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CARRY OUT : Buckboard's Barbecue Fires Up Dry and Mighty

April 01, 1993|MAX JACOBSON | Max Jacobson is a free-lance writer who reviews restaurants weekly for The Times Orange County Edition.

Santa Maria-style barbecue may have been around for nearly two centuries, but it's a relatively new phenomenon in these parts. The squeaky-clean Buckboard Brands in the city of Cypress is the place to try some, the meats marinated simply in salt, pepper and garlic, then roasted over a bed of hot red oak coals. It's almost impossible not to get hooked.

This is a dry style of barbecuing, in which the flavor of the wood penetrates clear to the bone. A flyer tells you that the cooking process locks in all the meat's natural juices. I'd say it ain't quite so. I happen to like dry meats, and these are, in my opinion, an absolutely great version. It's just that calling them juicy is a major stretch.

Instead of traditional barbecue sauces, a mild, chunky salsa is smeared on the meats, which themselves are already encrusted with pepper and garlic. The meat of choice is tri-tip sirloin. It cooks up a ruddy brown, with a soft, crumbly texture.

Traditionally, "there was no pork in the Santa Maria Valley," explained our waitress, "and our owner, Steve McFarland, wanted to stick to family recipes as much as he could." (The restaurant does, however, serve pork chops and Portuguese linguica sausage--an inconsistency we'll forgive because these items are so good.)

Everything on Buckboard Brands' limited menu can be ordered to take out, though the dining area is appealing. It's a kittenish, homey place with lots of farm implements and frilly curtains. There's a real bathtub filled with iced soft drinks and beers next to the door.

As you enter, you'll see a 50-pound sack of poquito beans. Be sure to have these small, round beans with anything you order. They'll be packed up in Styrofoam containers, and they travel well, a smoky compliment to any of the meats you order.

Early Pioneer is a sausage sandwich--linguica, Italian or Polish. Have the linguica, a sweet salty sausage that tends to be overly greasy. Not this one. The dry cooking style allows for much of the fat to drip out, and the toasted bun reminds you of the grilled hot dogs you ate when you were a kid. The pork chop is called a Stetson, and it's dry and peppery.

Tinderfoot is oak-fired chicken breast, as oaky as a boutique Chardonnay and pull-apart tender. Wrangler is beef ribs, giant things with blackened outsides.

All these meats are available in dinners (with side dishes such as the olive-infused potato salad and the beans) or by the pound. Tri-tip sirloin is the bargain at only $5.95 per pound. A rack of ribs, seven to an order, is $12.50.

Meats are wrapped in aluminum foil, then boxed in snap-top plastic foam containers. They're perfect for a long ramble, and great reheated on a home grill.

BUCKBOARD BRANDS

10205 Valley View St., Cypress.

(714) 821-0470.

Open Monday through Friday, 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m., Saturday and Sunday, 5 to 9 p.m.

American Express, MasterCard and Visa.

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