If I’ve learned one thing while living in the Central Valley for the past 20 years, it is that there can never be too much tri-tip.
That simple philosophy coupled with a desire to promote and serve the area’s agricultural community has spurred a big expansion for The Tri-Tipery, which specializes in — you guessed it — tri-tip. Based in Ballico, the restaurant has added a second location just outside of Escalon and a new food truck that hit the road this week.
The Ballico site, about 10 miles south of Turlock just over the Merced County line, opened in 2016. Husband-and-wife owners Rob and Jana Nairn build the open-air restaurant next to their other business, Ag Link, which promotes the state’s farm-fresh products. As their restaurant fare grew in popularity, they heard from fans who wished the rural spot was a little closer to home.
Last year, they started expanding with a temporary pop-up restaurant in Turlock. But now they’ve opened their second permanent place just outside of Escalon on Highway 120, about six miles west of Oakdale. And their brand new food truck debuted this week in Hilmar and Turlock.
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“We are limited in what we’re going to be able to do in Ballico because we’re so far out. So we decided to go to them,” said Rob Nairn. “Most people who have a food truck want a restaurant. Well, we had a restaurant and wanted a food truck.”
The food truck had its maiden voyage this past week with stops in Hilmar and Merced that had lines down the block. They are currently permitted only in Merced County, but should be approved for Stanislaus County by early May. They then plan to have regular weekly stops in Hilmar, Merced and Modesto, as well as bringing the truck to special events across the region.
The truck, which they had built new for them in Southern California, is wrapped to look like The Tri-Tipery’s signature wood siding from its Ballico site. It has a more limited menu than the restaurants, with about eight sandwiches, burgers and salads to choose from. They include two of their most popular dishes, the Wagon Wheel (tri-tip on a a garlic bread roll) and Fifty-Fifty (tri-tip plus pork belly and coleslaw on a bun).
Meanwhile, the full menu is being served at its Escalon site, called The Tri-Tipery @120. Like the Ballico site, the location is rural, in between orchards and fields. But it also benefits from steady traffic going to Oakdale, the foothills and Yosemite National Park.
The Nairns bought the building in October and in March had their soft open, serving lunch and dinners Friday through Sunday. They plan to start extensive interior and exterior renovations in May, which will include a facelift with the same wood siding as the Ballico site, and building of a full commercial kitchen and adding a covered outdoor patio for dining.
Currently, the site has picnic tables set up for al fresco dining. Unlike the Ballico location, the Escalon Tri-Tipery also has indoor seating, which will be expanded once the remodeling is complete. They plan to keep the restaurant open through most of the work, which they hope to have done by late July or early August.
And, again, about that food. The restaurants use only prime grade tri-tip, which is seasoned and smoked. Rob Nairn began cooking tri-tip while at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, as part of the school’s weekly Crops Club. It’s there the couple actually met and started seeing each other. The tri-tip on the menu is served up several ways, from the traditional Wagon Wheel sandwich to ground up in a burger and made into a French dip. They plan to add a tri-tip Philly cheese steak soon as well.
“It all starts with good-quality ingredients, that’s how you get a good-quality product,” Rob Nairn said.
You can find The Tri-Tipery Food Truck from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Hilmart Auto Parts on Lander Avenue on Thursdays, Garton Tractor on South Highway 59 in Merced on Fridays and, starting in mid-May, J.S. West Propane Gas on D Street in Modesto on Tuesdays. The truck will be at the Knights Ferry Peddler’s Fair Sunday, April 29, and RE/MAX Executive on Standiford Avenue in Modesto May 8 for Kid’s Day.
The Tri-Tipery in Escalon, at 29250 Highway 120, is open 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sunday. For more information visit www.tritipery.com or call 209-634-8849 for the Ballico site or 209-620-6042 for Escalon.