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Review: Roots Community Kitchen; Fresh, Local, Modern

Santee has never had a restaurant like this before.

The recently opened (RCK) brings a new concept to Santee and East County in general- a "farm-to-table gastropub with homestyle hospitality." Think locally grown, fresh, quality food. I recently ate lunch in their relaxing outdoor patio area, you'll find my review below. 

Overview:

My first impression is quite positive. The signs might not be ready, they haven’t even had a “grand opening” yet, but the staff is knowledgeable, passionate, and they care about what you are putting in your mouth. The menu immediately drew me in because of the list of local sources for most of their meat, dairy, produce, etc.  They have an in-house cheese maker, as well as a head chef who knows what he’s doing.

What RCK can’t get locally, they aim for organic and humanely raised. Lisko’s Artisanal Deli and Fish Market in La Mesa provides RCK a fresh and local (not frozen) fish selection, a market I personally frequent because of their incredibly high quality products. Niman Ranch beef is featured, a well-reputed meat farming collective with very high standards for raising cows and pigs. TAJ is their source for pork, chicken and rabbit. Even their beer is locally sourced, featuring Santee's own and other San Diego favorites. RCK is really focusing on what is important in keeping whole communities healthy while maintaining a high quality dining experience.

Decor:

The foundation hasn’t changed much from , there's still a huge inside/outside bar that is one of my favorite parts, and a large open kitchen in the front with a central stone pizza oven. My eyes were drawn to the enormous hanging table, suspended in the air by four large steel chains. The table could easily sit 20 people or more and is a work of art. The design of the table matches the Host(ess) Stand. More intriguing art hangs on the walls designed specifically for RCK by local artist “Tannu." 

The restaurant décor compliments the “farm to table” theme with rustic design, simple light fixtures, large chalkboards near the kitchen to display specials, and a lot of beautiful woodwork. A large wooden plank separates the large dining area from the bar area. The outdoor patio hasn’t changed much from the days of Via Moto, simple and casual, with a lot of seating and an overhang. They plan to feature again.

Entrees and Sides:

The food is a modern style and wide ranging, from pizza, to mussels, chilled cucumber soup, paninis, braised short ribs, pasta, a selection of salads and more.

We started with the Chilled Cucumber soup. It was cool and soothing, with bright summery flavors. Cucumber is anti-inflammatory, perfect on a hot day. The soup was blended with the entire cucumber, seeds and skins, scallions, lemon zest and juice and cream.  The seasoning was perfect.  If I don’t have to add salt I am a happy diner and I was impressed with the chef’s seasoning on everything I ordered, not just the salt but the balance between fat, acidity, salt and when appropriate, sweet. My only criticism was that it was $7 for a huge bowl—so huge the two of us could barely finish it.  The first bite was amazing but by the end I was thinking I’d much rather have gotten 1/3 of the portion and paid $3.50 for a cup (I’m hoping they will add that option to the menu).

All the staff and the friends we ran into when we went in for lunch raved about the Bacon and Egg Pizza so we couldn’t pass it up. The pizza comes out with an almost raw egg in the middle that has been cooked a short time in the oven, but is still runny.  The waiter spreads the egg all over the pie as it continues to cook.  Though it sounds heavy, with pancetta (un-smoked Italian style bacon), house-made mozzerella, smoked cheddar and of course egg, it was surprisingly light.  The crust was crisp, thin, and airy. The egg yolk makes a light sauce to enrich the other flavors of cheese and a lot of crispy pancetta that makes it nicely salty.  

The other entree was “Catch of the Day” with local grouper and scallops on a skewer with veggies over eggplant Israeli couscous. A lemony herb sauce was drizzled lightly over top.  The flavors were subtle and fresh. Rosemary in the couscous was a warming flavor that complemented the eggplant and lemon sauce nicely. I appreciated the normal sized portions, like one you make at home instead of getting a ton of filler like most restaurants. Again, everything seasoned perfectly, my most important point!

