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By Chris Frost
Oxnard-- Just off Victoria Avenue, all the way down at Silver Strand, is a real culinary gem that will make you forever leave corporate fast food behind.
The Strandwich, a little spot that is big on flavor, is open, serving people safely, and everyone who visits gets treated like family.
From the moment you walk into The Strandwich, your senses get filled with a tantalizing array of aromas as you can see delicious food being made.
People who try the brisket walk away smiling, as the slowly smoked meat melts in your mouth. Too often at a fast-food restaurant, the french fries are cold, mealy, and sit in some dump bin waiting to prey on their next victim.
That's not the case at The Strandwich. The fries are hot, crispy, and you can top them off with great flavors. Try the veggie fries. You won't be sorry.
Co-owners Tom and Madison Dorsey decided to take on this labor of love back on July 13 and have no regrets.
"We were shooting for Feb, but Covid-19 hit," Madison said. "The reason why we started The Strandwich is because Silver Strand is a tight-knit community. There are a lot of people who come here just for the beach."
Madison said the restaurant business is a new experience for her.
Tom said part of what sets The Strandwich apart from a big chain restaurant is locally sourced ingredients.
"Everything is fresh and made from scratch," he said. "It's our unique spin on things."
The father and daughter team build their menu around brisket and Tri-tip meats, which they smoke in-house. The duo had a brisket coming out of the smoker, and you can smell the tantalizing hickory aroma in the air. That makes it a tough treat to pass up.
"We're not a barbeque joint, and we don't have a big pit smoker, but we smoke with hickory in an electric smoker, which is what the county permitted us to do," he said. "From there, we're focused on creating simple and creative good food. It starts with the brisket, then the pulled pork, and the Tri-tip and everything down the menu."
The brisket smokes for 10 hours, followed by a seven-hour hold. By the time it makes it to someone's order, the meat is soft as butter and engulfed with deep flavor.
Tom said he makes sure they have an exceptional grade of meat.
"Our beef is Copper Creek, which is an upper third choice," he said. "It's one level below prime and a little bit above choice. It's reasonably priced for us, but it's also a great and consistent product."
He stays consistent and points out that the meat rub is his own scratch recipe, as is his barbeque sauce.
It's cumin based, so it has a little of that cumin California-style flavor to it in the barbeque sauce," he said. "We're not going to copy a Texas or Kansas City flavor or anything like that."
Tom loves the versatility of the brisket.
"We put it in our breakfast burrito, so it will have salsa and an in-house fermented chili paste. It's another unique flavor you won't find anywhere else."
In case you're wondering, fermenting chili paste means be ready for some hot stuff, but when you try it, it's not like throwing a lit match in your mouth. It's heat that's full of flavor.
Tom and Madison learned to cook from their grandmothers.
"Madison's grandma Martha is Mexican, and she always had a lot of home-cooked tortillas, chicken mole, and from aioli made from scratch," Tom said. "With my grandma, I grew up on a farm, we were always around a kitchen table, and I learned to cook at a young age."
Tom developed his barbecue over an extended period-of-time.
"I like vinegar and mustard, but it's funny because I don't put mustard in the barbecue sauce I have now because it's more of a Carolina style," he said. "It's a thinner sauce that is heavier on vinegar. The funny thing about brisket is when you get a good bark on it, you can overpower that easily with sauce. It's hard to find a good balance between the bark and the meat. We complement the meat rather than changing the flavor or the flavor profile."
Before it rolled out, Tom and Madison had three or four different iterations of their recipe.
"What we ended up doing was cutting back the brown sugar over time," Tom said. "That brought out more of the spices and the vinegar. The longer it steeps, the better it gets."
The Strandwich also offers unique menu items that are a true delight.
"We have Mexican-style esquite, street corn loaded french fries," he said. "Our fried brussel sprouts are another popular dish. We make our fried brussel sprouts with a balsamic vinegarette and aioli to finish them off. It's super light and unique. (and he wasn't kidding). I love brussel sprouts, and that's why we got them in."
Another big favorite is the pickled chicken sandwich but be warned, that sandwich has a little zazz that will make you say wow!
It's a five-day habanero-pepper brine that's battered and fried," Tom said. "That's how we set ourselves apart. Yea, you can make a chicken sandwich and put it on some bread with pickles, but we have mixed greens in the balsamic vinegarette, aioli sauce, and fresh cucumbers to give it a great finish. It comes on brioche, and it's a tasty, unique sandwich you won't find anywhere else. It's good cooking with home-sourced ingredients and unique flavors. We bank on that differentiating us from the competition."
Tom works for a software company, but the location became open, and he decided to take on the venture with Madison.
"Madison was dating this guy who was a cook, and they started putting this bug in my ear," he said. "Once you're in the kitchen, it never leaves you. Once you do this type of work, you become adrenaline stress junkies. When I was 14, I started washing dishes, and later I worked at a Burger King. When I got out of the military, I was a country club manager for about 14 years."
Tom decided that he was going to help Madison get established.
"When she committed, I committed 110 percent to her," she said. "She got in here to be with her boyfriend, but now, he's out of the picture, and she's picking up the passion and adulting. She takes on these responsibilities, solves problems, overcomes challenges, and is building her confidence. I'm spending time with my daughter, and we're a team. I wouldn't trade this time for anything in the world."
Tom and Madison love their regulars.
"This is a great place," Tom said. "We love them all: the tourists, the regulars, the surfers, and the Air BnB people. Silver Strand is full of a lot of eclectic people, and we love them all."
He loves seeing them smile.
"They're happy, excited, and we bring that smile to their face through our food," he said. "The kids are always excited and love our fries. It's always exciting to have the kids come in. They pool their money, come in, count out their money to the penny, and get the cheese fries. They take it down to the beach and enjoy our food."
Tom and Madison are service-oriented people.
"I like people," Tom said. "I like to crack jokes, I have a silly mask, and I say hi," he said. "It never fails; when people call on the phone and say can I place an order, I say I don't know. Can you?!! When they come in, I will try and break them and make them laugh before they leave. If you're having a bad day, I tell them it's all going to change when they have my brisket or Tri-tip sandwich. I'm going to give you something to smile about when you're on the way out the door."
The Strandwich is located at 2333 Roosevelt Blvd, Oxnard.