Feb. 6 2012 05:31 PM

Mission Valley spot is the essence of retro cool

Photo by Amy T. Granite

A loopty-loop drive through Hotel Circle ended in a Travelodge parking lot with the only indication of food glowing before us on a sun-damaged sign that showed all of its 50-plus years. “Albie's Beef Inn,” I said on a chilly weekday night, steam puffing forth with each word.

The smell of time—not at all unpleasant and vaguely familiar—greeted us when we walked into the dark bar. Black-leather and gold-studded booths, mirrored walls and strategic lighting that illuminated the high points of painted naked ladies made me half-expect to see a young Joe Pesci kicking the shit out of someone on the floor over yonder. But, instead, the scene was super-cool, just what I'd want from a classic steakhouse frozen in time.

It seemed appropriate to drink an oldie but a goodie—the Ramos Gin Fizz. The New Orleans, turn-of-the-20th-century original calls for a 12-minute shaking by hand so that egg whites fluff for a meringue-y breakfast or brunch cocktail that, when topped with soda water, fizzes up and drinks like a citrusy flower. The version I received was a bit too thick and icy. If this had been a suspendered youth tending a trendy bar, I might have complained. But here I let it slide—the 'tender made an undeniably stiff drink and later convinced me to pose for a picture under the largest nude painting in the place.

It's best to leave your craft-cocktailing, farm-to-tabling, dining predispositions at the door and enjoy the no-frills meat-and-booze den for what it is: a preserved piece of Americana from which everything now considered cool has borrowed. 

Too bad chilled, metal salad plates haven't made the generational leap into ironic eateries; go figure. They're cool looking and useful. Salad comes with entrées and arrived on a cart after our appetizers—shrimp cocktail ($10) and sherried mushrooms ($6.50), both of which were unchanged blasts from the past. Family-style chopped iceberg in a large cold bowl with tongs jutting out and personal dishes of dressing with spoons—mine a basic, creamy ranch—were appreciated, convenient touches.

I ordered and received my prime rib ($23) medium rare. More than two inches thick, served bone-in and simply seasoned with salt and pepper, it had excellent flavor but was a tad fatty, even for this cut. A testament to how much I enjoyed the soft, pink meat was the barely touched side of horseradish sauce and undisturbed au jus. My sides included a lewd-looking, whole-cooked carrot that was sweet, like the menu described, and certainly likeable, and a twice-baked potato that was a head-scratcher—its filling bordered on dry, and the top layer was more chewy than the browned, crustiness I expected. A plain ol' baker would've made this meal over-the-top enjoyable.

My friends dug their old-school entrées, too. Highlights included chicken fried steak ($17) and the house burger ($10). I stole a chomp of the juicy, hand-formed patty and it tasted just like Mom used to make, with generous melted jack cheese on a white sesame-seed bun. We all commented on the great lighting in the dining room with added charm from the roaring fireplace; dim but not dark, we could see the details of our meaty dishes and each other. The bar is darker if you're looking for a low-profile meeting spot or seedy date night (my favorite).

Before it was cool to eat small plates of American comfort food in dark lounges with poor acoustics and bassy overhead music, there was Albie's—serving hearty portions of simply-prepared food in a seemingly un-replicable domain with piano-bar entertainment Tuesday through Saturday night. Stop in for a satisfying dose of nostalgia in dishes and ambiance that have stood the test of time.

Amy blogs at saysgranite.com and you can follow her on Twitter @saysgranite.


See all events on Friday, Dec 9