Birchwood Nipomo beer garden and nursery pairs competing locals’ mac and cheese recipes with brews on tap

March 1, 2024

As a garden nursery and beer garden, is a haven for both plant buffs and laymen loungers simply looking to enjoy some libations on a scenic outdoor patio, occasionally paired with food truck offerings or the entries in various cookoffs.

Photo courtesy of Birchwood Nipomo

RAISE A GLASS, AND SPOONFUL: Beer purchases at Birchwood Nipomo on Saturday, March 2, from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., will come with complimentary macaroni and cheese tastings, courtesy of the venue’s inaugural mac and cheese cookoff event.

Visitors of can expect the latter on Saturday, March 2,
when the garden hosts its inaugural macaroni and cheese competition. The origin of the upcoming cookoff started with the success of a similar get-together, Birchwood owner Howdy Nunez told the Sun.

“When we put the chili cookoff together, we just kind of threw it together. Our patrons would come in and say, ‘Hey you guys should do this,’” said Nunez, whose venue hosted the cookoff during the winter of 2023. “It went pretty well. People enjoyed it and had a good time. So we thought we should keep this as a norm and do this more often.”

While the two new traditions are labeled as cookoffs, both events are informal and more about everyone involved having fun than competing. 

Similar to the chili cookoff, the participating cooks in the mac and cheese competition are independent amateur chefs who responded to an open call from Birchwood. As of Feb. 27, there were eight contestants in the lineup, but there may be some late entries as well, Nunez said.

Photo courtesy of Birchwood Nipomo

NURTURING NIPOMO: Birchwood Nipomo includes both a plant nursery and outdoor beer garden, which offers its guests patio seating and often hosts food truck events on a rotating basis.

“It’s not like the mac and cheese fest in Avila, where chefs from different restaurants compete. It’s nothing that serious,” Nunez said. “This is more of just a fun thing to do for residents. If you win, you get a plaque with your name and bragging rights for the year. It’s just something they can hold their hat on.”

There will be a small panel of judges—some picked in advance, others set to be chosen from volunteering patrons on the day of the event—who’ll vote for their favorite mac and cheese dishes at the cookoff, Nunez added. 

During their ranking, one aspect the judges will be asked to look out for specifically is the use of any unique ingredients, as each participant is asked to include at least one special topping or addition not traditionally required in mac and cheese.

Nunez personally hopes someone incorporates “a good brisket” or other protein, he said.

“I’d like something with some kind of substantial base, like tri-tip or something to that effect, or chili verde,” Nunez said.

Photo courtesy of Birchwood Nipomo

ORDER UP: The Birchwood staff hopes to organize more cookoff events at the beer garden in the future, depending on the success of the upcoming macaroni and cheese competition.

Throughout the cookoff, customers of Birchwood’s beer garden will get complimentary mac and cheese samplings—each beer purchase will include a free tasting. The venue’s drink selection includes beers from the , which donates 1 percent of its gross total sales of its New Day IPA and Buddy Lager to dog rescues based in California and Arizona.

Since 2015, the company has donated more than $200,000 to the organizations that benefit from its Seize a Pint, Save a Pup Pledge. Nunez said Birchwood carries Second Chance beers because of its charitable work and to encourage dog lovers to bring their furry friends to the dog-friendly garden.

Birchwood’s beer garden highlights a variety of local breweries as well, with beers from , , , and other Central Coast spots.

“I like to rotate a lot of different beers, as far as what we have on tap,” said Nunez, who took over Birchwood in 2016.

Photo courtesy of Birchwood Nipomo

PLANT AHEAD: Birchwood Nipomo is well known for its garden nursery, plant shop, and scenic grounds.

At the time, Birchwood was primarily a garden nursery venue, but Nunez and his wife envisioned using part of its property for people to enjoy as an outdoor gathering and dining space.

“We thought about how else we could capitalize on the beautiful grounds here and the beautiful weather in Nipomo,” Nunez said. “We’ve just kind of been slowly morphing it into what it is today, and it’s working. It’s just going to keep growing as more and more people find out about us.”

Arts Editor Caleb Wiseblood hopes the moon is made out of cheese. Send rocket boots to .

Your custom text © Copyright 2024. All rights reserved.