Santa Maria Tri-Tip in Coalinga: Fred Sweeney
OK, this is a trick post: Fred Sweeney is not from Coalinga, he's from Arroyo Grande (not Santa Maria).
Fred caters a couple of hot-air ballooning events we fly at, including the redoubtable WHAMOBASS (the Whiskey Hill-Atherton-Menlo Oaks Ballooning and Sporting Society--this was the 35th WHAMOBASS this weekend).
Fred brings in a van pulling an enormous fire-cooking rig, loaded with coastal oak firewood (no briquets here). The fire starts in the early afternoon, and he's cooking for hours. Dinner Sat for $15/person: green salad (pre-dressed, nothing to write home about), chili beas--yum!, garlic bread, and the featured attraction: Santa Maria tri-tip, marinated and fire-cooked to perfection, and bbq chicken. All you can eat of everything, topped off with apple cake, coffee, and lemonade. Oh--almost forgot--pre-dinner appetizers of grilled sausage pieces that are SO delicious.
Brunch following ballooning features the most amazing inch-and-a half thick pork chops, cooked over that same fire, and so tender you can eat them with plastic silverware (this is all outdoor service, here in CA we can get away with that even in late Nove.) If you ever get a chance to eat at a Sweeney event, JUMP at it!