Elise's Central CA Trip Report

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EliseT
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2006/02/02 08:31:24 (permalink)

Elise's Central CA Trip Report

I drove up the coast late last summer, but I didn't really think the trip was eventful enough for a "trip report". However, the area has been discussed a few times lately, so maybe this will help other travelers a little, especially Cornfed. And it is refreshing to look at a nice, sunny BBQ during these cold winter months...so here goes...

Morro Rock in the distance



We drove up the central coast of California last weekend to celebrate my mother’s birthday in Cambria, a little resort town between Morro Bay and Big Sur. It’s a beautiful drive, with tantalizing glimpses of the Pacific Ocean, and giant rocks that look like petrified dinosour bones. The trip is mostly through Sycamore trees, with tufts of yellow grass and Pampas growning inbetween. When passing through a city, everything turns to Oleander. Occasionally you are graced by a sweeping panorama of ocean, and on this trip I spotted a whale and a school of dolphins. It must already be time for migration.

Our first stop on the way up was the Candy Shop, just south of Santa Barbara. It is in a little strip off the freeway, at the Santa Claus Lane exit. There is no reason for it to be called Santa Claus Lane. Santa Claus is long gone. Namely, the gigantic bust of Santa Claus that used to adorn the roof of the Candy Shop is long gone. Santa Claus now resides in a vacant lot somewhere in Oxnard. The Candy Shop makes their shakes by hand, with fresh milk and ice cream, and quality mix-ins. Only perfectly ripe fruit is used in their shakes. So I decided to throw caution to the wind and order the infamous date shake. I had always thought dates were too dry, with their papery skins, to make a good shake, but was curious after having read a Sterns’ review of date shakes near Palm Desert. I was concerned when I saw the girl scraping the last dregs of dates out of the container. My worst fears were confirmed when I kept getting dried bits of date skin caught in my throat. Maybe date shakes are good when the dates are moist, but I will never know. I went back and ordered my usual banana shake, which was again, perfection.

Our next stop was for lunch in Beullton at Mother Hubbards, as recommended by a fellow Roadfooder. Unfortunately, lunch did not live up to breakfast’s reputation. My French Dip was dull and skimpy on the meat. My husband didn’t even eat his Caesar salad, but he was a little out-of-sorts anyways. The décor was typical small-town diner, with a surprising number of healthy, live plants. I liked the special hat racks for hanging up your trucker hat. The daily special perplexed us… “pineapple-maple glazed hamlets”. We asked the waitress for a definition of “hamlet” and she said, “They’ve explained it to me a million times and I still don’t understand it…OK, fine, I’ll ask ‘em again.” She returned and recited, “It’s like a drumstick, but it’s the hem.” I was thinking, “Ham? Hen? Ham? Hen?” She repeated more slowly, clearly enunciating, “It’s like the drumstick, but it’s the HEM.” I tried to order it, but they weren’t serving dinner specials yet. Later, my brother and mother, who were making the same trip in a different vehicle, happened to spot our car in the parking lot and stopped by. We all gathered in front of the “specials” board to collectively ponder the word “hamlet”. My mom volunteered, “Well, a piglet is a little pig, maybe it’s a little ham.” “Maybe it’s like a cutlet, but with ham,” I volunteered. My husband opined, “It’s the DRUMSTICK, so the drumstick of the ham would be like the foot.” “That would be a ham hock” I rejoined. Stumped, we returned to our respective vehicles and continued on our journey up the coast.

Cambria Pines Lodge is a beautifully landscaped wedding factory. One of those places that just churn them out, three a day. Instead of the weddings being disruptive, they were kind of fun to watch from afar, because some people were dressed like cowboys or wore top hats like Abe Lincoln. One couple inexplicably had hand puppets. And kind of creepy hand puppets at that.

