All meat, all the time

Photo by David Robert

Although Cattlemens is something of a Washoe Valley landmark, it is actually part of a chain that stretches across 10 highway destinations, the other nine of which are in California.

The ample parking lot was about half full when Tony and I rolled up, and we entered through the mostly empty but cavernous bar. We were greeted immediately and escorted to the hostess, who showed us to one of the completely paneled-in booths. We were informed that our server was training a new employee that evening, meaning we would have two servers: one and a shadow. This could be a strange experience, but I took it as a good sign, since usually only the best servers train others.

Our server team consisted of two rather perky and heavily coiffed gals who enthusiastically encouraged me to try a melon margarita, which comes in its own shaker that I was invited to take home. The margarita was a little sweet for me, but I let it melt on its rocks for a while to mellow out.

The menu is a basic, straightforward steakhouse menu. Not bothering to cater to vegetarians, who they know will not come, frees them up to serve meat and potatoes, meat and fish, or meat and lobster. Did I mention meat?

We started with a “Pete’s Sampler Platter"($8.99). A Pete Senior and a Pete Junior own the chain. One of those Petes really likes a big, golden pile of food straight out of the fryer. There were about two fistfuls of curly, battered onion, wedges of molten breaded mozzarella, fried zucchini and chicken strips, with various sauces for dunking.

All entrees come with all-you-can-eat salad: your basic tossed greens, cucumber, onion and tomato ensemble, served family-style with your choice of dressing. It was fresh, and the only vegetable that comes with the meal. That was fine, except that the bowl it was served in was full all the way to the top, causing croutons and cherry tomatoes to go flying when you tried to serve yourself. I may not be the daintiest eater in the world, but I do like to keep my food on the plate.

Tony ordered the New York steak ($17.99), and I tried to make up for the excesses of the appetizer by going lean with the lemon herb marinated chicken ($13.99). The entree service was quasi-tableside, with the entrees laid on a platter that our server (and her helper) loaded onto our plates while we watched. It was a nice touch, but the end result is a totally ungarnished plate with, literally, nothing but meat and potato on it. I also got a little cup of extra sauce for my chicken, which was juicy but rather soulless. This dish made it past the focus group of eaters offended by fancy spices—like pepper. I sprung the extra couple of bucks for a twice-baked potato, which was cheesy and satisfying.

Clearly, it is best to stay in the red-meat comfort zone. Tony’s hand-cut steak was a perfectly rendered medium-rare. It was tender and required no sauce whatsoever to enhance its pure meatiness. The baked potato came naked, with a little cup of sour cream and scallions and butter. The cups littered the table. My mind started to wander, picturing a kitchen stacked waist-high with little metal cups.

The service was prompt and congenial. Even though our server was training, we never felt neglected. In a less ideal situation, those high-walled booths could really isolate diners from their servers. Cattlemens seems to train their people to keep checking on you so you don’t get lonely. The busser seemed to take real amusement from filling our waters before we could empty them.

The basics of steakhouse cuisine are not difficult to master. Having decent food and super service take it the extra mile.