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El Camino will feature a Tiki bar, authentic street food and a Mexican bakery

by Steve Coomes

When El Camino restaurant opens near Thanksgiving, it’s likely to show few if any traces of Avalon, the restaurant that operated in the 1314 Bardstown Road space for a decade before closing in July.

The restaurant formerly known as Avalon. The best patio in town won’t look like this next spring.

Shawn Cantley, one of three partners in the venture, is a California native who has long envisioned a restaurant straight out of that state’s surf towns.

“It’ll have a beach hangout vibe … what surfers call shredquarters,” said Cantley, who created the restaurant with his wife, Vanessa, and Larry Rice, operating manager at The Silver Dollar, also owned by the trio. “There are three pillars to El Camino that come from that experience: a Tiki-style bar program, Mexican street food like you’d find in East Lost Angeles or Mexico City, and California surf music.”

Sounds simple, but it’s a bit more complex.

The 175-seat restaurant’s entire lower area will be converted into a showpiece Tiki-bar that guests in other areas of the restaurant can view. As you’d expect with The Silver Dollar’s partners in the mix, what you’ll get at the bar won’t be tame spiked punches with bamboo umbrellas.

“It’ll also be artisan cocktailing like we’ve done before, but we’ll embrace the Tiki culture of crazy garnishes, drinks served in pineapples, Tiki idol mugs and scorpion bowls,” Cantley said. Tiki cocktails, he said, are predominantly rum based, though he expects some tequila to find its way onto the shelves. “When people come in, we’ll ask them if they want to sit near the show or at a table in the back.”

To ensure food authenticity, Silver Dollar executive chef Jonathan Schwartz’s mother-in-law, a chef and restaurant owner in Cancun, is already in Louisville hammering out recipes.

“Watching her and Jonathan cook together is something else,” said Cantley. “He has all the formal training, and she’s got this unbelievable wealth of knowledge about food from all over Mexico.

“They’ll make something and say, ‘Taste this,’ and you’re just blown away. It’s as good as any I’ve ever had.”

Cantley said tunes playing at El Camino will be “southern California surf music,” which he insisted isn’t the stuff found on Jan and Dean records or early Beach Boys albums. Expect a blend of early tunes from Dick Dale and the like, blended with later music from The Dead Kennedys and Black Flag, a style he describes as “modern surf rockabilly punk.”

For those who love The Silver Dollar but find the music too loud, Cantley said El Camino’s volume will be much more manageable.

Kyle Tabler, formerly of The Village Anchor, is the newly hired general manager at The Silver Dollar.

“We won’t be playing music just so it serves as background music; that it’s there is part of the vibe,” he said. “I’d also prefer it not be that loud at Silver Dollar, but the building is just loud. Thankfully, the acoustics in the Avalon space are a million times better. The music is going to sound really good there.”

Expect prices to be in The Silver Dollar’s range, which are affordable if you choose carefully, less so if you’re out for a really good time. Cantley said college kids can get a meal of good tacos at El Camino for about $10, while serious diners can spend much more on fish entrees.

“We want the menu and décor to be egalitarian,” he said, adding that tapas will be among the lineup. “It’s like at Silver Dollar: If a worker with dirt on his boots winds up sitting next to a CEO in a suit, that’s great.”

A new revelation is the space formerly occupied by the Luna boutique will become a Mexican panaderia (a baked goods shop serving light breakfast and coffee) in the spring of 2013.

“We don’t have a name for it yet, but it’ll sell Mexican pastries and bread, breakfast tortas, Mexican hot chocolate and coffee, and also have a little market where you can by fresh produce,” Cantley said. “We’ll be importing different items from all over Mexico to sell there, too.”

And what’s going to happen to that incredible patio?

“I don’t want to give everything away, but there will be a Tiki bar out there with some fire—which is a big element in Tiki bars,” Cantley said, adding that it’s planned grand opening will be next spring. “I’ll just say we’re completely changing the general look.”

Since the trio will own two restaurants, it’s already shuffling management to accommodate for broader oversight.

Kyle Tabler, a front-of-the-house veteran who’s bartended and managed Louisville restaurants such as Red Lounge, Allo Spiedo and Village Anchor over the past 20 years, is now The Silver Dollar’s general manager.

Silver Dollar’s sous chef, Dave Hawkins, has taken over day-to-day operations there to allow Schwartz to focus on menu planning and recipe development for El Camino. And Schwartz just hired Hammerheads’ sous chef, Eric Morris, to groom for supervising the new restaurant’s kitchen.

When asked if the trio had any other restaurants in the works, Cantley said no, that they want to polish and perfect what they have before considering anything else.

“We always had a two-restaurant plan, yet I don’t know that we thought we’d have both within first two years,” he said. “We’ll want to concentrate on both places as they evolve and then maybe relax a little.”

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