I strive to surround myself with people whom are encouraging, fun, loving, and smart. some are family, some are friends who have become family. This has given me a wonderful community and made my life incredibly rewarding. Two of my favorites were visiting the Central Coast for the first time and I was excited to show them around. This couple lights up a room when they enter and make strangers into friends almost instantly. I love them. They are more entertaining and encouraging than anyone I have ever met. After a day exploring down town San Luis Obispo we decided to pop into Mama’s Meatball.
A bottle of Chianti wine loosened our mood that spread to like fire, as the entire restaurant became part of our family. This small intimate space was perfect for a family run Italian restaurant and our reunion. We started with a basket of garlic knot bread, which was flakey and full of flavor made even better with an extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar dip. Then we shared a Caprese, which consisted of fresh buffalo mozzarella, large heirloom tomato slices, and fresh basil with a sprinkling of oregano and extra virgin olive oil. It was luscious and we all loved the sweetness of the tomato paired the lush flavor of the mozzarella.
Our main courses arrived and they were as different and varied as our group. I had the Ravioli di zucca that was homemade ravioli with a butternut squash interior with a butter and sage sauce with a touch of crème. This dish was so sweet, I had to share it with my sweet-toothed husband and he was very glad that I did. Gary went for the signature Meatball sandwich, which he devoured half and was excited to take the rest home for lunch the next day. It was huge and filling prepared with homemade bread, succulent meatballs, melted mozzarella, and special Bolognese sauce. It was Italian comfort food at its best. Our friends tried the Orecchiette con braciole, which was a large plate of ear shaped pasta served with rib eye steak (that was cooked so perfect, she could cut it with a fork) all in the signature Bolognese sauce. The final dish was the Scaloppine de Vitello that he ordered piccata style with white wine, capers and a delectable lemon sauce. He hushed for the first time all evening as he devoured his dish.
All of us were quite happy and stuffed, but we couldn’t resist ordering dessert after chef Nicola Allegretta came over to the table to see how we liked our meal. He talked to every table. His accent is so wonderful, I could listen to him read the phone book. I find this a nice touch and a good sign for a restaurant, for if the chef is brave enough to come out and ask people how their meals were, he knows they are noble. He told us that his fondest childhood memories involved spending time in the kitchen with his Mama in Italy. He used to spend hours watching her cook for friends and family and told everybody “nobody cooks like my Mama". With her watchful eye and amazing culinary teachings he decided to open a restaurant her using all her wonderful recipes.
Chef started his culinary career in the United States The Original of Rome in The Center Disney World Orlando. He was also chef at Tiramisu' and Aura Restaurant in Miami Beach, Florida. Chef Nicola then moved to San Luis Obispo in 2001 where he worked as Executive Chef of Benvenuti Restaurant for two years. Now with the passion taught by his mother and a vast experience from all over the world, he resides with a steady hand at the helm of Mama’s Meatball.
We went for the mimosa cake (made daily by Mama herself), as I had never heard a dessert described that way and was so curious to try this dish. It was a vanilla sponge cake filled with Chantilly crème, pineapple, and Malibu rum. It tasted of love and sweetness; like a 400-year-old recipe passed down from Grandma to Grandma, we wrestled for the last bite.
There are many Italian Restaurants in San Luis Obispo, but if you're looking for a casual authentic Italian cuisine then you should consider Mama's Meatball Italian Restaurant. Ranked among the best San Luis Obispo restaurants, Mama's Meatball uses the finest and freshest locally grown ingredients to prepare some of the best dishes. Mama's Meatball offers dine in, takeout as well as delivery service and offers private dining and banquet facilities for corporate parties and family celebrations.
It was a perfect experience and I am so glad I choose well for my visiting friends. Mama’s Meatball is located in the Old Creamery Building at 570 Higuera Street, Suite 130 in San Luis Obispo, call them at 805-544-0861, they are open seven days a week from 10:30am to 10:00pm.
