I'm not exactly sure when steakhouses began taking themselves so seriously, where million-dollar build-outs and earnest but stiff waiters manage to get in the way of a great time. Going out for a killer steak with your mates should be a festive event, but good luck having fun when you can't afford a second round of cocktails.
Cabin Club is the anti-steakhouse, a woodsy log cabin with a celebratory roadhouse vibe. Step inside the diminutive but lofty restaurant and the world outside melts away, replaced by cheerful service, stiff drinks and some of the best steaks and chops in town. It's precisely the kind of place where three hours slips by in a snap, leaving guests chubby, tipsy and decidedly less poor than had they made reservations at any number of contemporary steakhouses.
Perhaps that's why Cabin Club has managed to survive for a quarter century in a brutally fickle dining scene. When the Westlake restaurant opened its doors in the early '90s, replacing the 35-year-old saloon that existed before it in that retro shell, it was surrounded by farmland. Now the little log cabin looks like a relic from another era, swallowed alive by suburban sprawl that has produced more restaurants in the past five years alone than in the previous 30.
Coincidentally, one of those new restaurants is the Rosewood Grill, which is set to open its third location just around the corner from Cabin Club. That means Hospitality Restaurants will have both its oldest and newest properties in Westlake, adding to a restaurant group that also includes Blue Point, Delmonico's and Salmon Dave's.
Little has changed since those early days, including much of the staff and the bill of fare. The menu remains refreshingly old school, with quality of product and consistency of execution trumping innovation and pretention. Order the shrimp cocktail and you net perfectly plump poached shrimp ($13) that are peeled, deveined, meaty and sweet. Order the Wedge ($7) and make way for a Titanic sized quadrant of cold, crisp iceberg drippy with Thousand Island and showered with smoky bacon. You want fun? Spend some time with Cabin Club's exceptional lobster bisque ($8), a lavish arrangement of lobster stock, cream and decades of practice.
How's this for old-school: entrees here still come with one's choice of soup or salad.
Before ordering, our server ticked off the night's specials, automatically following each description with the price. I found the practice pleasantly surprising given that none of our local big-name steakhouses even dare to display menu prices on their websites (go check). Cabin Club does, which led me to ask why. "If you feel like telling the customer the price is going to prevent them from ordering it, you probably shouldn't be selling it at that price," explains Christopher Oppewall, managing partner.
Not only has the Steak Christopher ($31) been a staple since opening day, it is cooked on the very same beast of a broiler. It's a classic dish comprising twin filets topped with sauteed shrimp, asparagus and a soupçon of bearnaise. In recent years, all of the beef was upgraded from USDA Choice to Certified Angus Beef and Certified Angus Beef Prime, depending on the cut.
What I love about Cabin Club is that it doesn't force diners to spend more money than they'd like. There's a perfectly wonderful 10-ounce sirloin for $22 alongside a massive bone-in ribeye for $48. Tony, the grill master, seems to have a sixth sense when it comes to nailing temps. That "cowboy" ribeye was charred to blistering on the exterior yet solid pink from top to bottom when sliced. It's the kind of steak that you dream about long after you've gone, especially during the drive home when you remember leaving the leftovers under the table. A meaty pork chop ($25) gets the same expert attention at the grill before being doused with a bourbon glaze and plated with black beans and rice.
There are plenty of non-chop options on the menu, like pan-seared salmon, steamed King crab legs, twin lobster tails and even baby back ribs. Those are fine for those who get to Cabin Club frequently, but for those who don't, only steak will do.
When it comes to the wine list, diners are afforded the same gracious latitude as with the solid fare. The sizeable list has everything from a $26 bottle of Malbec on up to $300 Napa cab and plenty in between. Glasses can be had for as low as $6.50 and $7, for heaven's sake, and boozy cocktails like an Old Fashioned, Manhattan or Dark and Stormy all are $10 or less.
One of the best spots to enjoy those cocktails is at the bar, which runs the length of the room. There, regulars fresh off the golf course will enjoy a few rounds, debate ordering some food, and realize much too late that they too have just misplaced three hours in the dim and cozy confines of a Cleveland classic.