REPRINT FROM L.A.BIZ
Feb 4, 2014, 1:36pm PST
The best steakhouse on Catalina Island
The Brays of Avalon are as much a part of Santa Catalina island as the wild herds of buffalo, the iconic casino and the annual migration of Angelenos
flocking from the mainland. Steve Bray, owner of family-run 'Steves Steakhouse, is a fourth-generation native, who left for college in San Diego only to return and raisea new generation on
this 75-square-mile paradise, 26 miles off the California coast.
"Everyone said I was a fool to open this place," Steve tells me, explaining that its second-floor location above was hard to spot by pedestrians on Front Street, below.
"But I knew it was going to make it," he confides, "because I worked here from 75 to 79, when I was in high school."
He was bussing tables back then, and now he owns the joint. And he's been succeeding with it for more than a dozen years.
"I've been in the restaurant business my whole life," he tells me. "Seafood is all I know."
But that's a lie. He knows a good steak, too.
Steve Bray, owner and operating manager at Steve's Steakhouse, comes from a long line of pioneers of the small island resort-town of Avalon.
As a fourth-generation islander, Steve's family heritage traces back to the days before chewing gum magnate William Wrigley, Jr. owned the island. Steve's great-grandfather was
the first county judge of Avalon; his grandfather was a local sheriff and constable, and his father was a local boat captain for 55 years.
Why you should go:
Obviously, you go for what is maybe the most romantic view on Front Street. But you also go for the quality of the ingredients that Steve's sources.
"We buy as much as we can off this place," he says. That includes the straight-from-the-water catch of a local fisherman you can watch from the bay windows. He also sources his
fish from Anderson Seafoods, an Orange County company. His meat, he gets from Newport Meat Company.
"They're the best. It's worth it," he says, explaining that they aren't cheap, and adding, "and they have everything."
What to order:
Obviously, you're here for the surf and the turf. Always ask about the daily specials. You just never know what Steve's got now.
The coconut shrimp is a house specialty, and you can't go wrong starting with this appetizer.
Local Sand Dabs were on the menu when I came in for lunch.
"Sweet, white, delicate," Steve said of the smallest member of the Halibut family. They're served with lemon and capers, soaking up the flavors like a sponge.
For carnivores, you'll find the best grass-fed steak on the island right here.
When it's time for dessert, the signature key lime pie is renowned back on the mainland.
There are a selection of fairly good house cocktails, a full bar, some good craft brews and a smart wine list. But this is Catalina, not downtown L.A. or Santa Barbara County;
people here walk around in ridiculous straw hats they earned by drinking goldfish bowl-size tropical drinks.
You want the island favorite, the Buffalo Milk. Every bar in town seems to have their own recipe, and everyone will tell you theirs is the best. Steve's version of the
concoction, composed of vodka, Kahlua, crème de cacao and crème de banana, is topped with whipped cream and served with a straw. This is no kiddie drink, however, beware because it packs a little
What people are saying:
Jennifer Miner, a local authority on all things travel, summed it up in March of 2009, saying, "It's the best steakhouse restaurant on Santa Catalina Island."
Miner writes, "There are a few restaurants on Catalina that are in turn fun, beachy or fantastic. Steve's Steakhouse is all three."
"The views of Avalon Harbor are gorgeous, especially around sunset … the dinner menu offers all the favorites of any top-notch steakhouse, along with the most fantastic
surf and turf I've seen in a tourist-centered beach town. This, the Steak and Lobster, is prepared with sirloin and either Australian or local, spiny-tailed lobster … The Shrimp Avalon Style is
also notable; this latter is so flavorful, in fact, that it's almost distracting."
More recently, January of 2012 to be precise, David Porter wroteone of the most informative articles about the island for The Roaming Boomers. He talks about a dinner with his
wife at Steve's, saying they began with "Thai Crab Cakes, the best Fried Coconut Shrimp we've ever had in our lives, and a beautiful bottle of Silver Oak Cabernet Sauvignon. Absolutely, out of this
world. … We slowly dined while enjoying the candlelight, our Silver Oak and Steve's wonderful company as he stopped by each table to make all feel welcome and special."
Porter concludes by saying, "When you visit Catalina Island, make certain that Steve's Steakhouse is at the top of your dinner reservations."
Fodor's Travel has this to say: "Within spitting distance of the bay and most Catalina hotels, this second-floor steak-centric restaurant keeps hungry diners happy with USDA
Choice steaks and slow-cooked baby back ribs, as well as ample seafood such as locally caught swordfish and the popular Avalon-style shrimp. The sultry black-and-blue decor and old-fashioned supper
club feel create a romantic, retro atmosphere that's enhanced by the restaurant's stunning harbor views."
And Frommer's:"Step up above the busy bayside promenade into a fantastic collage of museum-quality photos capturing the Avalon of old. This setting overlooking Avalon Bay feels
just right for the hearty menu of steaks, seafood, and pasta – all of which can beordered at the full bar, as well as in the dining room. Catalina swordfish is their specialty, along with
excellent cuts of meat. You can also make a respectable repast of appetizers such as oysters and sashimi."
And finally, a contrarian.Feed the Monster, a blog about a man who eats his way through L.A., is unimpressed with Steve's, giving the joint a mere monster-and-a-half.
He complains of the décor ("Part Art Deco, part 1984 neon color scheme, part shabby chic, all putrid"); the menu ("An uninspired menu of steak and seafood on offer that doesn't
display any originality or ingenuity"); the service ("Ineffectual service where you might have one server you never see again and then 10 servers who each ask you the same annoying questions); and
the food ("Clam chowder that is watery and has bacon … The fried combo of fish and chips [is] so fried that it might as well not be seafood. Maybe it actually isn't. And the fries aren't good").
What I think:
Generally, when people complain profusely about a restaurant, it's usually the service they're whining about, and that tends to cause even the food to taste lousy. And when it's
one person or a mere handful of people complaining about what is otherwise considered friendly and professional service, it's probably the case that someone just had a case of "the Mondays." Or maybe
it was an off night for a particular server or whatever.
My point is that one should take with a grain of salt a troll-ish review. I count myself in the vast majority of food writers, of the opinion that Steve's Steakhouse is reason
enough to get on a boat and go 26 miles for dinner.
- Scott Bridges has covered the Los Angeles scene for over ten years as a journalist and food critic. Follow him on the Huffington Post