BBQ at The Cats Restaurant and Tavern
While hiking in the Los Gatos Hills above highway 17, Scott and I began discussing dinner plans. Naturally, we always think about our next meal while walking off our previous meal. It’s the circle of life.
I had originally planned to cook but since we were near downtown Los Gatos and were really sweaty and probably starving (usually my excuse for not cooking), we decided to eat out.
From on up high, after viewing the depressingly shallow reservoir (see above), we made our way down the trail back to the car, throwing around dinner ideas. We weren’t craving anything in particular. But then we saw it. Down below, was a saloon-like building lit up just like a Christmas tree, with little outdoor string lights and neon beer signs.
We wondered what it was and I blurted out, “I bet it’s a BBQ place!” We both grinned. We had found dinner. It’s amazing what you can discover in a small town like Los Gatos, having lived nearby for years.
Our evening hike had turned into date night – but we had no idea how mouth-watering it would turn out to be. Head-over-heels-mouth-watering. No exaggeration. The Cats Restaurant and Tavern is the cat’s pajamas. Fittingly so, since it’s home is the town of Los Gatos, or in English: The Cats.
With two hops, a skip and a jump, we found ourselves in the parking lot only to be greeted by two towering, stone cats guarding a gated driveway leading up a high hill to another building. Either they were guarding Cleopatra’s tomb or more likely, the owners lived up there. Or maybe, and I find this a far more exciting idea: The Cat Lady of all Cat Ladies lived there, spending her days overseeing a private group entitled, Cat Ladies Only.
I’m more of a dog person, so this was neither here nor there.
We parked and made our way inside the restaurant, guarded by two miniature (bob?)cat statues (I sense a theme here). Between the live band and a crowded bar and the Midwestern antiques nailed to the walls, we quickly learned there is quite a bit of history behind this place.
Turns out it used to be a stop on the original stage line, then called Cats Roadhouse. In the 1920s, it was a notorious speakeasy; in the 1940s it was a sporting and gun store; and finally in 1967 it was established to be the tavern it is today. Read the entire history here.
It is one of the only original road houses in the United States. After the 19060s owners served their last meal, the current owners took over in 2008, who then traveled the country collecting antiques and “old saloon decor” to decorate the tavern. They did a damn good job. We fell in love with the place immediately. But would their food hold up to our BBQ experienced taste buds?
Turns out it did, and we lapped it up. The new owners knew they knew they had to win everyone over with the best BBQ. They became certified Pit Masters by taking classes from the BBQ world champion (seven times over) Paul Kirk.
Why their BBQ is so smokin’ awesome:
- The meat is slow smoked for 6-10 hours in their custom-built BBQ pit
- The meat falls off the bone
- Each meal comes with coleslaw and cinnamon topped, homemade cornbread (it’s not often you see cornbread topped with cinnamon)
If you go here for the BBQ, great! If you go here for the history, even better. But if neither of those are convincing enough, go for the burnt-end baked beans. You’ll fall head-over-heels. Unless you’re a vegetarian, then don’t go here. That would quite frankly be blasphemy.
Hidden inside the beans is an ingredient we couldn’t quite put our finger on. All we knew is we yearned for more. It was catnip to us (these cat metaphors are hard for me to swallow — again, dog person over here). It could have been the beef brisket chunks. Or the six-hour smoking process.
Either way, Scott and I knew the next time we make our way back to the Tavern, it will be the Burnt-End Baked Beans that brought us here. The Chicken Gumbo is bomb, too. But there’s nothing that matches the beans.
For drinks, we both ordered the Chocolate Stout by Rogue Ales. I’ve tried many a chocolate stout in my day, but this one speaks the truth. So often, I’m like, eh. I guess I taste the chocolate. We both concur, it’s delectable. Never thought I would use that word to describe a beer, but here I am doing it.
If we weren’t full to the brim with brisket baked beans, coleslaw, sweet cornbread and falling-off-the-bone chicken and ribs smothered in the most smokin’ BBQ sauce this side of the Mississippi (am I allowed to say that as a Californian?), we would have celebrated our discovery with another beer.
So skip the wine. Go straight for the chocolatier beer.
Not in the mood for BBQ? Stop over for live music and Karaoke nights. Just don’t miss the entrance to this place – it’s about one mile before the Bear Creek exit and highway 17 has made U-turns a thing of the past.
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