It is a crazy world out there for new restaurants as they must be creative and skilled at presenting their product to the world. Every now and then, a brilliant entrepreneur gets the combination right and a new eatery is born using new innovative recipes and artistic twists on how we dine. This new concept in downtown San Luis Obispo is called Eatz By Dezign. The fast casual atmosphere where you design your own dishes using quality ingredients used in inventive ways immediately caught my imagination and my appetite.
The manager explained at Eatz your meal is prepared by true culinary artists, who are fanatics about fresh ingredients and source local products. You step right up to the kitchen and are greeted by chefs waiting to prepare your unique meal or one that is tried and tested. They are attempting to raise expectations of how real food, served fast, should look and taste. She invited us to experience delectable high end food without the high end price.
I started with the house made pickle plate the made my sour-face leap out of my booth and made other diners giggle. These wholesome beginnings were a combination of carrots, pea pods, cauliflower, red pepper, green beans and radishes all soaked and brined in a pickle potage that was refreshing and tart. Then I tried the Kale Chips that were deep fried kale leaves sprinkled with a spicy mix of salty and heat. I ordered more of these to go with me to the movies. Gary started with a Cracker Jack Cupcake, a small delight that was a moist cake with the caramel popcorn flavor for icing. He also had the Toffee Bark with dark chocolate and almonds throughout. He was captivated.
The Dezign part comes to the Pizza. You can select the entire ingredients and then they are baked in the wood stone oven. A large list of proteins and vegetables (with fresh, oven cured and roasted) that are both original and innovative for you to choose from. They invite you to try new things like grilled peaches, potatoes, beets and roasted corn for pizza toppings. They also offer gluten free crusts and truffle oil as a premium item. They do make their own creative pizzas and have specials. On my first visit I went with the special Market Pizza of the Moment, which included fresh from Farmer’s Market produce like red and green peppers, squash, tomatoes, pineapple and a roasted corn pesto all atop of a rustic crust. It was one of the liveliest pizza’s I have tried.
On my next visit I tried the already famous, Mac & Cheese with 3-year cheddar cheese and a bacon crust, this side was as delectable as the roasted baby carrots with a coriander gastriques, carrot puree and toasted almonds sprinkled on top. The entrée was Veggie Lasagna with grilled eggplant, zucchini, mushrooms, roasted peppers, herbed ricotta and a pesto cream sauce. This vegetarian meal was fulfilling and delightful. Not ready to give up his proteins, my husband ordered the Bacon and Egg pizza. He believes all food tastes better with a semi cooked egg on top, so he was going to prove his point with pizza. He had them add the house made sausage with fennel, veal and pork. The 10-inch wood oven baked pizza had olive oil for a base, then a bay leaf cream, bacon bit lardons, fingerling potatoes and a charred (caramelized) onion. Resting on top was two sunny side up eggs. I have to admit, I was weary of this, but it was the best damn pizza I have had the honor of eating. I guess that proves my husband is always right.
Eatz By Dezign has salads, sandwiches, entrees, hot and cold sides along with the pizzas. It is all incredibly reasonably priced for the amount of quality food that you receive. I was inspired by the mixing of unusual ingredients and flavors and will eat my way thru the entire menu. Eatz By Dezign is located at 851 Higuera Street in San Luis Obispo. You can call in your order ahead at 805-542-9504. They run a live twitter feed in the dining room, so you can tweet your meal at @EatzByDezign, or follow them on all of the social networks for updates and specials.
Walking up to the Old Cayucos pier I see a Jimmy Buffet look alike playing Cat Stevens in front of a small storefront with a line out the door. A variety of people stand in line, some newly peeled from their Mercedes, others with a layer of sand on their feet and all excided about trying the amazing surprises created by Ruddell’s Smokehouse. I had heard for years about the place, but never found myself in the landfall of Captain Cass in the middle of the day. So I got in line and claimed a table on the sidewalk.
We looked at the restrained menu, order one of each and Gary went into the liquor store on the corner for a couple of Negro Modelo beers to wash down this smoked fish feast. The restaurant is economical in space and tariff with two guys constructing all the food and one taking orders and credit cards. While we waited for our tacos, I pursed the case options and planned my after meal purchases, as fish this freshly plucked from the sea and then expertly smoked was sure to fill up my fridge at home.
