Casual Fine Dining at Crumbs Restaurant
On any given Tuesday in McArthur, the farmer eating lunch on his tractor may just be noshing on sushi. “This isn’t just a restaurant that operates off the tourist base,” says Travis Hickey of Crumbs, the casual fine dining establishment he owns with his wife, Fiona.
While the Hickeys’ menu changes with the seasons, on Tuesdays the specialty is sushi, when Travis gets to season his own vinegar for the rice and prove that he was paying attention when he trained for three months with a chef from Japan while living in Santa Barbara.
Crumbs is a love story in many ways. Travis, who grew up in Santa Barbara and trained in multiple cuisines after growing up the son of a personal chef, notes that he found his way to McArthur because he “followed the girl.” Fiona, a McArthur native, met Travis while a student at UC Santa Barbara studying geography and English. They were introduced by a mutual friend.
While Fiona enjoyed life in Santa Barbara, the lure of home was strong. “I have a vested interest in making sure we are still on the map,” she says of her hometown, “and that we don’t turn into a ghost town.” She describes the Intermountain area as a “hidden gem,” noting, “There’s so much to do in this place. It’s like a mini-Tahoe without all the traffic.”
Without much of a plan other than to keep hold of Fiona when he arrived, Travis took odd jobs as he settled into life in McArthur. While out on a gardening job, his employer asked if he knew of a cook who could cater an event. When Travis convinced him of his skills, he surprised the guests, including many cattle ranchers, by serving up fried tofu next to the meatballs with great success. “My style of food is pushing people’s expectations of food,” he says.
Of the many styles of cuisine he’s trained in, from Italian to Mediterranean to French to health food and pan-Asian (among others), he says, “There are so many similarities. I don’t look at the differences; I look at the similarities, and that’s where I get my inspiration.”
Inspired is certainly a way to describe the cuisine at Crumbs. “I don’t do baked potatoes,” says Travis. “You can get them anywhere. You can do them at home.” Instead, he offers a Grown Up Tater Tot—wasabi mashed potatoes, breaded and fried and topped with Vietnamese sweet chili sauce, Sriracha sour cream and chopped green onion—as either a side or appetizer. “It’s got all these things that just go together,” he says. “What drives me is to try things that are familiar but different.”
The menu reflects the growing seasons. “In the summertime, I go out to pick the veggies that day, take them back to prep and then serve them that night,” he says. The couple loves to take daughter Jencie, 6, and son Sean, 2, with them to the gardens they source.
The Crumbs building is one Fiona had always admired, and it proved to be the biggest stumbling block to starting the restaurant. The former home of Hiram and Ursel Crum, a family established for generations in the area, the building has a charm characteristic of its community. “We came and looked at the place and I could just visualize it,” Fiona says of the restaurant.
“Being kind of naive to the facts, we thought we’d be open in six months,” she adds. “All told, it took two years to get going.” Renovations took longer than anticipated and money got tight. Fiona became pregnant with Sean and was six months along when the doors finally opened in July 2009.
“Fiona designed the front and I designed the kitchen,” says Travis. “I designed the kitchen so one person could cook.” Adds Fiona, “One of the things we both thought was important was to have an open kitchen. There are no secrets.”
Indeed, sitting at one of the four seats at the chef’s table can be a highlight of a meal at Crumbs. Travis swiftly and expertly works while greeting customers as they walk through the door and chatting with those at his table. “The reality is, it’s a high-stress job,” he says, though he relishes that “we are welcoming people to come have dinner at a friend’s house.”
Noting that “my favorite places to eat in Santa Barbara are the taquerias,” Travis proclaims, “I’m a foodie but I’m not pretentious.” While locals can be taken aback that reservations can be helpful, the need for them only affirms the popularity of this charming little restaurant that is high on taste and charm. Says Fiona, “It gives people a little feeling that they can live in the country and still have that little bit of sophistication.”
Crumbs Restaurant • 44226 Hwy 299E • McArthur • (530) 336-5451 Lunch: Tuesday-Friday 11am-2pm; Dinner: Tuesday-Saturday 5pm-9pm