Around Town in Kensington
A longtime resident and new business owner shows us her street of dreams
“Small and close-knit with a beautiful vibe.” That’s how Helen Bonar describes the neighborhood she moved to 12 years ago with her Scottish husband Niven. Since that time, the couple had two kids—Callum, 11, and Elyse, 9—and last November opened a business just blocks from their house.
BENCH Home (an acronym using each of the family members’ first name initials and the first letter of their surname) sells decor, gifts and furnishings, offers interior decorating services, and recently expanded with an adjacent showroom, outdoor events space and, for those who don’t live nearby, e-commerce options (benchsd.com).
The shop sits within Kensington’s five-block business district along Adams Avenue, the heart of the hood, really, that’s abuzz with people all the time. It’s the street we walk along—and meander slightly off of—to find out where this Alabama transplant shops, eats, drinks and goes when she’s not completely rearranging her shop, which she does frequently.
1. Kensington Cafe
“I’m here on a daily basis,” Helen confesses of the restaurant two doors down from BENCH Home. “OK, at least three to four times a week.” This bustling eatery with its patterned walls, painted brick and vintage photo wall serves as Helen’s spot for meetings, for a midday catchup with Niven and for grab-and-go snacks for the kids. She says that there are too many favorites on the daytime menu (and on the dinner menu, for that matter) to name just one, but avocado toast served on sourdough bread and topped with radishes and a hint of red pepper paired with a no-sugar ice tea definitely satiates her. Others rave about amazing breakfast sandwiches, scrambles, nightly specials and live music Saturday nights. 4141 Adams Ave., 619-640-0494, kensingtoncafesd.com
2. Ponce’s Mexican Restaurant
We step into this family-run, Mexican comfort food joint before they open, which means we get the lowdown on the gallery wall of ladies’ portraits. Ponce’s sister’s likeness hangs on the wall as do paintings of former—and well-loved—employees (one was the first bar manager; another two, sisters), a restaurant regular and, peppered throughout, donated works and estate sale and bordertown thrift store scores. It’s all part of the homey atmosphere. “This was the first place we came when we were looking to buy in the neighborhood,” Helen says. “And it was the first place we came after we closed on our house.” She recommends the enchiladas Suizas, which are stuffed with manchego cheese and topped with a creamy tomatillo salsa and Mexican crema and the strong Viva La Ponce’s margarita, made with Herradura Añejo, Grand Marnier, Cointreau, sweet and sour and fresh-squeezed lime juice. 4050 Adams Ave., 619-282-4413, poncesrestaurant.com
3. Stehly Farms Market
This neighborhood grocer opened nearly three years ago and stocks organic produce—much of it grown on the store’s avocado and citrus farm in North County and on other San Diego County farms—artisan food and gourmet pantry items. It’s located cattycorner from Helen’s shop, so she pops over to pick something up for dinner or get lunch from the prepared-meal offerings. But what she loves most is the selection of fruits and vegetables and the friendly produce manager Mike. “He knows exactly what farm everything came from, and he’ll cut into anything to let you taste it,” she says. 4142 Adams Ave., 619-280-7400, stehlyfarmsmarket.com
4. Clem’s Bottle House & Deli
Helen admits that her family probably orders from this sandwich shop too much. “They know my voice when I call,” she reveals. Niven’s a fan of the Italian sub, which layers dry salami, mortadella, imported ham and provolone cheese in a long, crusty roll. Helen’s usual combines squaw, ham and sprouts. And though Helen thinks these are the best sammies, she says it’s the obvious care the family-run restaurant takes that she truly appreciates. “They always give my daughter an extra box of pickles because she loves them,” she adds. Aside from super heroes, Clem’s carries beverages from more than 500 breweries in its liquor store. And tucked into the strip mall behind the deli and shop is Clem’s Tap House, a tasting room and bar with 30 beers on tap and wine flights. 4100 Adams Ave., 619-284-2485, clemsbottlehouse.com
5. Zen Sanctuary
Once a month or so, Helen books herself an appointment online—usually last minute—with one of the masseuses here. She comes in to completely relax during a Kahlomi Destress or Kumanisha Deep Tissue treatment, both offered in 30-, 60-, 90- or 120-minute sessions. “Don’t get me wrong, I love a spa day, but stopping in for an hour to just decompress lets me go about my day.” On occasions when she’s got a bit more me time to spare, Helen adds the Zen facial to replenish her skin’s moisture. In addition to therapeutic massages and skincare, other offerings include acupuncture, Chinese medicine, energy healing and hypnotherapy. 4183 Adams Ave., 619-269-9322, zensanctuary.com
6. Jayne’s Gastropub
Today, Helen and Niven sit at the bar of this European-feeling eatery on the outskirts of Kensington and drink rosé with restaurant owners Jayne Battle and Jon Erickson. When they come alone, which is often as this is a regular date-night spot for the couple, they typically take a table on the secluded patio outside. “We’ve been coming here for 10 years,” Helen reveals. Her favorite dish? Though it’s always changing, she currently fancies the weekly Wednesday buttermilk fried-chicken special, the maple-leaf duck-breast gnocchi and a gin gimlet served in a vintage glass. Niven’s palate gravitates to classics such as the lamb shepherd’s pie or the fish and chips. And both say the Jayne Impossible Burger, which is concocted from vegetable proteins and amino acids to look and taste like beef (and even bleed), is a must try. 4677 30th St., 619-563-1011, jaynesgastropub.com