It’s only been a year or so, but the young owner of Rancho Santa Margarita’s the Blind Pig has already secured his second location, which undoubtedly puts him on the path to a full-on empire. Tony Monaco was just 25 when he opened the lakeside gastropub last August, and at the time he imagined a “3 by 30” business plan—three restaurants before he turned 30.
This means that by mid-September, he’ll be two-thirds of the way there, when his new The Trough opens in the same pretty Mercado del Lago plaza as The Blind Pig. When the small space just on the other side of the fountain became available, Monaco saw the benefit of opening a Blind Pig spinoff close to the mothership, with the increased kitchen and prep space part of the plan. The Trough’s menu? High-end sandwiches and sides with the same sort of food-forward touches that The Blind Pig brought to South Orange County under chef Josh Han.
Han’s sous chef Karl Pfleider will be The Trough’s operations manager, and for several weeks the Blind Pig has been previewing some of his sandwiches on its Sunday brunch menu. I tasted a great one last weekend—roasted pork belly with a wonderful crisp finish and melting interior plus a soft-boiled egg on an OC Baking ciabatta roll, with crisp Romaine, shishito peppers, Kewpie mayonnaise, and a shake of furikake seasoning ($14). Monaco says there’ll be more standard deli sandwiches, too—with a Blind Pig/Trough twist. More kitchen capacity will enable The Blind Pig to open for lunch, serving the same sandwich menu as The Trough, which doesn’t have much seating. The setup will eventually support catering, and Monaco also envisions curbside pickup, an excellent idea in the busy center.
The Trough is a natural extension of The Blind Pig, whose craft cocktails and quirky food has found a home among Rancho Santa Margarita locals. Sometimes, quirks work like classics—their frites are among the very best, I say without any hesitation, in Orange County. Freshly cut with appealing flecks of skin left on, single-fried to a burnished brown on the outside, seriously satisfying crunch giving way to soft interiors—they are fab. Another thing sort of hiding behind Blind Pig’s outer grooviness is an eye for local and sustainable. Last week, Han personally picked up three yellowfin tuna from a local fisherman. Two restaurants will allow for even more groovy goodness.