The Chef: Chris Collins The Restaurant: Grassroots Kitchen and Tap The Animal: Beef The Dish: Tri-tip sandwich
In Arizona you can find brisket just about everywhere. But for many Californians like myself, a "steak" sandwich has always meant one thing: tri-tip.
This cut of beef, which comes from the bottom of the sirloin, is probably one of the most underrated cuts of meat you can get. It's a regional specialty from Santa Maria in southern California, but hasn't really been embraced by chefs outside of the region. There's a lot to love about the cut though, including that it's quite flavorful, not overly fatty, and best of all, cheap.
Chef and owner Chris Collins of Grassroots Kitchen and Tap offers an excellent example of a tri-tip roast. He prepares his by smoking it for just an hour or so before finishing it off in the oven. The result is meat that's lightly smoky, but doesn't leave you feeling like you're eating a cigar.
Part of the beauty of this cut is that it's got a strong beefy flavor but isn't quite as fatty as say, a ribeye. On the other side of the coin the lean meat can be easily dried out or overcooked. The tri-tip, as the name suggests, is shaped like a triangle with one end coming to a narrow point. That basically means you're going to have some smaller pieces on the ends that get more cooked than the larger pieces from the middle, which should always be nice and pink.
Collins says he keeps the rest of the dish quite simple because he doesn't want to distract from the flavor of the tri-tip itself. The steak is therefore complemented simply of a roll baked by John Anthony Bakery and a spicy housemade steak sauce about which the chef is pretty tight-lipped.
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Once you've had your first bite I can almost guarantee you'll be wondering why you haven't been eating tri-tip your whole life. The flavor is the same type of meatiness you get from sirloin, but at a cheaper price so you don't have to feel guilty making it into a sandwich. Collins steak sauce is just the right amount of pepper and heat to boost the flavor of the dish without taking away from the star of the show.
I have to warn you that this sandwich isn't a regular menu item at either of the restaurant's two locations. Chef and owner Chris Collins tells me he rotates the tri-tip sandwich in as a special, so if you want to try it for yourself your best bet will be to ask about the specials and keep and eye on the restaurant's Facebook.