Hitting the Road No #1: November 24th

California Dreaming – where it all started…

“Life’s like a road that you travel on
When there’s one day here and the next day gone
Sometimes you bend, sometimes you stand
Sometimes you turn your back to the wind”
– Life Is A Highway, Rascal Flatts

We get asked a lot if we knew we wanted to make barbecue our business before we left for America. The truth is we didn’t. Not for certain anyway. Although we were falling in love with American barbecue, we even made a little ourselves, and were a fan of the emerging slow and low scene in London, we hadn’t settled on that one idea for our future. All we knew is that we wanted to start a food business together and that the ‘divine intervention’ was going to come from this trip… it had to, as were going home to nothing.

Being part of the city ‘rat race’ in London for 8 years had resulted in us literally wanting to run to the hills and we touched down in LAX in September 2012 with a tight budget and a real need to decompress. We’d decided to begin the first month by camping through California and we were looking forward to spending quality time outdoors: hiking, swimming, playing music, building camp fires and cooking on them. We’ve both been lucky enough to see a fair bit of the world, but the US national parks we visited were on another level. You need to think beyond the iconic Grand Canyon. There are yet more spectacular desert parks, all of which are breathtakingly beautiful and otherworldly. To top it off, the Californian coast line is unspoilt and endless, the beaches are world class and their forests and mountains are ethereal.

Barbecue, as in slow and low, was fairly slim pickings in California on the whole. The food truck scene in LA was really where it was at. An established way to eat, serving everything from Japanese tacos, to Hawaiian Laulau, incredible grilled cheese, and burritos as big as sleeping bags – from ghetto to gourmet, all at a super reasonable price.

A few stand out meals in our short stay in LA were by way of our friend Kevin, who took us for our first Chicken and Waffles at a neighborhood joint in Long Beach. A curious combination of dessert-like Belgian waffles with the most juicy, crispy-coated-pressure-fried chicken perched on top. It’s compulsory to slather the lot in lashings of runny, maple syrup and dollops of whipped butter. Delicious if you don’t think about it too much. Needless to say, Kevin found our absolute confusion over the odd pairing highly amusing!

He later took us for some fish fry at the local fish market in Redondo Beach. Asides from the dozen freshly shucked creamy gulf oysters we shared on the side, we couldn’t quite work out what we were eating… The fish fry was piled high with bright orange Old Bay dusting – greasy tentacles, shelled crab claws, indiscriminate chunks of juicy white fish and chewy squid rings. All deep fried in a cross between tempura and breadcrumbs and a heap of seasoning. Armed with a big bottle of vinegary hot sauce, little paper cups of aioli and a whole kitchen roll, we soon wolfed down two big, delicious, platefuls. (And probably took two giant leaps forward to future coronary issues at the same time).

Next on the agenda was the Golden City itself, and it may not surprise you to know that we were particularly taken with San Francisco! Its gravity-defying asphalt hills were not intimidating to us after our experience of the Welsh valleys, and the cultural mix there was something we’d never seen before, even by London standards. There was so much to explore: the vibrant Latino food of the Mission District, the outrageously camp Castro District, expansive well-maintained parks with drum circles and family picnics, swanky suburbs and a big lick of faded hippy culture straight through Height & Ashbury. The art scene was thriving, everyone seemed to be creative and coffee is taken very seriously.

Our LA friend passed us onto some dear friends of his who lived in Protero Hill, a lovely suburb, perched on a lofty, asphalt mound overlooking the Bay Area. It’s where we first saw the natural phenomenon of the famous San Fran fog. The dense cloud rolls into the Bay area for the evening, sits like a plump, lazy sausage on the bay and bridge and is completely gone by early morning. As if it never happened.

Our new hosts, Jennifer, Piers and their son Daniel were extremely warm and generous from the off, welcoming us with a chicken dinner and several bottles of Californian Cab Sav. Over the next week, they showed us around the city, knew it’s diverse and rich history, showed us great spots to eat and drink, and shared concerns for its future in retaining its unique identity through the spread of gentrification. As always, having inside knowledge to somewhere makes you fall a little more in love with a place. We met most of their friends, had a few garden parties, many delicious home-cooked dinners and lots of laughs, and entertained them with our guitars and harmonicas.

The food scene in San Francisco really sums up Cali cuisine as a whole. Fresh and innovative. We literally go weak at the knees even now, thinking about these incredible fish tacos eaten in a little neighborhood cafe in Protero Hill. It’s incredible how freshness and simplicity can deliver the perfect dining experience. The city taught us a valuable lesson about having the most fun, whilst at the same time taking food and drink seriously. How does San Francisco manage to look so informal and relaxed, whilst be so perfectly executed? From fine dining to street food, and everything in between. It made us wonder if our careers had predisposed us to believe that being in a permanent state of stress and anxiety were the only way to measure hard work. But if you love what you do, then surely it’s not work, right?

It was at this point that we really started to really think about what we loved, and already the idea was forming: Food, People, Music.

Sam & Shauna

on the BBQ
in Hangfire
Sam and Shauna
in Hangfire
in Hangfire
in Hangfire