On a recent late Sunday morning, I was cruising south from Saguaro National Park East on Old Spanish Trail heading more or less toward Colossal Cave when I suddenly came upon The Settlement Smokehouse.
Turning abruptly into the parking lot, this establishment seemed somehow familiar. Didn’t this use to be … let me think … yes, yes. The old Bone-In Steakhouse. And before that it was the Webb’s Old Spanish Trail Steak House. Going back some 40 years, previous incarnations had been adequately panned and damned by a bevy of carnivorous customers and callous critics.
But I had recently read that the new name came with new management, and several folks had told us that it had changed for the better. So, I thought, why not a steak for brunch?
Entering by the front door, it’s hard to miss the large dining patio with a fountain and a dozen or so umbrella-shaded tables. From the patio, diners look east toward the nearby the Rincon Mountains and thousands of giant saguaros. This would be a delightful venue for a warm evening under the stars. But by 11:30 AM the patio was getting a little too warm for my comfort.
I was greeted and seated by Donald. I had a choice of a booth by the front window or one of many tables with upholstered knotty pine chairs. I took the booth and Donald took my drink order. Typically when going to a restaurant to do a review, I will order whatever the house says is its specialty. No reason not to let them show off what they think is their best. So I ordered The Settlement Margarita.
Waiting for my drink, I could look around and take in the scene. Mine was one of only three occupied tables, so service was probably not going to be an issue. (Although by the time I finished my meal, the place was filling up fast.) The ceiling was fashioned from saguaro ribs and looked sufficiently rustic. The walls had large framed prints of American Indians and cowboys. There were some old saddles draped over low interior dividing walls. In short, the place looked like what a steakhouse should look like … Old West through & through.
My “Settlement” margarita ($9) arrived in no time. Somewhat engrossed with the ambiance, I had forgotten what I had ordered. One sip reminded me. The Settlement Margarita is made from Patron Reposada Tequila and the usual … except for one particular, a jalapeno. Let me just say what should immediately be obvious. This margarita had a kick! But delicious!
Donald came back to take my order. I inquired as to the differences in their steaks and perhaps his recommendation. Donald had no recommendation. As it turned out, Donald had never had one of their steaks. Donald had just started working here.
No matter. I fell back on my usual choice when preparing a dining review. I ordered the house specialty: The Gaucho ($27). Donald didn’t actually know what a Gaucho was, but said he had heard good things about it. At this price, one would hope so.
While my meal was being prepared, I took a stroll around the place. Toward the back of the restaurant is a large window that allows customers to observe the huge mesquite-wood smoker and the mesquite fired BBQ. The area on the other side must have been quite warm because the chef looked to be about medium rare.
In the background was some canned country music. However, there was a sign as I entered indicating that they sometimes have live music … I presume on Friday & Saturday nights.
My Gaucho arrived with an assortment of grilled veggies and a large baked potato. Immediately there was an issue. There was something green on my steak. Seems the chef put a slather of cilantro sauce on the meat.
Hummmm. I like cilantro in very small portions. For example, at the Desert Museum’s wonderful Ocotillo Café they first bring you fresh-from-the-oven bread with a cup of cilantro spread. Very good. But on a steak … ?
Truth be told, it wasn’t bad, but I did scrape most of it off the meat. Speaking of meat, the Gaucho turned out to be a very good flank steak … just slightly chewy, but very tasty. Definitely mesquite-smoked flavor. With the giant serrated carving knife that came with it, slicing the meat was easy.
The sautéed veggies were excellent … grilled but not over-cooked. And the baked potato? LOVE baked potatoes with butter (but not sour cream). The menu indicates that you can have other stuff on your baked potato, such as jack cheese and their smoked bacon bits for only a dollar more. Maybe next time.
As a restaurant critic, I’m supposed to look for things to critique. So here are my only quibbles. Upon entering the restaurant proper, Donald seated me in the booth immediately to the left of the entrance. Somehow the design of this particular booth forces the body against the back of the seat and away from the table. Trying to sit up straight and eat my meal was going to be more abdominal exercise than I wanted under the circumstances, so Donald moved me to a nearby table with a knotty pine straight chair. Much better.
That potato with butter that I so enjoyed? The butter came in little foil-wrapped pads that were ice-cold. Unwrapping the foil is a nuisance, and particularly annoying when the butter is too cold to spread. A scoop of spreadable butter in a small cup would have been appreciated.
About that cilantro sauce that was served on my steak … I would have much preferred it served on the side. Finally, if it was on the menu, I didn’t see it, but if the meal had come with a fresh cold salad and a slice of fresh-from-the-pan cowboy bread, it would have been near perfect.
The menu is true Old West smokehouse. Pork, chicken, Black Angus beef. But The Settlement also offers salads, sandwiches, burgers, and seafood. If you go, I would expect you to have a most enjoyable dining experience. And try that Settlement Margarita … it’s an eye-opener.
I will be adding The Settlement Smokehouse to our List of the Best Southern Arizona Restaurants (by cuisine).
5400 South Old Spanish Trail
Tucson, Arizona 85747
Mon – Fri: 3:00 pm – 9:00 pm
Sat – Sun: 11:00 am – 9:00 pm