ARE YOU HUNGRY, PARDNER? EVERYTHING'S BIG AT SADDLE RANCH CHOP HOUSE.
A MUCH BIGGER VERSION than the original Sunset Strip Saddle Ranch Chop House has opened in Universal City.
By taking over the former Country Star, Saddle Ranch leaves both the ex-Fung Lum building and the erstwhile Marvel Mania/Victoria Station edifice still dark.
Known for its mechanical bulls and rustic Western theme, Saddle Ranch is an attractively rambling, woody, barn of a place that seats around 1,500. It has a large outdoor dance floor, a stage and a deejay booth. It also beams sporting events and other stuff on more than 100 36-inch television monitors plus four 160-inch big screens, making it one of the nation's largest sports bars.
Most of the time its size results in plenty of available seating; consequently, it doesn't bother with reservations.
Its throng of youthful staffers seem to attire themselves in casual garb, mostly jeans and whatever sweat shirt, T-shirt, vest, blouse, tube or tank top in which they feel comfortable.
A few wear rakish hats or caps, Western or otherwise.
You can tell them from the customers by the order books and by the wiping towel hanging from their sides. Some have name tags, too.
Exuberant and very friendly, they constantly ask if everything's in order, if there's anything you need, if you're having a good time. And that doesn't just mean the person who's waiting on your table. More like a parade of them, seemingly almost everyone passing by who works for Saddle Ranch.
Soon after you're seated, a runner drops off a basket of biscuits and honey. Don't eat too many, because you learn pretty quickly that the ensuing portions can be extremely large.
Sharing makes sense here.
If you order something like the iceberg wedge salad ($6.99) for example, the server will surprise you by bringing this large mixing-size, wooden salad bowl filled with wedges of lettuce, a mound of crumbled blue cheese, a heap of diced tomatoes and two containers of creamy dressing. More than enough for two.
Make the mistake of requesting a ``cup'' of the good meaty house chili ($3.99) and you'll gasp when your entree shows up, because you know that you've hardly got room to make a dent in this extra-large oval platter filled with food.
At a restaurant called a chop house, chops and steaks would appear to make the most sense at dinner time, so both the two half-pound center-cut pork ($16.99) and the five Colorado lamb ($26.99) chops were two priority entree choices.
Needless to say, they both provide plenty of meat.
Because the kitchen tends to overcook meats, it may be best to order them one step rarer than you usually do. This was noticed when an 18-ounce prime New York strip loin steak ($26.99) ordered medium rare came up medium one time.
The amount of cooking doesn't really seem to matter much with the house specialty chicken-fried steak ($16.99), flattened and tenderized, batter-coated and caped with thick Southern gravy.
But on the chops, especially the pork, juiciness is important. Pork chops dry out so easily. Ordered here medium rare, they come forth moist and pink - and too much for me to eat at one sitting.
That's also because the entree platters arrive filled with crunchy green beans and a load of potato, either whole baked, mashed or french-fried.
The baked and french-fried are recommended over the garlic mashed, which seemed rather gluey one evening.
If you have room for an ending, the chocolate cake ($7.99) has heft, moistness and rich flavor.
And take note, if you decide to ride one of the Saddle Ranch mechanical bulls, best do it before the big dinner experience.
Larry Lipson, (818) 713-3668
SADDLE RANCH CHOP HOUSE
Food: Three stars. Wine: One star. Service: Three stas.
Where: At Universal CityWalk, Universal City.
Hours: Open from 8 a.m. to 2 a.m. daily, serving brunch from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. and dinner from 3 p.m. to 2 a.m.
Recommended items: Chops, steaks, wedge of lettuce salad, tortilla soup, chocolate cake.
How much: Starters from $4 to $19, entrees from $14 to $33, desserts from $3 to $8. Full bar. All major credit cards.
Wine list: Minimal. Around 16 bottlings, most available by the glass. No special bargains. Several draft beers, regular ($4.75) and large ($8.75).
Reservations: Not taken. Seats around 1,500. First-come, first-served policy. Information: (818) 760-9680.
A Porterhouse steak plate is among the amply portioned offerings at Saddle Ranch Chop House, a 1,500-seat restaurant/sports bar at Universal CityWalk.
Gus Ruelas/Staff Photographer