California's central Sierra mountain range, located in the heart of the fabled mother lode "gold country" is noted for many things, including breathtaking scenery, romantic bed-and-breakfast inns, early California history, gold rush-era buildings and so much more. The California gold country, from spans the distance from Oakhurst to Nevada City, is the destination for millions of local, national and international tourists, due to it's unique charm, beautiful scenery and fascinating history. But when most visitors are thinking about the California gold country, is fine dining placed into the forefront of their minds? If you're visiting Sonora, I think I have the answer...
Photo: The sign says it all, and if you're in Sonora, you can easily figure out their location. If you have difficulties, you can always rely on your GPS!
I've been visiting the Sonora area for the last forty-something years, yet for some reason, my Sonora dining experiences have always been confined to the typical fast-food, national-franchised, sanitized places, and local burger joints. Over the years, I've grown to know a few folks in the area, and when quizzed about the best place to eat in town, most responded immediately with Washington Street Steak House. So on our last visit to Sonora, we decided to forgo our usual fast food cuisine, and a meal at Washington Street Steak House seemed to be a "go," not to mention the restaurant is located only two blocks from the motel where we were staying.
Let's see, if you're not familiar with Sonora, California, it's a city of around 7,000 in population and the county seat of Tuloumne County, located in the heart of California's gold country. The quality of life in the area could be best described as something above excellent, but that's not the intent of this article. Washington Street is the "main drag" in Sonora and California state highways 49 and 108 share a portion of the street, which can amount for congestion on Sonora's main street. The dividing line between "north" and "south" Washington Street is at Stockton Street, as after you drive east on CA 108, North Washington Street becomes South Washington Street. Confusing? Well, if you're heading to Washington Street Steak House, just head 1 block south of Stockton Street, and if you'll look to your left, you can't miss the place.
When you walk in the front door, you immediately will notice the decor, as it is rather western and oriented to the local history of Sonora's glory mining days, and the railroad lumber that thrived in Tuloumne County, lasting until the early 1960's. The restaurant features booths located around the perimeter and tables situated in the middle. The walls are wallpapered and feature lots of pictures, some are paintings and some are black and white photos depicting historical mining images of bygone days, when the gold mining industry dominated the local economy. There are also artifacts like shovels, picks, branding irons and other rusty tools attached to the walls, not to mention many pictures of cowboy hats, cowboys, broncos (no, not the Denver football team; hey, we're in California!,) and a few genuine cowboy hats placed strategically to warm you to the down-home-feeling that the small, gold country town of Sonora, is noted for.
As we walked into Washington Street Steak House, we were greeted by an outgoing greeter who introduced himself as Jacob, who later turned out to be our waiter. Since it was early on a November Saturday night, barely 5:00 p.m., we had the place almost to ourselves, and when he asked us of seating choice, we readily asked for an open booth facing out onto South Washington Street, as Sharlene and I prefer booths, and we like to be in a corner. It's more romantic; pour the wine, dim the lights, etc... Not to mention, it affords me easier access to document the experience with photos from my relentless, digital camera.
Left: Inside Washington Street Steak House and the full-service bar to the left.
Right: Our waiter Jacob brings our salads and an extra beer for me. Such a pleasant dining experience on this early Saturday evening, November 19, 2005.
Jacob seated us at our booth, produced menus and then asked us if for our drink choices. My choice was easy: Coors beer! Sharlene hemmed and hawed over the wine list, but after an lengthy survey of their extensive wine list, she finally decided to order a glass red merlot. If you want more than beer or wine, Washington Street Steak House features a full-service bar which features a menu of all the famous cocktails known around the world, and Jacob was happy to mention that they could prepare any drink known to mankind. However, we're beer and wine folks, so we didn't pursue the cocktail option that he so graciously offered.
After we'd ordered our drinks, Jacob left us with a menu, giving us lots of choices for dinner. Sure, Washington Street Steak House specializes in any dish that includes steak, but their dinner menu is very well-rounded as it features many sandwiches, soups, salads, pork ribs and more, pasta dishes, seafood entrees, not to mention just about anything you could imagine. Everything on the menu looked good to-die-for, but Sharlene and I chose the same thing: Baby back ribs. Life doesn't get any better than baby back ribs, so we wanted to live life in the fullest.
In a flash, perhaps a couple of minutes, Jacob brought our drinks, plus a small loaf of warm, freshly-baked, sourdough bread, placed in a basket, wrapped in a red, cotton cloth, and lots of real butter on the side. Joshua explained to us the bread was baked in-house, by his father-in-law, who has been baking bread since he was a child of 10 years old. (Didn't they have child labor laws in those days?) You cut a slice of bread from the warm loaf, butter it, pop it into your mouth, and, gee, you've died an gone to heaven! We were just beginning to savor the texture, taste and freshness of the fantastic bread when Jacob brought our salads. We marveled at the beautiful presentation and then did the right thing: Dig in, pig-out and enjoy.
