Cold Spring Tavern offers lunch and dinner at a stagecoach stop that dates from 1868, on the San Marcos Pass near Santa Barbara. The place is filled with history and an amazing amount of detail is on their webpage <coldspringtavern.com> about the various buildings on the property and the furnishings within. You can’t miss it as the cars are parked on both sides of the winding road for some time before you hit the place. On weekends they have live music, a stand where you can buy their barbecue Tri-tip sandwich as well as an outside bar. If you prefer table service there are a number of outdoor and indoor tables. Lunch has a smaller menu than dinner, so I’ve included photos of both lunch and dinner menus. Service was enthusiastic and efficient which really enhanced the dining experience. The A/C is ‘open windows’ so we left smelling of barbecue smoke, which was no problem. The onion rings are worth a trip alone but I would love to be able to try some of their dinner options too.
The Tri-tip sandwich is what they’re famous for and it’s served on a locally-sourced French roll with a choice of one side. We split one sandwich and that was a good portion since we also had the onion rings. Tri-tip is not the most tender cut but they take a lot of preparation to get the most out of the meat. After slowly cooking the meat over the wood coals it is put in a sauce of beer, garlic and onion to help add moisture. It is sliced to make it as tender as possible. The meat had a good bit of smokey flavor and even though it involved some chewing it was good. The sandwich comes with 3 sauces – BBQ, salsa and apple horseradish mustard – all made in-house. The last was my favorite if I used any at all. The bun was soft and they were nice enough to divide it all onto two plates.
For a side, we chose potato salad on the suggestion of the server and he was right. It had a bit of that mustard horseradish in it with the skin on redskin potatoes. It was delicious.
The onion rings are the star though. Large and crisp with a beer batter they come with a juicy, thick slice of onion inside that adheres to the coating. They came with some house-made ranch dressing but seemed best alone with a sprinkle of salt. These were divine.