Restaurants & Bars 10

Chowing up the coast: Solvang, Nipomo, Pismo, Carpinteria (long)

petradish | Sep 27, 200512:08 AM

It was time to meet our friends for our annual Jocko's dinner in Nipomo; a night of beef, potatoes, wine, oak smoke, deer heads, surly bartenders, relish trays, toasted bread, and friendly locals. Loved it, love Jocko's. More later...

We arrived from L.A. hungry for breakfast at Paula's Pancake house. Nice front patio to enjoy our thin, plate sized Danish pancakes. Not eggy like crepes, but more substantial & structured like German pancakes, a bit of malty brown flavor & very tender. Strawberries & whipped cream for me and Mr. Creosote enjoyed his with maple syrup, a bouncy Danish sausage (mild & sweet, sort of a cousin to Bratwurst), eggs, and some decent medium strength coffee.

Popped into Olsen's Bakery next door and bought one of their large pretzel-shaped pastries known as the almond custard kringle; sweet and almondy from a flavored custard, sliced almonds, and a sprinkling of sugar. Pastry itself was thin and flaky. Delightful but could be dangerous possessing a pastry the size of a shirt box, although in Solvang they dream big and make the world's largest Danish pastry once a year (or so I've heard, never braved the crowds for that event myself).

Next we crossed the street to Mortensen's bakery to pick up a few Danish waffles for our friends. I sometimes dream about the aroma of cardamom, butter, and sugar that fills this bakery. We toy with the idea of a few cherry danishes or a seven sisters butter ring for the road but control ourselves somehow.

Later on dinner at Jocko's for the already mentioned get together. Very fun night. We sensibly made reservations over a week ago and arrived an hour early to settle in and absorb the scene. A visit around back to get a whiff of the burning oak fire (dinner only!) and a drink to start in the dark bar. Friends arrive and smiles all around as this is the first Jocko's dinner for their young son. A couple nice guys at the bar chuckle and offer the babe some toasted tidbits of bread. He looks around the wooden room with its brands & animal heads in amazement.

Once seated in the dining room we order top sirloins with fries, spareribs with baked potato, and I decide to finally give the cowboy style sweetbreads a whirl, with a plan to take a few bites of steak from Mr. Creosote as necessary. Opening relish tray of pickle chips & spears, black olives, and scallion, a bowl of salsa w/crackers, and a crisp salad with single beet slice before entrees arrive. This being Jocko's, ranch dressing on the salad is a must as it was invented in Santa Barbara to the south.

The steaks were right on-nice & smoky with a little cowboy chew from the cut and the fries were great (I gather many hounds would prefer a crispier fry but I'm one of those freaks who likes them very potato-y & a bit limp with crisp ends). Passed around the bowl of creamy local pinquito beans and comforting buttery toast. My sweetbreads were a mixed bag: three large & flattened pieces touched by the delectable taste of smokefire and the deep & mysterious zing of variety meat. One piece was a bit too chewy, another a little too blackened, but one was perfectly prepared and delicious. Friend's ribs had great smoky flavor (no sauce) but a little too tough perhaps and no need to look for smoke rings here, just so you know what to expect (it's cowboy campfire food not slow & low smoked Q). Entirely too much food and wine and another happy feast.

Next morning I suggested we try the Old West Cinnamon Rolls bakery in Pismo Beach (where we stayed overnight) based on chow recs. Arrived about 9AM to a line out the door and we ordered plain original & cream cheese covered rolls. Quite disappointing and when you factor in that it's the house specialty, make that very disappointing: overbaked edges that were hard and dried out with no overall buttery or gooey qualities-even in the center, which should be the triumph of a cinnamon roll. I could hardly believe they were baked within the past 24 hrs, perhaps they weren't. The prickly, chemical sweetness that sat on my tongue afterward was odd. I stared at the line of people, puzzled, and recalled the decent cinnamon pullapart we purchased from the Madonna Inn's bakery in SLO years ago; I wanted one of those.

Lunch met us with another line out the door at Splash Cafe in Pismo. We were there for the famous white clam chowder served in a buttered & toasted sourdough bowl. About 15 minutes until ordering gives you a chance to look around; as they stir large vats of chowder and pour a white liquid from a bag into the mix, you can study the frisky little cartoon clams on the wall depicted having fun at the beach (some were sunbathing nude apparently and I discovered clams have unusually shaped toes, er, I think they were toes). Once in, our order appeared quickly and we chowed down on the thick opaque soup. Immediatly I liked the toasted innards of the bread bowl as it dunked very nicely and had some texture. The chowder was initially garlicky, creamy (like milk creamy, not heavy dairy rich or buttery), with small chunks of potato and slivers of clam, which provided a slight touch of brine and a bit of meaty resistance. Some green bits might have been parsley. Not bad. Was it a refined combination of distinctive, fresh ingredients that sang with clams and rich homemade love? No, it wasn't trying to be. It was a bowl of clam chowder in an edible bread bowl that made a hearty lunch.

On the way home I requested a stop in Carpinteria to check out what's new at the Garden Market-a little shabby chic cafe/market/wine shop that happens to sell a few banana, mango, and papaya trees. As you walk in there's an assortment of fruit, some of which is grown locally (I'm always on the lookout for a new type of banana to sample). Last time it was creamy ice cream bananas, this visit the goldfinger variety, as well as a couple purple skinned passion fruits. We lingered in the back patio checking out the trees and studying the shimmering white glow of the banana's flesh and its deep fragrance and sweet-tangy flavors that made supermarket offerings seem bleached out and anemic. I'd love to see more local Santa Barbara bananas at farmer's markets and stands.

Paula's Pancake House
1531 Mission Dr. Solvang

Olsen's Danish Village Bakery
1529 Mission Dr. Solvang

Mortensen's Bakery
1588 Mission Dr. Solvang

125 N. Thompson Ave. Nipomo

Old West Cinnamon Rolls
861 Dolliver St., Pismo Beach

Splash Cafe
197 Pomeroy, Pismo Beach

The Garden Market
3811 Santa Clause Lane, Carpinteria

Link: http://www.kodakgallery.com/I.jsp?c=c...

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