Once touted in the Los Angeles Times as the closest thing New Cuyama has to an Eiffel Tower or Taj Mahal, the Cuyama Buckhorn’s ostrich burger is making a comeback.
On what would have been late food critic Jonathan Gold’s 63rd birthday, July 28 marked the return of the unique item to the Buckhorn’s menu after a two-decade absence. In 1993, Gold documented his experience visiting the Buckhorn just to try its ostrich burger in a piece for the Los Angeles Times.
“We have always been huge admirers of Jonathan Gold’s work, like so many other people who care about where they eat and go,” marketing representative Trisha Cole said, on behalf of the Buckhorn. “Launching the burger on his birthday at the 30-year mark of the article felt like a way to pay tribute to him.
“It’s also a way to pay tribute to and thank him for being a pioneer in terms of coming to Cuyama Buckhorn from LA at the time,” Cole added, referring to Gold’s 130-mile trek from Los Angeles County to the Cuyama Valley. “We hope by shedding light on him coming in will encourage others who haven’t been here yet to do the same.”
In his article on the Buckhorn, Gold described the restaurant as “a big, good-looking roadhouse, radiant and friendly in the dark, with an attached motel.”
As the roadside motel evolved into its current state, a trendy desert resort with amenities galore, the current Buckhorn staff decided to update the ostrich burger with some elevated comfort food twists.
The original ostrich burger cost $9.95 and included onion, pickle, and lettuce. Priced at $28 and served on toasted rye bread, the new ostrich burger—also known as the ostrich smash—is decked out with sheep’s milk Gouda from the Santa Barbara Cheese Company and molasses onions. Each smash includes a side order of pickled vegetables as well.
Daniel Horn, the executive chef at the Buckhorn, told the Sun that the choice to go smash burger-style for this new iteration was made after experimenting with a few approaches.
“Trying out different burgers using ostrich meat, we discovered that even as a smash burger, it was still extremely tasty and moist, so that’s why we went with this version,” Horn said in an email.
In Gold’s review of the 1990s ostrich burger, the food critic recommended that patrons order it rare, otherwise “it will come out gray and stiff, a little bit chewy with the slightly liverish under-taste of a McDonald’s hamburger patty.”
Horn’s verdict on ordering the new ostrich smash—made with sustainably sourced ostrich meat from American Ostrich Farms in Idaho—is similar to Gold’s suggestion.
“We generally recommend cooking it medium rare to rare,” Horn said. “Ostrich meat doesn’t have much fat and can be dry if not cooked properly.”
In celebration of the recent ostrich burger reboot, the Buckhorn is currently selling a souvenir T-shirt to pair with the promotion. The front of the shirt simply reads “I ate the Ostrich Burger at Cuyama Buckhorn,” and the backside includes a fun excerpt from Gold’s article.
For visitors of the Buckhorn who prefer something a bit less exotic than ostrich, the restaurant’s menu has four beef burgers as well as other meaty options, including tacos, beef chili, and tri-tip and pulled pork sandwiches.
There’s also a vegetarian bean burger, vegetable pasta, a vegan heritage grain bowl, and multiple salad options, along with an expansive cocktail selection.
By resurrecting the ostrich burger, the Buckhorn staff hopes the offering will rekindle some fond memories for those who recall its original iteration. Cole said that anyone with a fun story about trying out the ’90s ostrich burger or who happened to be visiting the Buckhorn the same day as Gold back in 1993 is encouraged to reach out to the venue.
“We’ve asked around but [are] yet to find anyone who was there that day,” Cole said. “We are hoping that by shedding some light on that time and the original burger that someone will step up with their own personal story and then we can share that, too.”
Arts Editor Caleb Wiseblood wants fries and an ostrich-sized pitcher of soda with his burger. Send comments to [email protected].