For a couple of years after the closing of the old El Corral Pottery store in 2014, the lot at 340 Carlsbad Bl., just south of Carlsbad Village Dr. sat barren, becoming a bit of an eyesore in the community. Every time I drove past, I hoped that someone with the means to make it happen had plans to turn that into something vibrant and new.
Lucky for all of us, someone did.
The concept of Park 101 was an idea that a group of restaurant partners had in mind for a while. The plan was to make a plaza-like complex that offered a variety of food and beverage options in relaxing environment with something for everyone where guests could chill with friends, kids, and even their dogs.
One day, construction crews finally showed up and started the job at reinventing the old space.
The first thing that happened was the stripping down of the building. While the pottery store had been a longtime fixture in the village, it was definitely time for that to happen. When the addition of the second story appeared, the buzz started. The simple answer was “it’ll be a restaurant.” But the final product is definitely more than that.
The complex was originally scheduled to open in January, but residents and visitors had to wait a little longer to go inside and experience the new digs. Finally, on Friday, June 30th, just in time for the 4th of July celebrations, Park 101 opened its doors to the public.
When you walk in, you’ll likely be greeted by someone asking if you’ve ever been to Park 101. If you haven’t, they’ll tell you that it’s four concepts in one location. From the outside, the multiple dining options might look like a food hall sharing a patio, but the four dining options are all managed as one.
“It can be challenging to make everyone happy,” manager, Natasha Ross says. “Here, you can get anything wherever you like and take it wherever you want.” She continues and points to the various walk up counters, “You can grab it here or here and sit where you please.”
So Much More Than a Restaurant
The 8,000 square foot, open-air complex allows visitors to enjoy San Diego’s greatest asset — beautiful weather and almost constant sunshine. Guests at Park 101 can enjoy beach breezes and sunshine while they sample barbecue favorites, sip beverages, and hang out with friends and neighbors. The concept marries the outdoors of a park, with the vibe of a community, topped off with great food and beverage options.
In the few weeks that it’s been here, the space has already become a popular local favorite. Park 101 has seamlessly slipped in and have already become part of the village scene. They’ve definitely enhanced the village, filling a much-needed gap.
Unlike typical restaurants, kids are encouraged to play here. On any given day, you’ll find kids running around the patio with cotton candy in their hands and big smiles on their faces, while moms and dads are hanging out, catching up with friends. The fun is enhanced with large versions of popular old school game like Jenga and Connect Four, plus the ever popular Corn Hole.
The sound isolation at Park 101 was something that really surprises. While there’s so much activity down in the main patio, the noise doesn’t really carry upstairs to the more relaxed lounge area or even outside of the complex. That may also be a big reason that nearby residents have gradually accepted its place in the neighborhood.
While they’re only licensed to serve beer and wine right now, that doesn’t mean the drink menu is boring. The drink menu is filled with wine-based spirits that have been delighting drinkers since the day Park 101 opened. Beverage Director, Rob McShay, having had success at other partner properties, as well as on his own behind the bar, is now bringing his master mixology know-how to Carlsbad. Did we mention that he won the Food Network’s “Best Bloody Mary” multiple times? It’s safe to say he knows what he’s doing.
The open seating at Park 101 encourages guests to linger at their pleasure. It’s totally okay to meander and do your own thing. If you do come with bigger parties of 20 or so, the staff can set an area aside for you. They’ll create a tab for your party or let everyone get their own.
Part of that experience is that there are no servers at Park 101. Guests will (almost) always do counter service. As the managers explain, having a dedicated server takes away from people feeling free to move around to the various areas and changes the vibe. The lines tend to suddenly become a crowd, but they move fairly quickly.
Four Dining Options in One
With all the dining options, you could conceivably spend all day at Park 101, starting at 7AM with coffee & donuts, and closing it down at midnight with a libation or late night sweets.
Deli & Dough
Deli & Dough is a grab & go style market with a convenient street side window making it fast and accessible. The deli has a full coffee program that opens at 7AM. (The other three dining options open at 11, just in time for the lunch crowd.) They offer cookies, donuts, ice cream sandwiches, all fresh-baked every morning. You can grab and acai bowl, cheese and nut protein packs, or even a case of beer! If you still want the park experience, grab a seat and chill.
