Mermaids & Cowboys is a full-service independent restaurant located in the heart of La Jolla, California. The 3,200 square foot concept slipped into one of Prospect Street’s most coveted vacancies in the wake of the pandemic in the fall of 2020.
Owner Michael Matthews named the restaurant after San Diego’s rich land and sea history — a nod to La Jolla’s historic cattle ranchers and Japan’s “Ama” pearl-diving mermaids.
The restaurant tells a visual story via beaded chandeliers, saddle leather booths, teak furnishings and a pearlescent fish scale bar. With an ocean-facing dining room and floor-to-ceiling concertina doors that give way to a 40-seat trellis patio, Mermaids & Cowboys is a contender among the city’s top al fresco restaurants.
The powerful duo at Mermaids & Cowboys
Joining the Mermaids & Cowboys team to lead the laid-back surf and turf-inspired concept is Executive Chef ERIK FRESHLEY. Famed pitmaster, world champion barbecuer, certified hunter and forager, Erik’s storied career took him on an inspiring culinary journey across the United States before settling into his first official role as executive chef at Mermaids. & Cowboys.
To reflect the creativity of the kitchen, Mermaids & Cowboys tapped cocktail curator PRAVEEN DAS, a self-taught bartender from India who followed an unlikely path to a career in cocktails.
Together, the duo are striving to make their mark in San Diego’s evolving hotel landscape, and their newly released menus are representative of the untapped talent emerging in downtown La Jolla. Going beyond the farm-to-table maxim, Chef Freshley’s menu prioritizes environmental impact, small-scale producers and traceable sourcing, all while hinting at his soulful and southern influences.
Praveen evolves Mermaids & Cowboys’ sustainable bar program with homemade cordials, fermentations, tinctures and syrups. Its menus offer a nod to cross-cultural influences and provide a learning bridge for staff and guests.
ERIK FRESHLEY, Executive Chef & Pitmaster
Chief Erik’s childhood was marked by hunting, fishing and farming on his grandparents’ land outside of Chicago, Illinois. Growing and canning much of what they ate, slaughtering their own game, and barbecuing the whole hog on the weekends helped shape the work ethic and attitude. Erik’s culinary ethos.
His first restaurant job was in the soul food kitchen of a family friend when he was 19 years old. Over the next 20 years, the self-taught chef cooked for dignitaries at the Fort Eustis base in Virginia, honed his high-volume skills in the luxury cruise industry and spent time in corporate kitchens. of Marriott hotels in Miami, Tampa Bay and Richmond.
Within the competitive barbecue circuit, Erik has made a name for himself at prestigious competitions such as the American Royal World Series in Kansas City (1st place) and the World Championship in Houston (2nd place).
He has developed a cult following in Southeast Virginia for his community barbecue pop-ups focused on fire cooking and education. Once in San Diego, he quickly worked his way into the culinary teams of well-known hotels and restaurants, including The Greater Del Mara AAA five-diamond hotel, Hotel La Valence, Dolceand Grand Ole BBQ.
Today, Erik resides in San Diego, California, and runs the kitchen as Executive Chef of Mermaids & Cowboys. He frequently offers his passionate perspective and time to organizations committed to reducing poverty and increasing inclusion. Erik pays for his success with regular donations to Father Joe’s Villages and Rachel Women’s Shelter in San Diego, and he proudly leads an annual community-focused June 19 celebration where he donates a barbecue to hundreds of residents in need.
Spotlight on menus
Bone marrow crab cake | sourdough toast, charred lemon
Signature dish: Crab meat coated in homemade bone marrow butter is dried overnight before being tossed with toasted breadcrumbs, fresh basil, spices, eggs and homemade aioli. The crab cake is baked in a hollowed-out beef bone and is served drizzled with bone marrow butter with sourdough toast and charred lemon.
Portuguese stew | clams, prawns, calamari, seasonal fish, sausage, crostini
Chef Erik’s ode to his Portuguese grandmother’s original recipe: in line with the kitchen’s zero-waste efforts, the chef boils seafood by-products (heads, fins, tails, carcasses) to create a flavorful broth for 12 hours of cooked red wine simmering San Marzano tomatoes create a solid base. Grilled vegetables and andouille sausage are added to the stew along with smoked white fish from Lake Michigan, baby clams from Cedar Creek in Florida, CenSea shrimp poached in bone marrow butter, fresh calamari, and more. *Seafood changes seasonally.
Lamb chops | pearl barley asparagus succotash, roasted beet, burnt carrot and mint spinach purées – served medium-rare
A labor of love, the dish takes 72 hours from production to plate: a half rack of New Zealand lamb chops is coated in the chef’s signature marinade, grilled to perfection and served on a succotash of barley asparagus. Lamb chops are served with a variety of elaborate homemade mashes. For example, beets are soaked in wine for 24 hours, cooked for another 12 hours in lemon, orange and grapefruit pulp before being pressed in smoked sea salt. The mash rests for 12 hours before plating.
