El Take It Easy
The Linkery’s Jay Porter adds another original eatery dining mix
By Donna Marganella
Since its grand opening celebration during June’s 30th and 30th event, El Take It Easy has been welcoming foodies from North Park and beyond to indulge in all things handcrafted. Much like its well-established sibling, The Linkery, El Take It Easy uses world-class ingredients that are independently farmed and locally produced.
Sounds simple, but don’t be fooled. El Take It Easy is anything but. The menu may originate with straightforward farm-to-table ingredients, but once owner Jay Porter’s team of culinary wunderkinds gets busy, simple is out and inventive doesn’t even begin to describe it. Throw in some cross-border culinary references (Tijuana/San Diego/Ensenada) and what you get at El Take It Easy is something completely original.
Chef Max Bonacci, also chef at The Linkery, developed the initial menu in collaboration with Jair Téllez, chef/owner at Laja in Baja California and Merotoro in Mexico City. Together they’ve created a free-flowing menu of small plates designed to promote the San Diego/Mexico cultural landscape through unique local ingredients.
The motivation behind El Take It Easy, according to owner Jay Porter, was relatively uncomplicated. “We want to keep contributing to the growth of 30th and continue to be a part of that change. And we want to make sure that eclectic places are well represented in the neighborhood.” With an ever-changing menu of unique dishes such as pork belly tacos, octopus tostadas, plantain empanadas and yellowtail gravlax, diversity and variety both flourish here.
The “thoughtfully produced” food promotes an approach to eating and imbibing that is free-spirited and non-restrictive as the restaurant’s name implies. “It’s intended to just be a place for good food and drinks that you can share with good friends. Nothing formal, just easy to enjoy.”
The interior of El Take It Easy (formerly Apertivo, which will re-open this month in a new location: 2322 El Cajon Blvd. at Texas Street) was also developed with simplicity and relaxation in mind. “We really just tried to open up the space and reveal what was beautiful about it,” says Porter. In a recent blog post about his newest venture, Porter says El Take It Easy was designed to “capture the spirit of the cantina.” Mission accomplished. The interior is laid back comfort meets streamlined nuevo cantina with high arched ceilings and exposed beams. But the clean modern interior avoids pretension and is made earthy with exposed brick and wooden walls created with wooden slats repurposed from the original space.
A huge part of Porter’s success is the relationships with farmers that he’s developed over the years, a situation that he says is greatly improved. “That has gotten better,” Porter says. “It’s easier to get world-class produce and we’re at the point now where farms exist to serve restaurants in North Park and South Park. And our guests should know that. They are helping to make these farms sustainable businesses where before they just couldn’t succeed without this audience.”
Admittedly, says Porter, restaurants like The Linkery and El Take It Easy will appeal only to a certain segment of the general population. “These are not your typical restaurants,” says Porter. “It’s a completely different way of operating. These places take a lot of time and are expensive to run because of the higher cost of ingredients and all the work that goes into preparation — a very labor intensive operation because you’re basically doing everything by hand.”
The team at El take It Easy is an extension of the Linkery staff, talented people who have worked with Porter before in similar capacities. It’s a group he’s obviously very proud of, but he also includes customers, always referred to as guests, as a key ingredient to this successful mix. “The team is a real living, changing, challenging thing and the guests get to be a part of that too.”
So while the premise of El Take It Easy is simplicity, the implementation requires hard work, innovation and creativity, good communication with staff, and an adventurous community of customers. “A restaurant is an evolving thing,” says Porter. “It’s constantly being created based on the sum of the intentions of the people who work there and the guests who keep coming back.”
“It’s always a challenge to offer something unique,” Porter concludes. “But we do our best to help people get the most out of the experience each time they come by. We’re committed to that, and we’re in it to do things the right way, which is sustainable, healthy food that represents the place.”