After more than a half-century serving steaks and more to generations of Central Coast farming families inside a brick building on Guadalupe’s main drag, the historic Far Western Tavern officially opened its new doors in the middle of Old Town Orcutt in October. The out-of-the-way former oil town located just south of Santa Maria may seem like a curious place for a Santa Barbara County institution to start anew, but the Far Western is actually just one arrow in Orcutt’s quiver of quality establishments.
From wine tasting rooms and gourmet kitchens to pizza, pasta, pies, and pubs — not to mention rumors of a sushi joint and tapas bar on the horizon — Old Town Orcutt is steadily evolving into a genuine foodie mecca, a trend cultivated by the ongoing efforts of the Revitalization Association (oldtownorcutt.org) and the Merchants Association (oldorcuttmerchants.org). So to coincide with the Far Western’s grand opening back on October 29, we headed north to sample from Orcutt’s expanding trough. Here’s what we found.
FAR WESTERN TAVERN: When retrofitting rules pushed the Far Western out of Guadalupe, Renee Righetti-Fowler and her extended family found a similar “small-town atmosphere” in Orcutt, where Chef Rick Manson serves up artichoke-goat cheese fritters, bacon-wrapped scallops, and coconut beer shrimp before your hearty main course. Though housed in a palatial new building, the family imported special touches from Guadalupe, including velvety red wallpaper, old cowboy murals, and a 1,200-bottle wine cellar. “It was really important that you felt like you were walking into the Far Western,” said Righetti-Fowler. Farwesterntavern.com, 300 E. Clark Ave., (805) 937-2211.
OLD TOWN MARKET: After years of managing Longs Drugs, Mark Steller took over this grocery/deli/bottle shop/antique store eight years ago. (The space was the site of the first Scolari’s market over 60 years ago.) Offering super wine deals, tasty chicken tortilla soup and chicken panini, Orcutt-branded clothing, and more, Steller is happy to have seen the town where he’s lived nearly his whole life “reinvent itself.” Of the food scene, Steller explained, “It’s still in its infancy, but we’re a legitimate player now.” All that’s missing, he said, is a hotel and bank. Oldtownmarket.net, 405 E. Clark Ave.; (805) 937-5619.
KAY’S COUNTRY KITCHEN: After waitressing there for years, Kay Flagg took over this ever-popular breakfast and lunch spot in 2000 and expanded in 2005. “Orcutt has been a lifelong love affair for me,” said Flagg, who was raised in nearby Betteravia. She serves both the expected diner fare as well as inventive dishes like the “Cobby Man” salad (with steak, chicken, bacon, egg, and chunks of mustard cheese) and the more feminine goat cheese salad with wild coho salmon, blueberries, sliced almonds, and homemade champagne dressing. “This town raised my children,” she explained, and now she’s giving back with a culinary destination that’s attracting tourists. Kayscountrykitchen.com, 127 E. Clark Ave., (805) 934-4429.
JACK’S RESTAURANT: With five-egg omelets, 10-ounce burgers, full turkey dinners, and nearly a dozen pies on the menu seven days a week — owner Brian Kea recommends the pecan and “lemon dream” pies — there’s no wonder that Jack’s walls are covered with the drawings of Orcutt’s children, for whom the nearly 50-year-old restaurant is like home. And for Kea, who managed the kitchen for 24 years before buying the place seven years ago, it might as well be home, as he’s there seven days a week, except for Christmas, his one day off. “This place is really starting to boom, and we’re on the cutting edge,” said Kea, who also donates heftily to Orcutt’s community events. “We’ve been here forever.” Jacksoldtownorcutt.com, 156 S. Broadway St., (805) 937-1871.
ROONEY’S IRISH PUB: Perhaps the classiest Irish pub on the planet — the wood décor is based on real layouts in Ireland, even featuring a “snug” with nook and fireplace — Rooney’s instantly became the best place to hang out after hours in Orcutt when former cop and district attorney investigator Tim Rooney opened it two years ago. “We just wanted to make good beer,” said Rooney, and he does, selling a sampler of his ales on a shamrock-shaped plate: “The prettiest thing in the pub,” he says. Don’t miss the homemade potato chips either. Rooneysirishpub.com, 241 S. Broadway St., (805) 934-3777.
TRATTORIA ULIVETO: Recently taking six first-place awards from a local paper, including most romantic dinner and best business lunch, Trattoria Uliveto has been making ultra-fine Italian food since 2008, and it started offering creative cocktails a couple years later, including the chocolate-laced Sicilian Kiss and the Aperol Spritzer, a bittersweet invention of bartender Justin Bruner. “What most people used to do here was go out of town for a nice restaurant,” said Jim Spallino, whose co-owner is chef Alfonso Curti, formerly of Santa Ynez’s Trattoria Grappolo. “Our theory was if we build a nice place, a lot of locals will hang out locally.” And it’s worked, he confirmed with a smile, explaining, “Old Orcutt is growing up.” Trattoriauliveto.com, 285 S. Broadway St., (805) 934-4546.
PATRICIO’S PIZZERIA: For 25 years, Patrick Arnoldi’s down-to-earth nature, $25 multilayered combo pizzas that easily feed five people, and oven-baked, sweetly spiced chicken wings have made Orcuttians proud of their hometown pizzeria. “You really get what you pay for,” said Arnoldi of his Wisconsin cheese and other high-quality ingredients. He’s expanding into an outdoor patio as you read this, and opined, “If Orcutt can get a donut shop and Chinese restaurant, we’d never have to leave.” Patriciospizzeria.com. 156 S. Broadway St., (805) 937-8976.
DOC BURNSTEIN’S ICE CREAM LAB: Greg Steinberger lured ice cream master Chuck Burns — who cofounded Arroyo Grande’s wildly popular Burnardo’z Ice Cream Plant in 1976 — out of retirement to open the first Doc Burnstein’s in that town. Orcutt is the happy home to number two, featuring artistic creations (such as the Elvis Special with banana and peanut butter swirl; Merlot Raspberry Truffle, made with local wine; and top seller Birthday Cake, with rainbow sprinkles and cake batter), the constantly moving model train, and a coffee bar addition known as DB’s Old Town Coffee. “Even people who can’t eat ice cream love the thought of ice cream,” said Steinberger of his thriving company, of which about 10 percent is owned by current and former employees. docburnsteins.com, 168 W. Clark Ave., (805) 614-7644.