If you're in the heart of Santa Barbara wine country at dinner time, stop by Brothers Restaurant at Mattei's Tavern in Los Olivos. Grab a seat at the bar or dine in one of the cozy rooms straight out of the old West, reflecting the spirit of the stagecoach days.
Built in 1886, Mattei's Tavern was a meeting and dining spot for locals and a resting place for travelers.
There you'll find the restaurant's co-owners and chefs, Matt and Jeff Nichols, turning out an innovative mix of dishes with seasonal, local ingredients. While they share kitchen duties, Matt handles the wine and beverage program, and Jeff is responsible for the business side of the restaurant.
Over the years, both brothers, who grew up in Ames, Iowa, alongside four other siblings, have done stints and mastered their culinary skills in many professional kitchens around the country.
"I always knew I wanted to be chef," says Jeff, 48. Matt, 45, on the other hand didn't have such a vision. Both started out as teenagers washing dishes at restaurants.
"In the course of two and a half years, I went from being a driver to kitchen manager at Spago." The highlight of his six years there came in 1995 when Wolfgang Puck put him in charge of managing the menu served at the Academy Awards Governors Ball.
The brothers' love affair with Santa Barbara wine country dates to 1996 when they were invited to cook a food-and-wine pairing dinner at Andrew Murray Vineyards.
"The wine dinner, a success, was our first time together in the kitchen as chefs," notes Matt. Encouraged by local guests at the dinner to open a restaurant in the Santa Ynez Valley, they began searching for a location.
In July 1996, they opened Brothers Restaurant Solvang in the Storybook Inn Bed and Breakast with a simple menu. "We developed our own style. Our food became influenced by our childhood food memories and by our different backgrounds in our culinary journeys," notes Matt.
...Now you can whip up some of their restaurant creations at home with favorites found in their recently released first cookbook, "Brothers Cuisine, Recipes from Santa Barbara, California Wine Country," (Nichols Brothers Restaurant; $34.95).
The book, an outgrowth of diner requests, is a collection of their most sought-after recipes, says Jeff. The 145 recipes range from simple to complicated.
"We've downsized the recipes, but they are done the way we do them at the restaurant," notes Matt, adding "our style of cooking is really approachable." - The Daily News