In the deli case was beautiful looking specimens all smoked. Salmon, Albacore, Ahi, Ono, Shrimp, Chicken, Pork Loin, Oysters and even Cheddar cheese was available in bulk. I have a deep adoration for smoked food, as I am sure it is in my DNA. Extending back before recorded history, smoking is one of the oldest known methods of preserving fish and other foods. Long before the existence of refrigeration, our ancestors learned to use a combination of salt and wood smoke, to keep fish and meats from spoiling. Although it's no longer necessary the flavor it gives and the tenderizing effect is has on certain types of fish make it a delicacy.
At Ruddell’s you can buy the smoked delicacies to-go or in a taco, salad or sandwich. I did it all. We started with tacos. Salmon, Ahi, Albacore and Shrimp were served up in a warmed taco, but the ingredients were crisp and cold. I started with the Salmon, as it is my crack. I eat smoked, raw or peppered salmon at least twice a week. This was served with a bit of spiced aioli, diced Fuji apples, cabbage, tomatoes and onions. The fresh, sweet, smoky flavor was jaw dropping and this could not be duplicated anywhere. I felt reverent in the presence of such culinary excellence and it was hard to let the husband try a bite. Next we tried the Albacore and it was bursting with the subtle flavor I come to crave with this fish. It tasted like fresh sashimi with just a tad of smoke. Thinking it couldn’t get better we moved on to the Ahi. The fish was so sweet; I opened the taco and ate it all by itself. Thinking that the smoked shrimp would be the weak link, I saved it for last. But this blew my mind. It was perfectly cooked and then smoked and the flavor was that of ancient customs. Simply fantastic. In every taco, the diced apples were a nice surprise, but you could also taste the love and devotion put into every ounce of this simple taco stand. I declare these the Best Fish Taco’s I have ever had.
I went back for five pounds of smoked fish and cheddar cheese and had a bacchanal impromptu dinner party for my friends that night. They all agreed we had found smoked fish nirvana. I loved eating right in front on the sidewalk with my paper bag laden beer, but it was even better at home with fine wines and tapas. If you don’t like the laid back location, take it to go and you will be just as happy eating it on the beach or at home.
I talked to owner, Jim Ruddell and he told me of his fascination by the process of smoked foods. With the help of his wife, Kathy, he spent time researching and tracking down the purest of ingredients for the seasoning in his recipes. They also visited as many smokehouse restaurants. Jim decided that the beach vibe of Cayucos was the perfect spot, primarily because he had ready access to an abundance of fresh fish. As word spread about his talent, he became known locally as "Smoker" Jim. He has been perfecting his uniquely delicious smoked foods since 1980. The fish is straight from local docks, literally right off the boat.
People from all over the world come to try this amazing, yet simple food that is wakening everyone to the sublime smoked essences. You are lucky enough to live within driving distance of this gem, get up there this weekend and write and tell me I was right. Ruddell’s Smokehouse is located at 101 D Street in Cayucos, right across from the beach. They are open 7 days a week from 11:00am to 6:00pm or call them at 805.995.5028.
There is no shortage of food and drink events here. In fact, I would say that per capita, we celebrate wine and food more than any other municipality. Every now and then one comes along that is so brilliant, so “I can’t believe no one thought of that before”, smack your palm to your forehead good, that it sells out in three weeks. I attended that function today. This was the inaugural event for Bacon and Barrels.
If I had to reach into the recess of my mind and had to pick one all time favorite food it would be bacon. Bacon and Barrels was beyond all expectations with a full day of food spirits, wine and beer with live music. I was tasked as a Celebrity Judge to award the Jefe del Porko award to the Top Chef and Mixologist of the day for achievement in the bacon arts. 17 restaurants presented food samplings and 6 mixologist prepared the best drink- Tough job, right? My fellow judges were Krista Harris, Editor of Edible Santa Barbara, John Blanchette, a connoisseur travel and food writer, and Keith Saarloos with the The Krush’s Cork Dorks, Adam Montiel and Jeremy West in tow reporting on all the libations and food.