But if you’re on your way out for the day to work, or just to work on your tan, it’s a quick and easy option to grab some grub and be on your way. The deli stays open until 9, brewing coffee all night, so it’s also a great place for an evening cuppa and maybe some dessert.
Just past the side door to the deli is the door that leads you into the cafeteria style dining area, known simply as Smoked Meats. Various meats are smoked in-house every day. “As soon as we leave, the cleaners come in. When they leave, the smokers and bakers come in,” Kris tells me.
Before 5PM, you can order a breakfast burrito that includes any of the smoked meats, plus side like brussel sprouts or fries. They also serve a brisket that’s been a hot item, but you’ll want to get there early, since they’ve sold out of the popular item a few times now. “We smoke everything to capacity, so what we have is what we’ll serve that day. When we run out of brisket, we’re out for the day.”
Other items that have been popular at the Smoked Meats counter are the Tri Tip and the Pulled Pork Fries. That’s right. Pulled. Pork. Fries. Let your mouth savor the thought of that for a moment. Burnt Ends is another special item that’s making people happy. “It’s kind of a thing that people that are into barbecuing look for,” Kris explains. After the briskets come out of the oven, the crispy ends are cut off and set aside as their own little dish.
Once a week, they offer Smokeless Mondays, as the smoker requires a rest and gets cleaned out. On those days they serve mouthwatering burgers. Burgers are served with a side, or with a side and beer. They’ve also got a veggie option and the Park 101 Salad, if you’re looking for a meatless option. On those days, food runners will bring your meal to you.
If you really want to go for it, they also offer a Chefs Platter that includes four meats and four sides. Each meat serving is 1/4 lb, so you’re getting a total of two pounds of meat. Probably a good one to share, I’m thinking.
Popular sides are brussel sprouts and cauliflower. Offer beans, fries, slaw, potato salad. You can also grab parfaits, cookies, and any one of six beer options from the cafeteria line before you mozy on over to your place on the patio.
Beyond the Smoked Meats section are a wide set of stairs leading you up to Tamarack, a roof-top style lounge where you can watch the sun go down while sipping on a beer or glass of wine. Up here, you’ll be able to order meat and cheese boards that include mixed nuts, specialty jams and honey comb. Honey comb isn’t something you always see on a board, and I’m always happy when a restaurant adds that special touch. The board servings are substantial, as are the hummus plates.
The lounge has several seating areas including a large open fire pit and several high top tables that look down onto Coast Highway with the iconic Carlsbad sign in the near distance. Although there’s not a direct ocean view, sunsets from this spot are pretty magnificent.
The Garden Pub is the bar that runs along the north side of the patio area and into the enclosed dining hall. Guests can belly up to the bar, inside or out, or grab their drink and sit at any one of the tables on the patio, inside the dining hall, or maybe just sit around the the giant fire pit downstairs. The indoor segment of the bar leads into the Dining Hall, where TVs have sports games playing. While the seating is adjacent to the Garden Pub, it’s still all open seating, so feel free to grab a seat and watch the Padres with your pals.
Although we’ve been impatiently waiting, it’s obvious that good things do finally come to those of us who’ve been waiting for Park 101 to open.
A lot of younger families are coming to Carlsbad, leaving the party scenes of PB and downtown for the quieter hamlets here in North County. But having kids doesn’t mean you don’t still want to have fun. As manager Kris Zarif pointed out, “They’ve transitioned to having beers at a bar with friends to hanging out with friends and their kids” and were looking for a fun place to do so.
And then there are those of us who have lived in North County for the past twenty years (okay, me) hoping to see more in the way of fun spots to hang out with friends that don’t require long drives down the coast.
The Village is the one place in Carlsbad that has the walk/ride vibe going, and now, with more places coming in, pedestrian friendly crosswalks, and bike racks that line the sidewalks, Carlsbad Village has become a great place to spend a long, leisurely evening. Park 101 showed up at just the right place and time.
The date for the official grand opening hasn’t been set yet, but I’m guessing they’ll wait until after the summer season when all the tourists have gone home and the locals can celebrate the newest member of the community. We’ll definitely let you know as soon as we hear more!
- Executive Chef: Ryan Tuskan
- General Manager: Jenny Pohlkamp
- Location: 340 Carlsbad Blvd., Carlsbad, CA 92008
- Deli Hours: 7AM-9PM
- Restaurant/Bar Hours: 11AM-Midnight