- PHOTO BY STEVE E. MILLER
I love good barbecue, but not just any old place will do. Some cooks simply slather over-cooked, dried out meats with sweet barbecue sauce and call it good. I don’t. That said, you can’t expect gourmet meals at these places either. What we barbecue lovers want is falling-off-the-bone baby back ribs redolent with the smoky aroma of an oak-fueled fire, and over-stuffed pulled pork sandwiches that melt in the mouth. And on that pork, we expect a barbecue sauce so good you’ll forego the napkin to lick it off your fingers.
The eatery’s location doesn’t matter much to me, as long as it’s clean. Still, I don’t just drop into any old strip mall for take-out or to dine in unless foodies are saying great things about it. That’s how I came to eat lunch at The Rib Line on Los Osos Valley Road, housed in a strip mall between SLO’s Toyota and Honda dealerships. I had frequently walked past it while getting my Prius serviced next door, but had never ventured inside. I’ll admit to being skeptical, because this eatery appeared bare bones at first glance. But that opinion changed at the first bite of their award-winning chili.
Brian Appiano—the new owner, chef, and manager—re-opened the eatery on July 1, 2010. On a recent Tuesday when I visited for lunch, he was offering everyone a four-ounce taste of his award-winning chili with cheddar and chopped red onions for $1.50. He had created it for a Nov. 7 chili cook-off during the SLO Vintners’ Harvest Celebration at Edna Valley Vineyard. Appiano went up against some tough competition: Avila Beach Resort, Splash Café, Steamers of Pismo, Two Cooks Catering, and Bon Temps Café. The latter restaurant tied with him for votes from people attending the winery’s party. But Edna Valley gave first place to Rib Line because Appiano ran out at least an hour ahead of the other cooks; his chili was that popular. It has an ideal amount of heat: definitely enough to notice, but not so much that it kills your taste buds.
“I call it my triple threat tri-tip chili,” Appiano explained. “It has three chiles: jalapeno, chipotle, and California; and tri-tip two ways: oak roasted and cubed, and five-hour braised pork.”
He describes it as traditional because he doesn’t add beans, just beef seared in bacon fat and braised in seasonings: cumin, chile powder, smoked paprika, onions, and garlic. It seemed ironic when Appiano added with a chuckle: “I had never attended a cook-off or tried to enter one until then.”
He explained that he has always loved cooking: “My mom was a good cook, but she only cooked on holidays and special occasions. I would cook for my frat brothers at Cal Poly.”
“We were trying to see if they could do lunch service, but at the time it was only delivery and take-out,” he remembered. “I saw what was missing and where to make changes.”
After he bought the business, he personally went door-to-door at neighboring businesses to hand out menus and coupons: “I offered $5 lunch specials and people started coming right away.”
Appiano said his focus is on quality and housemade ingredients, and he plans to continually work at improving everything they make. He and his wife Krystal own and manage the shop. She handles the bookkeeping, but often visits the cafe with their 10-week old daughter Aubrey.
During the cook-off competition at Edna Valley Vineyard, one foodie told Appiano: “I keep telling everyone your tri-tip is the best I’ve ever tasted, and I’m not a meat lover.” His tri-tip “hot sando” (his name for sandwiches on the menu), served on a French roll with choice of one side salad, is tender and tasty ($8.95). But I preferred the pulled pork, oak grilled and braised to delicious tenderness. It’s sautéed in the house barbecue sauce and comes with a choice of side salad ($8.95). Stop in at lunch and the sando specials, all $8.95, include a four-ounce side salad and a soft drink. Side salad choices include pasta with veggies, coleslaw, and potato salad. You’ll find better values in the list of $6.50 lite lunch specials. Choose from chicken Caesar salad with a drink, two beef ribs with side salad and drink, or the Line burger with side salad and drink.
Open daily, from 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m., the Rib Line offers free delivery anywhere in San Luis Obispo with a $15 minimum order. They’ll be open on Thanksgiving Day offering holiday dinners that include roast turkey or ham—or you can order both meats; prices range from $139 to $179. The dinners feature all of the traditional foods you’d expect, and you can order whole desserts, like their deliciously decadent turtle cheesecake, titled “The Legend.” They also offer carrot cake and pumpkin or apple pie, priced from $15 to $25 each. You should order 24 hours in advance, but if you find you need more on Thanksgiving Day, it’s worth giving them a call.
“We make everything fresh and prepare sandwiches to order,” Appiano said. “We don’t even pre-cut onions; that’s why you have to wait for your food.”
He candidly said the cooks put in a lot more time because they make everything from the sauces to the cakes.
“When you love what you’re doing, it’s a little bit easier,” the amiable chef finished.
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