Thursday, May 29, 2014

Family Celebration Time at North Woods Inn

Clearman's North Woods Inn
14305 Firestone Blvd. 
La Mirada, CA 90638

You have probably passed by it a million times. The snow covered restaurant off of the 5 Freeway going towards LA. It's right where the traffic always seems to start backing up entering Norwalk and all points beyond. Why is this section of the freeway only three lanes wide, when it should be about six lanes across? Okay, that's the end of my traffic rant for now, but if any of you work for Caltrans, can you please put in my request for more lanes on the 5 Freeway?

Anyways, back to the snow covered restaurant at the Valley View exit of the freeway. Clearman's North Woods Inn seems to have been around forever. The truth is, it has only been in this location for 25 years now. Yes, that's a long time in the restaurant business, but it really does seem like I have seen this restaurant since I was a kid. In those 25 years, my family and I have celebrated numerous birthdays, anniversaries, and graduations here. The reason for this visit, more of the same, celebrating Katie's birthday and my sister's anniversary.

North Woods is part of the Clearman's Restaurant Group, which operates two other North Woods locations, (Covina and San Gabriel), along with Steak N Stein in Pico Rivera, and the Galley, which is also situated in San Gabriel, and is more of a casual sports bar type of place. The menus in their restaurants are all kind of similar; steaks, seafood, and sandwiches dominate the menu, but what really gets people talking are their side items that come with the dinners. More on them later.

We got to North Woods just after 3PM on a recent Sunday afternoon. We went with this unusual time to maybe avoid the crowds. Mission accomplished. We were almost the only party in the restaurant, but as we were leaving, it started to fill up. Waits for tables here can get pretty long during peak meal hours. Once you enter North Woods, the hunting lodge feel continues inside. It always seems to take awhile for my eyes to adjust to this dark restaurant. We got here so early that there were very little peanut shells on the sawdust covered floor, but we made quick work of that. Snowshoes, Tiffany lamps, and stained glass windows lend to the cabin decor here, which has never changed, much like the staff, which we have seen from year to year. Also not changing is the menu. With so many trips here over the years, I pretty much knew what I would be ordering when I walked into North Woods. Let's see if this visit would be the same as all of our previous ones.

Whether waiting for your table to be ready, sitting in the bar, or seated at your table, you will definitely have the opportunity to eat peanuts and throw the shells on the floor. Go ahead, there are signs letting you know that it's okay to dispose of the shells all over the restaurant. These unsalted peanuts are okay. Wish they were salted, but I found myself grabbing a couple of handfuls while waiting for our food to come out.

Whenever you run into someone that has been to North Woods, the first thing they instinctively bring up first are the side items that come with all of the meals here. The two salads and bread are all refillable, which really helps squash any family squabbles over who would get the last piece of bread. The salads are a Pickled Cabbage Salad and a House Salad, which kind of has a mild blue cheese dressing that they add liberally. There's really just one way to eat these salads, and that's to mix them together. They go so well together, the slightly sour taste of the pickled cabbage, and the tangy house salad. If you eat these salads separately, you are doing it wrong. There is however no way to eat their famous Cheese Bread wrong. Even though you have a meal coming, it's impossible to not fill up on this bread. Even writing this a few weeks later, I can still taste this cheese bread in my mind. Sourdough bread is topped with a cheese spread that bakes into the bread perfectly after it is placed under the broiler. Delicious, and one of the best bread baskets ever. I probably had six slices of this while eating here.

We'll start off the entree portion of this review with my niece's selections off of the kid's menu. Both Kaylie and Lillie had different kinds of chicken. Seven year old Lillie tried the Chicken Strips ($6.95). She's a pretty picky eater, but managed to eat a good number of the fries, and one whole chicken strip. She liked the barbecue sauce they used here. Kaylie is a much better eater, and really enjoyed the Kid's Fried Chicken Dinner ($6.95). She devoured the leg, and many of the french fries, but her Dad took the breast for lunch the next day.

Kind of a boring looking plate, my sister and mom split the Steak Chunks on a Skewer ($23.95). With this dinner you get two skewers that contain three chunks of meat on them. This is the perfect dish for those with tiny appetites, or people that filled up on the bread and salads. This plate, like all the dinners include Rice Pilaf and a Baked Potato. Unless you absolutely love traditional toppings on your potato, get the same cheese spread that is so good on the bread, slathered on top of your potato. It brings the baked potato to life.

Both my dad and brother-in-law got the same thing also, the North Woods Scallops ($29.95). This dinner came with about seven golf ball sized scallops on each plate. I tried these and thought they were a little rubbery, and not as flavorful as I would have liked. If it weren't for the breading, these would have been pretty boring. My brother-in-law said he would stick with a steak on his next visit.

Katie was a little taken aback at the sheer size of her Fried Chicken Dinner ($19.95). Yes, that's four pieces of nicely fried chicken on her plate. This chicken was not overly breaded, lacked a greasiness, and most pieces were pretty tender, with only the large breast kind of a little on the dry side. It's probably heresy to say this, but this fried chicken almost rivals the one served down the freeway at the famous berry theme park. When I don't get steak at North Woods, this is what I get.

I did get a steak on this visit though. I have not figured out what my favorite kind of steak is yet, and at this age, I may never have a favorite. I went with the Angus Rib Eye ($33.95) this night, because ribeyes are supposedly the most flavorful steak, but also the most fatty. This one had some fat on it, but it was not as bad as others I have had. This steak was 16 ounces, and cooked to my desired medium rare specifications. Not the most tender piece of steak I have had, but it did have a decent flavor profile. The baked potato came with plenty of cheese spread, so that was all good. The rice pilaf here is nothing to write home about. Very bland, and adds nothing to the meal.

When you tell them that you are celebrating something at North Woods, they always send out two scoops of Orange Sherbet. I always enjoy this after the large meal I just ate here. It's light, and cleanses the palette for a little while, before you can taste the cheese bread again.

We have been going to North Woods for a long time now, and it's always the same. This is a restaurant that does not take too many chances by adding trendy items to their menu. You're not going to see kale, truffle oil, or okra on the menu here. The menu has been the same for as long as I can remember, and that's probably the way most of their customers like it. The entrees are not of the Mastro's, Morton's, or Capital Grille quality, but they are passable. The real draw here are the salads and cheese bread, and that's enough to get us back here once a year for any kind of family celebration. The service is always real good, and the prices are a little on the steep side, until you realize that you are getting a full meal here, unlike those other fancy steak restaurants. So when traffic suddenly stops at the Valley View exit of the 5 Freeway, get off, and head to North Woods for some cheese bread and some salads. Not that the traffic will die down, but at least you will have the lingering taste of the cheese bread all the way to your destination.

Out of five softballs, (because La Mirada is home not only to North Woods, but is also where Jennie Finch, one of the most prolific woman of softball, grew up), five being best to zero being worst, Clearman's North Woods Inn gets 2.5 softballs.

For more information about Clearman's North Woods Inn, go to their website here:

Clearman's North Woods Inn on Urbanspoon

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