Mom at Cambria Pines


My family all met for dinner at Cambria Pines’ restaurant. It was fantastic, which surprised us a little. The crab cake appetizers were plump little buttons, with crispy outsides and perfectly done centers. Even the vegan ravioli were sumptuous and velvety. An appetizer platter of make-your-own crostini was earthy and fun. For entrees, my filet mignon was tender and buttery. I don’t like salmon, but my brother insisted I try it. It had all the flavor of salmon, with none of that metallic intensity that can be so off-putting. Later, my mother complained that her prime rib special was awful, but I was unclear as to what was wrong with it. I wish she had mentioned it earlier, so I could have split my filet with her.

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    EliseT
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    RE: Elise's Central CA Trip Report 2006/02/02 08:33:12 (permalink)
    The morning breakfast buffet was also surprisingly not bad, but not great like dinner the night before. We had a large party, so I picked a bus boy and tipped him five dollars ahead of time to make sure we got plates and chairs as needed. The chef saw me tip the busboy and came to thank me. I asked if she had been the chef night before and we had a nice talk. I should have gotten her name. Back at the buffet, the biscuits and gravy were good, which is an accomplishment in and of itself. The eggs and sausage were also good. But the pastries! They had rich, buttery, moist butterscotch scones that I would drive all the way back for. And end a sentence with a preposition for.



    We went to check out the elephant seals. I thought I saw a bunch of them on the beach at Cambria, but Piedras Blancas is their official habitat, or “rookery”, so we continued up the coast for another 10 minutes. Off in the distance, you could barely make out some lumpy, irregular shapes. The irregular shapes were pale and various shades of brown, the exact same color as the driftwood. I assumed we had missed the season. My brother insisted the irregular shapes were elephant seals, but I was so certain it was driftwood, I made him bet me five dollars. We walked along a wooden walkway, and finally got close enough to see a huge bunch of irregularly-shaped elephant seals. They just laid there, and we just stood there, and then we left. On the way back, we stopped at the beach at Cambria, to see if there were really any elephant seals where I thought I had spotted them. My brother said, “Let me guess…driftwood?” Yep.

    Back in Cambria, we went into a little used bookstore. The prices were outrageous. I figured if the owner was that picky, she was the person to ask for restaurant recommendations. She recommended the Main Street Grill, which sounded kind of corporate. From the facade, the building looked kind of corporate.

    Tri-tip Wood-burning BBQ


    But on the patio was a humongous Santa Maria-style wood-burning BBQ pit. It was the biggest Santa maria BBQ I have ever seen. Even bigger than the ones I’ve seen pulled by trucks. It was covered with slab after slab of ribs. The patio itself was flush with bikers…always a good sign at a BBQ.

    My nephew ate this whole burger


    The pork ribs were expertly handled, as were the beef ribs, but I just tend to prefer pork. The sauce, which I ordered on the side, was slightly sweet, but well-balanced by a little kick. No single flavor predominated. The beans tasted strongly of green pepper and were closer to chili beans than BBQ beans. Although green pepper was a little heavy-handed, I appreciated the effort to make the beans special, instead of just lazily dumping in BBQ sauce as many places seem to do. I savored the crisp garlic bread, in spite of the lack of an obvious garlic flavor. My nephews were extremely pleased with their monster hamburgers. The only unsuccessful dish was the pulled pork, which had too much sauce mixed in, making it too sweet.



    Later that evening we met at the local pizza parlour. They had a stunning array of toppings, but I was disappointed with the pizza. The crust was thick and doughy, an apparent attempt at “California style”. It just came off as indecisive and unappealing.

    #2
    EliseT
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    RE: Elise's Central CA Trip Report 2006/02/02 08:34:27 (permalink)
    The next morning, we all said our goodbyes after an unsuccessful attempt at a group picture, which turned into one of those silent movies where people run out one door as other people run in the other and no one could find eachother.

