May 17 2013 04:07 PM

Small plates are excellent, and the service makes you feel like a friend

Photo by Jenny Montgomery

Oceanside is a town with many sides. As the last coastal outpost on the northern tip of the county, its identity is shaped not only by Camp Pendleton—just try driving down the Coast Highway without seeing freshly shaven heads on baby-faced young Marines—but also by the old-school beach-town vibe that easily gets overshadowed by its glitzier neighbors to the south. That gritty-but-welcoming feeling is making a comeback in O'side, thanks to the help of funky food outposts like The Flying Pig.

The Flying Pig (626 S. Tremont St.) just notched its two-year anniversary—and it's definitely hit its stride. The farm-to-table joint is cranking out seasonal food that's both polished and fun. The staff all hustle around with such warmth and dedication, you would think everyone who comes to your table is the owner.

Just go ahead and get yourself a plate of the tempura-and-cornmeal-fried pickles—but don't assume you'll get a mere plate of cucumbers. On the night I visited, I was informed that the chef wasn't happy with the current crop of cukes, so our plate consisted of pickled onions, carrots, turnips and more. The veggies are pickled in the house brine, and every crunch was hot and zingy, with a liberal coating of just-crunchy-enough tempura clothing every one. 

The polenta fritters were another small-plate winner. I'm usually wary of polenta—it's just cornmeal with a fancy name, people—but these balls of goodness were like the softest, subtlest hushpuppies ever. Spend the extra 50 cents for a dish of honey for dipping. 

I love a good ribeye, and since I was out sans toddler, I was feeling decadent. 

"Give me a steak!" I may have shouted. 

I remain torn over this dish and hope that maybe that night, I just got an inferior cut. Cooked to medium, the flavor was there, but the steak wasn't so much marbled as it was fatty, and I spent most of the meal sawing away at my dinner. However, the sauce of port and dates was fantastic, as were the thin and crisp salt-and-vinegar fries. (Although the menu did also have the now-ubiquitous truffle fries, they are far outshined by this sassier flavor combo.)

If you're feeling beefy, opt instead for the short ribs—assuming they're on the ever-changing menu. Fork-tender and served on a bed of toothsome black-eyed peas and creamy, sweet corn, the dish was the definite showstopper at our table.

The Flying Pig feels bustling and energetic, with packed tables, bar stools filled with locals and staff chatting up guests like old friends. There's an eclectic collection of art on the walls. I was partial to the tones-of-blue painting of a trio of smoking nuns.

When we commented to our server that we dug The Flying Pig's cool energy, she remarked, "We're like a dive bar that serves really upscale food." 

It's a contradiction of sorts, but one that definitely works in Oceanside.

Write to and Follow Jenny on Twitter @jennymontyinsd.


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