One of the biggest testaments to Santa Maria Style Barbecue is that several legendary local barbecue restaurants–such as the Hitching Post, Far Western Tavern and Shaw’s Steakhouse–have all been going strong since the 1950s. And to that list, you can also add Rancho Bowl in Santa Maria, a local institution since 1959.
Long known for its Santa Maria Style oak-pit tri-tip sandwiches, Ranch Bowl is now a more delicious experience than ever under the direction of new Executive Chef Brenda Vasquez, a Santa Maria native who attended the Culinary Institute of Arizona.
As noted in this story by Hayley Thomas of the Santa Maria Sun, Vasquez’s menu is “a blend of mid-century diner comfort and modern culinary creation.” It appears to be a hit, as food sales have tripled!
Another attraction is the inimitable ambiance of Rancho Bowl. As Thomas puts it, “The old-school, Santa Maria-style barbecue and banquet room where local folks routinely wed up and party down, the retro-chic bar adorned in black-and-white photos, and the family-owned-and-operated feel keep the spirit of the late owners alive and well.”
Yet while the vibe is authentically old school, the bowling experience is remarkably modern, with 32 remodeled lanes, couches and coffee tables, LCD touch screen consoles with integrated cameras, and flat-screen televisions, not to mention interactive bowling games with Facebook connect.
Rancho Bowl is operated by Victoria Murray, daughter of founder Mili Acquistapace. One hallmark of Santa Maria Style Barbecue is that it is always moving forward, but never abandons its roots–and Rancho Bowl is yet the latest example!
The fact that our famed barbecue country is also home to world-class wineries adds another flavorful layer to Santa Maria Valley’s culinary heritage. Each winery brings with it a distinctive culture, visitor experiences and special events.
A festive example is Riverbench Vineyard & Winery’s upcoming “Bubbles Galore: A Day of Sparkling Wine” happening Saturday, December 6 at the winery from 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. This is a chance to taste through six sparkling wines with Winemaker Clarissa Nagy while enjoying a three-course lunch prepared by Chef James Gentry.
The day is sure to impress as Riverbench is one of the longest established wineries in the valley and is renowned for its Chardonnay and Pinot Noir made in limited quantities. Of course, all dishes at the Bubbles Galore event will be carefully matched with a different Riverbench bubbly . . . not to mention sparkling conversation!
On that note, get ready for more perfect pairings here in California’s BBQ Capital as Figueroa Mountain Brewery has opened a new taproom in the city of Santa Maria. Best of all, the brewery plans to honor the tradition of Santa Maria Style Barbecue along the way.
“We are excited to open a taproom in an area so rich in history and tradition,” says brewery president Jaime Dietenhofer about expanding into Santa Maria. “Every year we attend the Santa Maria rodeo and we’re big fans of Santa Maria BBQ. Craft beer is the perfect pairing with tri-tip and we will even be marinating tri-tip in Davy Brown Ale for sandwiches on our ‘Bar Bites’ menu.”
Figueroa Mountain Brewery is based just down the road in the Santa Ynez Valley and makes a variety of beer styles, including signature brews such as Hoppy Poppy IPA and Davy Brown Ale.
At its Santa Maria taproom, Figueroa Mountain has live music on Fridays and Saturdays, along with other themed evenings, such as Game Night (board games galore) and Benefit Taphandle Night (supporting local charities) every Wednesday. Food includes tri-tip sandwiches, pizza, salads and more.
The new Figueroa Mountain taproom in Santa Maria is just the latest example of how the craft beer movement is making waves here in the Santa Maria Valley!
This may be one of the best lines ever uttered about Santa Maria tri-tip: “East of the Rockies, the tri-tip roast is like the Sasquatch of meat.”
Best of all, this line comes from the venerable New York Times!
Indeed, in a recent story about tri-tip and the elusiveness of certain cuts of meat from region to region, the Times’ Kim Severson details her futile quest to track down tri-tip east of the Rockies. She writes, “Back in Northern California, where my tri-tip courtship began, you couldn’t swing a piece of red oak without hitting one…I have asked for tri-tip in grocery stores from Chicago to Tampa, only to be met with the pleasant stare that comes when the inherently helpful are completely baffled.”
