I am no wimp when it comes to spice. I have a special sushi roll with fresh cut peppers on top, and pepper sauce on top of that. I used to eat jars of peppers while watching Days of Our Lives on lunch breaks between classes at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo – yes, my (other) male roommate got me addicted and we picked class schedules to be home for Kayla and Patch. Yes, I went to school a long time ago. I enjoy hot food, and have discovered spicy drinks too. A Spicy Bloody Mary with a cooling celery stalk is awesome. But I like even more – I really enjoy jalapeno drinks.
Hillary and I have enjoyed many brunches, lunches and dinners at Tanner Jacks on the mesa in Arroyo Grande. It was started by dear friends of ours who we met as they built a mini empire of amazing restaurants. Tanner Jacks was sold a while back to Jack’s son Michael. Michael has kept my favorites on the menu, and is always tinkering in the kitchen with new foods. I don’t know who came up with it, but I always start my visits to the restaurant with what used to be the “house” margarita – a blended Mango Jalapeno Margarita with a sugared rim and lime wedge. No jalapeno flavoring here – the drink is made with an actual pepper tossed into the blender with the rest of the mix, and whipping it until you see only specs of peppers and a light green tinge. It’s an amazing drink that’s sweet, thick, cold, and leaves a long lingering spiciness once your tongue warms up from being shocked by the ice. Depending on the pepper, it’s pleasantly warm or fiery. Either is fine with me. This time it was hot, and I loved it.
I remember one brunch time that Michael came out to us excited and said “try these!” I had learned early on that Michael and his dad Jack were true artisans making simple, and simply delicious Southern barbecue. When they experimented, you were bound to love their creation. This one was truly special, and we get it every time we go to Tanner Jacks without fail. Fried pickles, served up with Thai Peanut Sauce. That’s right. And these are no wussy pickle chips – they’re long, thick spears of dill pickle, in a crispy breading, deep fried to the perfect golden brown. The heat of the oil boils the liquid inside the pickle, I’m sure, so you have to be VERY cautious when eating them, or you’ll end up with a napalm bomb exploding inside your mouth. Not pleasant. Give them a while to cool, or cut in half, then try alone without sauce. Amazing crunch, the bite of pickling juice, the mellow coating of oil and bread in the bite. Now try them with the peanut sauce. You’re not really sure what you’re tasting, but that’s what makes it fun – so many flavors, textures, oils, crunches, spices, sweet. As a note, Hillary gets hers with a side of Wild ‘n Sassy Sauce – it adds more spice from habanero, some creaminess, along with some cooling from what I’m guessing is cucumber. It doesn’t really matter – there is no pairing perfect for this. This is a circus where you’re not sure where to look, but I assure you you’ll love it, regardless of what you choose.
Finally, I have to mention the salad I got to accompany our dinner (which I’m intentionally leaving out of this post – we’ll talk about their #1 award-winning tri-tip later). It’s a simple iceberg wedge. Why mention that? Cold, crispy, sweet shaved carrots, and a mandarin orange vinaigrette. You getting the picture? The perfect cooler for a hot evening. The dressing is remarkably flavored, the lettuce perfectly fresh and crunchy. The carrot and orange play very nicely together, just as you’ll find them in many soups.
I love places that have lots to play with. Lots of flavors to try that aren’t limited by trying too hard. Maybe the secret of Tanner Jacks lies in their motto: “Comfort Cookin’ with a Smokin’ Attitude.” Who doesn’t love those ingredients?