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Seriously good Sea Bass at Theresa’s Italian Steakhouse. Photo by David Boylan
ColumnsLick the Plate

Lick the Plate: A chef-driven staycation at Legacy Resort Hotel & Spa

I’m always looking for interesting places to stay while enjoying other areas of San Diego without the hassle of driving home, so when a friend mentioned the Legacy Resort Hotel & Spa, it piqued my interest. The backstory on this place is extensive but worth noting before I get into my fabulous experience at Theresa’s Italian Steakhouse with Executive Chef Brian Freerksen there.

Executive chef Brian Freerksen. Photo by David Boylan

The Legacy International Center is a high-end Bible-themed resort rooted in a vision that the now-deceased Pentecostal preacher Morris Cerullo had for the land. Widely known for his overseas crusades and worldwide ministering for 70 years, the longtime televangelist relocated the headquarters of Morris Cerullo World Evangelism to the retreat. The project was built with a combination of donations from thousands of Cerullo’s followers and proceeds from the sale of ministry assets, including the organization’s former offices on Aero Court.

The Legacy Center, located on Hotel Circle South, marks a dramatic transformation of a site off Interstate 8 that had been home to a motel, gym and mini-mart. The beautiful complex of low-rise stone and glass buildings that have taken shape over the last two years holds the promise of drawing tourists to an area that has traditionally been more of a place for folks to crash after a day of visiting area attractions. Now it’s an attraction unto itself.

The Legacy Resort Hotel & Spa. Courtesy photo

The limestone facade rising above the freeway in Mission Valley came straight from a century-old quarry in Israel. The domed motion-seat theater, housed within the meandering 18-acre resort, draws inspiration from Disney theaters. The 4-D Dome 100-seat theater located in the project’s Welcome Center will house most of the Legacy Center’s attractions, many of which were conceived with the help of cutting-edge technology.

The theater will initially feature two films — “Wings Over Israel” and “Walk Through the Bible” — that were created with the help of individuals who worked on the “Soarin’ Over California” attraction at Disney’s California Adventure. The seven-tiered theater is equipped with sophisticated motion seats that will rock side to side and back and forth and are able to simulate wind blasts, the scent of salt air and the sensation of mist in your face. I did not experience any of this, but it sounds like the next best thing to being there. And those dancing, multi-colored fountains at the entrance are very similar to the Bellagio water show in Vegas.

The amazingly large jumbo shrimp cocktail. Photo by David Boylan

I was there primarily for the authentic Italian Steakhouse cuisine named Theresa’s with Executive Chef Brian Freerksen heading up the kitchen. Chef Brian’s resume includes stops at Nick & Gs, Urge Gastro Pub, Rancho Santa Fe Golf Club, La Jolla Beach & Tennis Club, Paradise Pointe Resort & Spa, Baleen, Dakota Grill, Marine Room and the Hotel Del Coronando.

Needless to say, his style has been shaped at some of the best restaurant and hotel kitchens in and around San Diego and that experience was highlighted in the fabulous meal I enjoyed. We started with two orders of shrimp cocktail and quickly realized that one would have sufficed as these were the largest shrimp I’ve ever experienced. They could have been a meal on their own.

A beauty of a Caesar salad came with the shrimp and we quickly realized there was going to be amazing food for leftovers the next morning. I then moved on to one of my favorite Italian dishes, superb Chicken Parmesan. This was another huge portion and the crispy chicken was covered in a tangy red sauce and a perfect amount of cheese. A giant meatball was also on our sampling menu along with a perfectly cooked Sea Bass.

And yes, the meatball and chicken parm made it home for a beautiful morning-after breakfast. Yes, I am a freak for cold Italian food and when it’s of this caliber it’s even better.

The radio portion of my interview with Chef Brian revealed a chef in the prime of his career, with a beautiful new hotel, restaurant and kitchen to create menus that are a reflection of time spent in some of the best kitchens in San Diego.

Legacy Hotel Resort & Spa is the perfect place to staycation, host a company event, or just stop by for a fabulous meal when you want to explore outside of North County.

Read more about this stunning new hotel and spa at