RESTAURANT REVIEW : Hits With a History : Old favorites with proven records of serving good food at value prices keep bringing people back.

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; <i> Max Jacobson reviews restaurants every Friday in Valley Life!</i>

In the Santa Clarita Valley, the recent population explosion has touched off a restaurant explosion. But three cheers for the old-timers. The new Thai, Italian and specialty restaurants don’t seem to have put so much as a dent in two of the area’s longtime favorites: Backwoods Inn and Saugus Cafe. They look as busy as ever, if not busier.

Backwoods Inn has been serving steaks and all the trimmings for 26 years, a more than respectable time by L. A. County standards. Enter the restaurant and you enter the ‘60s steakhouse world of Tiffany-style lamps, sawdust-covered floors, red velvet wallpaper, chilled highballs and charcoal-streaked red meat. Tastemakers would cry anachronism, but this crowd appears indifferent to trends. Come almost any night during the holidays and be prepared to wait.

Here’s one reason: Backwoods Inn may not serve the best steaks around, but they give value for the dollar. You get thick slabs of beef cooked on a charcoal broiler at prices that wouldn’t have been out of line in the early ‘70s.


Avoid the melted cheese on sourdough bread and get right down to business. Steaks and other entrees come with a choice of standard-issue salad or a homey soup of the day, perhaps a thick, white Boston clam chowder or a distinctly Mexican-inspired chicken vegetable soup.

With complete dinners, you also get a shot at the restaurant’s stuffed baked potato. I’ve never seen a baked potato quite like this one. Most of it has been scooped out of the skin, mixed with sour cream, cheese and onion, then returned to the potato shell for baking. The result is a bubbly, crusty creation with a strong onion flavor, a true original.

The best steak is probably the T-bone, mainly because the filet portion is ultra-tender. The rib eye is also tender, but the New York is a bit too tough, like the forgettable--although thick--top sirloin. If you’re not into beef, try the soft baby back pork ribs, fresh broiled salmon or swordfish. At dessert, the waitress presents a tray of cakes, all individually wrapped. At first we thought this bizarre, but when we tasted the cheesecake and custardy Boston cream pie, we got the point. These desserts are fresh and soft. Some of the steaks should be so tender.


Saugus Cafe dates from 1887 and claims to be the oldest restaurant in the county. Read all about the history by picking up a laminated leaflet on your table titled, “Tales of the Saugus Cafe,” by Jerry Reynolds.

Today, after having had a score of owners, the restaurant is sort of a glorified coffee shop: one long counter, a few Bud signs, red-and-white checked curtains, vinyl booths, glass-topped tables with local business ads printed on paper underneath, pint-size jukeboxes filled with country music selections. Yahoo.

It’s not difficult to imagine this place jammed at breakfast, when blue-collar workers and local business people line up to eat homemade biscuits with sausage gravy, spicy omelets with chile verde and dense, impossibly sweet waffles laced with tiny bits of chocolate. But my favorite meal here is lunch. That’s when homemade soups such as turkey mushroom barley or vegetable beef come steaming to your table, gravies of assorted shades smother hot sandwiches, and you get to choose among the huge salads, many loaded with oily, crunchy croutons made on the premises. I defy anyone to leave hungry after a bout with the cafe’s tasty meatloaf sandwich with mashed potatoes or a barbecued pork sandwich. The small back room, in effect a bar and grill within a coffee shop, has a specials board where you’ll find all-American favorites such as Mom’s goulash or maybe lamb curry. The honey-dipped fried chicken is crisp and dependable, as are a dozen other entrees such as roast turkey with dressing or roast leg of pork.


Desserts consist mainly of pies baked for the cafe (they can be ordered with dinners for an extra charge) or a surprisingly good, free bread pudding, which the cafe itself makes from, among other things, leftover Danish pastries. I say ask for the bread pudding with a little whipped cream.



Location: Backwoods Inn, 17846 Sierra Highway, Canyon Country.

Suggested Dishes: T-bone steak, $13.50; rib eye steak, $13.95; half rack baby back ribs, $8.95; New York cheesecake, $3.25.

Hours: Lunch and dinner, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Monday to Thursday; 11 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. Friday to Saturday, 4 to 10:30 p.m. Sunday.

Price: Dinner for two, $26-$38. Full bar. Parking lot. MasterCard and Visa.

Call: (805) 252-5522.

Location: Saugus Cafe, 25861 San Fernando Road, Saugus.

Suggested Dishes: Hot meatloaf sandwich, $4.65; barbecued pork sandwich, $4.75; fried chicken dinner, $7.65; roast turkey dinner, $7.65.

Hours: Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner 24 hours daily.

Price: Lunch for two, $10-$16. Full bar. Self-parking in rear lot. MasterCard and Visa.

Call: (805) 259-7886.