3 Old-Fashioned Steak and Seafood Restaurants in Sanford


“Should we just sit anywhere?” I asked the woman behind the bar.

There was no host in the windowless, wood-paneled marvel that is The Cattle Ranch. Just twinkling lights and taxidermy and a Tiffany-style pendant light emblazoned with the Michelob logo, straight out of your uncle’s 1970s basement man cave.

“Smoker or not? »

OK, she didn’t really say that. But that’s how I scripted the cut in my mind, where 2022 evaporated and Hopper from “Stranger Things” Season 1 materialized, wearing his sheriff’s uniform and eating alone, a can of Schlitz and a bottle of Country Bob’s All Purpose Sauce on the table.

He would be sitting in a booth, of course, the one where countless Sanford residents have been clogging their arteries since 1984. That’s when this venerable, former steakhouse was opened by my friendly waitress. And there it is, stuck in time, much like the packets of buttery margarine spread they serve with the bread here.

“It’s what you’d think a steakhouse in suburban Milwaukee would be in 1978,” says Mike Smith, Sanford resident and chef/owner of The current seafood countera popular stand in the decidedly trendier enclave of Henry’s Depot.

His place is part of Sanford’s new wave of restaurants. But he was a fan and a regular at Cattle Ranch for the entire decade he lived here. In fact, Smith hosts “man’s nights” here on the reg, giving his married friends an excuse to get out of the house, bond, belch, and do sibling stuff, presumably.

Eight-dollar installments of Maker’s Mark that Smith says would cost $25 anywhere else — the Basin bar at Henry’s Depot likely included — don’t hurt.

And so, as downtown Sanford continues its steady renaissance into a fashionable, festival-driven neighborhood – it seemed high time to pay homage to the venerable old joints that bring people like Smith and me back to our years of training, hit a retro, wall-phone deal with the Millennial and Gen Z tribes, and rest of the places people love the gentleman who walked into a bartender’s greeting of “There he is!” can go on enjoying $2.50 cups of soap in a place as warm and familiar as his BarcaLounger at home.

I ordered “the Cowgirl”, a 16 ounce T-bone steak that comes with bread, applesauce and two sides for $25. This is also Smith’s usual order. Ever since her doctor advised against the 32-ounce Porterhouse dinner they call “the Cowboy,” anyway.

“Glorified steaks for breakfast” is how another hospitality professional friend of mine described the cuts in The Cattle Ranch’s list. He also likes the Ranch, by the way.

“When I moved here,” Smith told me, “it seemed like there were two sets of people — one liked The Cattle Ranch, the other the Colorado one.”

Smith ended up at the Ranch camp, as did my other friend, as smitten as the rest of us with the atmosphere, the staff (our server was a rock star sweet as pie) and yes, even the food, which sometimes comes with pressure – condiments in sachet. Sour cream for the loaded Buck Skins – skinned potato wedges topped with cheese and bacon, Smith’s usual application – and Sysco mayonnaise for the grilled chicken sandwich, which my daughter had during our visit.

Another friend, also a notable foodie, is a girl from Colorado. This being The best steak in Colorado, an equally nostalgic place that’s just as woodsy, but less rough around the edges. Here, you’ll find terrific bound menus and higher ceilings, but you might still hear Mötley Crüe playing at lunchtime. I did it.

“It’s our guilty pleasure,” she told me. She and her daughter go there at least once a month. “The steak isn’t top quality, but it’s always well seasoned and cooked to temperature. And the vegetables taste fresh.

She also likes the full and cheap bar.

I met my Ranch fan from a buddy here for a spread. Salad for him (fully comparable to The Cattle Ranch, but served on a glass plate instead of melamine; croutons may still be out of a box, but more refined and a cup of onion soup would order again for me ($5.29) I fought the temptation for what I’m sure would have been a very strong highball.

Our server – who had two six-tops, plus us, and was also working at the bar, was personable and, for his weed dip, not so slow – recommended the Dark Horse Saloon Steak Sandwich ($15.99), which my mate ordered. (A serious note, people: be nice to the waiters and people in the restaurant in general, it’s hard here and they try!)

The sandwich is a monster, of course, a ribeye steak nestled in thick sourdough Texas toast with caramelized onions inside and melted cheeses on top (use a knife and fork). He liked it, as did I, but we would both skip the sweet onions and sherry next time. I wanted to go T-bone for T-bone, but they were out. And the smoked prime rib that Colorado is known for wasn’t ready, so I opted for the rib eye as well.

The 12 ounce ($24.99) cut was, as my friend predicted, perfectly cooked and a bit thicker than my Cattle Ranch Cowgirl. The mixed veggie side, however, was even sweeter than the broccoli I had enjoyed at the Ranch. It didn’t bother me one bit – my grandmother’s fondness for over-steamed vegetables made it a guilty pleasure for me – but I think it’s worth noting.

On Lake Monroe, with a patio that couldn’t be nicer for enjoying the nice weekend weather, St Johns River Steak and Seafood offers 9-ounce glasses of wine and a menu that in places seems mired in 1991, but I’m a die-hard fan of the Baked Stuffed Grouper ($32), a standard order for me at similar joints when I’m in the Keys . Not to mention the frog legs with a choice of three preparations ($13). We went blacked out and were satisfied.

The fish and frog were fine, although the 16 oz rib eye, ordered medium rare, came out blue. Better than overdone, we ate it anyway (my mate that night was a rare steak guy anyway).

I have to give a quick shout out to the macaroni and cheese side, because frankly the vast majority of macs I try are disappointing. My Tennessee-raised dining partner feels much the same. Probably more intensely.

It was penne (I have another southern buddy who balks at anything short of the elbow), and it had a strong flavor. And creaminess. And a nice golden top and rim. We dug it.

I would visit any of these three places again. The latter, like many of his regulars, for this view and the old ones for this atmosphere. In fact, as I close this thing on a Friday, I think I might go back to Cattle Ranch, because the only cocktail listed under Full Liquor Bar on its paper menu (with prices written down) is Long Island Iced Tea ( $10).

I didn’t drink during my visit, but I inquired, as I found its notoriety intriguing.

“Is it good?” I asked.

“He is!” she says. “Especially when Gil does.”

Gil works on Fridays. I better file this thing.

Want to reach out? Find me on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram @amydroo or on the OSFoodie Instagram account @orlando.foodie. E-mail: [email protected]. For more fun, join the Let’s Eat, Orlando Facebook Group or follow @fun.things.orlando on instagram, Facebook and Twitter.

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