Just got back from an annual family pilgrimage from OC to Lopez Lake near Arroyo Grande (between Santa Maria and SLO)...every year I go there I confirm that the central coast is where I may retire when I get to that age...beautiful scenery, friendly people and more.
Oh yeah, there's the food!
The one downer was that a favorite lunch stop of mine, "A Taste of Chicago" in Grover Beach appears to be no longer. That aside the real food there is the carnivorous meat palaces...HItching Post (2 locations), Far Western Tavern (Guadalupe) and Jocko's (Nipomo). I have visited Jocko's once before about 5 years ago for lunch and was very disappointed, and the last 3 years we have had great dinners at Far Western. Guadalupe ain't much of a town and it's not necessarily freeway friendly, but FWT is a great place for a hearty steak dinner in a nice atmosphere.
That being said, and despite the wife's discouragement, I told her we needed to give Jocko's another try, this time for dinner. Of course, this time we had our 5 year old son and 8 month old daughter in tow. A very non-descript building in a very uninteresting part of town, Jocko's sits across from an old church and a quilt shop (thankfully closed or my wife would have spent hours there!) that appears to have been an old motel. Two dining rooms are split by a center bar that was quite active, and the main dining room overlooks the oak pit. Casual, almost communal dining...nothing fancy here.
Ok, so it's Wednesday night about 6 PM...whadaya mean there's no parking? Sheesh! An hour+ wait? Wife does not like! Fortunately I kept our son entertained and we met a wonderful couple to engage in some conversation with outside while waiting. At 7:20 we were seated in the 2nd dining room. Waitress looked very tired or was having a bad day, but we got our order in and munched on the crackers, relish tray (well, we ate the relish not the tray), salsa and salads. Waiting with kids can be difficult and in a loud environment where everyone is hungry and tired didn't make it any easier. The food took an hour to arrive, finally allowing us to dig in at 8:30.
My son eagerly dug in on his cheeseburger, and my wife and I ordered food to share...a MedRare Spencer Steak and the infamous Jocko's Pork Chops, both prepared over the oak pit. Simply amazing. Many places serve up large portions of really mediocre food and others (I think it is almost a requirement in SoCal) serve small portions of decent, often excellent food. This was both...quantity and quality. I am a carnivore by nature...beef, pork, chicken...heck, throw in pizza and you've got the 4 food groups, but this meal has left me wondering if I can ever go to a SoCal restaurant again and not be disappointed by the quality and value. The Spencer steak was cooked perfectly and was a huge flavorful and tender piece of beef. Someone said it could be cut with a butter knife...pretty close. ThHe pork chops were bigger than any I had ever seen...huge double-boned beauties with a side of applesauce. Both dinners had pretty good fries and a basket of garlic bread...we skipped on the beans. We devoured one of the pork chops and 2/3 of the steak...and the dinners came with dessert as well (a dish of pretty good ice cream). The tab for the 3 meals with non-alc drinks...under $60 before tip.
The keys for Jocko's...DINNER! They only fire up the oak pit for dinner on the weekdays, and the difference in the food is immeasurable. Make reservations...yes, the wait was worth it, but that along with the long wait for the food made it less than ideal. Bring a big appetite...or a cooler to take the leftovers home, especially if coming from afar. Finally, enjoy the atmosphere...people were really having fun, enjoying the food, their dining companions and even making conversation and friends with strangers. I gotta admit it was pretty funny to see some people, especially women, many of them relatively petite in stature, chowing down on hunks of meat that seemed larger than their stomachs...and enjoying every moment of it.
One other add...the Thursday night Farmer's Market/Street Festival in SLO is not to be missed...amazing watching the transformation of the 4-6 block area in such a short time. Lots of good BBQ eats as well as some nice, albeit expensive produce.