Thursday, August 23, 2012

Chow Time: Clearman's Steak 'n Stein Inn

It's official.  I am obsessed with  mid-century steakhouses.  The strangest part about this obsession is that I don't eat steak.  I don't like prime rib, baked potatoes, or creamed corn.  I do love bacon, but wrap it around a filet and you've lost me.  In general, I just don't like adult food that much and anything that I have to use a large, serrated knife to hack through, is something on which I will almost always take a pass.  What I do love is the atmosphere.  I love the semi-religious rituals engaged in by staff and patron.   I love a table-side preparation.  I love multiple courses delivered by a trolley.  I love a dimly lit room (even after discovering, post-meal, that the semi-darkness is probably used to shroud the evidence of a "B" rating that would be glaringly obvious under harsh, artificial light).

The most recent object of my obsession is Clearman's Steak 'n Stein Inn (est.1946).  Clearman's is a fairly well-known name in the restaurant industry of Southern California.  A name once emblazoned on restaurants  all over the San Gabriel Valley and surrounding environs, Clearman's still stands for wacky, old-timey dining at the five remaining restaurants that bear the Clearman's name.

I love architecture, but unfamiliar with accurate terminology, I honestly don't know how to describe the style of Steak 'n Stein; it is like a rustic, Spanish fort mated with a Black Forest brothel.

We didn't go out to eat very often when we were young; I guess five kids didn't make for a fun or affordable night out for the folks.  As a consequence of that bitter deprivation, I always feel funny when we go to a restaurant where the server wants to place my napkin in my lap.  I feel like I can conduct myself appropriately in any situation, but I am just not very fancy.   I felt a boost of confidence as we approached the entrance and read the simple dress code.  I figured this place couldn't be too fancy if the only item on the dress code was the of "sleeveless shirts" variety.

Good thing I layered a t-shirt under my tank top

If it's posted it twice and burned in wood, I guess they really mean it.

I don't eat steak and I don't drink.
Then what am I doing here?!?!?!
I go for a big way.
An illustration of the S 'n S fireplace
It is clear that the one-time circular fireplace
has become an indoor water feature.
I guess if we can't have a ring of fire,
 we'll take a wacky water feature!
Is it wrong to love the musty/chlorinated smell of an indoor fountain?

I also like the bottle/stained glass windows -  from outside

...and in!

Mary and the S 'n S menu,
 a leather and brass affair standing in the middle of the table
 Clearman's is famous for their cheese toast and their salads
(a red cabbage slaw and an iceberg salad with bleu cheese dressing).
At Steak 'n Stein, guest are served the obligatory three,
but the salad is accompanied by a trio of
dressings and homemade croutons.  The reverence with which these
items was served, heightened the humble offerings to fine dining status.
The thing that really distinguishes Steak 'n Stein from it's
 siblings is the peanuts.
At Northwoods Inn, the peanuts are in the shells that are ready to be
discarded onto the floor.  The Galley doesn't even have peanuts.
Peanuts at Steak 'n Stein Inn are served at each table in a small
 glass carafe.  Now that's 3.5 Star dining.

Mary got the filet mignon, wedge salad.
The presentation might be a little lacking, but she said the taste was there.
I opted for the turkey club sandwich.
  In my ongoing effort to reduce, I shared my fries and left some on the plate - progress indeed!

The food was tasty and by the time we made it through the salads, we were already full.  I decided to walk it off by wandering through the restaurant to take in the scenery.  I'm telling you, the place was so dimly lit, that I could barely see all of the eight million calories I was consuming.  The photos may have suffered from the shadowy interior but here are some "highlights" of our dining experience.

The hostess stand
A view of one of  the dining rooms

Victorian-style light fixtures

I like the gnarly, branch-like columns at the bar.

Now that's a cuckoo clock!!!
 I'm not too familiar with cuckoo clock decoration but I don't
remember bird carcasses and crossed rifles in the cartoon
cuckoo clocks of my youth.

Chandeliers and clocks are nice but my favorite bit of decorating magic, the bit that seems to be a theme in steakhouses of this ilk, are the tasteful nudes.  It seems like such a funny thing to stare at whilst one devours a juicy slab of beef, but maybe the rich food and the sultry portraits combine to satisfy all of the human appetites.

It's been a few weeks since we've been to Clearman's Steak 'n Stein Inn; we're still talking about it and comparing it to the eateries we have subsequently patronized.  Much like the demure nudes, Steak 'n Stein has left us wanting more and we're sure to visit this landmark again.


