Got a hankerin’ for a culinary adventure? Take the quick and scenic spin to Santa Ynez Valley for memorable meals, friendly folks and a western vibe. Whether you’re craving a juicy rib-eye steak or briny uni, you’ll find it, along with a slew of options in between. Here are a few drive-worthy spots perfect for those days when you want to get out of Dodge.
Mattei’s Tavern has long been the place to go for a hearty welcome and an equally hearty meal—with a side order of history. Established in 1886 as a stagecoach stop, the sprawling white clapboard building continues to be a destination for famished, parched travelers and locals—swing by for dinner Wednesday through Sunday or for weekend brunch, complete with lawn games and live music. Formerly under the direction of brothers Matt and Jeff Nichols (see Brothers Restaurant at the Red Barn), Mattei’s is now in the capable hands of seasoned chef/partner Robbie Wilson and his wife and managing partner, Emily Perry Wilson, who own the restaurant along with wine investors Charles and Ali Banks.
The Wilsons have embraced the beloved tavern’s heritage while updating the space and cuisine, with a creative menu that offers a fresh take on farm-to-table wine country dining. Produce is sourced locally, as is most of the meat, poultry and seafood. Soak up the rustic elegance and sip a glass from the well-curated wine list, with a spotlight on Santa Barbara County’s finest, or a vintage-inspired cocktail. Whether you sit by the cozy fireplace or near the action by the open kitchen, feast on such dishes as the ever-popular grilled avocado with ponzu and fresh wasabi; Mattei’s burger decked out with housemade bacon and a cheddar
Mornay sauce; or platters such as “Morro Bay’s Greatest Hits,” featuring a baker’s dozen of oysters and sweet shrimp with fresh horseradish, cocktail sauce, mignonette and Tabasco slushy, served on a record player-turned lazy Susan. In another touch of whimsy, the kids’ menu is printed inside a bright red Viewfinder.
Mattei’s Tavern, 2350 Railway Ave., Los Olivos, 805/688-3550, matteistavern.com.
Tucked away in an industrial area in Buellton, the aptly named Industrial Eats offers a unique and delicious riff on the restaurant/deli concept, taking it to a whole new hyper-local level. Owned by the dynamic husband-and-wife team of Jeff and Janet Olsson, who also helm the well-regarded New West Catering next door, Industrial Eats has fast become a fun foodie hangout. Stop by after an afternoon of wine tasting with your loot from the valley tasting rooms—there’s no corkage fee. Eats is open daily from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Look for the retro neon sign that blazes “EATS,” along with the giant fiberglass cow out front. Order at the counter and take a seat at one of the long butcher-block tables (Jeff describes the concept as “farm to communal table”).
Two wood-fired pizza ovens take center stage in the soaring-ceilinged space, turning out all the cooked items on the menu, including pitch-perfect pizzas. The uber-seasonal menu, divided into Pizza, Not Pizza, Sandwiches and Butcher Shop Items, changes frequently, but daily specials might include pancetta-wrapped white shrimp in a flavor-packed garlic and chile sauce on toasted bread; and sriracha, farm egg and crispy pig ear salad pizza. Salads such as beet, fava bean, walnut and goat cheese are all made from produce from nearby farms. Jeff butchers and smokes his own meats like beef-tongue pastrami, duck comfit and bacon. His butchery classes, offered in partnership with Valley Piggery, are a big hit. Cheeses and local beef, pork, chicken and rabbit are available for purchase, along with uni from Santa Barbara urchin diver Stephanie Mutz. Try some of the local wines and beers on tap, and don’t miss the house-made ice cream and cookie sandwiches and The Whopper cookies.
Industrial Eats, 181 Industrial Way, Buellton, 805/688-8807, industrialeats.com.
Brothers Restaurant at the Red Barn is the down-home yet upscale new outpost of brothers Matt and Jeff Nichols, chefs and veteran Santa Barbara County restaurateurs. The former home of the longtime Red Barn restaurant, the space has been restored with respect for its rich history. The warm and tavern-like dining room and bar are accented with oak, refurbished wood beams emblazoned by branding irons of local ranchers, wrought-iron
lighting and two fireplaces.
The menu includes some favorites from the brothers’ ten-year tenure at Mattei’s Tavern, from the soul-satisfying Kabocha squash soup and tuna tartare with avocado, spicy Yuzu vinaigrette and crispy ginger to grilled pork rib chop with honey butter and bacon mashed
potatoes. Steaks and chops are cooked to perfection; for seafood, try the pan-sautéed Idaho rainbow trout. If you hit it for lunch, munch a Brothers Burger or drippin’-good pulled pork sandwich. Back by popular demand: fan-fave filet mignon taco Thursdays at the bar. Wash it all down with a glass from the excellent selection of Central Coast wines. All desserts are made in house, and you can’t leave without sharing a slice of the signature mud pie with Kahlua-caramel sauce.
Brothers Restaurant at the Red Barn, 3539 Sagunto St., Santa Ynez, 805/688-4142, brothersredbarn.com.
Originally published in the Fall 2014 issue of Santa Barbara SEASONS Magazine.