A visit to Kitty Pappas’ Steak House is the antidote to an Art Culinaire universe, a breath of greasy air in a foam-and-microgreens world. Dining there is a singularly unique experience, as nothing quite compares to the bizarreness of this Woods Cross steakery. Even the twisted mind of Hunter S. Thompson couldn’t have conjured the weird world that is Kitty Pappas’ Steak House.You walk into what is essentially a tavern—a long bar filled with beer-drinking regulars. But, down at the south end of the bar near the Jerry Garcia photo, is the entrance to the dark dining room. No one will greet you. No one will seat you. Pick a table or booth and wait for George to get around to you.?
That’s “Crazy George” to you and me, pal. Crazy George is without a doubt the most unique restaurant server I’ve ever encountered, and that’s saying something. While JoLayne tends to the bar customers, George—son of Kitty Pappas—seems to be the restaurant’s only other server. He’s clad in black slacks and combo Hawaiian/tie-dye shirt open nearly to the navel, which gives you a good look at the peace symbol around his neck. I have little doubt that this is an original ’60s peace medallion; Crazy George is a hippie at heart.Seated at a booth in the vinyl and wood-appointed dining room, I ask George, “So, what’s good here?” “The sign outside says ‘steak’!” is his response. So I order the most expensive item on the Kitty Pappas menu, the sirloin steak ($20.45), along with a Polygamy Porter ($3.25). There is no wine. My dining companion orders the grilled cheese sandwich ($5). George quickly brings me a small iceberg lettuce salad doused with bottled dressing, a thick slice of tomato on top and, maybe in lieu of croutons, saltines on the side. No one comes to Kitty Pappas’ Steak House for the salads.
It’s a Friday night and the place isn’t especially crowded, but we wait and we wait and we wait for our food—somewhere upwards of 45 minutes. But it’s not that bad thanks to the most eclectic—which by my way of thinking means the best—jukebox on the planet. The juke is stocked with Crazy George’s CDs, and I must say he has impeccable musical taste. The soundtrack for the evening includes Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs,” done by the trombone band Bonerama; Dread Zeppelin’s cover of CCR’s “Born on the Bayou”; Richard Cheese’s splendid rendition of “Baby Got Back”; and tunes by superb artists like Tony McPhee & The Groundhogs, Ray Wylie Hubbard, and Jon Lord and the Hoochie Coochie Men. There are bluegrass versions of Moody Blues songs, and I think I remember hearing Dionne Warwick singing “The Look of Love.” Welcome to George’s universe.
The steak was disappointing: thin, overcooked and loaded with fat and gristle. But my companion happily declared hers “the best grilled cheese I’ve ever had!” It was nicely charred thin white bread with gooey white cheese inside. When I asked George what kind of cheese they used, he proudly proclaimed: “Processed Swiss!” It was indeed a very tasty sandwich, if perhaps not the world’s best. The so-so French fries (“no skinny, wimpy fries here” said George) were given a new lease on life thanks to George’s special fry sauce. There’s green and there’s red: a mixture of ranch dressing with green Thai curry and red Thai curry, respectively. Don’t knock it till you’ve tried it.
The best item on the menu is the eggburger ($5.25). It’s a juicy grilled beef burger topped with a fried egg. A burger plus a fried egg: How bad could that be? At lunch this time, my companion ordered the grilled ham and cheese ($6), which was a lot like the grilled cheese but with a thin slice of ham added. It didn’t suck either, but isn’t as good as the salami-and-cheese sandwich ($5.25).
Kitty Pappas’ Steak House has been around since 1947, so I thought I’d better go back and try another steak. There must be some reason folks have been ordering steaks there for 60-plus years. The club steak ($18.95) was as satisfying as the sirloin had been disappointing. Also known as a Delmonico, this cut was a vast improvement—thick, juicy and cooked to perfectly medium-rare. George has been known to go off on customers who ask for steak sauce before they taste his mom’s cooking, so I didn’t. However, he treated me to his special ketchup and mustard, each of which is spiked with Dave’s Insanity Hot Sauce. Both totally rocked my club steak. Then George and JoLayne convinced me to try slices of mom’s home-baked cakes ($2.50). The pistachio cheesecake and coconut cake with cream cheese frosting were damned delicious.
Kitty Pappas’ Steak House isn’t for everyone; Ruth’s Chris it ain’t, and they don’t take credit- or debit cards. But, if Crazy George’s weird and wonderful universe sounds appealing, definitely give it a try.
KITTY PAPPAS’ STEAK HOUSE
n2300 S. Main (Hwy 89), Woods Cross, 801-295-9981, Lunch & Dinner, Tuesday-Saturday