PASO ROBLES — If the The Hatch could be summed up in a few words it would be creative cocktails and comfort food swathed in an amber glow of brick, wood and stainless steel. But there is so much more to it than that. Having opened only two years ago by local couple Maggie Cameron and Eric Connolly, The Hatch has firmly established itself as a local favorite, a place to see and be seen with an exceptional cocktail list and a solid “made from scratch” simple, yet elegant menu.
One would think, due to the popularity of the “always on the menu” succulent rotisserie chickens and down home, fried to perfection chicken that the name was poultry inspired, but rather the name derives from Connelly’s original registered business name, “Down the Hatch,” which was intended for a bar.
“When they opened this it was more of a bar that was going to serve food but as time went on it became more of a restaurant that had a bar,” said executive chef Nick Deshon. And it’s no wonder with the pedigree Deshon brought with him from Las Vegas. About two years ago Deshon and his wife decided to move to Paso Robles.
“I saw an ad in Craigslist and applied,” Deshon said. “I worked as sous chef for about six months and then moved into the executive chef position.”
Having had worked for Joel Robuchon at the MGM Grand, Deshon’s quick rise through the ranks is no surprise.
The history of lovely surprises in the culmination of The Hatch started at the very beginning.
“We’ve always known this would be the next step for us,” Cameron said. “We kind of looked around and we cobbled together this vision for a restaurant, we talked about it for a long time but then we won a full liquor license in the county lottery and it was go time. We were picked, and from that day, you have 90 days to put your liquor license in a storefront window of a restaurant.”
“Most people have their act together when they put their name in — we did not,” she said with a laugh.
And then there was the space.
“We loved this space,” Cameron said. “We used to come here when it was Bernick’s way back in the day. We liked the size of it, we liked that the size is totally manageable so you can talk to everyone easily and we love the open kitchen. It was just a very nostalgic place for us. We actually wrote our business plan around this spot and then miraculously the space became available.”
And now the cocktails.
Says Cameron, “We wouldn’t have opened without a full liquor license. The cocktail scene was such an important part of the whole dining atmosphere that we wanted to provide. We wanted great cocktails and a great whiskey selection to be part of that. And now we have our ‘cocktail czar’ who’s taking that to the new level.”
The ‘cocktail czar’ Cameron if referring to is Robin Kirk Wolf. Yet another example of perfect timing and happy surprises. Having been born and reared in San Luis Obispo, Wolf, who also owns the SLO Bitters Co. and often incorporates them into her cocktails, has been in the service industry for more than 16 years. Having spent the past ten years in Manhattan, Wolf recently moved back to her hometown and decided to make her laboratory of libations in downtown Paso Robles behind the bar at The Hatch.
The cocktail list is changed seasonally, as is the menu. With Spring upon us, the original concoctions conjured up by not only the czar but the other bartenders as well contain fresh herbs and a lot of fresh produce. The latest, being The Silly Rabbit, made with fresh carrot juice, ginger, lime and bourbon is an exquisite example.
“I came by cocktails when I spent about a decade living in Manhattan,” Wolf said. “I lived there during the hipster cocktail renaissance so it was a really fun thing to witness and be a part of and I really wanted to bring part of that back when I moved back to the Central Coast. I loved, more than anything, and it seems crazy knowing what I’m doing now, but I think my favorite places to work in New York were the dive bars, the neighborhood joints because you really get a chance to make that connection with your regular customers and kind of let that drive the business rather than shoehorning concepts in.”
To Wolf, while obviously not a dive bar, The Hatch still draws some similarities in that, “I love that I know such a large percentage of the people who walk in that door and if I don’t remember their name I will certainly remember what they drink and they trust us enough that they let us play around with cocktails. We’ve designed new cocktail recipes that way. It’s a reciprocal relationship.”
The other bartenders completely agree. The always effervescent member of the cocktail team, Karlie Higgenbotham, who presently goes by Karl, exclaims, “What do I like best about this place? All my friends sitting at the bar.”
Getting to know the customers is a common theme here. When asked what Deshon likes best about working there, he replied, “The open kitchen, the wood fire. But mostly I like being able to see people enjoy our food and the interaction with the guests.”
One of those friends/guests is local winemaker Riley Hubbard who recently enjoyed drinks at the bar with local helicopter pilot Dave Brooks.
“I love my bartender friend Karlie, I love the food, the wine, I like the owners too, it’s fun,” Hubbard said.
And Brooks responds, “The grits and the cocktails. The cocktails especially.”
And for a little local advice, something not on the menu, “The grits plus the mushrooms, you put them together, it’s amazing,” Hubbard said.
Which brings us back to the food. With the menu always changing, one thing you can always count on is the overarching theme, which is savory, mouth watering, deliciousness. Besides great burgers, the ever popular shrimp and grits, fried chicken, meatloaf, fresh charred seasonal vegetables or some amazing pasta offering, there will always be, “simple wood-fired rotisserie,” Cameron said. “We want the menu to be super easy, super accessible. Not a menu where you sit down to dinner and have to pull out a dictionary and figure what every other ingredient is. Its simple, its rustic. We always have rotisserie chickens spinning every day, and Monday through Thursday we have rotisserie specials. Fried chicken, ribs, it’s comfort food definitely.”
The Hatch is now open seven days per week. Call for hours, and reservations are always recommended, even for the bar.
You may contact reporter Madeline Vail at [email protected]