the hip and popular coffee house Captain + Stoker made its initial appearance. “It became a major initiative for our team to improve the experience and cultivate local businesses who excel in fast-paced environments like a race track,” Narigi explained in a statement. The track teamed with Coastal Roots Hospitality, along with the restaurants Baja Cantina and Turn 12 for catering at the facility and in VIP areas. For the paddock, Narigi’s goal is variety, up and down the scale. It’s a dramatic change from the time when Bear + Flag’s location was a McDonald’s franchise. “We’re hoping to be here for a really long time,” Fisher says. First course Laguna Seca’s management wanted culinary variety. “So far, guest feedback has been that we are achieving that initiative,” track president John Narigi said. TGIF…Great news for all you breadheads out there. Otto’s Bread Co. has opened a retail space so they can sell incredible baked goods to the public. For now they are only open on Fridays while they get things up and running on a greater scale (and ramp up wholesale production), but stay tuned for what comes next. Stop in from 10am-2pm on Fridays and get your fix of sourdough pretzels, croissants, a variety of amazing sourdough breads, and whatever else is on the menu that day. And be warned: It goes fast. 215 Monterey St., Salinas. instagram.com/ottosbread. Treehouse Tasting…Joyce Wine Co. is hosting a fundraising event on Saturday, May 11 from 5-8pm to benefit Tatum’s Treehouse. Enjoy wine from Joyce, beer from Alvarado Street Brewery, small bites and live music—all to help raise funds to make Tatum’s Treehouse, an inclusive community playground, come to life. $50. 1 East Carmel Valley Road, Carmel Valley. 659-2885, joycewineco.com. tatumstreehouse.com. Oh, Mother…Mother’s Day is May 12, and many restaurants have created special menus. But if mom is into wine— and olive oil, for that matter—Big Sur Vineyards may be the place to celebrate early. On Saturday, May 11, from 6-8pm the winery, along with Quail and Olive and Culinary Cam, is hosting a trifecta, with wine tasting, olive oil tasting and food pairings. The winemaker will be on hand, as will an olive oil expert and chef to guide the tastings and provide information. Mom probably deserves a two-day occasion. $60. 1 Del Fino Place, Carmel Valley. 415-686-4550, bigsurvineyards.com. Veg In…Farm Fresh Fruits has made its seasonal return to Carmel Valley. Don’t let the name fool you though, they have an abundance of fresh, local produce, beyond just fruit. You can find this mobile market at Meg’s Chevron in Carmel Valley Village every day from 9am-5pm. 38 W. Carmel Valley Drive, Carmel Valley. Pistachio Party…Manasiri’s Crepes and Sandwiches is getting in on the pistachio party by adding some exciting additions to the menu. They now have a crêpe made with rich pistachio butter and pistachio sprinkles, as well as a tasty pistachio latte that can be done hot or iced. 321 Alvarado St., Monterey. 373-4646, instagram.com/ manasiriscrepe. By Jacqueline Weixel morsels eatanddrink@montereycountynow.com “We’re hoping to be here for a long time.” Eat + DrinK celia jiménez Fast Food The dining scene at Laguna Seca has a lot to offer, including a new and growing centerpiece. By Dave Faries