Not since Elsie, the beast of Borden, became a dairy ranch hotshot, or Mrs. O’Leary’s cow, Sparky, brought Chicago down, has there been such a sizzle over a hunk of beef as now with the news that Ruth’s Chris Steak House is opening in Pasadena.
Celebrated for juicy steaks that take a fork up to the hilt — puttied with globs of butter and dished out sizzling to your table — the growing upscale chain looks to open at the new Western Asset Plaza at 385 E. Colorado Blvd., across from Paseo Colorado, in about 30 days.
With much of the scaffolding dismantled and ganglia of cables sewn up, workmen on-site tell me they are right on schedule for a Jan. 30 or 31 opening event. (They wouldn’t let me in to see if the heralded, swift-firing, 1,800-degree, top-bottom oyster ovens were in place.)
With some 92 units worldwide, the restaurant was named by Restaurant and Institutions magazine as the 2004 "Choice-in-Chains" for "top steak house in America for superior food quality, service and atmosphere.”
Consuming passions here, Pasadenans tell me, had been satisfied at the Beverly Hills unit, not only with steaks but with New Orleans-style appetizers and seafood as well. They describe the dining experience as "fit for a king," but caution that to get the "royal treatment" you should bring a Lord of Treasury along: dinner entrees are priced from about $23 to $40; porterhouse, lobster and daily specials, much more.
"We know that Pasadena residents are as excited to welcome Ruth’s Chris as we are to be here," said Dave Cattell, vice president and chief development officer. But do local steak house competitors share in the excitement? Or does the sizzle come off more like hissing?
"Not to me," says Ralph Viscuso, owner of Pasadena’s JJ Steak House. "After my graduation from UMass in 1979, my family took me to Ruth’s Chris in Houston to celebrate. I still go to the one in Beverly Hills. They do a great job. It’s a good sign that they have the confidence that our town’s future will support another first-class steak house. This should bring more quality diners to the area, and that will be good for us.”
But Gregg Smith, partner of the classy Arroyo Chop House, unmoved by joy or grief, seemed more concerned over a bellyful of restaurants: "The restaurant market in Pasadena is oversaturated as it is, and has been for years. That said, we feel Ruth’s Chris is not any more a direct competitor to us than any other restaurant in Pasadena."
Many local restaurant owners worry about how to continue to compete with some 400 sit-down restaurants (700 if you count coffee houses, juice bars, yogurt joints and some other food dispensers) in a city a size that normally accommodates about 80.
Another restaurateur, who asked to remain nameless, was not as optimistic as Viscuso, nor as restrained as Smith: "I go along with what Ben Franklin said about competition: ‘He may well win the race who runs by himself.’"
Barney’s Beanery breaks bread too
Arriving with arguably the biggest menu in the world and a bulging book of legends from Hollywood, a third Barney’s Beanery is slated to open in Old Pasadena sometime in March.
Under construction on the site of the former Q’s Billiard Club at 99 E. Colorado Blvd., operating under the wall motto, "If we don’t have it, you don’t need it," the beanery’s menu covers 12 pages with hundreds of all-American, Southern comfort and multicultural food choices from early breakfasts to late dinners.
The menu reads like an aggregate of Bob’s Big Boy, Chili John’s, Chevy’s, IHOP, Hard Rock Cafe, Big Mama’s Ribs, Hooters, Original Tommy’s, KFC, Chez Onion Soup, Jerry’s Famous Deli and Mom’s Place. In preparing so many items for crowds up to 300 (estimated seating capacity), the kitchen may get as hectic and messy as if caps were flying off Cuisinarts.
Since its opening in Hollywood in 1927, the beanery has served both as a melting pot for major Hollywood celebrities, musicians and artists — Clara Bow, Errol Flynn, Jean Harlow, James Dean, Charles Bukowski, Ed Kienholz and David Lee Roth — and a sand pile for loose ends and wannabes.
Purchased in 1999 by David Houston, owner of Q’s, Pasadena Barney’s is the third link in a projected expansion (Houston opened Barney’s, Santa Monica, last year). "Q’s was very successful for 13 years," said Houston, "but it’s hard to syndicate a nightclub."
Pasadena Food Bowl
Raucous and roaring Trojan and Texan tailgate parties at the Rose Bowl will be taking a backseat to the eats, arts and music of the Pasadena Food Bowl. To be staged along Colorado Boulevard in Old Pasadena (Tuesday, Jan. 3, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.), the event features fare from more than 30 restaurants. Among the guests is Chef Frank Ostini, owner of Buellton’s Hitching Post Restaurant and featured character in the Academy-Award-winning "Sideways," a movie about drinking as much wine as possible. I’m going to ask him about vintage Virginia Madsen.