Smitty’s is hip, fun, delicious and noisy
By Erica Wayne 09/11/2013
I’ve been a fan of the Smith Brothers ever since they opened Parkway Grill, their first restaurant in Pasadena, on Arroyo Parkway way back in 1984, the same year I began writing reviews for the Pasadena Weekly. Even today, Parkway is usually first choice when we want to impress out-of-towners with innovative cuisine and elegant ambiance and dazzle them with my favorite dish, the gargantuan whole fried catfish.
Their Arroyo Chop House, adjacent to Parkway Grill, is a fine steak house. And, while I’m not really a meat and potatoes gal, my husband and I still appreciate the quality of the beef and the gorgeous arts and crafts design of the restaurant.
Cheval Bistro, on South De Lacey Avenue in Old Pasadena, serves up fabulous moules dijonnaises and other authentic French dishes in another lovely environment. The prices at these two restaurants are as elevated as the ambiance, however; so we’re rare visitors.
The several Crocodile Cafés, among my favorite Smith Brothers creations, are, alas, no longer; but Café 140 South (on the same site as the Pasadena Crocodile on Lake Avenue) retains the same spirit of casual fun as well as a few of the Croc’s original recipes. (And I retain one of their adorable Crocodile Café sweatshirts as a treasured souvenir.) Whenever we want a really good burger, probably the best in Pasadena, with some marvelous curly (formerly Suzie Q) fries, Café 140 South’s our go-to spot.
We think of Smitty’s, just up the street from Café 140 South, as the Smith Brothers’ “middle kid,” with a menu ranging from sandwiches and salads to steaks, ribs, chops and seafood and prices as palatable as the food itself. But, most of all, we think of it as the place to get all-American dishes that, back in the heyday of diners, would likely have been listed as Blue Plate Specials but here are boxed off in a section called SMITTY’S SPECIALS. Either title includes the relevant word “special,” which indeed they are.
Altogether, the specials number nine, of which only one (chicken piccata - $19) can be designated as a foreign interloper. All the rest, even the garlic and herb roasted organic chicken ($21), are true red, white and blue recipes. Chicken pot pie ($17); pot roast with root vegetables (a trendy name for old-fashioned ‘taters, carrots and such - $20); ground beefsteak with grilled onions ($15); meatloaf ($17); beef stroganoff ($18); and macaroni and cheese with ham ($14) all bring back fond childhood memories.
But the special my husband craves the most is calf’s liver with onions and bacon ($19). His mother (and mine) used to make this dish at least a couple of times a month. When I first met him back in 1987, his favorite LA restaurant was Musso & Frank, just because of their liver and martinis. After Smitty’s opened around the turn of the century, those long treks to Hollywood became unnecessary. Smitty’s had everything: liver, Tanquerey and easy parking.
Of course, my husband doesn’t always have liver — just most of the time. We came in one afternoon during the July dineLA period and had an entire lunch ($20 each) devoid of liver. Instead, he got a magnificent filet mignon burger ($16 on the regular menu), a huge medium-rare patty dripping with juice and melting blue cheese crumbles topped with a tomato slice and sided with a heap of piping hot curly fries and onion strings (ordinarily $6).
I chose the cornmeal crusted Idaho rainbow trout (regularly $22), one of my all-time favorite Smitty’s preps. The two-sided filet was fried and then sprinkled with pumpkin seeds sautéed in a sage brown butter. The fish was accompanied by a delicious stir-fry of shaved Brussels sprouts mixed with green apple. Spectacular!
We don’t usually indulge in Smitty’s desserts, but since they were included on the dineLA menu, we couldn’t refuse a huge slice of double dark chocolate mousse cake and a massive slab of fragrant warm apple walnut bread pudding bathed in crème anglaise (each $8 a la carte). Although the guilt necessitated an extra hour on the treadmill the next day, both were worth every (presumed from the richness and intensity of flavor) calorie.
There’s only one problem for us in dining at Smitty’s. The noise level is usually unbearable. The Smitty’s Web site itself describes the dining room as “bustling” and “ever abuzz,” stating elsewhere that “whether one is having lunch … or evening cocktails amidst the din of the lively dining room, a more sublime retreat from the everyday routine could not be found.”
We, unfortunately, don’t find the main dining room/bar area either sublime or a retreat, despite its attractive décor, and usually prefer to wait until there’s a table in the smaller back room or the charming enclosed rear patio. Here we can hear ourselves speak, listen to the trickle of the fountain and, on cooler evenings, bask in the warmth of the fireplace embedded in the back wall while enjoying Smitty’s uniformly excellent food and service.
110 S. Lake Ave., Pasadena
Full bar/Major cards