I’ve enjoyed Pinot Noirs for a while now, even before I ever saw Sideways. And one of my favorites has always been the Hitching Post Highliner, winner of several awards, and one of the defining wines bringing attention to the Santa Barbara winemaking region. So imagine my surprise when we start planning a trip, and can’t find the winery in any maps or searches. How can such a reputable label not have even a tasting room? All my searching kept pointing me to Hitching Post II, a restaurant in Beulton, just off the 101. A picture revealed the same logo, so at least it’s related, and online reviews rave about the BBQ steaks. Pino and BBQ go naturally hand in hand, so of course we made reservations, but I still wanted to find the winery.
After we made plans, did more research, and talked to more people, we discovered that Hitching Post wines were made specifically for the restaurant and that there isn’t a tasting room. Here I had assumed a great wine label had opened a restaurant, when in reality it was the other way around! Not only that, but it was one of the featured locations in Sideways. So after a day tasting along the road to Lompoc, we headed in to see what everything was about. The BBQ smoke outside was so enticing that I was ready to rush in, even though I wasn’t hungry. Since the only reservations we could get were at 9pm, we opted to switch to the waiting list at the very small and crowded bar. After about 20-30 minutes, we secured two chairs… low and behold, in the exact seats that Paul Giamatti and Thomas Haden Church shared in the movie.
Super-friendly bartenders, and a fun crowd, we settled in for some great wine and food. To start with, we each got a glass of their famous wine, I selected the Highliner, and my wife chose the Four Top (a blend of 4 Bordeaux varietals) as another to try based on the bartender’s recommendation. She wasted no time in switching the glasses on me whenever I wouldn’t notice, though both were great. We picked up a bottle of the Four Top to take home with us, since we already have the Highliner in our wine fridge and can get it locally.
For an appetizer we went with everyone’s recommendation, the grilled artichoke. This was the best artichoke we’ve ever had. They take a locally grown artichoke, steam it, then split it down the middle and remove the spiny core. Next it receives a generous dusting of Magic Dust (salt, pepper, white pepper, cayenne, onion power, garlic power, ground celery seeds) and hits the red oak fired grill. Absolutely amazing smokey flavors, buttery texture, and spices that left me licking both my fingers and the dipping dish of chipotle mayo.
We decided to split their monstrous 26 ounce rib chuck steak. This is basically a 2+ inch thick bone-in ribeye, grilled medium-rare. There was a side of baked potato, and a delicious house salad, and some great grilled bread, but the rib chop truly was the star of the show. Now, keep in mind I grew up in a dairy family, and a good steak is probably my favorite food. I enjoy grilling, and have no problem dropping $30-40 for a good dry-aged steak at the butcher. I grill, pan fry, sear and oven finish, roast, you name it. I know my beef, so really this is extremely high praise when I say This was the best steak I have ever eaten. It was rich, juicy, tender, absolutely perfectly cooked, warm throughout but still pink rich texture without being bloody or slimy. The exterior had a light sear but still moist with loads of rich smokey buttery flavor and seasoned with their Magic Dust.
With all that praise on the steak, desert must have been a disappointment right? Wrong, peanut butter pie, how can you pass that up? Peanut butter folded with heavy cream to make filling with a chocolate top. Surprisingly not as heavy as it sounds and a great way to finish of the meal.
I cannot praise this steak enough, and if you are in the area, you absolutely must make plans to visit. The wines are spectacular, and so is the food, and both are clearly made for each other. I wish wineries would open restaurants that focused on real pairings like this. I know that I won’t let another opportunity to hit up the Hitching Post pass me by!