Mermaids & Cowboys Announces New Powerhouse Duo To Lead The Culinary & Cocktail Programs At La Jolla Restaurant
Mermaids & Cowboys is an independent full-service restaurant in the heart of La Jolla, California. The 3,200 square-foot concept slid into one of Prospect Street’s most coveted vacancies in the wake of the pandemic in Fall of 2020.
Owner Michael Matthews named the restaurant as an homage to San Diego’s rich history of land and sea— a nod to La Jolla’s historic cattle ranchers and the “Ama” pearl-diving mermaids of Japan.
The restaurant tells a visual story via pearl chandeliers, saddle-leather booths, teak furniture, and a pearlescent fish-scaled bar. With an ocean-oriented dining room and floor to ceiling accordion doors that give way to a trellised 40-seat patio, Mermaids & Cowboys is a contender among the city’s best outdoor dining.
The Powerhouse Duo at Mermaids & Cowboys
Joining Mermaids & Cowboys’ team to spearhead the laidback, surf and turf-inspired concept is Executive Chef ERIK FRESHLEY. A celebrated Pitmaster, barbeque world champion, hunter and certified forager, Erik’s storied career led him on an inspiring culinary journey across the U.S. before settling into his first official executive chef role at Mermaids & Cowboys.
To mirror the creativity of the kitchen, Mermaids & Cowboys has tapped cocktail curator PRAVEEN DAS, a self-taught bartending behemoth from India who followed an unlikely path to a career in cocktails.
Together, the duo is working to make their mark in San Diego’s evolving hospitality landscape, and their recently released menus are representative of untapped talent emerging in downtown La Jolla. Surpassing the “farm to table” maxim, Chef Freshley’s menu prioritizes environmental impact, small producers, and traceable sourcing, while hinting at his soulful and southern influences.
Praveen is evolving Mermaids & Cowboys’ sustainably minded bar program with homemade cordials, fermentations, tinctures, and syrups. His menus offer a nod to cross-cultural influences and provide a bridge for learning for staff and guests alike.
ERIK FRESHLEY, Executive Chef & Pitmaster
Chef Erik’s childhood was marked by hunting, fishing, and farming on his grandparent’s land outside of Chicago, Illinois. Growing and canning much of what they ate, butchering their own game, and barbequing whole hog on the weekends helped shape Erik’s work ethic and culinary ethos.
His first restaurant job was at a family friend’s soul food kitchen when he was 19 years old. Over the next 20 years, the self-taught chef cooked for dignitaries on-base at Fort Eustis in Virginia, sharpened his high-volume skills in the luxury cruise industry, and spent time in the corporate kitchens of Marriott hotels in Miami, Tampa Bay, and Richmond.
Within the competitive barbeque circuit, Erik made a name for himself at prestigious competitions such as Kansas City’s American Royal World Series (1st place) and Houston’s World’s Championship (2nd place).
He developed a cult-like following in Southeast Virginia for his community barbeque pop-ups focusing on live fire cooking and education. Once he arrived in San Diego, he quickly worked his way into the culinary teams for lauded hotels and restaurants including The Grand Del Mar, a AAA Five Diamond hotel, La Valencia Hotel, Dolce, and Grand Ole BBQ.
Today, Erik resides in San Diego, California and helms the kitchen as Executive Chef of Mermaids & Cowboys. He frequently offers his passionate perspective and time to organizations committed to reducing poverty and increasing inclusion. Erik pays his success forward with regular donations to Father Joe’s Villages and Rachel’s Women’s Shelter in San Diego, and he proudly leads an annual community-oriented Juneteenth celebration where he donates barbeque to hundreds of locals in need.
Bone Marrow Crab Cake | sourdough toasts, charred lemon
Signature dish: Crab meat coated in a housemade bone marrow butter is cured overnight before being mixed with toasted breadcrumbs, fresh basil, spices, eggs, and a housemade aioli. The crab cake gets baked back into a hollowed-out beef bone and is served drizzled in bone marrow butter alongside sourdough toasts and charred lemon.
Portuguese Stew | clams, shrimp, calamari, seasonal fish, andouille, crostini
Chef Erik’s ode to his Portuguese grandmother’s original recipe: In line with the kitchen’s zero-waste efforts, chef boils down seafood byproduct (heads, fins, tails, carcasses) to create a flavorful broth while a 12-hour simmer of red wine cooked San Marzano tomatoes creates a solid base. Grilled veggies and andouille sausage are added to the stew with smoked white fish from Lake Michigan, little neck clams from Cedar Creek Florida, bone marrow butter poached CenSea shrimp, fresh calamari, and more. *seafood changes seasonally.
Lamb Chops | pearled barley asparagus succotash, roasted beet, burnt carrot, and mint-spinach purees – served medium rare
A labor of love, the dish takes 72-hours from production to plate: A half rack of New Zealand Lamb Chops is coated in Chef’s signature rub, grilled medium rare, and served atop a barley asparagus succotash. The lamb chops are served with a variety of elaborate, housemade purees. For example, beets are soaked in wine for 24 hours, cooked for another 12 hours in lemon, orange, and grapefruit pulp before being pressed in smoked sea salt. The puree rests for 12 hours ahead of plating.
