Steak. In the summer, it’s what Dad grilled on the barbecue. In the winter, it’s what Mom tossed onto the electric grill.
The sizzle sounded the same. Always a generous portion, always pink in the center and paired with potatoes. The only variable was vegetables — stringy green beans or shriveled peas. These I avoided like anthrax. For me, it was all about the main attraction — the beef.
Living in Burbank, I’m a quick jaunt from two classic, family-owned steak houses: Smoke House, at Lakeside Drive and Olive Avenue and Taylor’s Steakhouse, a mere 13 miles to the east in La Cañada Flintridge (the original Taylors, which opened in 1953, just west of Downtown Los Angeles, relocated to the Mid-Wilshire District in 1970. The Foothill Boulevard location opened in 1996).
With a steady stream of picky Midwestern out-of-towners coming my way this summer — family members who’ll fear their California convert will offer little more than alfalfa sprout sandwiches — I needed to sample the area’s best beef.
Perusing the ample menu, I skipped over the top sirloin, New York steak, rib eye and Porterhouse choices to stick with my favorite cut — the 8-ounce filet mignon. I opted for a baked potato and, per my conditioning, didn’t even ask about the vegetables. As if the chef were in cahoots with my mom, my meal consisted of a perfectly cooked, tender steak that nearly negated its accompanying razor-sharp knife, a crispy-on-the-outside baked potato and sad, stringy beans. The veteran and congenial waitress assured me the vegetables were fresh, if not overcooked.
By the time the bill arrived, the only food left on the table was my hapless pile of green beans and a few slices of grilled garlic toast that were soggier than I’d have liked.
Same red Naugahyde booths, same dark, wood paneling. While Taylor’s ambience offers old-school charm with newer light fixtures and ceiling fans, Smoke House is just old school. It, like Taylor’s, offers a full bar, but at Smoke House, you can almost hear the pinky ring of Frank Sinatra clanging against his high-ball glass.
And with menu selections like prime rib, aged steaks, rack of lamb, barbecued ribs and fresh seafood, that thin skin of dust that blanketed the top of the booth didn’t even bother me.
Open since 1946, Smoke House is known for its delectable cheesy garlic bread as well as choice cuts of meat. Although I was one of the last diners through the door on a recent weeknight, the basket of bread arrived as hot as it was crunchy.
Both my filet and baked potato were cooked to perfection. My second side was a medley of broccoli and carrots — appropriately al dente. The kind Mom never would have made.
Decision: With both bills, for two people and including a round of cocktails, hovering at $100, and each meal delicious in its own right, this food fight is nearly a draw. But, thanks to the incomparable cheese bread, the winner is the Smoke House.