I had to get dessert. The “Milk and Honey” plate with fresh honeycomb intrigued me (I love chewing on honeycomb and it comes with fresh cream!), but I’m a chocoholic and started whining because there was no chocolate option on the menu.  The waiter informed me they had a chocolate crème brulee at the moment, so of course I got that and coffee.  The coffee is only served in a French press for two, but I love coffee so I drank most of it. The coffee was delicious! Thick and rich- when brewed in the press the oils remain. Perfect with the crème brulee that I had no problem eating myself. For two people it would maybe be two bites each- a sweet treat to round out a nice lunch.

My Thoughts:

I love what they are doing in terms of vision. The ambiance is great, the food is kept to a high standard. They often buy the entire animal and have started in-house curing. The cheese maker does homemade mozzarella featured on many of their dishes. I am hoping to see some burrata soon! Burrata, mozzarella’s sophisticated cousin, is a delicate process of pulling the mozzarella around the whey to form a creamy, melting, bursting ball—think Gushers made of cheese. I am anxious to see what more is to come.

I really hope RCK will flourish, but it is risky opening any restaurant, especially in this economy. My concern is that the average Santee eater may not appreciate what Roots has to offer. Not only has Santee never had a restaurant like this before, everyone is very excited about the newest chains coming to town: , , and . I have eaten at most of these chains and they are good, but nothing compared to the quality of RCK. But, they are much cheaper in feeding the family, leaving many diners feeling like they get more bang for their buck.  

Roots is the kind of place that is reasonably priced if your priority is higher quality meats, local organic food products, etc. That said, they offer slightly smaller portions and more simple, healthy, quality food; not a Double-Double animal style with fries for $5.

Roots has a huge dining area and restaurants this size need a large dining population to keep it in business. I question if this kind of sophisticated eatery can survive in Santee. The service was great the day we were there because it was a weekday lunch before people really knew they were open. Once it gets busy, or if it doesn’t, what will happen then?

Santee, I challenge you to prove me wrong. If you care about what you put into your body and what you can do to create a healthier economy and community, please patronize RCK. All you foodies out there find out what East County has been lacking!

Find more about RCK at their Facebook page and website, and give them a rating at their .

Comment: Have you eaten at Roots Community Kitchen? What's your favorite item?

Farah Jenewein Doose August 31, 2012 at 03:50 PM
My family ate there as a treat and we loved everything! We loved that it was organic and the ribs were incredible! Portions are smaller, but it was plenty for us. It is pricey, but worth it for a special night out. We will be going back without the kids as our restaurant.
Mark T. August 31, 2012 at 08:17 PM
Me and wife have eaten there several times. Something they do not tell you yet is that they are in the process of getting a grill set for install so they can do burgers and steaks as well. The last time we there we spoke with one of the owners and they said they are still working with the fire Marshall to get everything ironed out. So far we have loved everything we have eaten there. The portion sizes are perfect and the prices, in my opinion, are reasonable for what you are getting. I really hope this place takes off as there are way to many chains in Santee and people need to figure out what good locally grown food tastes like and how it makes you feel when you are done eating it. Service may be slow to some but I dont see why we need to always be in a hurry, there are of course extremes but as of yet I have nothing to complain about. I tell people about this place every chance I get as I want to succeed.
Strong September 02, 2012 at 08:30 AM
We lI've Roots thank you for taking this risk. Santee eaters: nothing supports our local economy better than eating at a non chain restaurant with locally grown food!!! The fact that it is delicious healthy portions makes it even better!!!!!! Our service has always been wonderful so the comments about that either were isolated incedents or the issues have been resolved.
Farmers Agents-Mike & Marla Clinkenbeard September 06, 2012 at 05:54 PM
I've taken several business associates there for lunch. It's a chance to show off something special about Santee. The service and food have always made me proud and my guests have raved. I usually have a Panini, and have always found them to be delicious, fresh, and filling. I think the prices are very comparable to the chains and the food is so much better. The atomsphere is casual and relaxing. The service is very friendly and they do a good job of making you feel at home. The owners are in it for the long hall and deserve the support of the Santee community. With all the complaints about "greasy burger joints", Roots is the exact opposite, a healthy, fresh, affordable alternative.
Michael S January 17, 2013 at 12:49 AM
It would have been nice if you had told the terminally ignorant (me) where it is located.

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