    Close-up of Nittwitt Building


    My husband Bob and I went to check out Nitt Witt Ridge, one of those places like the Watts Towers where an enterprising free spirit takes a pile of glass and shells and with a little cement, makes a home. It was something to see, but we were 2 hours early for the tour, so we didn’t see much of it. On the way down the hill, we met a disheartened couple who thought that maybe there was nothing on Nitt Witt Ridge…as in, “Haha, you’re the nitwit for climbing the hill! Gotcha!” We assured them it wasn’t just a practical joke.

    We had cleverly wasted enough time at Nitt Witt Ridge so that we could have lunch at the Main Street Grill again before leaving town. This time I went for the tri-tip. Now, I have had very good tri-tip before. Let me correct that, I thought I had had very good tri-tip before. This sandwich brought tri-tip to a new level. It was not chewy. There were no thin veins of gristle running through the meat. You hardy even needed teeth to eat it. A very light slathering of BBQ sauce and a super-soft bun brought it all the way home.

    See the indentation of my thumb in the bun?


    We stopped at the Madonna Inn in Morro bay even though we were still full from the BBQ. Really, I never eat there anyway. The coffee shop isn’t very good at the Madonna Inn. The only thing I ever remember eating there was chicken salad. I’ll put it this way…it would be a nice place to take your grandmother. There is a very high blue-hair ratio there. There are only two reasons to stop at the Madonna Inn:

    1. Freakishly huge pastries
    2. To blow people’s minds

    Since these are two very good reasons, I always stop at the Madonna Inn. It is the kind of place I imagine was created just to freak out people on acid. The Alpine-themed coffee shop has a round counter, with half-moons of wooden booths around it. The restrooms downstairs are a big draw for tourists. The ladies room is reminiscent of the palace at Versailles, while the men’s room has a sort of cowboy theme. Their infamous urinal is a big copper trough. There is also a restroom that boasts a waterfall urinal, but I have yet to see that one for myself.



    The banquet room of the Madonna Inn is a special shade of hot pink which I have never seen before. And there is such a profusion of this hot pink, I really don’t ever need to see it anywhere else ever again. The dining room is anchored by a huge golden tree, with boughs snaking across the entire ceiling, enveloping the room. Oh, and did I mention the golden cherubs, the orb lights, and the swings that hang down from the ceiling, ridden by creepy grinning dolls? That is just a flavor, an appetizer, if you will, of what awaits you at Madonna Inn.

    The PINK dining room



    Of course, there is also the “silver bar” in which everything is painted gold, and I have not even started on the guest rooms! Some of the rooms are booked up to a year in advance, so I have never actually stayed there. But conveniently, there are post cards, and now a glossy-paged book allowing you a peek into the psychedelic world of rooms in which every single item is an insane shade of Kelly green, or sky blue, or made of patchwork. We picked up pastries the size of footballs, and headed off. Later at home, I took a bite of the ironically tall napoleon; puff pastry with a layer of white cream filling and a layer of chocolate cream filling, covered with chocolate royal icing. Bob was unhappy with his cream puff; puff pastry with a layer of white and a layer of yellow identically-tasting cream fillings, topped with a hot pink royal icing that was laden with an indefinable, yet definite flavor. Bob asked to trade. “This one tastes…too..too...” he faltered. “Pink?” I offered. “Exactly! Pink.”

    Outrageously huge pastries




    On a Side note: The Madonna Inn is the only place where I have ever known of my sainted mother stealing. I was around 9 years old. We were driving home, and I opened up their little pink boxes to encounter one of these pastry monstrosities. Without missing a beat, my mother produced a fork from the pocket of her sweater. "MOM??? You STOLE???" She said something of the effect of stealing being the lesser of the two evils. I guess cleanliness is next to godliness.

