True To The Craft: How West Oak Nosh Is Keeping The Passion In Food

Gabriel and Marcus Deanda know their town. Their restaurant, West Oak Nosh, is filling a much needed space in Lodi, California by offering a high-quality, locally sourced menu that nods to the town’s German roots. Equal parts hip hangout and family friendly dining experience, West Oak Nosh has been praised by food critics and locals alike. We sat down with the Deanda brothers to talk about craft food, local collaboration, and what makes their burgers so darned good.

Q

An open-air, German-inspired restaurant is a fairly unique concept. What inspired you to open West Oak Nosh?

A

Gabriel: I lived in Sacramento for a little bit and mid-town Sacramento has a ton of restaurants with different ideas. When we moved back to Lodi, there was nothing really going on in the downtown area that was exciting. We needed something down here that would attract people who like craft food and the younger generation in general. I found that a lot of people were going out of town to experience good food. Also, we have great weather here most of the year and it’s cool to have our front windows open when downtown is booming. The over-all German inspired restaurant came from Lodi being a traditionally German town. As that culture faded out, no one really took over so we wanted to bring a trace of that heritage back.

Q

Along with respecting the town’s heritage, you also offer local beer and wine that deepens your connection with the community. How important do you think local collaboration is in the greater culinary world?

A

Gabriel: It’s awesome that we even have the opportunity to do that. There’s so many wineries and breweries around that you don’t really need to go outside of Lodi to do whatever excites you. I think that it’s really creating this web where businesses recommend other restaurants to people. It’s really cool to have that support where people are saying “hey head over here.” We can offer fare and drink from blocks away and it’s definitely a community builder. It’s a good thing to have those relationships with people and for them to be able to help out.

Q

Do you utilize any other local ingredients on your menu?

A

Marcus: We’ve worked a lot with R & G Farms; a lot of our seasonal produce like pomegranates, persimmons and blackberries comes from them. We’ve done some work with PT Ranch out in Ione {California}. All of our seasonal items feature a locally sourced ingredient. Based on the season, we’re able to change everything up; our craft cocktail menu changes and we’re always featuring whatever fruit is in season. Using those types of ingredients has been a big focus for us.

Q

Speaking of cocktails, sometimes the link between fresh produce and drinks can be underrepresented. How does having access to seasonal ingredients affect your menu planning for cocktails?

A

Gabriel: The cool part about having these local guys representing farms is that they’re coming to businesses and showing us what they have. We don’t need to search for what we need; they’re bringing it to us and leaving us seasonal items to try out. It lets our creative juices flow and we’ll give to the bartender and say “let’s see what you can do with it.” At the end of the shift, he has a new cocktail made up. It’s cool to have it naturally flow with the season instead of trying to force menu changes. Being able to throw a newbie in randomly without doing a full menu revamp is great.

Q

Your restaurant prioritizes simplicity and clean execution over a larger menu. What effect do you think this has on the food itself?

A

Marcus: One of the things that we thought was extremely important was to take it slow. Obviously, every business has the opportunity to spread their wings and do 50,000 things at once when they open, but our focus was to dial in the foundational items on our menu to have something solid to build off. Rolling out the small menu also gave staples to the community that are here to stay. It allows our kitchen and front of house to get solid. It also allows our guests to know what they’re coming here for. They don’t have to go through a 50 page menu in search of something that’s just “alright.” We wanted to give 20 items that were really off the chain.

Q

You also take a lot of steps to prepare unique items in house. Could you tell us a little more about that?

A

Gabriel: When we first started, we asked ourselves, “what do we want to do in house and what don't we want to do.” For example, bread is one of the toughest {things to make} so we decided to use local vendors. We really wanted to focus on the meat quality. For instance, for our sausages we’re grinding everything in-house and doing all the seasoning and casing. For our burgers, we grind whole brisket. Our burger is 100% brisket. A lot of restaurants take shortcuts to think they’re saving money. What they don’t realize is that they’ll usually overbuy. For us, we’re able to produce what we need. Say we run of out sausages, we’re able to quickly whip up another batch. That way we don’t have a lot of food waste at all, because that aspect keeps everything fresh and consistent.

Q

Where do you seek inspiration for new menu items?

A

Marcus: For us, if we feel like an item is getting a little stagnant or there’s an upcoming seasonal change, we try to get ahead of that before it ends up being a sitting item. For the most part, everything we’ve put out moves. It’s about staying ahead of the season and keeping something exciting happening while still maintaining quality in our foundational items.

Q

What current trends in the culinary world are you guys excited about?

A

Marcus: One of the things that we started doing pretty early one was pop up dinners. We haven’t seen it too much in Lodi, but it’s huge in the bay area and Sacramento. We started doing pop ups where we’d allow our chefs to come up with something that people aren’t getting around here; making it a culinary experience. We did it to open people’s eyes on what they’re missing. We have chefs collaborate; one chef even did a whole hog roast and carved it. It’s an experience for people to realize “oh that’s where that piece of pork comes from!” One other trend I see now is craft food in general. I think people are appreciating it more. With instagram and social media, we have these food bloggers and influencers who love to frequent our restaurant and they’re able to put the word out there for us. All we have to do is focus on our quality, presentation and make sure our guests are happy, then that added bonus comes with it.

Q

For people discovering your restaurant, what are you favorite things on the menu?

A

Gabriel: I’m stuck on our pork schnitzel, but I will say that burger and schnitzel are our best sellers. The burger is freshly ground whole brisket, with your choice of cheese and bacon, plus it’s on a pretzel knot bun which is super unique. We actually got voted the best burger in Stockton {a city 20 miles away} despite being located in Lodi. Now we’re up for the best burger in Lodi. Our pork schnitzel is a sandwich on the pretzel knot bun as well. We hand bread the pork loin and fry it up in beef fat, which is a unique difference. Rather than using soy or peanut oil, we wanted to use something that would give it more flavor which has been a big differentiator for us.

Q

What’s your go-to fruit or vegetable to work with?

A

Marcus: Onions of every type are an amazing thing to work with, but in the winter time, I’m a cabbage fan. We’re doing a soup right now that’s a pork belly soup with potatoes and cabbage. It’s just so hearty. When we do beirocks, cabbage definitely comes into play with the meat, cheese, and house-made dough. It’s just so good. So right now, I’m gonna go with cabbage.