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At Petaluma Cattlemen’s, the steaks are high

Like many people, we don’t eat large quantities of red meat very often but there are times when we crave a really good steak or piece of prime rib. Cattlemen’s is a Northern California chain of eight restaurants, specializing in just that.

This restaurant came to our attention because of a friend’s experience during the wildfires this past fall, when he was evacuated from his home in Santa Rosa. Our friend is the chef/owner of three unique upscale restaurants in another state, and he was actually very surprised at the quality of Cattlemen’s, and mentioned it to me. So we thought we might give the one in Petaluma a try, and we are happy we did.

In researching this article I learned that the Petaluma Cattlemen’s was opened in July 1970 making it just the second Cattlemen’s in the chain and the oldest one currently in existence. The original in Redondo Beach was destroyed by high wind in May of 1988. The chain recently celebrated their 50th anniversary, while the Petaluma Cattlemen’s is celebrating its 48th year.

As a long-standing entity here in Petaluma, Cattlemen’s has become an integral part of the local restaurant scene, contributing a significant amount to the nonprofits in our town, as well as providing employment and a good place to dine.

This is a large restaurant with a separate cocktail lounge where one can order from the entire menu plus the bar menu, and an adjacent dining room both with decidedly Western-themed décor. It is a busy, high-energy kind of place, so don’t come here looking for a quiet dinner. It is the place for meat, with a nod to other items such as chicken, pasta and a few fish dishes as well.

All of the entrées come with a bottomless salad bowl, a big basket of hot sourdough bread and butter, and a little pot of delicious beans flavored with a nice amount of cumin among other spices. Everything we had was served at the proper temperature, with the exception of the beans. We did ask for some hot ones and those were promptly replaced. I later spoke with a manager who told me that they had a new piece of equipment on order to take care of this issue.

Drinks were reasonably priced, with call Scotch for $7.50, a brewed-for-Cattlemen’s Lagunitas on draft for $6.25, Kenwood White Zinfandel for $7, and a Hess Malbec served in a very elegant and appropriate wine glass for $9.50.

On our first visit we started with their special appetizer, a fresh artichoke ($6.99) that was cooked in a flavorful broth, then split in two, cleaned of its choke, and finished on the grill. It was served with a tasty aioli.

We also ordered and shared a 14-ounce boneless rib eye steak ($24.99.) It was perfectly cooked as ordered, topped with their tumbleweed onion strings, and accompanied by our choice of potato, in this case a baked potato, and the beans mentioned above. While the server asked if we wanted chives and sour cream, it was served with green onions and sour cream, a relatively small thing to quibble about, but one I hope was not a normal standard. The steak was a true star, well-marbled, meltingly tender, and juicy.

After having a good experience with just the two of us, we got together a group of eight and went back to try a lot more things. We started out in the saloon for happy hour, and we were pleased that we did. Their food menu for happy hour is divided up into three categories by price.

We tried the $4 garlic fries and the $6 baby back ribs, as well as the $8 lamb lollipops and the $8 beef kabob. Our server thoughtfully suggested that we might be better off ordering from the standard appetizer menu for the loaded potato skins, and it was indeed the better value for a large party like ours.

Each of the food items we tried in the bar was well prepared and tasty. I particularly enjoyed the ribs and the lamb, both perfectly cooked, tender and of excellent quality. The potato skins were definitely loaded with cheese and other goodies.

We also tried out some of their happy hour cocktails, all $5, including the raspberry lemon drop, horseshoe margarita, and tangerine fizz. The fizz was not a favorite, and our server mentioned that a lot of those are sent back, so perhaps that particular drink is one they should remove from the menu, or consider reworking. The other two drinks were delicious.

Because we had so much food for happy hour, we chose to share a number of entrées at dinner, and there was plenty because the portions are quite large.

This time we ordered the bacon-wrapped shrimp, $22.99, consisting of 10 jumbo shrimp, threaded onto two skewers. One skewer was plenty, so sharing this with my husband was just perfect. The shrimp were served with a chipotle-lime-butter sauce that made the dish. We chose the side of their scrumptious smashed potatoes, from a list that included baked potatoes, rice and French fries.

Two members of our party shared the 10-ounce filet mignon, $31.99, and still had some steak to take home. Two more diners shared the trim cut prime rib, $19.99, and had plenty to eat. We also ordered the 6-ounce filet steak $24.99, and the triple threat $20.99, two huge skewers of tenderloin, sirloin and New York steak cubes basted and sauced with Teriyaki glaze – plenty for two people.

We ordered one dessert, a cowpie brownie sundae, $6.99, consisting of a warm brownie, vanilla ice cream and a lot more. After everyone was armed with a spoon it went around the table three times before it was all gone.

In reviewing their website I saw that they have a number of special dietary menus available, so if you are on a particular kind of restricted diet (other than vegan) you might want to take a look at their website before visiting. They also have a children’s menu and special children’s dessert menu.

During all three experiences we had at Cattlemen’s the service was attentive, prompt and accurate, with the exception of one item, which we ordered in the saloon that was never delivered. Since we did not point it out, and it wasn’t charged for, it was not an issue.

Located on Petaluma Boulevard North, right near the entrance to Highway 101, and with a very large parking lot, it is a good central meeting place if you have guests coming from out of town. Making reservations on their website is a breeze, and signing up for their newsletter netted us a nice freebie, so it was definitely worth doing.