    #3
    mayor al
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    RE: Elise's Central CA Trip Report 2006/02/02 09:01:33 (permalink)

    As Usual Elise you do a great write-up. You forgot to tell us how the Elephant Seals are prepared??? Pan-fry? Whole-Hog BBQ style?? Inquiring minds need to know!
    #4
    EliseT
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    RE: Elise's Central CA Trip Report 2006/02/02 09:09:35 (permalink)
    quote:
    Originally posted by Al-The Mayor-Bowen


    As Usual Elise you do a great write-up. You forgot to tell us how the Elephant Seals are prepared??? Pan-fry? Whole-Hog BBQ style?? Inquiring minds need to know!


    Ok, you have to really get your speed up, then force your dorsal fin back, so you leap half-way out of the water. Close your lids to protect your eyes, and chomp down, catching a seal between your double rows of razor-sharp teeth. Shake them back-and-forth as you slowly slide back into the water, tail first. Mission accomplished!!!

    #5
    kland01s
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    RE: Elise's Central CA Trip Report 2006/02/02 10:22:34 (permalink)
    Great photos! Sure made me hungry!
    #6
    mr chips
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    RE: Elise's Central CA Trip Report 2006/02/02 10:29:53 (permalink)
    As always, a great report. Your trips seem like great adventures and I like your writing style.
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    Jennifer_4
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    RE: Elise's Central CA Trip Report 2006/02/02 11:05:04 (permalink)
    Awesome photos and report! Wish I'd known you were going I could have made some recommendations as we are over there several times a year (it's only 3 hours away). Glad to hear about Main Street Grill as we haven't tried there yet. Can you remember the name of the pizza parlour you went to? There are 3 or 4 in town and the one we ate at (J.J.'s) was pretty awful. Some other wonderful places to eat in Cambria are Robin's, the Sow's Ear, and Mustache Pete's.

    and just for clarification, The Madonna Inn is in San Luis Obispo.
    #8
    Pwingsx
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    RE: Elise's Central CA Trip Report 2006/02/02 16:33:56 (permalink)
    Fantastic photos and narrative, Elise. These are my favorite things to read on the forum, and I wish more people would do them.
    #9
    BT
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    RE: Elise's Central CA Trip Report 2006/02/02 16:51:18 (permalink)
    Presence of summer fog noted--now I'm homesick.
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    Sundancer7
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    RE: Elise's Central CA Trip Report 2006/02/02 17:37:00 (permalink)
    Elise, I hve driven the entire coastline from San Diego to mid Washington. I would have gone further but I had to do a roundabout to get to the National Park which I circumnavigated around to Port Angeles. I have done this twice. Incredible drive.

    I enjoyed your pictures. I wish I could have seen the elephant seals.

    Thanks for the great pics

    Paul E. Smith
    Knoxville, TN
    #11
    EliseT
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    RE: Elise's Central CA Trip Report 2006/02/03 02:12:37 (permalink)
    quote:
    Originally posted by Jennifer_4

    Awesome photos and report! Wish I'd known you were going I could have made some recommendations as we are over there several times a year (it's only 3 hours away). Glad to hear about Main Street Grill as we haven't tried there yet. Can you remember the name of the pizza parlour you went to? There are 3 or 4 in town and the one we ate at (J.J.'s) was pretty awful. Some other wonderful places to eat in Cambria are Robin's, the Sow's Ear, and Mustache Pete's.

    and just for clarification, The Madonna Inn is in San Luis Obispo.


    Yes, I think it WAS JJ's. Blech.

    It's funny, but in my mind Morro Bay and San Luis Obispo are the same place...it's just "where my brother lives".

    Thanks for the aditional recommendations! Next trip, for sure.


    #12
    EliseT
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    RE: Elise's Central CA Trip Report 2006/02/03 02:17:14 (permalink)
    quote:
    Originally posted by Sundancer7

    Elise, I hve driven the entire coastline from San Diego to mid Washington. I would have gone further but I had to do a roundabout to get to the National Park which I circumnavigated around to Port Angeles. I have done this twice. Incredible drive.

    I enjoyed your pictures. I wish I could have seen the elephant seals.

