When something is labeled “iconic,” people really mean that the thing represents an image, concept, or idea that carries a symbolic meaning so deeply tied to it that the label cannot be easily shaken off.
The thing — if you’re talking about Black Steer Restaurant in downtown Loveland — is partially perfectly grilled, juicy steaks. But being an icon is so much more than what’s on your plate.
Iconic restaurants hold a place above the others because they uphold an ideal of how food should be prepared and served in a setting that is eminently memorable.
The Black Steer captures an idealized portrait of western lifestyle. This has been happening since its inception in 1966 by local painter and sculptor Lee Stark.
Originally the ambulance garage for Loveland Hospital a door down south, Stark bought the building and planned to convert it into an art gallery and restaurant, Janice Eslan said. She and her husband Hamid bought the company from Stark in 1992.
Stark built in alcoves to showcase Western art and enlarged the building, extending it to the parking lot on the east side and installing two bars.
The bar at the back of the building gained its own unique notoriety, including its own address and phone list, according to Eslan. Calling herself The Rear of the Steer, she said that’s where “the alcohol flowed!”
Those were the days when alcohol advertising was a hot ticket. Stark gave nurses from the hospital free drink tickets; he also distributed them to soldiers in Denver.
“People literally hung on the lamps,” Eslan recalls, telling her people who said many said they met their spouses in the Black Steer. “If only walls could talk. It was a pretty wild place.”
After the Eslans bought the restaurant, they brightened up the dark interior while retaining the art alcoves and quaint Western theme, including rustic reclaimed wood paneling, wrought-iron lighting, and lots of horseshoe decor. A meal at Black Steer is like dining in an art gallery – you’ll want to meander to take in the original artwork on display. The Eslans continue to acquire their own Western art to add to the collection and also to highlight local artists.
Eslan said times have changed since the days when Stark was the owner.
“We cannot over serve, there are harsh penalties and we send our staff on classes on how to serve drinks correctly. We removed the middle bar and made the food the main focus of the restaurant,” she said.
The kitchen is a scratch kitchen, cooking up the same recipes Stark’s cousin and wife collected from their travels in Europe and the United States more than 50 years ago. Though Eslan said there have been modern additions like mahi mahi, ahi tuna, and T-bone steaks, the restaurant works to maintain the originality of what it serves.
That includes chex mix on the salads — yes, the muesli that’s been the life of the party (mix) since it was invented in 1952.
“The Chex is one of the things we are famous for. Our kids laughed when they saw it after we bought the restaurant,” she recalls, noting that they were college kids at the time. “But it was a signature. It looks weird now, but it’s good.”
Black Steer meat is hand-cut in-house from large sides of beef. Once trimmed, it is aged on site in meat cabinets and there are no additives or plasticizers. Cuts include fillets, T-bones, a New York strip, ribeyes and sirloins. Signature selections are a two-and-a-half inch steak sandwich and the pepper steak.
“We wrap the steaks in the seasonings and then put them on a 500-degree grill,” Eslan said.
French fries are hand cut and peanut butter pies are baked daily.
Eslan and her husband are also proud of their philanthropic program. The Community Kitchen of Loveland was conceived at the back of the Steer and has served as the town’s soup kitchen since 1994.
The couple hosted federal government workers for free meals during government shutdowns and for 16 years closed on Thanksgiving to serve dinner to those who didn’t have space or a way to cook the holiday meal.
The Eslans have no plans to sell the restaurant – their grandson recently told them he would like to take it over one day. This plan ties in with the generational bond that has run through the years of the company.
“People tell us they came to celebrate their high school graduation or their wedding and they come back. We also have third-generation employees,” Eslan said, as did her current manager, Amber Kaiser, whose mother was a waitress there, her uncle was a chef, her daughter was a waitress, and her son served tables.
The deputy manager Naomi Arvadi has also been in the restaurant for years.
It’s the kind of place where salads and sides are part of your meal, and where entrees range from savory classics like jalapeño poppers to trendier fried wild mushrooms or seared ahi tuna with Creole aioli. It’s the kind of place where – if you’re lucky – the friendly waitress will call you “darling” when asking for your drink order.
Homely and cozy, the food reliable and uncomplicated. In a way, that encompasses the Western perspective in a nutshell.
And the Chex mix? Well, that’s the iconic icing on the… salad.
To experience The Black Steer (and The Rear of the Steer):
Hours: 11:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. Monday to Saturday | 11:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Sunday
Where: 436 N Lincoln Avenue, Loveland
Contact: (970) 667-6679 | email@example.com | www.blacksteerrestaurant.com
What you will find: Serving lunch and dinner | Hand-Cut Aged Steaks, Surf & Turf, Seafood, Spaghetti Bolognese, Burgers | full bars | Outside patio in front of the back of the steer