Perched alongside State Route 2, Newcomb's Ranch maintains its rustic, homestyle feel at 75.
Twenty-eight miles up a winding road, wind whipping your face, a person can get mighty parched. Thank goodness for Newcomb's Ranch. Celebrating their 75th year in existence, Lynn Newcomb finished building this roadhouse cafe on the newly paved Angeles Crest Highway in August of 1939. Back then, there was a second story with hotel rooms. That burned down in the '70s, leaving a rustic single-story tavern and restaurant serving satisfying, wholesome food. It's a welcome stop for travelers making the trip from La Cañada to Wrightwood or for motorcycle and car enthusiasts out for a scenic, curvy ride with nary a stop sign.
The Station Fire and subsequent floods caused many Highway closures, threatening the existence of Newcomb's Ranch. But on a recent Thursday late-morning, the place had a decent crowd. The outdoor patio is quite an agreeable hangout. It's a great spot to watch pairs of Ducati motorcycles or Porsche convertibles pull up. Folks stop in for a Coke or beer but end up staying for a while. You can't be in a hurry at Newcomb's Ranch but who would want to leave the bright sunshine, the fresh air and the sound of the wind in the trees?
There's little hooplah around the 75th anniversary milestone which is right in keeping with the mellow mood of the place. The only big event is an upcoming outdoor barbecue with live music happening Labor Day weekend. They'll be firing up the big outdoor grill and serving barbecue tri-tip, chicken and ribs. Chili, as always, will be on the menu. Newcomb's is fairly famous for their chili and for good reason. It's top notch. Even my chili cook-off-award-winning friend agrees. It's got a zesty kick to it and a satisfying consistency. Red kidney beans, Ortega chilies, ground beef, stewed tomatoes and onions taste fresh, not cooked to death, yet ingredients are well-integrated. I've had it before to warm my bones after snow sledding but it tastes just as good on a breezy summer afternoon.
Newcomb's Ranch and a few camps up the road receive regular deliveries of fresh vegetables and meats. Our favorite application of the veggies was chef Freddie Rundell's cauliflower soup. To be fair it's actually called Roasted Cauliflower Puree ($5.99), a pretty high-falutin' name for a woodsy tavern, but it is their most high-falutin' dish. Raw cauliflower, yellow peppers, carrots, onions, garlic and potato are cut in chunks and oven-roasted until black. They're whirred in a blender with vegetable broth then reheated with heavy cream. It renders a puree with such nuanced flavors you're sure it's seasoned with more than salt and pepper, but it isn't. I know this because our server, Michell Martinez, happily shared the recipe. Martinez is waitress, hostess, bartender and wife of chef Rundell, offspring of owner Dr. Frederick Rundell. The elder Rundell purchased the Ranch from Lynn Newcomb 13 years ago and has been running it ever since.
Our group also tried sandwiches and salads which were all more than respectable. My Chilao Flats grilled chicken breast with Swiss cheese on toasted sourdough had lots of blackened grilled onions and good-sized pickles, just like I like it ($12.99). The Big Pines Ortega Burger was unequivocally delicious but I had to practically unhinge my jaw to take a bite of this monster. The thick burger has a thick slab of Ortega chili, thick, crispy bacon, Swiss cheese (thick) and a thick bun ($11.99). The sandwiches come with a choice of sides. The salad is not too thrilling. Choose the cup of chili instead.
Prices are steeper than townie cafes but not as steep as the rocky precipices nearby. With that in mind, I willingly chose to be designated driver and passed on the draft beer and Bloody Marys my fellow adventurers indulged in. All tasted great they assured me, especially in the fresh, piney air.
We were advised to come back for their popular breakfasts. The GS Rider Special ($8.99) has eggs, chili and hash browns. The buttermilk pancakes are big and fluffy ($7.99). Families are welcome at Newcomb's as proven by the kids' meals on the menu. Childless folks wanting the full adventure may take advantage of an advertisement on the wall touting RentaDucati.com. In any case, weekends can be crowded, especially during the upcoming Labor Day festivities. I suggest, if you're able, take a midweek minivacation and combine a short day hike with a visit to Newcomb's Ranch. The food is quite good for such a remote location and the atmosphere can't be beat.
Where: CA 2 Mile Marker LA 50.93, La Cañada Flintridge
Hours: Monday, Thursday, Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday, 7 a.m. to 5 p.m.; closed Tuesday and Wednesday
Prices: Sandwiches and salads, $8 to $15; soup and chili $6 to $8
Contact: (626) 440-1001; newcombsranch.com
LISA DUPUY welcomes comments and suggestions at LDupuy@aol.com.