10-Hour Braised Pork Roast | yellow wax beans, wild rice, caramelized minted greens, gravy
Best-seller: Chef sources pork from small producers in Northern California. A 24-hour brine prepares the roast, which cooks on the grill for approximately 6 hours. A housemade marinade is added before being finished in the oven for another 10 hours. Caramelized mint greens are Chef’s ode to his southern roots, and the dish is complimented by yellow wax beans and wild rice.
The Vegan Butcher | white and forbidden rice, pearled barley and asparagus succotash, roasted mushrooms, roasted beet, burnt carrot, and spinach mint purees
Grilled veggies dusted in leek ash achieve a deep protein-style flavor after being soaked in grapeseed oil and grilled with smoked sea salt to bring out the sugar and give the dish a robust char.
PRAVEEN DAS, Cocktail Curator
Born in India, Praveen Das’ enthusiasm for foreign flavors was nurtured through extensive travel. By the age of 30, he had lived in 18 countries and had developed a strong sense of adaptability and cultural competence—qualities which have had a profound influence on his culinary perspective.
In his late-20s, Praveen’s interest in hospitality prompted him to swap impending career burnout as the CEO of a civil engineering firm in Dubai for a two-year journey—exploring cities and cultures through cocktails and cuisine. In Paris, he spent four months immersing himself in bartending classes. He ventured to Prague to join one of the city’s best rum bars at Bartida Degustation Bar & Shop, and in London, he completed a six-week bar stage at Oriole (Spirited Awards “Best International Cocktail Bar,” Worlds 50 Best).
Returning to Dubai in 2008, Praveen prevailed in his newfound career as a bartender for a well-known private events company, and his entrepreneurial spirit led him to expand the company’s subsidiaries as a partner/brand ambassador, representing spirits and luxury goods in the Middle East.
By 2012, Praveen had mellowed in his approach to business, and he set out on another global journey to feed his curiosity for new ingredients and methods of preparation that characterize global cuisines. In 2014, Praveen moved to the U.S. He worked on small area farms in northern California and learned about sustainable agriculture.
Moving to San Diego in 2018, he began his own cocktail consultancy, Mixology Vida. During the global pandemic, Praveen supported the city’s finest behind the bar, working at Born & Raised, Lion Share, and Hyatt Hotel’s Red Marlin, before he was tapped by Mermaids & Cowboys to help lead the cocktail program.
Tonto’s | Four Roses bourbon, brandy, dark rum, green chartreuse, lemon, ginge
Praveen’s personal favorite and the menu’s hidden gem: Tonto’s is complex and intentionally grows in flavor. This heady combination includes nearly 2 oz of four different liquors and is balanced with notes of lemon honey, ginger, vanilla, and cinnamon to create a surprisingly well-rounded, easy sipper.
Seasonal Margarita | Changing weekly, a menu staple that complements the bar’s zero-waste efforts
Praveen collects kitchen scraps, typically produce from local growers, and is currently working to ferment purple carrots with spices into a traditional Indian Kanji, an age-old healthy probiotic drink. In about two weeks’ time, he’ll use his newest batch to create his spin on a tequila sour with a deep red Kanji float.
Gunsmoke | Ilegal Joven mezcal, Maker’s Mark, lemon, rosemary
Best-seller: Whisky and mezcal are smoky soulmates in this 1950s American Western film-inspired cocktail. Stirred with lemon juice, rosemary syrup, black walnut, and orange bitters, Gunsmoke is Praveen’s spin on an old fashioned and is garnished with a smoldering rosemary sprig.
The Aztec | Mr. Black coffee liqueur, El Tesoro Extra Anejo Tequila, Cointreau, cinnamon, chocolate
Mermaid & Cowboys’ answer to the espresso martini craze: Praveen found inspiration in a Oaxacan Champurrado (hot chocolate), which is traditionally served warm and frothy. With The Aztec, he uses a coffee liqueur and top shelf tequila shaken with an egg white and served chilled. The result, a Mexican espresso martini with hints of cinnamon and chocolate.
Cordalis | Gin, Italicus bergamot liqueur, lime, prosecco
Inspired by the depths of the ocean, Cordalis is a layered cocktail with color changing deep blue and purple hues. A twist on an Aperol Spritz, Praveen uses bergamot liqueur for a more subtle citrus profile, a natural blue pea syrup for color, and tops with a splash of prosecco for a delightful fizz.
See you there
Mermaids & Cowboys Hours:
- Dinner | 4–9PM Daily
- Live Music | 6PM Tuesday–Thursday
- Happy Hour | 4–6PM Daily
50% off all fresh shucked oysters, wine by the glass and by the bottle, and all draft and bottled beer
1251 Prospect Street, La Jolla, CA 92037 | 858.999.0205 | www.mermaidscowboys.com
See you there, San Diego!