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by Anne Batty
Unusually located off the beaten path on a side street alongside an alleyway, Jeff and Renee Gourley’s Nomads Canteen is a place where San Clemente locals gather daily to eat, drink and relax into its unique vibe.
“While we certainly encourage and appreciate the patronage of visitors and tourists at Nomads, our main goal for the canteen is to be the place where locals come together … a place that feels like home,” Jeff explained.
To that end, the ambiance at this eatery is rustic, beach casual. On-sight parking and a landscaped walkway guide patrons onto a wooded deck complete with umbrella-tables and barbecue. Antiquated double doors open into a large, airy, great room where a handmade, horseshoe-shaped bar provides food, drink, easy conversation and connection. Tall booth-like tables and chairs line the outer walls, providing seating for small or large groups. And scattered among the exposed-pipes below Nomads’ original tin roof, Gourley’s personal collection of surfboards are on display for all to enjoy.
Along with 33 different beers, many of them local and 10 of them rotated weekly, Nomads offers diners Saki and a selection of wines to accompany a global fare distinctive in flavor, taste and origin. Theirs is a menu consisting of foods seasoned with many unique spices inspired by cuisine experienced by Jeff in his worldly travels. And according to him, every one of Nomads dishes has a story behind it.
“I have always loved to cook, said Jeff, “My scuba diving crews always said I should open a restaurant when I retired from instructing … so that’s what I did. There were so many foods I had tasted and loved while traveling, especially the chicken on a street cart in Belize. I visited that cart many times before I could reproduce that taste, and it’s one I still use in the canteen today.”
For the first two years after opening Jeff was the only chef. All foods on the menu were the same ones guests to his home for an afternoon or evening barbecue might encounter. Today, overseeing more formally trained chefs as they cook his dishes, he tastes everything to be sure the flavorings are to his standards. But once weekly, on Island Style Thursdays, he is back in the kitchen sporting the chef’s hat and creating a new and special dish, one unavailable on the regular menu.
All foods served at Nomads are prepared on an open grill, and made fresh to order. Ingredients are acquired through distinct and private distributors. Definitely not a fast-food establishment their motto is, “The good things in life take time – at Nomads they take a little longer.”
The canteen’s main claim to fame is its poke, islander and mainlander bowls. And whether dining on appetizers, salads, spicy tuna, shrimp, scallop, chicken or spam bowls, tacos, quesadillas, fish or steak selections, patrons are in for a treat … an exceptional dining experience in a casual and relaxed atmosphere guaranteed to make one feel right at home.
The Nomads Hotel
Always a part of the Gourley’s and partner Sean Rowland’s plans for Nomads; the opening of a boutique surf hotel in conjunction with the restaurant has come to fruition.
“In our travels we noticed that the United States didn’t offer the same type of all-inclusive, personalized hospitality that is available elsewhere for ocean-minded travelers,” Jeff Gourley revealed. “The only place you can’t find these types of accommodations is in the U.S., and Renee, Sean and I wanted to do something about that. We wanted to be sure that this experience we enjoyed was available to world travelers visiting here.”
This desire to replicate the ohana the trio found in world-wide surfing and diving destinations, is what led to the building of Nomads Hotel; an establishment to accommodate water lovers from professional and amateur surf contest competitors and staff, to adventure seekers looking to experience the best breaks SoCal has to offer. And after a year and a half of seeking approval they have finally made it happen.
Fronting on Avenida Serra, and occupying space behind and below Nomads Canteen, their seven-room travelers hotel offers accommodations from bunk-room style (for those traveling on a budget) to a luxury suite experience. All rooms are colorfully painted and decorated with surf art and photography, providing the water-world ambiance so appealing to global travelers. All rooms are based on single occupancy with rates ranging from $39 to $199 per night.
This boutique establishment also offers all-inclusive packages including: three meals daily, transportation to and from the beach twice daily, a day of surfing, lessons, board and wetsuit rentals for beginners, a beach barbecue and more. And with access via an indoor staircase to the great food and 33 varieties of beer offered at the restaurant, life couldn’t be sweeter for occupants there.
Named after wanderers by a wanderer, Nomads Canteen and Nomads Hotel are definitely bringing something new and different to town, and from our standpoint, our little beach town by the sea can’t help but be the better off for it.
Visit Nomads Canteen on Ave. Cabrillo or call (949)481-4153 stayatnomads.com.