Tri-Tip Round-Up

Tri-tip steak holds a special place in my alimentary memory. The first time I tried it was in college in San Luis Obispo, where vendors could be found grilling behemoth slabs of meat on open barbecues lining Higuera Street during the famous Thursday night Farmer's Market. As it turns out (and I didn't know it then) tri-tip steak has its early origins in the nearby town of Santa Maria. According to Wikipedia, it was there, in the 1950s, that the cut moved up in status from being ground to being rotisseried and grilled. Cut from the bottom sirloin, tri-tip has grown in popularity due to lower fat content, robust flavor and comparatively lower cost.

So it's no wonder that such a flavorful, versatile cut of meat has made its way into sandwiches around the world. But while the meat may come from the same cut of beef, tri-tip sandwiches from different establishments vary widely, with many choosing to give it their personal signature. So for this review, we decided to take a sampling of tri-tip sandwiches from four local eateries (that term being loosely described in this case) to see what's hot and what's not on the Scotts Valley/San Lorenzo Valley tri-tip front. Tri-tip sandwiches were sampled from Bruno's BBQ, Mint, the Redwood Keg, and the Scotts Valley/Ben Lomond Market.

We first hit up the Scotts Valley market. More than once I've been on a simple errand to the Scotts Valley Junction in the late morning and been sidetracked (or perhaps more appropriately, seduced) by the succulent aroma of fresh tri-tip, sausages and other carnivorous treats sizzling on the barbecue outside the market. Marketing and self-promotion really don't get better than that. The Market's rotisserie tri-tip sandwich ($7.00) comes on a fresh, chewy sourdough roll complete with mayo, red onions, jack cheese, barbecue sauce, shredded lettuce and tomato. Deli employees recommend grilling the whole thing together – produce and all. I was leery about grilled lettuce, but I get the point. It heats up the meat and condiments, turning them into a kind of hot cole slaw and melts the cheese. So after trying it that way I think it's a good choice. Overall, this is a tasty sandwich with very flavorful, thinly-sliced tri-tip, crisp produce and fresh bread. It's available most any time of day. Compared to the others reviewed however,  it's a bit light on the ratio of meat it offers.

Second we hit up Bruno's. I've been a fan of Bruno's for a long time, but never ventured to try their tri-tip sandwich ($7.85). If big portions are your thing, this one is generous – big enough to split. Thin slices of meat are served on a basic french roll with tomatoes, onions, lettuce and a side of au jus for dipping. While I liked the au jus for keeping the sandwich hot and moist, overall it reminded me more of an everyday French Dip sandwich. The meat also had some fatty pieces and was rather bland, needing some seasoning to zip it up. But unquestionably, we were full after eating it.

Next on the list was the Redwood Keg Liquors and Deli, reported to draw travelers from Silicon Valley just to sample their tri-tip sandwiches. The rumor appears to be true, as the store walls are lined with thousands of loyalty cards (Buy 10 sandwiches, get the 11th free). Once you complete a card you move on to the next color. If you buy a sandwich from the deli at the back of the store, you'll pay $5.99. If you buy one saran-wrapped from the refrigerator you'll pay $6.39. Go figure. Either way, the meat is marinated in a famed “Santa Cruz Mountains marinade” and comes on a choice of sour, sweet, wheat, or dutch crunch roll. Cooked on a small Weber barbecue right outside the store, this meat is incredibly flavorful with pieces of rosemary and herbs embedded inside and a sweet, smoky flavor. You can have it with paper-thin grilled onions (recommended) or without. This sandwich too was fairly portioned, especially given the price. If you want to buy the meat alone or add more to your sandwich, you can buy ziploc bags of it for $3.00 from the refrigerator or by the pound for $9.29.

Our last stop for a tri-tip sandwich ended in the unlikeliest of places. “Mint” is a décor/furnishings/gift shop combined with a gourmet deli and is housed within the Tree Circus Center on Scotts Valley Drive. This sandwich comes in the priciest at $9.95 if you want cheese, $8.95 without, but it is truly amazing. The roll is an outer-crisp, inner-soft Cuban roll with a generous portion of very lean meat, mayo, red onions, and tomatoes. In addition to its abundance, the meat, which is marinated in “Ed's Special marinade”, is virtually gristle-free and oozing with tender, grilled flavor. This one took a bit longer to prepare than the others, but the final product is well worth the wait. If you've sworn off bread, you can get the same tri-tip on a giant green salad for $9.95.