Benjamin Ford is a pioneer.
Seven years ago, he opened Ford's Filling Station, a Culver City, California, restaurant that emphasizes fine butchery and seasonal ingredients. The chef, who's popping up at Harry's Pizzeria tonight, imported the concept out of London. It was called a gastropub.
And, in the United States, Ford's Filling Station was among the first of its kind.
Today, gastropubs have flourished across the country. (Miami has some good ones, too.) Despite their popularity, though, there's still no simple definition for the term.
"The gastropub is not a concept that can be put into a mold. It's a community-driven restaurant," says Ford. "I still after ten years don't have a two cents explanation for it. It's a pub and it's food-driven -- with better than expected food and service... But even that doesn't hold up anymore."
According to the chef, gastropubs have a sense of nostalgia and playfulness. At any given time, Ford's Filling Station serves whole roasted cauliflower, shrimp curry, and pig skin ramen. It lacks limitations on technique, ingredients, or cuisine. The restaurant caters to the Culver City community by serving simple food in a comfortable setting.
When he travels, Ford seeks out a similar sense of place. For the last three years, he's been visiting Miami for the South Beach Wine & Food Festival. He enjoys dining at the Pubbelly restaurants -- the enterprising group that pioneered gastropubs in Miami.
"Whatever they're doing on that block is pretty amazing. I find myself levitating over there," he explains. "Also, Mandolin Aegean Bistro is a great one. I like neighborhoody restaurants. They're to me what is the substance of Miami."
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Ford's go-to restaurant continues to be Michael's Genuine Food & Drink. "[Michael Schwartz and I] are similar chefs in some way. There's an appreciation for rustic, responsible cooking, and we both have very craft kitchens. There's a shared sensibility there. And the more likeminded the chefs, the easier it is to come in as an outsider," he says.
Ben Ford takes over Harry's Pizzeria with Ford's Filling Station Pizzeria on Tuesday, October 1 at 7 p.m. Get your tickets here.
Follow Emily on Twitter @EmilyCodik.