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Eats | COUNTER INTELLIGENCE

Meat, Potatoes--and a Mai Tai

Damon's isn't fancy, doesn't even serve dessert. But the beef is there.

May 29, 1997|CHARLES PERRY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

In the phone book it's Damon's Steak House, but on the bar napkins it's Damon's Cafe. Damon's evidently doesn't set much store by what you call it--as you can afford to when you're coming up on your 60th birthday. Damon's is old enough that it can display a dinner menu on which everything was under $2.

It opened in June 1937, about six blocks from the current address (the original location is now somewhere under the Glendale Galleria parking structure), but we haven't heard from a P.R. firm clamoring for anniversary recognition. The reason is simple: The place is busy every night. On Fridays and Saturdays it doesn't even take reservations; you want to eat, you come in and wait an hour for a table.

It has a completely arbitrary Polynesian motif: murals of Old Hawaii on the walls, an outrigger in the ceiling, waitresses in flowered shirts, a couple of big fish tanks.

Properly speaking, though, Damon's symbol is an expanded version of the three wise monkeys (see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil and, apparently, do no evil). There used to be statues of these monkeys over the generally crowded bar. A friend of mine was there the night one of them fell off and landed on the bar, scattering drinks everywhere and leaving everybody terminally startled.

Damon's customers are not coming for a pupu platter. At dinner, the appetizer choices are green salad (well, that's not even a choice; it comes with dinner), green salad topped with chicken or shrimp, shrimp cocktail, "cup of shrimp" (the same as the cocktail but without sauce) or soup of the day. After that, you choose either grilled steak, seafood or chicken breast, and potatoes or rice.

That's it; just meat and potatoes. No pa^te, no nachos and certainly no vegetables. Damon's doesn't even mess around with dessert.

People come because they know what they'll get, and they know it won't be a skimpy portion. Every time I've been here I've overheard somebody at a nearby table say, "Boy, am I full," or words to that effect. That's an achievement in a restaurant that doesn't serve dessert.

The salad is just iceberg lettuce, celery and canned beets, but it does have a mysterious dressing. At first it tastes like any other orangish "French" dressing, but then you suspect there's honey and mustard in it, and always there's a dusty-nutty background flavor like peanut butter or maybe sesame tahineh.

The shrimp cocktail, served in a stainless steel sundae cup, uses better shrimp than you might expect and a decent, slightly horseradishy cocktail sauce (which improves with a squeeze of lemon). They may try to interest you in a garlic bread, which is basically an oily Parmesan bread.

The soups of the day are old-fashioned ones like clam chowder and navy bean. The latter is pretty good, with thick-sliced chunks of smoky bacon in it. The waitresses say any steak that doesn't get cooked up at the end of the day goes into the next day's vegetable soup.

Unlike most restaurants, Damon's actually has a wider menu selection at lunch, when it adds sandwiches to the steak and seafood list. The open-face "famous steak sandwich" is pleasant thin-cut sirloin on two pieces of toasted French bread. But the best lunch specialty is the hamburger, which is a thick patty of ground steak. It may be served on the world's dumbest, plainest hamburger bun, but it's a fine burger.

The steaks are the usual New York-tenderloin--top sirloin selections. The best is the petite filet, a baseball-sized chunk of nice tender beef. The most expensive entree is half a dozen shrimp skewered with pineapple; hardly worth it, though you do get baked potato and rice (tomato rice in this case, rather than the usual Rice-a-Roni sort of deal). On Mondays and Tuesdays, prime rib is served, and it's not bad, with a medium-strength horseradish sauce.

But what do you have after that? No dessert, remember? Possibly you'll have what you're likely to have been having throughout the meal, a cocktail. Damon's makes a perfectly insidious mai tai, the kind that really tastes like nothing but innocent fruit juice, but drink more than two and the Highway Patrol will take a strong interest in you.

Finish off with a mai tai--or a chi chi (coconut, lime and rum)--and then have somebody else drive--and you may live to see your own 60th birthday.

BE THERE

Damon's Steak House, 317 N. Brand Blvd., Glendale. (818) 507-1510, 956-9056. Open for lunch 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily; dinner 4 to 10:30 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, 4 to 11 p.m, Friday and Saturday; brunch 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Full bar. Street parking. All major credit cards. Dinner for two, food only, $14 to $32. What to Get: hamburger (lunch only), prime rib (Monday and Tuesday), petite filet, mai tai.

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