Damon’s takes diners from the South Seas to out of this world
With an outrigger canoe hanging over the main dining area and Polynesian-themed murals on the walls, just walking into Damon’s will make you feel a buzz. And, depending on how many tropical cocktails you’ve consumed, you’ll definitely be feeling buzzed on your way out.
Although justifiably famous for its bungle-in-the-jungle décor (aquariums, masks, spears, palm fronds, fake exotic birds, and stuffed-animal monkeys, oh my!) Damon’s is not just another faux retro tiki bar. It’s a family-owned steak house that recently celebrated its 76th anniversary (and 35 years at its current location).
Many people have been coming to Damon’s since they were children in their parent’s tow, and these days they’re bringing their own children. It’s a family-friendly place. The bar is just inside the rear entrance. The dining areas, which include two rows of slightly elevated booths as well as a more private room for large parties and meetings, can be entered through the front door that opens onto Brand Boulevard.
It’s taken months to synchronize our schedules, but we’re finally able to join an old colleague for drinks and dinner on a Monday evening. Coincidentally, Mondays are when Damon’s signature cocktail, a Mai Tai, costs $4 instead of the usual $7, so that’s our first round.
Our drinks are refreshing, not too sweet, and strong. The menu says they’re a blend of rum, pineapple juice, and “island spirits.” A little online detective work reveals those would be orgeat (almond/flower syrup) and orange curacao.
On our way into the restaurant from the metered parking lot in the rear, I notice a smoker that’s the size of a large car, so when the evening’s specials include a homemade smoked sausage for an appetizer ($9), we order that. It comes with a sweet-spicy mustard, sweet-sour slaw, and a slice of grilled pineapple. It’s as good as any sausage I’ve ever eaten in Texas.
Another of the evening’s special appetizers is fried oysters ($10) with lemon wedges and a house-made tartar sauce, which is good, but almost unnecessary, considering the oysters are so lightly breaded and cooked to perfection.
Our third appetizer is one of Damon’s staples: coconut shrimp ($10.49). Again, these are made in-house and served with lemon wedges and a gingery dipping sauce. A piece of banana leaf decorates each of the plates.
Time for another round of drinks. This time we switch to a Chi Chi ($7) a combination of rum, pineapple juice, and pina colada mix. It’s Damon’s other signature cocktail, and while I can understand the popularity, it’s not something I’d normally order and is too sweet for my taste. But sometimes you’ve got to take one for the team.
If you’re in a tiki bar, you’ve also got to have at least one blue drink, so we get a Tangaroa Twist ($7), which takes its name from the Tahitian god of the sea, and adds blue curacao to the mix. It’s not too sweet, and goes down easy.
Now we’re ravenous. Although Damon’s entrees include pastas and seafood, it’s a steak house that also offers prime rib and (remember that smoker out back?) barbecue. We’re all going to share, so one of us orders a medium-rare 8-ounce filet ($26), another goes for the medium-rare 15-ounce prime rib (tonight’s special at $22 versus the usual $26), and I get the combination platter of smoked pulled pork, brisket, and pork ribs with a house-made barbecue sauce ($26). The steak and prime rib are cooked as ordered. The other meats were so flavorful that the sauce — which was smoky, instead of the sticky, sweet stuff you’d expect to find in tropical-themed place — could have been served on the side. And you could suck the rib meat right off the bones.
Because all entrees come with a choice of two sides, we sample everything from a soup of the day (vegetable beef) and house-made creamed corn to thin French fries and a tomato provencal (halved, topped with Parmesan and bread crumbs, then baked). All good.
We also get a twice-baked potato as well as the house salad, which is lettuce, celery, and julienne beets in a house-made, French-style dressing that gets tossed tableside. The latter leans to the lighter than the creamier side and is better for it.
Our server, Val, is a cheery, seen-it-all veteran in a Hawaiian shirt. Everything moves like clockwork, considering the place gets to be about two-thirds capacity. There’s a father celebrating his adult daughter’s birthday at the next table, and a dozen-or-so party of family members getting progressively more boisterous as the hours fly by.
Dessert? We’re too stuffed to even think about that. Portions are large, so a take-home container is a must. It’s also worth noting that, owing to its downtown location, Damon’s does serious business at lunchtime (it opens at 11 a.m.) and happy hour (3 p.m. to 7 p.m.). The lunch menu features some different items, and the bar area can get crowded, especially if there’s a big game on. As for weekend nights, you’re going to want to make a reservation.
Look, this is not haute cuisine. It’s not trendy, and it’s nowhere near the cutting-edge of anything. But the food is good, the drinks are great, and the atmosphere is so far from the surrounding world it’s almost like going on vacation. And that’s how — and why — Damon’s has been in business for 76 years and counting.
What: Damon’s Steak House
Where: 317 N. Brand Blvd., Glendale
Hours: Sunday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.
Prices: Appetizers $6.50 to $12.50; entrees $14 to $31; lunch $10 to $26
More info: (818) 507-1510; damonsglendale.com
DON WALLER is a frequent contributor to Marquee.