Sure, you can take a seat in a high-end steakhouse for a big slab o’ prime beef and a la carte trimmings in settings ranging from self-consciously formal to biz-casual, at prices ranging from “Seriously?” to “This is a special occasion, after all.”
Or you can step back in time and belly up to the dressed-down Black Angus Steakhouse in Citrus Heights, the chain’s sole remaining outlet in our area (there were once four others).
In this era of marketing-savvy chefs, come-and-go restaurants and diners fixated on the next big thing, some history of longevity can be enlightening:
Black Angus was founded in 1964 by pioneering restaurateur Stuart Anderson, who spent WW II piloting a tank in Gen. George Patton’s Third Army. Anderson is credited with formulating the “Western theme” restaurant concept, later copied and modified by other steakhouse chains. His empire expanded into more than 100 restaurants nationwide, wisely targeting the burgeoning steak-and-potatoes market, which, to a lesser extent, is ongoing to this day. Though Anderson sold his company in 1972, he stayed involved over the decades.
What followed the sale was a revolving door of ownerships, name changes and bankruptcies, which brings us to the present incarnation of 31 restaurants in California and 15 more in five other states. The chain is headquartered in Sherman Oaks. Anderson died in June at age 93, but left behind two autobiographies, “Here’s the Beef: My Story of Beef” (1997) and “Corporate Cowboy” (2014).
Lunch pal Donn Reiners, a retired urban planner, and I met in the parking lot of the Sunrise Marketplace center, which was awash in the fragrant aromas of sizzling meat wafting from the Black Angus kitchen. Inside, we found an immaculate and delightfully retro space built in 1974, with dizzying vaulted ceilings, high-back booths upholstered in fabric that defies description, redwood beams, cedar-planked walls and framed Western-centric photos. Unlike so many recently opened restaurants, we could have a conversation without shouting.
The space is massive, the lounge area seating 88, the mazelike dining room holding 236. In the day, a dance floor next to the Square Cow Fun Bar (now the Bull’s Eye Bar) was a well-known trysting.
We cruised the lunch menu, which goes on and on with 10 starters, salads, burgers, steak sandwiches (including a just-introduced tri-tip) with optional “steakhouse butters and toppers,” and seafood ($8 to $18). The menu’s Western-themed headings are part of the shtick – Campfire Favorites (grilled salmon, top sirloin), Quick Draw Combos, Highnoon Feast (prime rib, porterhouse pork chop), and Sidekicks.
We ordered and ate, starting with two appropriately retro dishes. The ice-cold iceberg lettuce wedge was dressed with bacon and blue cheese bits, mild blue cheese dressing and, curiously, chopped tomato. We couldn’t pass up a 1960s staple, jumbo shrimp cocktail, six prawns with excellent cocktail sauce.
Moving on, the meat on the roasted sirloin and New York steak sandwiches was certainly tasty, though relatively scant – maybe because the bread was overwhelmingly thick. We had to scrape most of the sweet sautéed onions off the New York steak, but the quality meat matched well with the mayo-blue cheese crumbles condiments. Both sandwiches improved with dips in jus.
A ramekin of roasted Brussels sprouts in brown butter was a winner, and the dense mashed potatoes had plenty of flavor. The french fries were OK. Though Donn later called the bread pudding (with ice cream and caramel sauce) “above average,” he ate the whole thing, minus one spoonful.
Among other topics, our attentive, engaging server mentioned the presence of a ghost in the rear area of the dining room. “I never go back there at night,” she said in a lowered voice.
“I haven’t seen a ghost myself, it must be a legend,” general manager Don Nardinelli said later on the phone. Still, we’ll ask to be seated in that area when we return to share the 20-ounce Big Ranch T-bone ($33). You never know who might stop by for dinner.
Where: 7925 Greenback Lane, Citrus Heights
Hours: Lunch is 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Mondays-Fridays, 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturdays. Order off the dinner menu any time, 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Mondays-Saturdays, 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Sundays. Happy hour is 3-7 p.m. Mondays-Fridays (all day Tuesdays and Sundays). Look for daily bar specials, such as “Wings Wednesdays” and “Burger & Brew Thursdays.”
How much: $$
Information: 916-726-3300, www.blackangus.com