She concludes, “Perhaps the tri-tip is simply suffering from a branding problem in the East. Or maybe the people in California are eating more than their share.“
Here’s how Severson describes tri-tip: “The tri-tip roast, beefy and juicy beyond its price, which rarely tops $8 a pound, is California patio food made for grilling. Seasoned with garlic, salt and pepper, cooked over red oak in a style that has come to be called Santa Maria barbecue and sliced against the grain, tri-tip is essential to Central California biker bar sandwiches and community fund-raisers.”
That is true. Of course, we’d like to remind everyone that you can enjoy tri-tip at numerous establishments besides biker bars and fundraisers, but we’re not going to get pretentious about it!
And for those of you who are wondering what tri-tip is, and how it became synonymous with Santa Maria Style Barbecue, check out our short history on this distinctive homegrown cut.
Thanks to Kim Severson and the New York Times for turning the spotlight on tri-tip and Santa Maria BBQ.
In Santa Maria, tri-tip is so revered that it is even presented as a hallowed offering at the Santa Maria Valley’s annual Dia de los Muertos celebration where people build elaborate altars in memory of a deceased loved one.
Indeed, “Day of the Dead,” or “All Saints Day,” which is officially on November 1, will be celebrated in Santa Maria on Sunday, November 2 from noon to 5 p.m. at the Veterans Memorial Community Center and at the adjacent Veterans Memorial Park. Here large, colorful altars are erected and decorated with photos, mementos and even the favorite foods of those who have passed.
Festive music, dancing, performances and food (including tri-tip sandwiches) are also an important part of the afternoon. Make no mistake, the Day of the Dead is alive and well in Santa Maria, and so is barbecue!
P.S. The nearby Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes Center is presenting a Day of the Dead exhibit featuring the work of David Lozeau (pictured here) showing through November 16.
As any barbecue afficionado will tell you, there is an “art” to the process of cooking meat that often ties in closely with regional culture and history. Such is certainly the case with Santa Maria Style Barbecue, which is linked to Santa Maria Valley’s early rancheros; cowboys; Swiss-Italian immigrants; and founding fathers.
In this spirit, the Official Santa Maria Valley Barbecue Blog tips its hat to the upcoming premiere of Antiques, Art & Americana, a celebration of history, arts and unusual antiques taking place on November 1 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Historic Santa Maria Inn and at the nearby Santa Maria Valley Historical Society Museum. Highlights of the day include talks by local historian and columnist, Shirley Contreras, who will also share the history of the Historic Santa Maria Inn; the wooden creations of Keith Zimmerman, including models of horse drawn carriages, carousel animals, antique aircraft and western figures; vintage toys from the Souza family’s private collection including American-made trucks, tractors, fire engines, Lionel Trains and accessories; and handmade teddy bears by Hattie Stoddard who is well known as the designer of Annette Funicello’s signature line of collectible teddy bears.
Wine tasting, gourmet baked goods and a display of 19th-Century wedding gowns will also be a part of the day, while vintage automobiles will be on hand to shuttle attendees the short distance between the Historic Santa Maria Inn and the Santa Maria Valley Historical Society Museum.
A few years ago, we reported about a Santa Maria BBQ joint in Palm Desert called Warehouse BBQ.
Now comes word of another Santa Maria BBQ outpost called Twisted Tips BBQ Fusion in Tehachapi, on the mountainous border of the Mojave Desert and San Joaquin Valley approximately 150 miles due east of Santa Maria.
Twisted Tips BBQ Fusion is owned and operated by Mark Hitt. As the story goes: “Mark was born and raised in Santa Maria and grew up with a passion for perfecting Santa Maria-style tri-tip. In 2004, Mark hitched up his BBQ pit and relocated with his family to the beautiful mountain town of Tehachapi. After years of sharing his traditional Santa Maria-style tri-tip BBQ as well as Asian and Mexican-influenced BBQ dishes with close family and friends, he took their advice and decided to share it with the Tehachapi community.”
And so Twisted Tips was born this fall, bringing Santa Maria Style Barbecue to the hungry denizens of Tehachapi!
We have written about Santa Maria BBQ purveyors from Hawaii to New York and in between, but it sounds like something special is really cooking in the southeast of California. It’s just the latest evidence that while Santa Maria BBQ is a local culinary tradition here on the Central Coast, it continues to cultivate good taste across the nation and beyond!