Last fall before coming to Morro Bay, I read an article in Sunset magazine with central coast BBQ restaurant reviews and discussing the famous red oak barbeque and Santa Maria-style tri-tip for which this area is known. In the article, and then in discussions with local people, “Jocko’s in Nipomo” kept coming up. On Saturday, the mister declared he hadn’t had a ribeye in forever and that he really wanted a steak, and I wanted to explore a place called Oceano Lagoon which is in the same general area. Thus a plan was hatched for an excursion.
In the late 1920’s, some land south of Pismo Beach was being developed into a huge housing subdivision. An existing fresh water lagoon was dredged deeper and enlarged to enhance the subdivision and a model home was built and many lots sold. But then came the 1929 stock market crash and the depression resulting in the project’s failure. The lagoon and surrounding land are now a county park with a campground and are part of the migratory bird habitat surrounding them. The area is especially popular with birders hoping to spot migrating spring and fall warblers and water birds so we loaded up our kayak and set out for an adventure. Perhaps we’d finally find the elusive green heron that we’ve been stalking.
On Oceano Lagoon
Black-crowned Night Heron
We tried traveling in stealth mode, and we spotted some herons so well camouflaged that even paddling slowly and quietly we couldn’t see them until very close, and then they’d startle and fly. We thought we’d spotted the greens, but a closer look revealed Black-crowned night herons. Accustomed to seeing the tall great blues with their long and graceful necks, we were surprised to see how short and stocky these herons are, looking more like penguins with their thick necks.
Lookin’ like a penguin…
After exploring the lagoon, we loaded up the kayak and headed toward Jocko’s. We had reservations, but had heard that it can get so busy that having a reservation just means you’ll wait less. But, as we headed down Hwy 1, I spotted the most amazing turret sticking up from behind a trailer park–I cried out to the mister that I must have a photo, even if were were a few minutes late.
Amazing Spire (with live bird)
He kindly drove around several blocks until we were able to locate a street that led to the side of the structure. To our amazement, it was an incredible Victorian home sitting right smack in the middle of a rather shabby trailer park.
I grabbed my camera and respecting the No Trespassing sign, I took a number of photos through and over a chain link fence. After we returned home, I did a little research and found that it’s a historic house known as the Coffee T. Rice home. It was completed in 1886 and has 20 rooms and once had a paddock, racetrack and beautiful gardens. It was built of mahogany, teak and marble with handmade Italian tile, and was framed with 2×6 studs. By 1895, Mr. Coffee T. Rice fell on hard times, his son killed in a riding accident, his fortune lost and his wife suffering from “neurasthenia” (I think, perhaps, the language of the time for nervous breakdown) and he moved out.
In 1905, it was purchased by the Temple of the People (the Halcyonites) who used it as a sanitarium until 1925. It changed hands several time and then in 1959 was sold to the 4th owner who added the trailer park.
I’m always saddened when I see one of these “Grand Old Girls” sitting unloved and deteriorating. Those who share my love of old houses know that feeling. Reluctantly, I had to tear myself away from my dreams of rescuing her so we could get to Jocko’s.
We arrived at Jocko’s before 4:00, finding a long, low, 50s looking block building, with about 40 cars parked in the dirt lot, including plenty of pick-up trucks. This sign welcomed us:
A Jocko’s Welcome
After a short wait (we were a little early), we were led through the dark hall/waiting area into an also dark, low-ceilinged room to be seated. This was definitely not a white-cloth restaurant. We were seated at a formica table set with paper placemats, menus were brought, drink orders taken. Our waiter returned with a relish tray, salsa, foil-wrapped butter pats, and a basket of assorted crackers in cellophane wrappers. Clearly this place was all about the meat.
Relish tray, crackers and butter and salsa
Although famous for BBQ, they also had Mexican food, Italian, fish choices, etc., but for the Mister it was all about the meat. Taking in the drab and weary-looking decor and observing the other tables, it seemed that must be the case for most diners. Looking through the window, we could see the glow of the outdoor fire pit with meat piled high on racks. We were surprised on opening the menu to not find ribeye, but we were told their Spencer was the same thing, a 2″ thick ribeye steak cut from a whole prime rib roast and that they butchered and aged their meat on-site. After a glance at the huge platters of food being brought out for other diners, we decided one dinner was more than enough for both of us as the mister no longer eats like he once did (nor weighs as much). We ordered the 28 oz ribeye with an extra plate. For an additional charge, we could have ordered extra on the sides, but we decided not to having seen the size of the portions. Although the place was full, we didn’t have to wait too long for the meal to arrive, meanwhile sharing a salad big enough for us both. Being new to blogging, I forgot to take a photo of the platter when it arrived, accompanied by an enormous baked potato, a big bowl of beans, and a basket of garlic bread. We were glad we hadn’t paid the plating charge for extra sides. It was an enormous amount of food. I rarely eat beef, but the first bite of that beautifully seasoned and grilled steak knocked my socks off. I don’t remember ever having a steak that flavorful and tender. We both ate more than enough and still brought a box of leftovers home. The meal included coffee and dessert and the bill was less than $40 including taxes (yep, we’re in California now) and a generous tip for our very courteous waiter! If you’re ever on the central coast and want an excellent steak, Jocko’s is the place. If you’re looking for a romantic atmosphere for date night, skip it. It’s all about the meat.
There’s a story behind Jocko’s and that “come in and monkey around sign”, in brief, there used to be monkeys in Jocko’s bar, but I’m too tired to write about it tonight. Besides, it’s all about the meat and all I know is that there’s no better steak than one cooked Santa Maria-style over red oak wood at Jocko’s.