Restaurant News & Reviews

The Southern Station in Santa Margarita serves up Southern comfort

A new eatery has pulled into Santa Margarita, and it’s chugging full steam ahead.

After four months of redoing an existing restaurant, Carrie Collins and Ty Vinke opened The Southern Station on Feb. 12. They did most of the work themselves with the help of family (especially Collins’ dad) and friends — gutting the dining room, putting in new floors, and rebuilding the counter. The result is a bright, open space with a friendly, neighborhood ambiance, and the recently added patio offers outdoor seating as well.

Though you might not guess it from their ages, both Collins and Vinke have considerable experience in the restaurant industry. Collins grew up in the business at her family’s Del Monte Café in San Luis Obispo, while Vinke has spent the last several years managing restaurants in San Luis Obispo County and in Oregon.

Both harbored dreams of having their own place, so when the Santa Margarita location opened up, the couple jumped on board.

Collins’ “a-ha” moment for the restaurant’s theme arrived one night while she was cooking a “Southern Sunday” menu at Del Monte.

With that as the cornerstone of the concept, she and Vinke set about figuring out the name. Her mother suggested tying it to the history of Santa Margarita, and when some research turned up that the town had once been the southernmost stop for the railroad, “The Southern Station” made the grade.

“We were originally going to just be a dinner spot, but people really wanted breakfast and lunch,” said Collins. Though the restaurant will soon also be opening for weekend dinners, the couple listened and first embarked on serving hearty morning and afternoon menus.

Some of the breakfast items that have already become Southern Station signatures are the chicken fried steak with housemade gravy, the slow-roasted pork hash with sweet potatoes and fried eggs, and the chicken and waffles — a boneless fried chicken breast served atop a golden buttermilk waffle. Other choices include Banana Foster French toast with a pecan/banana sauce, several omelets, a tri-tip burrito and country breakfasts with eggs and meats such as Cattaneo Brothers’ linguica.

At lunch, The Station really gets its Southern on with mac ’n’ cheese, catfish and chips, and crawfish hush puppies (deep-fried cornmeal batter studded with crawfish meat). Other favorites are the pulled-pork sandwich with housemade bread-and-butter pickles, a Point Reyes Blue cheeseburger and a patty melt that’s given a little Southwestern twist with grilled Ortega chilies and chipotle mayo.

Of course, that chicken and waffle dish is also available at lunch, as are a fried chicken sandwich and a fried chicken salad. However, if you want something a bit healthier, you can opt for the kale Caesar salad with a garlic/anchovy dressing.

That dressing is housemade, by the way, as are the sauces, marinades, etc. In addition, the fries are hand-cut, the hush puppies hand-rolled, and both the catfish and chicken get marinated overnight in buttermilk and hot sauce before they ever even see a fryer.

Seasonal ingredients will be showcased in specials, especially the from-scratch pies such as cherry and strawberry rhubarb. Fried green tomatoes are just around the corner, and “we’ll also be bringing okra back in,” Collins said. “People really liked it, but we were using frozen, and we wanted to be more fresh and seasonal.”

Given their enthusiasm and the welcome that The Southern Station has received, it seems these two young restaurant owners are on the right track.

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