BBQ Covered Gem of the Desert
By Derek Obregon
The Saturday I went to Pappy and Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace, it was packed with people. Some were there to feel like they were back in the Old West, some were there for the live shows Pappy’s is famous for, and some were there for the food and cheap booze. As you walk up, your eyes are immediately drawn to an accent wall with sloppy looking brick work and old glass bottles cemented right in. Stepping through the wooden door, we had to put our names on a waiting list because we didn’t make reservations—who would’ve thought you needed reservations to eat in the middle of the desert? Seeing that we had a few minutes to kill, we gave ourselves a quick tour of this rustic restaurant/bar/venue.
The interior sends you a polite message to slow down and enjoy life via tattered, hand painted signs and an eclectic mix of people willing to abide by these rules. The bar is swimming with people eager to grab a drink and the few pool tables look like they’ll be worked overtime tonight. You take in as much as you can while the resident band on Saturday nights, The Shadow Mountain Band, sets the mood perfectly. Finally, our hostess seats us by the glass bottle wall that showered the table with unique lighting just as the sun was beginning to set into the desert horizon.
The menu has a balanced variety of burgers, sandwiches, salads, Tex-Mex and BBQ. Food wise, deciding where to start was difficult, so drinks were the obvious first choice. The drinks were unsurprisingly brought out in mason glasses to continue the old-timey western theme. I was tempted to order the Chili Fries because I hear they are an absolutely amazing appetizer, but, in anticipation of the BBQ that awaited, I thought with my mind and not my stomach and opted for the Chips and Salsa to tide me over instead. The salsa was fresh, homemade pico de gallo that was proportionally diced with the right amount of mild spice. After some dinner conversation, the main course arrived.
I ordered the Santa Maria BBQ, thinly sliced tri-tip. The presentation was simple, but inviting. All of their meats are lovingly attended to over the open mesquite fires of the desert and I could tell that the tri-tip was dripping with flavor before I even took a bite. It was cooked how tri-tip is meant to be cooked; tender and moist on the inside while perfectly black-pepper crusted on the outside. The flavor was not trying to be fancy; it was good old fashioned BBQ in a good old fashioned place. A tangy side of BBQ sauce was provided for people that yearn for an extra layer of flavor, but it wasn’t needed. I prefer my tri-tip the way the chef prepares and serves it . . . bathing in its own juices, but I will admit that the occasional twang of BBQ sauce made for a delicious bite.
A side of steamed and lightly seasoned broccoli provided the greens for the night, and Garlic Mashed Potatoes and Gravy rounded out this meal. Pappy’s is one of the first restaurants I can recall eating at that smothers its garlic mashed potatoes in home-style gravy. This adds a whole new dimension of flavor, and more restaurants should try out this technique.
I wanted to ask the waitress about the homemade desserts, but was too full of a savory meal. The atmosphere alone is worth the drive, but add in the delicious food and you definitely have a reason to make the trip out to Pappy and Harriet’s. And I already have a tip on what to order next time. The guys dining next to us were celebrating a birthday and ordered the Porterhouse Steak . . . I wished him a happy birthday and couldn’t help but simultaneously eye the mouth-watering slab of steak that sat in front of him. It may have been too late for me this time, but I know exactly what to get next time.
Pappy and Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace, 53688 Pioneertown Rd., Pioneertown, (760) 365-5956; www.pappyandHarriet’s.com. Mon, 5pm-2am, Closed Tues. Wed-Sun, 11am-2pm.