Photo: Presentation, do you like presentation? Here's my salad, delicious to look at, as well as delicious to eat.
Photo: Sharlene enjoys her salad, framed by her glass of red merlot and a slice of delicious bread.
Our ever attentive, friendly, but not intrusive server came by to chit-chat and see how we were doing. He observed that we'd finished our bread and asked if we wanted a second loaf. Sharlene and I looked at each other and spontaneously blurted out a hectic "Yes!" Since we were walking back to our motel, I ordered a second Coors beer.
The salads matched the presentation, with the taste. The ingredients were crisp and fresh, and the dressing was served on the side in a small cup, so you could dip your salad into the dressing, one fork-full at a time, to avoid the soggy full-plate dressing, and reduce the calorie content, a situation that both of use seem to be cursed with.
As we lingered over our drinks, bread and salad, we observed that the restaurant was becoming quite full, almost crowded. Prior to leaving our motel, I had asked the desk clerk if they were expecting any tour buses, and the friendly clerk told me that they were expecting a couple of them around 6:00 p.m. and advised us if we wanted to eat at the Washington Street Steak House that if would be a good idea to visit before that hour. Boy... good thing we took her advice, as the place seemed to fill up in a matter of minutes, due to the tour bus crowd. However, we noticed that a lot of locals like to dine at Washington Street Steak House, as evidenced by the soccer moms and dads, the cowboy hats, western shirts and the cowboy boots, which are the standard article of dress in Sonora.
Photo: Sharlene cuts her ribs, as the meat falls off the bone. Note the basket to the left with the red cloth covering the warm, freshly-baked bread.
Photo: My meal of grilled veggies, baby-back ribs and a stuffed, baked potato. Note the Texas-style cup of tangy bbq sauce placed on the side for dipping; a nice touch.
After the drinks, salad, bread, all of which could be considered as appetizers, our main meal was brought to us, and it consisted of grilled baby back pork ribs, a stuffed baked potato and grilled veggies. The mixed, grilled veggies were excellent; grilled just right with grill marks, but not at all mushy. The stuffed potato was basically a baked potato with the inside pulp scooped-out and mashed. Cheddar cheese, sour cream, minced onions and a bit of seasoned salt were added to the pulp, then the mixture was placed inside the potato and cooked for a few minutes longer and the resulting stuffed potato could only be described as excellent.
The baby back ribs were another story, as, how can you describe perfection? Maybe I could use words like juicy, tender, most, or using the extreme description, simply delicious? We didn't use the old "hand method" of eating the ribs, as the meat was so soft and tender, it just fell off the bone and we used a fork to eat it. Washington Street Steak House provides each diner with a finger bowl of warm water, topped with a slice of lemon, which is a nice touch if you want to forget about your fork. Another nice touch is that sweet and tangy bbq sauce is served in a small bowl on the side of the plate, Texas-style, which is perfect for dipping your succulent piece of baby-back ribs into the sauce for just the right touch of sweet vs. sour. Now boys and girls, that's class...
We spent nearly a couple of hours at the Washington Street Steak House, lingering over pleasant conversation, chit-chatting with our waiter, admiring the historical decor and savoring the outstanding food. People watching? Of course, as the tour bus crowd arrived, plus we could peer out the window to the lighted sidewalk and observe folks strolling by on a Saturday night in Sonora. Romantic? Yes. Good food? Yes. What did our experience cost us? For drinks and our dinner, the bill was about $48.00, not cheap, but an outstanding value, with all things considered. When it comes to food, what really matters to us are the quality, quantity and the presentation, as we like to go away with a full stomach, but we like to have a pleasant memory of our experience. The atmosphere and ambience of the restaurant are a plus, not to mention the service. We prefer the service to be friendly, informative, (e.g. answering stupid, dumb, questions about local attractions, restaurants, weather, "hot" local night spots, and so much more...) efficient, frequent, but not intrusive, as intrusive is a "turn-off."
Photot: By the time we left, around 8:00 p.m., the place was full. Keep that in mind if you plan to dine there on a Saturday night.
The food, atmosphere and service at Washington Street Steak House met all of the above criteria's. We left the restaurant very full, perhaps too full, but happy with the quantity of the food, the quality, and the efficient, yet not intrusive service, and the memory of the interesting, local, atmosphere and decor. We left Jacob, our waiter, with a $10.00 tip for a $48.00 meal, as we were that impressed with is demeanor, the quality of the food, and the total dining experience.
Washington Street Steak House's menu advertises, "Setting the Gold Standard for Steaks in the Motherload." I'll rate that a true statement!
Street Steak House
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