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Dining review: A taste of old Hollywood

Burbank's SmokeHouse attracts actors, writers and even extras.

July 21, 2012|By Rebecca Bryant
  • Steak Sinatra, of tenderloin chunks in a stew-like broth with mushrooms and vegetables, served with pasta at SmokeHouse in Burbank.
Steak Sinatra, of tenderloin chunks in a stew-like broth… (Tim Berger / Staff…)

Hollywood has Musso & Frank Grill, and West Hollywood has that lovable old hussy, the Formosa Cafe. For a squinting glimpse of old Hollywood glamour, Burbank turns to the SmokeHouse.

It's a joint that's been serving up prime rib and iceberg wedges since 1946. Where Bing Crosby and Bob Hope sated their appetites. Where Frank Sinatra ate his filet mignon sauteed with tomatoes, peppers and onions and served over linguine. Order the Steak Sinatra and see if you share Frank's tastes.

In its current location, where it moved in 1949, across from Warner Bros., the SmokeHouse has been a decades-spanning draw for actors, writers, even extras. Legend has it that you used to be able to walk into the restaurant and see tables full of costumed cowboys and Indians that had wandered over during breaks in filming.

Burl Ives brought James Dean for lunch. Cary Grant and Rock Hudson wetted their whistles here. Captain & Tennille performed in the lounge in the early '70s before hitting it big. (For younger readers: Google them or ask your Aunt Martha.) And George Clooney spent so much time at the SmokeHouse during his years shooting “ER” at Warner Bros. that he named his production company after the restaurant.

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Today, diners still slide into the crescent-shaped red leatherette booths and strain just a bit to read the menus by the gas-style wall lamps. The wood paneling practically compels you to order a martini or a Manhattan. If that fails, then the worn wood and green neon COCKTAILS sign pointing to the sweeping bar ought to do the trick. The glamour has faded a bit, though. The foamy ceiling tiles are pockmarked, the bathroom has the ambience of an airport loo, and the woman who walks through the dining rooms hawking long-stemmed roses adds a fleeting awkwardness.

The menu spans steaks, barbecue, sandwiches, seafood and a small vegetarian section, with an entry in the appetizer section that proclaims The World's Greatest Garlic Bread. It's hard to argue. It's garlicky and cheesy, crisp on the edges and all buttery gooiness in the center. You know you shouldn't like it, but you do. The French onion soup has a beefy background with sweet, caramelized onions and Parmesan center stage.

Fish and chips comes with a lightly battered Alaskan halibut, crisp and firm. Thick steak fries and a tangy, chunky tartar sauce round out the plate. A bowl of sweet and tart cabbage slaw with peanuts sprinkled on top comes on the side.

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