Long before Ruth's Chris, Morton's, Sutter Street Steakhouse, Land Ocean and Chops began serving thick cuts of beef to restaurant-starved Sacramento, there was the Broiler.
It opened in 1950 at J and 10th streets and quickly became the steakhouse and watering hole of choice (along with Posey's Cottage) for those who inhabited the nearby state Capitol.
The Broiler changed hands in 1962 and again in 1985. In a two-restaurant partnership in 1988, owners Larry and Marilou Lords teamed with Walter and Gloria Harvey in the Broiler operation, and added Gallagher's Bar & Grill in east Sacramento.
Local history got a makeover in 1999, when the Broiler and Gallagher's were transplanted to new quarters on K Street. Gallagher's was renamed an "Irish pub" and still functions as the Broiler's bar and lounge.
All this is spelled out on the back of the Broiler menu and at its website, which includes a few great vintage photos.
Of course, what's not mentioned is the phone call I got a few weeks ago from former Broiler co-owner Walter Harvey. We chatted, and he wound up as a lunch pal at – where else? – the Broiler.
Walter drove us downtown in his low-slung 1995 Jaguar XJS convertible, "the last of the good-looking Jags," he said. "Someday it will be a classic." The hood is about a mile long.
We parked and walked through Gallagher's on a look-see, then walked across a foyer and entered the Broiler. The original signage is over the door, and the old chandeliers and sconces accentuate the white- tablecloth dining room. From one wall, an imposing painting of what appears to be a Hereford bull looks down on tables and booths that are well-designed for privacy. Frank Sinatra's crooning kept us company.
Does Walter miss his business involvement with the Broiler? "Not really," he shrugged. "The old Broiler had a charm that this place doesn't. Still, it's one of the biggest (dining) values in downtown."
His go-to restaurants, other than the Broiler? "I like Thai House, Evan's Kitchen and Fins," he said.
Our server handed us menus. Naturally, Walter knows her well, and the bartender, too.
"Tell Tony I'll have my usual," Walter said.
The lunch menu offers appetizers, salads, pasta, beef, seafood, sandwiches and the like ($4.95 to $37.95, for a 12-ounce Wagyu New York steak). For a deal, choose the "Broiler steak," a sirloin served open-face on a French roll with mushroom-wine jus and Lyonnaise potatoes ($9.95). Or the "lite lunch" of sirloin steak, cottage cheese and fresh fruit ($11.95).
As expected, the menu includes classics such as corned beef Reuben, prime rib French dip, lobster roll and the ubiquitous garlic steak. More trendy are Asian fish tacos, blackened salmon salad and pulled pork, but part of the Broiler's charm is its sense of retro. You won't find teriyaki-marinated beef tenderloin skewers just anywhere.
We ordered and talked. Walter was "a businessman from Los Angeles who came to Sacramento in 1971 and became a political hack," he said. Actually, he made most of his career in state government, serving as California's deputy controller for taxation from 1974 to 1986.
Suddenly, a plate of crab-and-shrimp cakes arrived at the table. We dipped crunchy, meaty forkfuls into curry-lemon aioli, cleaning the plate.
Next up was a super-fresh crab-and-shrimp Louie, heavy with seafood and romaine lettuce, mixed greens, cucumber, tomato, onion, olives and sliced boiled egg, finished with thick Louie dressing.
The special this day was a luscious tri-tip sandwich with excellent mushrooms tossed in balsamic vinaigrette, roasted yellow bell peppers, chunks of blue cheese and delicious parsley-basil pesto, served on a chewy roll from the estimable Village Bakery in Davis.
The sliced tri-tip was tender, well-seasoned, crusty on the outside and pink in the middle.
On the phone later, sous chef Debi Stice was saying she's been with the Broiler for "almost 23 years." As for that tri-tip, "I marinated it in olive oil with kosher salt, black pepper, garlic and Italian parsley, then put it under the broiler."
A clear case of simpler being better.
Back at our table, we finished with chocolate cherry cheesecake ($2.95) from the Two Bite Desserts list. The rich and creamy cake required four bites.
During lunch, Walter remarked, "I do not believe in organic food. I do not wash fruit and vegetables, unless they're from Chile. I believe a little bit of dirt inside you helps, and I don't remember having a sick day in the last 20 years."
Since becoming a widower, Walter's time is occupied by his 6-year-old Siberian husky, Maxine ("She's my whole life"), and travel with friends.
"Twice a year, I go to strange places without an itinerary," he said. He's been to China twice, South Africa and Central America, and recently returned from Europe.
You certainly get around, Walter.
"I'm not going to sit in a chair and watch TV," he said. "The more things you do that you like to do, the longer you'll live to enjoy them."
Good advice from a guy who's 89.
Where: 1201 K St., Sacramento
Hours: Lunch is 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Monday-Fridays in the main dining room, and 11 a.m.-5 p.m. in the lounge, Gallagher's Irish Pub. Dinner is 5-10 p.m. Mondays- Saturdays, and 4-9 p.m. Sundays.
Food: ★ ★ ★ ★ (for lunch)
Ambience: ★ ★ ★
How much: $$
Information: (916) 444-3444, www.thebroilersteakhouse.com