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High Desert 2010

Back to Ruff Rock Run Café H.D.R. 2010

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Besides four wheeling, I love to eat, and I make no excuses.  I also love to cook, and I'm interested in watching others cook, and I'm interested in restaurants in general.  I suppose that's obvious, as who else would I take the time to write-up every meal that I enjoyed at Chef Andy's Ruff Rock Run Café during Hi-Desert Roundup, 2010. There are many things that I love about CA4WDC's High Desert Roundup, but to me, the highlight of the weekend is Chef Andy's barbecue dinner, served Saturday night.

Photo:  It's 9 O'clock on Friday night, and Chef Andy has the fire going in the pit, and is burning the wood down to the coals.  The fire will be ready about midnight, and at that time, Andy and his crew will place the meat in the pit and cover it.  Matthew and Robert seem to be doing a fire dance or something...

The Saturday night barbecue doesn't happen instantly, as it's an overnight event.  Andy and the crew set up the café on Thursday, and as the griddles are unpacked, and the tent goes up, several of the guys dig the pit, where the beef is to be barbecued.  The pit measures about four by six feet, and its six feet deep, and its dug by guy--power, using ordinary picks and shovels.  That in itself is an undertaking...  Chef Andy brings about a quarter cord of hardwood, usually oak, to provide the heat for cooking, and a nice, smoky taste to the meat.  The fire is lit late Friday afternoon, about the time dinner is served, and its lovingly tended to by a couple of Andy's helpers, which are almost always young teenage boys.  

By 11:00 in the evening, the wood has been reduced to glowing coals, and its time to place the meat in the pit, all 300 pounds of it!  The beef comes in big chunks, of about 30 pounds each, and each piece is tightly wrapped in moist burlap, to seal in the juice, and to protect the meat from the coals.  The meat is placed directly on top of the coals, and by the time all the meat has been placed in the pit its nearly full.  Then a heavy steel plate is placed over the meat, and about 18 inches of dirt is shoveled on top of the meat.  That's it... the meat will cook for around 16 hours until it's removed from the pit, just before dinner is served at 5:00 on Saturday afternoon.

Photo:  Four thirty on Saturday afternoon finds some of the restaurant staff members uncovering the pit.  As you can see, it's a lot of work.

Photo:  Chef Andy is an equal opportunity employer, and even his granddaughter, Grace, gets her turn shoveling dirt.

Late Saturday afternoon, about an hour or so before dinner is served, it's time to dig up the pit, and that's no small task, as you've got 300 pounds of beef, under a heavy steel plate, covered by about 18 inches of dirt.  All able-bodied helpers of Andy's crew that aren't busy performing other chores are recruited to help uncover the pit, as it's a huge undertaking. Bystanders are recruited as well, and are usually lured by the promise of free strawberry shortcake, or a free breakfast in the morning.  After the pit is uncovered, one of Andy's helpers removes a wrapped chunk of beef with a long-handled meat hook, and hands it to another guy, who brings in to the cutting table in the café.  The process is repeated until all the meat is on the cutting table.  Then, Andy and his crew get out their sharp knives and quickly slice the meat into bite-sized pieces.

Photo:  The pit is almost uncovered, as the dirt flies.

Photo:  One by one, slabs of beef, wrapped in burlap, are lifted from the pit and placed next to the pit.  Then, the meat is brought into the restaurant, unwrapped, and sliced into bite-sized pieces, ready for serving.

Meanwhile, the rest of the crew are preparing the side dishes for the meal.  I wandered into the café and watched Barbara and the gang prepare huge pots of mashed potatoes, gravy and vegetables, and cut up mountains of vegetables for the salad bar.  Andy has about a dozen people working in the kitchen, not to mention several others who are engaged in supporting roles, such as fetching things, cleaning, and attending to the many details necessary to make this event happen.

Photo:  The side dish crew, dishing up vegetables, potatoes and gravy.

Photo:  Chef Andy himself is at the last station, and he's the guy that serves the meat.  Note the gentleman handing is plate to one of the servers, who will give him a helping of green beans.

Dinner is ready at six o'clock, and it doesn't take long for a chow line to form outside of the restaurant.  The line is usually quite long, but it moves quite fast, as Chef Andy and his crew are very efficient.  Most dinners have been purchased in advance, with the registration, so everybody has a ticket, so no money is exchanged prior to serving, which makes things go a lot faster.  (A limited number of dinner tickets can be purchased on-site at registration at a slightly higher price)  You had your ticket to Barbara, and she hands you a plate, and utensils.  Then you go through a line-up, cafeteria style to serving stations, personed by a half dozen of Andy's helpers, and each one dishes up a different item.  For example, one girl dishes up your potatoes, you move to the next station, and another girl puts gravy on your potatoes, and so on, and so forth.  The last station is where you get your helping of beef, topped by spicy barbecue sauce, if you desire.  Then, if you have room on your plate, you head over to the salad bar, where you'll find your salad items presented restaurant-style, in individual bins.  You help yourself to whatever you want, and then it's time to enjoy your delicious meal.  This year's salad bar was quite complete, as it featured macaroni and seafood salad, olives, grated cheddar cheese, onions, cherry tomatoes, shredded lettuce, pickled jalapeńo pepper slices, several varieties of salad dressing, and a whole lot more.  After receiving generous portions of the main and side dishes, you probably won't have much room for salad, unless you mix 'n match, and pile 'em high, like I do.  Whatever the case, you can always come back for seconds at the salad bar, that is, if you have room in your stomach, which you probably won't.  Nobody will go away hungry from the Hi-Desert Roundup Saturday Night Barbecue.

Photo:  Chef Andy takes a break from his meat cutting and serving duties.

Photo:  Here's the full-service salad bar featured at the Saturday night barbecue dinner.

Matthew, Robert and I took our turn in line, and within a couple of minutes, we were handing our ticket so Marilyn, who gave us each a heavy-duty paper plate, and utensils.  Then it was off to the serving stations, where we received mashed potatoes, brown, mushroom gravy, green beans, a roll, and then a big slab of Andy's melt-in-your mouth beef, covered with tangy barbecue sauce.  The plate was nearly full, but it still didn't preclude us from making a foray to the salad bar, to top off the plate with potato and seafood salad, and tossed green salad.  Then, it was back to camp to enjoy the delicious barbecue dinner.

Photo:  Here's my plate of delicious barbecue.  The seafood and potato salad covers the green salad.  Note the mushroom gravy on the mashed potatoes, which was to-die-for.  Actually, that statement could be made about the entire meal!

Unless you've had the opportunity to enjoy beef cooked slowly over hardwood coals, in a pit for 16 hours, it's difficult to describe how good it is.  Chef Andy's beef almost melts in your mouth, and its so tender, that you don't need a knife to cut it.  It has just a hint of smoke flavor, but it's moist, tender and delicious.  The side dishes are great, and the salad bar features fresh ingredients... nothing about the meal will disappoint you.  The people are friendly, the portions are generous, and there's just something about enjoying a plate of some of the best barbecue to be had, under the stars at Hi-Desert Roundup.

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