    Thanks for the great pics

    Paul E. Smith
    Knoxville, TN


    The picture of the elephant seals really captures the experience. It's not like National Geographic. They just lie there. During mating season when they fight, it is usually closed off. Also when they have babies. So really, I did mistake them for driftwood. But here is a live cam for you:

    http://www.sealexperience.com/docs/piedras.htm


    #13
    Jennifer_4
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    RE: Elise's Central CA Trip Report 2006/02/03 02:18:08 (permalink)
    quote:
    Originally posted by EliseT

    quote:
    Originally posted by Jennifer_4

    Awesome photos and report! Wish I'd known you were going I could have made some recommendations as we are over there several times a year (it's only 3 hours away). Glad to hear about Main Street Grill as we haven't tried there yet. Can you remember the name of the pizza parlour you went to? There are 3 or 4 in town and the one we ate at (J.J.'s) was pretty awful. Some other wonderful places to eat in Cambria are Robin's, the Sow's Ear, and Mustache Pete's.

    and just for clarification, The Madonna Inn is in San Luis Obispo.


    Yes, I think it WAS JJ's. Blech.

    It's funny, but in my mind Morro Bay and San Luis Obispo are the same place...it's just "where my brother lives".

    Thanks for the aditional recommendations! Next trip, for sure.





    My sister lives in Atascadero, right across the street from the State Hospital (for the criminally insane).. hehe.. nice to have family in the area, even if the neighbors are scary...
    #14
    EliseT
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    RE: Elise's Central CA Trip Report 2006/02/03 06:40:44 (permalink)
    quote:
    Originally posted by Jennifer_4

    quote:
    Originally posted by EliseT

    quote:
    Originally posted by Jennifer_4

    Awesome photos and report! Wish I'd known you were going I could have made some recommendations as we are over there several times a year (it's only 3 hours away). Glad to hear about Main Street Grill as we haven't tried there yet. Can you remember the name of the pizza parlour you went to? There are 3 or 4 in town and the one we ate at (J.J.'s) was pretty awful. Some other wonderful places to eat in Cambria are Robin's, the Sow's Ear, and Mustache Pete's.

    and just for clarification, The Madonna Inn is in San Luis Obispo.


    Yes, I think it WAS JJ's. Blech.

    It's funny, but in my mind Morro Bay and San Luis Obispo are the same place...it's just "where my brother lives".

    Thanks for the aditional recommendations! Next trip, for sure.





    My sister lives in Atascadero, right across the street from the State Hospital (for the criminally insane).. hehe.. nice to have family in the area, even if the neighbors are scary...


    Just mind those "Don't pick up hitch-hikers" signs.
    #15
    cornfed
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    RE: Elise's Central CA Trip Report 2006/02/03 07:20:24 (permalink)
    Wow. When I see bbq like that, it drives me nuts. You can't beat it. Great pix. You could taste that goodness.
    #16
    EliseT
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    RE: Elise's Central CA Trip Report 2006/02/03 11:31:03 (permalink)
    quote:
    Originally posted by cornfed

    Wow. When I see bbq like that, it drives me nuts. You can't beat it. Great pix. You could taste that goodness.


    Well, you are definitely headed for its heartland on your upcoming trip with your dad!

    I think the bright sunshine that day made the fat glisten, making these pix especially enticing...
    #17
    enginecapt
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    RE: Elise's Central CA Trip Report 2006/02/03 12:26:12 (permalink)
    quote:
    Originally posted by EliseT


    I think the bright sunshine that day made the fat glisten
    Sounds like me at the beach.....
    #18
    EliseT
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    RE: Elise's Central CA Trip Report 2006/02/04 10:01:22 (permalink)
    quote:
    Originally posted by enginecapt

    quote:
    Originally posted by EliseT


    I think the bright sunshine that day made the fat glisten
    Sounds like me at the beach.....



    #19
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