The heavy barn doors had oxen yokes for handles. I pulled hard and walked into a room scented with hardwood smoke and an undercurrent of sizzling beef fat that wrapped around me like an old quilt.
It was my first time at Scotch ’N Sirloin, but it felt like coming home. You see, I grew up in a house with woodstove heat, plank floors and reclaimed beams, and I miss it. (As the News’ designated eater, I cannot change what tickles me, but I can lay it bare, in an effort at transparency.)
This takes me back, I thought, reading about unlimited salad bar and choice of potato or vegetable in the windowless dining room crowded with birthday parties. The 1968 hit “Crystal Blue Persuasion” came up on the Muzak, and it snapped home: Scotch ’N Sirloin is a time capsule bearing its message of steak satisfaction to the present day.
The restaurant has been selling steak at the corner of Maple Road and Bailey Avenue since Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon.
Its current owners started there in the 1970s, bought it in 1996, and have vowed not to tinker with what works.
The wood-sheathed interiors are original, a look so old they have come back into vogue; I had just seen similar wood-installed in Chippewa Street’s newest restaurant, Local Kitchen & Beer Bar [Read a "Starters" on Local]. A hardwood blaze glows in the spacious barroom’s brick fireplace whenever the weather offers the slightest excuse. Drinking in the glow of the fire and throwing peanut shells on the floor never gets old.
The menu, once six dishes listed on the side of a Lancer’s bottle, has expanded over the years, albeit at a glacial pace. Cedar-planked salmon ($25) and teriyaki chicken breast ($20) have snuck in, but there’s nothing else Elvis wouldn’t recognize.
“Unlimited salad bar” has lost its allure after too many cheap versions bulked up with canned fruit cocktail, but Scotch ’N Sirloin’s version hearkens to an earlier time. There’s housemade added-value options like marinated button mushrooms and artichoke hearts. There’s real bacon bits, and surprisingly good dressings like Concord grape, though the croutons are from a bag. There’s also a vat of butter and four breads, like asiago cheese and pumpernickel, dough bought frozen but baked hours ago.
I came back to my seat with a full plate, wondering why I would ever order appetizers here, if I was spending my own money.
But I was on duty, so our table grazed soups and appetizers. Mushroom prime rib soup ($5.50 cup) was an enjoyably earthy cream with bits of beef. French onion ($5 cup) had better-than-usual broth, lots of sweet onions and a classic bubbled cheese cap. Shrimp bisque ($4 cup) offered chunks of shrimp but weak shrimp flavor in broth thickened to near-nacho-cheese consistency.
[Read last week's restaurant review on Elite Fine Dining]
Clams casino ($12 for six), topped with chewy bacon, suffered from bland breadcrumbs. No chance of that with the escargot ($12), six plump snails in a sea of gutsy garlic butter. If I have to eat mollusks to get garlic butter like that, it’s a sacrifice I’m willing to make. I would have sopped up the rest with more bread, had I not feared reviewer’s remorse.
I got the colossal sirloin steak ($35, pictured as featured image), a 24-ouncer, ordered “Pittsburgh” – charred outside, rare inside – after a colloquy with our server. (The menu offers detailed definitions of doneness levels, which I applaud.) Arriving with a properly baked potato, it was cooked precisely and offered the blood-iron tang of tender beef punctuated by salty charcoaled crust.
The 10-ounce petite N.Y. steak ($26) didn’t deliver the same satisfaction, blander and chewier. Cedar-planked salmon ($25), grilled atop a piece of wood, was moist with smoky accents and a wisp of summer cottage. A filet mignon-shrimp scampi combo ($41) offered beef that was almost spoon-tender and four shrimp. They had been butterflied in the shell and cooked that way, and came out tender and tasty with more of that garlic butter.
A side of onion rings ($6) was average, but the mushrooms ($3.75) were outstanding, large well-seasoned white mushrooms juicy and crispy-edged after a sherry flambe.
Two housemade desserts that stood out, even after all that, were Decadence Pierre, a towering but light peanut butter cream pie, and raspberry crème (both $6.50). The latter was a frozen blend of raspberry and sour cream that was dead simple but a bright ending to our meal.
Now I understand the full parking lot. Scotch ’N Sirloin offers reliable value to people who are looking to repeat pleasant nights past, not explore new territory. In an era when many owners believe that change is good for business, the one rare commodity Scotch ’N Sirloin offers is a table where time stands still.
Scotch ’N Sirloin - 8 plates (out of 10)
Wood-lined time capsule sticks with what works: fireplace, salad bar and steak.
WHERE: 3999 Maple Road, Amherst (837-4900)
HOURS: 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 11:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. Friday; 4:30 to 10:30 p.m. Saturday; 4 to 9 p.m. Sunday.
PRICE RANGE: Appetizers, $8-$13; entrees, $16-$51.
WHEELCHAIR ACCESS: Yes.