There are some of you who believe that California has little culinary heritage of its own, that traditions and dishes have been imported from elsewhere — much like yourselves. When barbecue comes up, you think Texas, the Deep South or Kansas City, but never California. The phrase “California BBQ” might conjure up thoughts of backyard amateurs or, worse yet, be viewed as a patently false notion or an oxymoron. If you find yourself believing any of these myths, you need to get out more. It's also obvious that you clearly haven’t spent any time on the Central Coast.
Along the coast (as well as inland in the San Joaquin Valley), the tri-tip is king. More specifically, the Santa Maria tri-tip is king. What exactly is a tri-tip? It’s a triangular muscular portion, a bottom cut of sirloin beef. In the northern Santa Barbara County city of Santa Maria in the 1950s, a local butcher perfected a preparation of tri-tip rolled in salt, black pepper and garlic salt before being grilled over local coastal live oak — known as “red oak.” As with most food-origin stories, this one is disputed. No matter what the true origin, there is no denying that the tri-tip and its prep have deep ties and connections to Santa Maria and the Central Coast region, where it has become a tradition.
While there are any number of places in Central California to enjoy tri-tip, it isn’t so common around Greater Los Angeles. To find one of the best examples, you won’t need to head up the 101 for a weekend trip. Instead, you’ll take the 118 over the Santa Susana Pass and venture into Ventura County to Simi Valley. There you’ll find Green Acres Farm Market and Catering. The historic spot began in the late 1920s as a general store alongside the road to Los Angeles. In 1968, Dick Rhoads joined with some partners to buy the market, which by that time was named for the then-popular rural TV comedy Green Acres. The family has been the sole owner since 1972, with the business expanded and remodeled several times over the years. In the early '90s, son Randy Rhoads added the Santa Maria BBQ out front, which quickly became popular.
While they dispense with the traditional coastal live oak in favor of mesquite, everything else is pure Santa Maria tri-tip. The tri-tip sandwiches are served on a toasted garlic roll with sauce on the side. Sides are also available, among them BBQ beans, and there is a sauce bar featuring their own excellent BBQ sauces. Not that Santa Maria tri-tip needs any sauce at all, as the seasoning flavors come through as they do with Texas-style rubs. Green Acres also has a tri-tip dip, served with a side of au jus, allowing one to do a mashup of Central Coast and L.A. traditions by making your own impromptu French dip.
Take a seat on the covered patio or get it to go. They do a bristling weekday lunch business, and weekends are very busy, but it’s worth the wait. Should you still visit the Central Coast and enjoy Santa Maria barbecue tri-tip in its natural setting? Of course you should, for far more reasons than just the tri-tip. But it’s nice to know that we have an option for a classic taste of the Central Coast much closer.
2918 E. Los Angeles Ave., Simi Valley; (805) 526-1312, simigreenacres.com.