On Wednesday this week, I unchained myself from my desk and joined a friend (Ali, the lead concierge at Surf & Sand Resort) at Harley Laguna Beach to try Chef Greg Daniel’s outdoor dining.
Several weeks ago, it was a happy relief to all of us when Chef Greg announced that he was moving back into the world of take-out. Relatively new to the Laguna Beach culinary scene, Chef Greg has been creating a sophisticated kind of comfort food – and atmosphere – that locals and visitors have flocked to since the day he opened his doors.
When Chef Greg announced take-out several weeks ago, it was a very good day. When he announced opening a sliver of patio for outdoor dining, it was a better day.
Harley is now open from noon to about 8 p.m., Wednesday through Saturday.
Harley Takes on a Beachy Vibe
Given the single-file tables on this Mermaid Street sidewalk, we don’t have to concern ourselves with social distancing. And, with our only option being patio, sidewalk or parking lot dining these days, the outdoor dining at Harley is really quite pleasant in the summery sun on this quiet side street. We yap happily away, catching up on the last month’s news.
Chef Greg has whittled his menu to a number of options that are built for the summer throng. All of Harley’s great craft cocktails and curated wines are still available. The dining options primarily consist of gourmet sandwiches, street tacos, his famed Mac and Cheese and Roasted Cauliflower dishes, and his most popular pasta, the Wild Boar Bolognese.
“While everyone is out and about, it just seemed the smartest way to go,” said Chef Greg.
“People can pick up sandwiches for the beach or enjoy lunch or dinner here.”
Ever on the hunt for the best sangria in town, we order two. They are hearty pours, topped with crafty dehydrated orange slices.
My friend, Ali, orders the Fried Chicken Sandwich (spicy option) and I order the Dr. Pepper Pulled Pork Sandwich (because I’ve had Coca-Cola pulled pork, but I’ve never tried the Dr. Pepper version). We agree to split a side of fries and Chef Greg’s one-of-a-kind Roasted Cauliflower.
The cauliflower arrives mere moments before the sandwiches, giving us just enough time to worship at its now-glorious paper boat of goodness.
Ali admits to working through several roasted cauliflower attempts of her own before discovering that she first needed to poach the cauliflower in a secret mix that involves white wine. While she has come fairly close to also imitating the saucy goodness of this poached-then-roasted wonder, we still pick at the sauce trying to figure out what confounding elements are known only to Chef Greg.
Then, the sandwiches take over the table, towering piles of steamy goodness all around. We agree to split and share the sandwiches, which makes this food writer most blissful.
In short, these are both perfect sandwiches.
Normally, fried chicken in a sandwich can be a chewy, gluten-y affair, but this Jidori-spiced fried chicken is light and fresh, and the bread it’s partnered with doesn’t take over the show. The spicy honey slaw is still cooling enough to counterbalance the spice of the chicken. It is wonderful.
The Dr. Pepper pulled pork sandwich rises to the challenge as well. With its beginnings at the famed Niman Ranch, this pork is always a tender win. As a rule, I typically eschew pulled pork sandwiches as they tend to be over-sauced. This sandwich, however, was another great balance with just enough sauce and plenty of lean meat. Beautifully done.
Doing What Needs To Be Done
Chef Greg wandered out to talk with us for a few minutes, and it was great to finally talk in person; he and I typically exchange texts.
He’s currently seeking approval with the City to put a small parklet in place, an extended patio that gives Harley another 8-12 seats, depending on allowed configuration. He’s hoping to get that in place for the month of September and beyond.
Chef has just seven people working in the restaurant (including him and wife, Abby), and they all take on whatever task is needed.
“I have a small but mighty team, and most of the other chefs in town tell me the same,” he told me.
“We just all dive in and do whatever needs to be done. It teaches you a lot about patience and creativity and what’s really important in the big picture. This isn’t what any of us signed up for, but it’s still important to all of us to make it happen for Laguna,” he said.
Harley is right in the heart of downtown at 370 Glenneyre Street on the corner of Mermaid. Call for take-out or outdoor dining reservations at (949) 715-1530.