Couple’s Royale is true farm-to-table restaurant

Many restaurants in the region celebrate their use of local ingredients by calling themselves “farm to table,” but few can back up that claim better than Jordan and Mariah Brownwood.

Virtually every fruit, vegetable and herb served at the couple’s newly opened restaurant, Royale, is grown on the Brownwoods’ organic family farm in Valley Center.

Nopalito Farm & Hopyard, established on 7.5 acres near Old Castle Road in Valley Center, supplies their 5-month-old Royale restaurant in Ocean Beach with avocados, lemons, passion fruit, beets, carrots, berries, kumquats, guavas, red-leaf lettuce and much more. Diners can find out what’s been fresh-picked from Nopalito each day on a whiteboard near the kitchen.

The farm and the restaurant are both passion projects of the San Diego couple, who met 12 years ago while working in the local hospitality industry.

From 2007 to 2010, they lived in San Francisco where he ran a wine bar and she worked in a French restaurant. Then they moved to Austin, Texas, where in 2013 they opened their first food enterprise, a food cart serving grilled-cheese sandwiches called Royale with Cheese.

A year later, they sold that business and returned to San Diego by way of Washington state, where they visited Jordan’s twin brother, Jacob, who was then working on a sustainable farm.

The farming bug bit the Brownwoods hard, so in 2014, they purchased the Valley Center property, which at the time had an existing lemon grove and 100 avocado trees. They renamed the farm Nopalito, the Spanish word for cactus, to celebrate its sustainable, drought-tolerant crops. Then they planted 2.5 acres with hops to sell to local breweries, expanded the diversity of their produce and created a vegetable garden.

Recently, Jordan’s parents moved to a home on 7.5 acres adjacent to the farm and his twin brother, Jacob, now lives on the property as Nopalito’s farm manager.

The Brownwoods, who married six years ago and have a 9-month-old daughter, Winnie, never gave up their love for the restaurant industry.

In mid-2015, they opened a new version of Royale With Cheese at the University Heights bar Park & Rec. The food-service window served gourmet hamburgers, grilled-cheese sandwiches, tater tots and brunch items. It was a hit with diners but there was no room to grow, so they closed the business in April 2016.

Now, the third incarnation of Royale — a partnership between the Brownwoods and Park & Rec’s Andy Zlotnik — has opened in the former Sessions Public space on Voltaire Street in Ocean Beach.

Jordan, 33, said the new Royale Cocktails & Hamburgers restaurant brings back all of the couple’s most popular food items with the addition of artisan cocktails, entree salads and a full breakfast/brunch menu on weekends. Besides seven house-made cocktails, Royale also serves nine beers on tap, all local.

Mariah, 35, said that customer feedback has been good since Royale opened. The biggest challenge has been getting the word out that the venue is open.

To spread the word, they have recently collaborated with a number of local businesses for special events, including a tiki-bar takeover event with a bartender from False Idol in Little Italy and a Plantation Rum night.

On May 24, they’ll debut a new gin from San Diego’s Old Harbor Distilling Co., featuring their own farm-grown botanicals. And in June or July, they want to organize a “burger battle” between O.B. restaurants.

Eventually, they would like to open other “farm to table” restaurants around San Diego but for now they’re happy with Royale and Nopalito.

“Right now we just want to focus on getting things right here,” Mariah said. “With a 9-month-old at home, we’ve got our hands full.”

Royale Burgers & Cocktails

4204 Voltaire St., Ocean Beach

(619) 431-5653

Nopalito Farm & Hopyard

Castlecrest Drive, Valley Center

(760) 651-2150