Clearman's Steak 'n Stein Inn
9545 E Whittier Blvd
Pico Rivera, CA


Mr. Tiny


  1. As usual, I love this place. I am obsessed with old steak houses too, but I LOVE prime rib. I think you would like this place on the way to my cabin:

    They're old school and don't have a website. There's a dark bar on one side, then a restaurant on the other with really high backed booths in dark leather. The old man that owns the place is this little Greek man that wanders around talking to the patrons. It is magnificent. When you get seated, you immediately get free cheese fondue. You can't beat that with a bat!

    1. Thank you, one more place to add to my tour of Northern California! It sounds perfect!!!

  2. That place looks AWESOME! I love dark restaurants with lots of wood. And if they have red light fixtures, even better. And cheese toast....mmm! mmm! You take us to THE nicest places! : )

    1. You deserve to be taken somewhere nice! Every single review on yelp and every where else talks about the cheese bread; Clearman's even sells the "cheese spread" they use. Mary asked for an extra piece and they ropught out a huge basket full and when they saw that there was leftovers, they wrapped it all so she could take it home!!!

  3. First, was that a statue of Elvis int the water fountain? Second, this place totally reminds me of the steak restaurant in the movie Great Outdoors.

    1. Wouldn't that be awesome if it was Elvis in the water feature?!!! Clearly, I need to view "The Great Outdoors;" it has been a long time...I think we have it on VHS!

  4. I'm glad you guys went there. Isn't the interior just amazing? Pico Rivera's finest... The Dal Rae is another famous Pico Rivera steakhouse, but they remodeled a bunch of it and ruined it (in my opinion).

    I have another two other mid-century steakhouses you need to visit. I'll email you.

    1. Can't wait to hear your other recommendations!!! The Dal Rae is a prime example of wacky tacky bait & switch. From the outside it looks awesome, the inside is another story. Stay tuned for our brief review of The Dal Rae!

    2. Also, thanks RBH! You are an awesome source for wacky tacky adventures!

    3. You're quite welcome, Chris! It's my pleasure!! I just love that someone is writing about and making these unique places known to the masses. Keep up the great work!!

  5. I've been there!! The best thing about it was those damned peanuts!!! Not that the steak wasn't delicious, because it was. But those peanuts!!! Yum...

    1. You're right...those peanuts were delicious! We emptied the whole bottle; I don't know what they do to 'em but they are good!!!!

  6. Mmmmm. Unlike you my friend, I like steak, and cocktails. I am wanting to go here right now which may make me sound deluded because it is breakfast time. Add a bottle of peanuts and I'm in!

  7. I've lived in the S.G. Valley for over 15 years now and have yet to go there. Must go!

    1. Definitely check it out; it is funny and good!!!

  8. A friend went to one of the North Woods Inn locations, and was served an "open-faced sandwich" which had no bread. And it was apparently Policy, not just an Oversight.

    1. CRAZY!!! I can't explain my utter indignation when I overheard someone ordering a patty melt at the Madonna Inn; they were told that cheese was not included and would be an additional charge!!! A melt without cheese is just a PATTY!

  9. County Dept. Of Weights and Measures checks to see if that Gallon of gas really is a Gallon, and if the merchandise labeled $2.79 really rings up at $2.79.
    I guess they need to branch out into "Melts" which have nothing meltable, and bread-less "sandwiches."
    Although a "Pancake Sandwich" is exempt from the bread requirement...

  10. Mr. T - thanks for "steer"-ing us in the right direction as far as the Dal Rae goes, and for suggesting Clearman's! Retro Roadhusband and I are planning - oh who am I kidding - I'M planning - our trip to L.A. next month and between all of your wonderful gastronomic suggestions and the places we missed in May, we're gonna have to pack an extra stomach! At least if we don't get to some of these places ourselves, they can be safely added to Retro Roadmap as "Mr. Tiny recommends..." :-)

  11. I love the place. As kids growing up in Pico, we used to sneak in to see the paintings. My family never went out either so I finally got to go there a couple of years ago' about 40 years after sneaking in. I try to get back there when I can but I live a ways away. The fire pit has a fire in the winter. My wife and I are vegetarians but we too love the atmosphere of these types of places. You captured it. Thanks

  12. The fountain has always replaced the fire pit during warm weather months. My parents were regulars here from the late '40s til their deaths. Nice report.