10 Hour Braised Pork Roast | yellow beans, wild rice, caramelized mint leaves, sauce
Bestseller: The chef sources his pork from small producers in Northern California. A 24-hour brine prepares the roast, which cooks on the grill for about 6 hours. A homemade marinade is added before being finished in the oven for another 10 hours. Caramelized mint leaves are the chef’s ode to his southern roots, and the dish is complemented by wax beans and wild rice.
The vegan butcher | white and forbidden rice, pearl barley and asparagus succotash, roasted mushrooms, roasted beets, burnt carrots and spinach purées with mint
Grilled vegetables dusted with leek ash achieve a deep protein flavor after being drenched in grapeseed oil and toasted with smoked sea salt to bring out the sugar and give the dish a robust shade.
PRAVEEN DAS, Cocktail Curator
Born in India, Praveen Das’ enthusiasm for foreign flavors was fueled by extensive travel. By the age of 30, he had lived in 18 countries and had developed a strong sense of adaptability and cultural competence, qualities that had a profound influence on his culinary perspective.
In his late twenties, Praveen’s interest in hospitality prompted him to trade his impending burnout as CEO of a civil engineering company in Dubai for a two-year trip, exploring cities and cultures through cocktails and cuisine. In Paris, he spent four months immersing himself in bartending lessons. He ventured to Prague to join one of the city’s best rum bars in Bartida Tasting Bar & Shopand in London, he completed a six-week bar stint at Oriole (Spirited Awards “Best International Cocktail Bar”, Worlds 50 Best).
Returning to Dubai in 2008, Praveen established himself in his new career as a bartender for a well-known private events company, and his entrepreneurial spirit led him to develop the company’s subsidiaries as a partner /brand ambassador, representing spirits and luxury goods in the Middle East. East.
By 2012, Praveen had softened in his approach to business and he embarked on another global journey to fuel his curiosity for the new ingredients and preparation methods that characterize global cuisines. In 2014 Praveen moved to the United States. He worked on small farms in Northern California and learned about sustainable agriculture.
Moving to San Diego in 2018, he started his own cocktail consultancy, Mixology Vida. During the global pandemic, Praveen has supported the city’s best behind the bar, working at born and raised, lion shareand the Hyatt hotel red marlinbefore being hired by Mermaids & Cowboys to help run the cocktail program.
Spotlight on menus
At Tonto’s | Bourbon Four Roses, brandy, dark rum, green chartreuse, lemon, ginger
Praveen’s personal favorite and hidden menu gem: Tonto’s is complex and intentionally heightens its flavor. This heady combination features nearly 2 oz of four different liquors and is balanced with hints of lemon honey, ginger, vanilla and cinnamon to create a surprisingly well-balanced and easy drink.
seasonal daisy | Weekly change, a menu staple that complements the bar’s zero-waste efforts
Praveen collects kitchen scraps, usually produced by local growers, and is currently working on fermenting purple carrots with spices into a traditional Indian kanji, a healthy and centuries-old probiotic drink. In about two weeks, he’ll be using his last batch to create his version of a sour tequila with a dark red Kanji float.
Smoke | Ilegal Joven mezcal, Maker’s Mark, lemon, rosemary
Bestseller: Whiskey and mezcal are smoky soul mates in this cocktail inspired by 1950s American Western movies. Blended with lemon juice, rosemary syrup, black walnut and orange bitters , Gunsmoke is Praveen’s take on an old game and is topped with a sprig of smoky rosemary.
The Aztec | Mr. Black coffee liqueur, Tequila El Tesoro Extra Anejo, Cointreau, cinnamon, chocolate
Mermaid & Cowboys’ answer to the espresso martini craze: Praveen found inspiration in an Oaxacan Champurrado (hot chocolate), which is traditionally served warm and frothy. With The Aztec, he uses coffee liqueur and premium tequila shaken with an egg white and served chilled. The result, a Mexican espresso martini with notes of cinnamon and chocolate.
Cordalis | Gin, Italicus bergamot liqueur, lime, prosecco
Inspired by the depths of the ocean, Cordalis is a layered cocktail in deep blue and color-changing purple hues. A twist on an Aperol Spritz, Praveen uses bergamot liqueur for a more subtle citrus profile, natural blue pea syrup for color and a splash of prosecco for a delicious bubbly.
We’ll see each other there
Mermaids and Cowboys opening hours:
- Dinner | 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. daily
- Live Music | 6 p.m. Tuesday to Thursday
- Happy hour | 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. daily
50% off all fresh shucked oysters, wine by the glass and bottle, and all draft and bottled beers
1251 Prospect Street, La Jolla, CA 92037 | 858.999.0205 | www.mermaidscowboys.com
See you there, San Diego!