We started with the bacon infused whiskey from Laphroaig as a man with a kilt and a passion for whisky took us through all the steps to create this special drink. Ingredients included bacon, orange and maple syrup essence, Laphroaig single malt whisky and spiced ginger ale. It was fantastic combo of passion and spirits. We moved on to all 17 of the best eateries including Fresco Valley Café, Sides Hardware and Shoes, Al Fresco Picnic, Succulent, Louise’s Kitchen and Starting Gate Restaurant.
Willows offered the Piggy Wiggly a delectable combination of ceviche style diver scallops topped with pork belly and a strawberry mango salsa. It was elegant and full of flavor. My favorite one so far. Root 246 had a Pork loin diced filled baguette with sautéed onions and a scrumptious sauces. Bob’s Well Bread had the most amazing loaf of artisan sourdough bread. Hiding throughout its doughy belly was chocolate bits and bacon. The Ballard Inn offered a slice of pork belly that had been cured for four months and then smoked for two weeks on a bed of shredded cabbage with delectable cimichurri dressing. Now this was my favorite. Then we tried Sides Hardware and Shoes (these are the old owners and chef from Mattie’s tavern and they have opened a new place in an old hardware store- thus the name). We started with a salad that had spicy arugula, custom smoked pork belly (in their patented wine barrel smoker) roasted peaches and crusty bread. It was humble, but a mind-blowing accomplishment. Then we had the Sliders that were incendiary. Kobe beef patties with pork belly, sautéed onion marmalade and spicy aioli on a bruschetta bun made this my darling. This judging gig picking out one winner just got difficult.
The Ranch and Reata Roadhouse offered a grown up version of the BLT. Huge Texas toast bread was buttered and grilled, then layered with pork belly, heirloom tomatoes, arugula, and a spicy aioli. But my winner was Full Of Life Flatbread with their pork belly pizza with crispy pork, pistachios, arugula, onions, charred peaches and Gorgonzola cheese with micro greens. This complexity of flavors all cooked in a cave manse stone oven always delights me as it does all others (they had just announced the opening up a second location in Santa Barbara). Owner Clark offered us a Goat leg pizza with sautéed mushrooms, pork belly that was one of the most original and miraculous dishes.
Sweets included caramel dipped in dark chocolate with bacon bits and pecan from Stafford’s Chocolate. Churro ice cream from McConnell’s with large bits of cinnamony churros and a del leche flavor. And the favorite was from Rooney’s, a Bailey’s Irish cream ice wrapped in Jameson infused caramel and then dipped into a dark spicy chocolate.
We stopped at the misting tent to cool off, grab a bottle of water and steel ourselves for the Spirits. It was extremely hot, so the Bathtub Gin that consisted of gin flavors infused in vodka and shaken with lime presented by Root 246 was a crowd preference and also won the judges favorite. However the ice shot glass from Willows with bacon infused Manhattan with drenched cherries was a delectable indulgence.
Our last stop was at the VIP tent were Al Fresco Picnic had bacon wrapped jalapeno infused shrimp. They also have glasses of dark chocolate with large bacon pieces for dipping and bacon wrapped dates stuffed with a spicy chorizo. At this point I decided that my stomach was sprained from so much bacon and switched to white wine. That only lasted 30 minutes and I was back sampling Succulent’s braised bacon biscuit.
Here is my advice to you, follow Bacon and Barrels online and buy your tickets the minute they go on sale next year. This event will grow, but that will enhance the experience. I was impressed by the layout, organization and thought that went into each moment of this bacon bacchanal festival.
Bacon & Barrels at Saarloos and Sons is a festival dedicated to bacon. The Central Coast’s best chefs concoct and served brilliant bacon dishes to passionate bacon lovers. Liquor sponsors provided cocktails, beer and wine designed to complement a bacon meal. Bacontrepreneurs and bacon-friendly brands exhibited their wares and connected with the bacon community, including a piggy petting zoo. This is a fundraiser for the Santa Ynez Valley Visitors Association, in partnership with Create Promotions. More information at www.baconandbarrels.com.
Photo credits to Jeremy Ball/Bottle Branding