Posts filed under ‘Local Flavors’
Santa Maria Valley strawberries are so renowned for their juicy, flavorful character that they are distributed both nationally and internationally, and occupy the region’s top spot for moneymaking crops. The region’s uniquely moderate coastal climate is a perfect match for this fragile berry, with warm winters and cool summers that support an extended growing season of up to 10 months per year.
That said, it’s only natural that strawberry pie or shortcake is the traditional dessert served with Santa Maria Style Barbecue. The tangy, sweet berries seem to pair beautifully with the salty, smoky tones in the barbecued meat.
These flavors will now once again be celebrated on April 24 – 26 at Santa Maria Valley’s 28th Annual Santa Maria Strawberry Festival–a weekend of music, strawberry varietal tasting, strawberry desserts, cooking demonstrations, educational exhibits and old-fashioned carnival entertainment. This ultimate berry bash is held at the Santa Maria Fairpark.
For festival information please visit www.santamariafairpark.com.
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!
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.
Santa Maria Style Barbecue is the culinary hub of the Santa Maria Valley, but that hub has many spokes as local chefs and food purveyors add creative twists to our regional food traditions.
One example is Monkey Spit, a purveyor of spices and sauces based in the valley’s rural Tepusquet area. Founded by Santa Maria Valley native Paul Smith, Monkey Spit’s offerings are as creative as its brand name, and now find themselves in the spotlight in this recent feature story in the San Luis Obispo Tribune.
Smith started Monkey Spit in 2008, and brought on longtime friend Rudy Stowell as a business partner. Smith’s family roots in Tepusquet date back to the early 1900s.
One Monkey Spit standout is the new Wimpy Chimp seasoning. As story author Katy Budge notes, “Using his family’s longtime recipe for Santa Maria-style seasoning, he developed a slightly different twist on the dry rub, calling it a ‘Nipomo-style’ seasoning named Wimpy Chimp.”
Of course, Nipomo refers to the small town north of Santa Maria, which has its share of Santa Maria BBQ heritage. As Budge notes, Monkey Mop “proved to be such a winner that it brought home competitive awards from such venerable barbecue cities as Kansas City and Mobile, Ala.
Meanwhile, Smith’s sauces barbecue sauces such as Monkey Mop and Atomic Mop represent a departure from the local barbecue style, as Santa Maria Style BBQ is renowned for its sauce-free, dry-rub style. As Budge notes, Monkey Mop “proved to be such a winner that it brought home competitive awards from such venerable barbecue cities as Kansas City and Mobile, Ala.”
A company from Santa Maria winning awards in such saucy barbecue cities as Kansas City and Mobile? Now that’s what you might call monkey business of the highest order!
After all, isn’t barbecue about the beef? Well, Santa Maria BBQ mostly about the beef, but it’s also about a culinary life here in the Santa Maria Valley, where the farm is rarely far from the table. Indeed, this is one of many things that set Santa Maria Style Barbecue apart from other regional American barbecue styles.
Consider the latest Santa Barbara County crop report published last week. The county’s strawberries–nearly all of them grown here in the valley–remain the top cash crop at $464 million (!) for 2013, followed by wine grapes. Countless other crops, such as broccoli, spinach, bell peppers and, yes, pinquito beans are grown locally as well.
So it’s no wonder that the Santa Maria BBQ menu is filled to the brim, not just with top-block sirloin or tri-tip, but also with an abundance of fresh foods and wines grown right here in the valley!
Indeed, that’s exactly what you’ll find at the Santa Maria Valley Discovery Museum, where interactive educational fun meets local flavor, particularly in the museum’s Bunkhouse and BBQ Hall of Fame exhibits.
In the words of the Discovery Museum, “The Rancho Pasquini barn and bunkhouse is home to the R.H. Tesene BBQ Hall of Fame, with displays of dozens of family brands and the history of Santa Maria-style barbecue. Kids can put on a pair of cowboy boots and a hat and wander through our working barn filled with saddle parts, bits, belt buckles and ranching tools. Cowboys and cowgirls can take a ‘ride’ on a rocking horse and a real John Deere tractor, and then sit around the campfire to brew some coffee or cook up stone soup at the chuck wagon. After a long day on the range, settle into the bunkhouse for a game of checkers.”
More local flavor can be enjoyed in the Planting Station exhibit: “The Santa Maria Valley is famous for its fertile soil, and Plantel Nurseries keeps the museum stocked with valley vegetable transplants through all the planting seasons. Broccoli, cauliflower, red lettuce, and celery are just a few of the cash crops nourishing our valley economy and the museum planting station. So grab some dirt and plant, water, and take home a seedling to start your own backyard garden.”
Other exhibits include Tar Pits, Pirate Ship, Mission to Mars and much more, all with an entertainingly educational twist.
And, of course, after working up an appetite at the Discovery Museum, you might as well take the entire family out for a meal at one of our local barbecue restaurants!