In 1986 we discovered Templeton, a short rise out of Paso Robles on U.S. 101, sleepy, oak-lined, a cross between artistic and hick, with Dianne Garth’s charming inn (whimpering closet doors, croaking loo, magnificent breakfasts, the sound at night of long freight trains rumbling clumsily down from the Cuesta Pass) and a down-home restaurant, Alex’s BBQ, where we ate our California “ranch” dinners, specialty of the region with their celery, olives and crackers, creamy croutonned salad and a main course of grilled meat, potatoes of choice, beans, salsa, garlic bread and, if baked potatoes were ordered, sour cream as well.
I always ordered french fries, and borrowed Anne’s sour cream for them, applying the all-purpose salsa to sweetbreads or chops. Alex’s, alas, no longer graces Templeton, and to recreate a feed in the spirit, at least, of this engaging eatery I propose the adjacent Easy Ranch Dinner . . .
The sequel to the above is that as this book headed toward the press we lunched at the original Alex’s, a mother church as it were of Santa Maria style barbecue at Shell Beach. This is a small resort south of San Luis Obispo with tawny hills bearing down on it like the landscape equivalents of mother hens — and it’s the neighbor, by the way, of the town whose name inspired W.C. Fields to add to his two-legged menagerie Mr. A. Pismo Clam.
Not only were the beef ribs absolutely comme il faut but our sweet-as-apple-pie waitress also served us an excellent deep fried calamari steak, surf schnitzel in other words, breaded to the nines but not overbearingly so and accompanied by an uncloying tartar sauce any city-slicker chef would have been proud of. Well, I intoned, this is one of the three best restaurants between Silicon Valley and Santa Barbara along 101 and our waitress had to agree.
But hold the ketchup — that “barbarous adjunct” as the impish Miss Toklas would say.
1. Fry some good lamb chops that you’ve marinated in a little olive oil.
2. Boil until nearly done some sliced potatoes, then sauté them slowly in a large pan with a little butter, turning them often to achieve an even browning — these are, in other words, our “broasted potatoes.”
3. Buy some good quality bottled salsa for the chops, sour cream for the potatoes, and warm a can of upscale kidney or black beans.