There are at least three steakhouses in Southern California with “Spunky Steer” in their names: Tony’s in Escondido that I haven’t been to, Tony’s of Redlands previously reviewed in the Weekly, and Tony’s Spunky Steer on the outskirts of Riverside. All three no doubt carry the scent of the ’70s, which is something like cooked steerage and beer. But Tony’s is the uber-’70s steakhouse—the unmistakable cowboy vibe that comes from all oak paneling and potted plants, and it’s that time-warp atmosphere that makes it so endearing—it it’s almost like Tony Orlando is breathing on you (in a good way). Every waitress here should be named Mabel. As I’m led to my booth the authenticity of the Spunky Steer blows me away.
I mean—Tony’ has got it all: shrimp cocktail, bad western art, fantastic service, and a lighting system that swerves from nuclear bright to “hey let’s plant some mushrooms and see if they grow” dark. Most of all Tony’s is genuine, with no canned corporate sloganeering (i.e. “I’ll be taking care of you today”) or genetically modified potato skins. The meals kick ass Saturday Night Fever-style too, with every entrée starting out with a choice soup or salad. Being the dead of summer, I opted for the salad, which is unapologetic iceberg lettuce, salt-laden croutons and a lonely beefsteak tomato tumbling around every forkful. Don’t expect garbanzo beans or artisan yellow peppers on this sucker, just blue cheese and plenty of it. This is the ’70s, bizach.
And that’s not all—I ordered a rib-eye steak, and lo if the entrée didn’t also come with a block of what they call “garlic bread,” which would ordinarily be a pedestrian slab of filler elsewhere but somehow, at Tony’s, that magical vortex of time and influences, becomes delicious, carrying the memories of Gerald Ford, Tang, and those crazy parties mom and dad would throw where the neighbors would arrive and place their keys in a bowl . . . and . . . and . . .
The steak’s also come with your choice of potato. If you order anything except the baked potato it’s your loss—these spuds achieve god-like status, all smothered butter, sour cream, chives, and superfluous pepper and salt. Tony’s Spunky Steer is one of those “why not” places, and there’s a voice telling you this: screw the cholesterol. The same voice also urges the steak, because that’s the whole experience. Needless to say, to come here and not try the porterhouse, the rib eye or any of the other choices on the menu is a culinary high crime. Yeah, the burgers are tasty and the ribs delicious, but where you can find a steak as affordable and cooked to order in the Inland Empire is beyond me.
My rib eye came to the table on a sizzling steel platter, meat still stewing in its own juices, juices so rich that steak sauce would be superfluous. Put simply, Tony’s uses the highest-quality meats, and they season the cuts well. I savored every bite, and at the end of the meal I was satisfied enough to say—I came, I ate, I Seventied. And you can’t say that everyday.
Tony’s Spunky Steer, 4957 Felspar Street, Riverside, (951) 681-6014. AE, MC, V