Lost Chapter: Sacramento Restaurants, Dining “Inn”

Serving up course after course of memories and recipes from Sacramento’s well-loved restaurants.

In this special feature for History Press West, authors Maryellen Burns and Keith Burns share a lost chapter as a taste of their new book:

Lost Restaurants of Sacramento & Their Recipes by Maryellen Burns & Keith Burns

Sacramento Restaurants: Dining “Inn”

Maryellen Burns and Keith Burns

Sacramento is one of the few cities in California that no longer has a historic hotel in operation. The closures of the Clunie Hotel, Sacramento Hotel, Hotel Senator, El Mirador, El Rancho in West Sacramento and others were truly the end of an era.

Meetings for societies, clubs, organizations, and leagues were the bread and butter of hotel banquet and private dining rooms. Dinner and an evening getaway at a downtown hotel was a special event. They also offered a romantic weekend for two, a day of shopping and dinner in the lounge, or a mid-week dance with a late night snack.

In the 1920s, major hotels included the Travelers Hotel, Golden Eagle, Land, Clunie and Sacramento. They all featured modern lunchroom restaurants.  The Travelers also had a high-class grill, serving steaks, chicken, and fish. The Hotel Californian at 8th and I Street had a coffee shop that catered to those in the legal profession.

Prohibition had its effect on hotels as well. J Street hotels, especially those near the West End, an area increasingly taken over by warehouses and whorehouses, offered food and bootlegged scotch.

By the 1930s, many hotels began eliminating their dining rooms and depended on nearby restaurants or coffee shops to provide food for their guests. The Hotel Worth rented their bottom floor to the Asia Café, famous for its Chop Suey.

During World War II, an influx of workers came to work at local airbases.  Food rationing was in effect and steaks were almost impossible to get, except for downtown hotels.

After World War II, motels were built along expanding highways in ever-widening suburbs. Downtown hotels began expensive remodeling projects, closed their doors altogether, or converted to residents hotels for the downtrodden.

Places like the Cordova Lodge, the Sacramento Inn, and Maleville’s Coral Reef Lodge had their own appeal and good restaurants attached or nearby. George Johnson owned the Cordova Lodge. George also owned The Del Prado at 5500 Stockton Boulevard. It featured fine foods enjoyed in pleasant leisurely fashion in a lovely, spacious dining room. Lunch or dinner featured the finest quality Mahogany broiled steaks – prime rib, chicken, and Nevada trout.

El Rancho Hotel’s Condor Room featured dinner, dancing and Hollywood celebrities in its heyday. Bob Miller.

The El Rancho Hotel, 1029 West Capitol Avenue in West Sacramento, was built in the 1930s and used to attract a Hollywood crowd. The Round Up Room was open from 7 am to 2 am daily.  It served Grade-A Kansas City chuck wagon steaks from a charcoal broiler, specialty prime rib cooked in rock salt and served direct from the cart with Yorkshire pudding. Plus there was dancing, nightly.  The El Condor room, a lush outdoor patio with fountain and aviary, had a lavish Friday seafood buffet and Sunday brunch.

The El Mirador Hotel had the Top of the Cosmo, a 14th floor cocktail room. It also had two pools, one in the Sky Room Terrace and another sunk in the first floor Esquire bar, where patrons could view water ballets through a glass panel and enjoy Polynesian rhythms. The Continental room could seat 500 diners. The Granada Room was the pride, serving the finest cuisine in a plush atmosphere patterned after an ancient Moorish castle.

The Ryde Hotel, in the Delta, is still around, though it only serves meals on the weekends. You had to know someone, or the password, to gain entrance to its large dance and gambling hall.

Golden Tee Inn. Bob Miller.

The Golden Tee

From the outside The Golden Tee looked like any just-off-the-freeway motel, with two double-story motel buildings, and a huge sign that listed the going price for a room. From the parking lot you could look across the busy freeway to the Haggin Oaks Golf Course.

What it didn’t have in location or ambiance, it made up for in a clientele that remained incredibly loyal.  Joan Dietrich, now in her nineties, went there for her 25th wedding anniversary and was enchanted:

“It was one of the few places that you could see your food but still be all dressed up when you ate it. The service was attentive but not stuffy like Aldo’s.  You could go out for a special evening with the hubby or take your kids and grandchildren to it.

As we got older it was harder to go out at night so we’d go mostly for lunch.  We both played golf and they didn’t seem to mind if you came in a little sweaty after a round or two. The food was great. I’d almost always order the New York sandwich, but they also had great liver and onions, something you didn’t find at many other restaurants in town. And, if you had just a little too many cocktails… well, a motel room cost less than $40.”

The Golden Tee Crab Cakes

Courtesy Joan Dietrich

1 ½ cups fresh bread crumbs

2 tablespoons mayonnaise

2 tablespoons celery

2 tablespoons bell pepper

2 cloves garlic minced fine

1 pound crab meat

¼ cup melted butter

Chop vegetables.  Mix all ingredients and chill for two hours.  Shape them into patties. Cover with more breadcrumbs.  Sauté in melted butter until nicely browned on both sides.

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To read more about Lost Restaurants of Sacramento & Their Recipes, check out Debbie Arrington’s article “Bygone Sacramento Restaurants Stir Fond Memories” in the Sacramento Bee, or click over to this Lost Sacramento Restaurants photo gallery, also featured in the Bee.

American Palate

Related Posts:

Sacramento History Awards

New from American Palate West: Lost Sacramento Eateries

New from American Palate West: California Apricots

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