I’ve made a lot of trips this year to out-of-the-way locations in the name of good food. I drove two hours along Sweden’s western coast just to eat oysters. I drug four members of my Baja sailing crew two miles up a dark road in Cabo San Lucas in search of authentic Mexican food. And last weekend my grandmother convinced us to go on a twisting drive up the side of a mountain for a barbecue sandwich.
I must admit, eating barbecue at an old stagecoach stop turned biker hangout sounded gimmicky. It was my grandmother’s idea, but she doesn’t eat red meat. Although she claimed my grandfather said it was the best tri-tip sandwich ever, he had no recollection of this. But when my grandmother calls the shots, you do as she says. So my parents, grandparents and I all packed into the car and drove from Buellton to Cold Spring Tavern to meet my second cousin and his wife, who were driving from L.A.
I did have some reassurance from the same friend who guessed I was eating at the Hitching Post several nights prior. He said he had eaten some of the best ‘cue of his life at this place. As we wound our way up the hill, my grandmother warned us that there’d be a walk. Cars lined both sides of the narrow road, some hugging the cliff, others precariously parked along the ravine. We passed them by, scoping the place out. There were about twenty motorcycles parked directly in front and a loose crowd, mostly men, in chaps and bandanas, stood chatting out front. From back in a gully between two mossy-roofed dilapidated wooden shacks, smoke issued as if from a dragon’s mouth. Back in the gully two men stood under a white tent. One took the orders and splayed the buns; the other grilled the meat and placed it with quick precision on the buns. This was the reason we had come.
Toasty inside Cold Springs
The tri-tip setup is only on weekends, and the main idea is to eat outside to the sound of live bands. But we were a large crowd, so we filed into the main restaurant and were seated in one of the dining rooms, warmed by a fireplace. We ate homemade beer-battered onion rings and drank thick stouts. If you’re ordering the tri-tip sandwich, which is the reason you’re here after all, you have to take a ticket from your server and go outside and get it yourself.
Outside at the sandwich tent is a condiment station with an addictive apple-mustard-horseradish sauce, an ultra-spicy salsa and a barbecue sauce for pimping out your sandwich. Almost all of us got one, and we all inhaled them. The meat was so tender, I barely needed to chew.
Contrary to online reviews our server was outstanding, sensitive to my mother’s asthma issues, patient with my grandmother, and attentive to all seven of us. Winding our way between the now-larger crowd of bikers as we left, I totally got it: a warm, satisfying sandwich and the feeling that you’ve been given shelter from the modern world for a few hours. Totally worth making a few-hours’ drive from L.A. on a weekend. All I need is some leather and a bike.