Harley Laguna Beach Proves a Flavorsome Neighbor

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Through a tall wooden doorway that opens into an atmosphere slightly reminiscent of a speakeasy, one sees a fresh puff pastry atop a curried chicken pot pie. Diners pinch perfectly softened garlic marinated egg halves. Your ears fill with the sizzle of fried halloumi cheese in aquavit mixed with herbs and grilled lemon. There’s a wood-burning grill awaiting the accompaniment of a 32-day dry-aged steak.

No, this is not heaven. This is Harley Laguna Beach.

Chef Greg Daniels (formerly chef at Heaven gastropub and Provisions Market in Old Towne Orange) aimed for something beyond the coastal corridors of Laguna’s tried and true palate by bringing plates to the table that subtly depicted defiance to a conformative meal plan.

“What I tell people when they’re here is that I built this for them; I built this for locals. We aren’t aiming our menu to tourists,” Daniels explains. “It’s about creating an experience Laguna Beach can call their own.”

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Simultaneously, Daniels invites a career’s worth of know-who to Harley. Incorporating his allegiance to his closest circle, his beer tap selection of four, for example, is a friends-only variety. The art on the walls are pieces created by people he knows personally.

“I feel like at this point in my career and life, I want to work with people that I really like, and I want to support people that I really like,” shares Daniels. “This restaurant is much more personal for me. It’s based on relationships -- those that I’ve built with farms and ranches, them getting spots on my menu, getting craft beer in my taps.”

The roots of Daniels’ produce can be found as close as Riverside and Irvine through Smith Farms and Black Sheep Farms, and his catch -- only hours out of the water -- comes from sustainable rod and reel fishing practices out of Dana Point.

“Laguna Beach locals have been really excited about the fact that they’re eating fish caught in waters they can almost see from the tops of our hills,” Daniels says.

“To have someone who’s been fishing overnight send you a text saying what they caught, and then delivering it directly to you eight hours later is something else entirely.”

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A Wittier native, Daniels built his fondness for the hospitality industry due in part to his grandmother, a career server who would walk Daniels through her workplace, showing him the true colors of the restaurant industry. “I was treated like gold by all of her co-workers -- she would take me to the back and introduce me to the chefs,” remembers Daniels fondly. “As a kid it was always very fun seeing that comradery, that familial environment... it was something that definitely stuck with me.”

Another thing that stuck with Daniels was his granny’s chocolate chip cookie recipe, served soft at the end of the Harley experience. And, as for gramps, take a wild guess what Daniels used on behalf of his grandpa, Harley.

Harley Laguna Beach is open during dinner hours and for brunch from 11am-3pm on weekends.

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Born and raised on the salty sands of California’s coast, Manny Frausto is a staff writer at Laguna Beach Living and has adored the power of writing — much like he adores a warm chocolate chip cookie fresh out the oven — for publications such as the LA and OC Registers, OC Home Magazine, and beyond. Reach out to him at manny@lagunabeachliving.com.

Photos by: Grant Puckett.