Get to know Verbena Kitchen’s head chef and see what he’s cooking up at home and in his new restaurant now open in North Park.
Tell us about who you are, what you do, and what led you to the local food scene.
I’m Chef Ronnie Schwandt and I am thrilled to be at the helm of Verbena Kitchen, opening this summer in the heart of North Park. I am a native San Diegan and currently live in South Park with my wife, Laura and our daughter. I attended The San Diego Culinary Institute and began my training at the Fairmont Grand Del Mar, then started my culinary career in Coronado where I began as a sous chef at Leroy’s Kitchen and Lounge. I spent a decade with Blue Bridge Hospitality Group, where I became the executive chef of both Maretalia Restaurant and Leroy’s, and most recently I worked with the Trust Restaurant Group. I was inspired to keep pushing the needle in San Diego’s food scene because I have had amazing mentors like Urban Restaurant Group’s executive chef, Tim Kolanko, and Wine Vault’s Gregory Chavez. I hope Verbena will encourage more chef-focused projects to open in the North Park community and am excited to give back to my hometown and neighborhood.
Verbena Kitchen is a new venture for you. Please tell us about what it will be like to visit and what patrons should expect.
Located at 3043 University Avenue in the heart of North Park, Verbena will be the first solo venture for myself and my business partner Jillian Ziska of To Be Designed. We have come out of the pandemic with fresh ideas, designs, and recipes. Verbena Kitchen will operate Wednesday through Saturday for happy hour and dinner, plus brunch service on Sundays.
Expect light, clean, and straightforward bites and small, seasonal shared plates with a dash of nostalgia with dishes like fresh oysters and classic deviled eggs. The super seasonal menu will revolve around the North Park Farmers’ Market and the relationships our team has cultivated with local purveyors. We invite the day drinkers, happy hour enthusiasts, and casual fine dining seekers to enjoy Verbena’s curated menu.
The beer and wines will be sourced from our beloved West Coast–stretching from Valle de Guadalupe in Baja to the Puget Sound in Washington–allowing us to showcase these devoted artisans. Each will pair with our farm- and sea-to-table menu to exemplify their profiles. Handcrafted seasonal Amaros and vermouths will be designed with the essence of the local farmers’ market and crafted cocktails will be adventurous with milk washing techniques and the use of dry ice. Guests can also expect more traditional wine cocktails including sangrias and spritz options.
What’s your favorite thing that will be on the menu?
The tuna crudo (sourced from Chula Seafood) with green harissa aioli and the deviled egg, which we are procuring from Riverside’s GoneStraw Farms.
What would you order if you were there to dine with a group of friends?
Oysters and one of everything–our menu is perfect for groups!
What is your go-to dish when cooking at home?
We love turning anything into a bowl; rice bowls, grain bowls, grains and vegetables, etc. I always have to add vinegar and oil!
Name five things you always have stocked in your pantry?
Extra Virgin Olive Oil.
Ras el hanout
Have you had a great dining experience recently? Where and what was it?
Our family recently went to Cori Pastificio Trattoria (aka Cori Pasta) and we ordered one of everything on the menu. We had the most amazing fresh pasta (we ordered six different dishes) and their lamb chops are phenomenal and super flavorful. They are located at 2977 Upas Street in North Park and we highly recommend them.
Share three things you love about the San Diego food community.
It’s a small, tight-knit group.
There are different varieties and cuisines.
We have all really found support in one another through this time and are excited to be back in action!
Would you like to give a shout-out to any favorite local growers or farms? What do you value about their growing practices and produce?
The vendors at North Park Famers’ Market have been so good to us and you can find the best strawberries (JR Organics) and salsas (Ruth’s No. 5). Building a community with these vendors has been really special as we create our menu at Verbena Kitchen.
Do you have any local businesses or community members you’d like to acknowledge?