It’s easy to be mistaken about a steakhouse. The phrase alone brings all sorts of ideas to mind, from a generally clubby atmosphere abetted by a large bar with lots of wood to a menu offering serious slabs of beef, set off with sauces from béarnaise to cognac-peppercorn and then accompanied with sides rich enough to scare away any calorie-counter: creamed spinach, twice-baked potatoes, mac and cheese. There’s probably going to be a cocktail, as you’re in a place with a real bartender, so stay trad, make it a martini, make it gin, and then there’s sure to be some wine, probably some hearty Napa cab. And then there’s the bill, when you hope you decadently dined on someone else’s expense account.
Holdren’s has opted to fight all these hoary ideas head-on with the reinvention of its Goleta location as Holdren’s Grill. Now, for instance, they offer a $39 dinner for two at which a couple can share either an appetizer or dessert, then each get one of four entrées (salmon, top sirloin, chicken breast, pork chop) and a soup or salad and one side. “We got such a huge reaction from running that special that it showed us where our pricing had to be,” says Blake Mason, restaurant general manager. “We needed to change the perception and stigma while still keeping a lot of the items people know from the State Street location. But here in Goleta, we offer smaller portions, the salad and soup are not included—but a lot of people said it was too much food anyway. I’ll go golfing and people will tell me they came in here just for that special. It just gives us a broader base instead of just having a niche appeal.”
Chef Sergio Dominguez, who has been at the Goleta location since its opening last year after working at the Newbury Park location, explained, “We used to have lobster tails, cowboy cuts, a porterhouse on the menu, but people weren’t ordering them as much. People were ordering more a grill-style, so we decided to do it a little more differently over here than the other two locations.” Indeed, two of the items on the Holdren’s Grill menu he singles out aren’t exactly trademarked steakhouse: the Buffalo wings and the fish tacos.
Mason candidly admitted that the original attempt to recreate the State Street Holdren’s in the Camino Real Marketplace “just wasn’t working. I don’t know if it was just the economy … probably a myriad of reasons. But that’s why we changed the menu. It became more like people just came for anniversaries or birthdays, but it’s hard to make it when people only come in every three months. It’s still a product we all believe in, just with the prices a little less.”
Dominguez stressed that “cooking from scratch is very important,” pointing out those fish tacos, for instance, feature house-made chipotle-lime aioli, salsa, and refried beans. He also explained that a Holdren’s steak—and this is true at all three locations—“is cooked on a mesquite grill over an open flame. It just tastes better than cooking it on a gas grill.”
The ultimate goal, though, is for Holdren’s Grill to be more like its sister restaurants. “The other two are such parts of their communities,” Mason said. “It’s Cheers-ish. Goleta hasn’t had something like that since Jasper’s left. That’s what everyone seems to want. A lot of people in Goleta would really rather go to some restaurant in Goleta without having to drive downtown.”
They’re after that hometown-hangout feel in numerous other ways, too. There’s the daily happy hour that’s longer than most, from 4-7 p.m., that features appetizers at half price, well drinks and margaritas 2-for-1, drafts for $2.50, and select cocktails and house wine for $5. There’s the ability to cater for groups of 10 or more that has led to regular business from Citrix and Raytheon. And then there’s being open on Thanksgiving Day with a moderately priced turkey or prime-rib dinner, an appeal to those tired of cooking and to UCSB students stuck on campus. As Mason put it, “We want all the Goleta locals to make it out and try us out.”
Satisfy your carnivorous cravings, or pescatarian peckishness, at Holdren’s Grill, 6920 Market Place Drive (Camino Real Marketplace). Call 685-8900 or see holdrens.com/grill.