PLEASANTVILLE - The parking lot at Pistol Pete's Steakhouse & Saloon was a strange brew of heavy duty Harley-Davidsons, cars with out-of-state license plates, and a decorative horse-drawn covered wagon, all vying for the same parking spots scattered around the building. The patrons grouped inside at the downstairs bar seemed every bit as eclectic as the vehicles in the parking lot outside.
The bar crowd busied itself with the things that bar crowds do. We were intent on reaching our destination, the steakhouse on the second floor for our review meal when we ran into another surprise, a full-sized, stuffed buffalo standing guard on the way upstairs. Or was that a bison working the security detail?
Either way, we slipped stealthily past and breathed a sigh of relief as we slid into a booth near the window. Our bread had little personality, but we really enjoyed our appetizers, a notch or two above typical bar food. Bang! Bang! Shrimp ($9.99) would more likely be found in an Asian restaurant minus the exclamation points, but
Pete's version was perfectly executed by the kitchen.
A large portion of batter-dipped shrimp, resting on a bed of chopped lettuce, was topped with a sweet and spicy chili mayonnaise, that paired perfectly with the crisp coating. Served hot from the fryer, we couldn't stop eating them. An order of jumbo chicken wings ($10.99 for 12 pieces) were crisply fried and served with our choice of a medium or "deadly" hot sauce.
Not wanting to look like a couple weenies to the other "cowboys," but too scared to try the "deadly," we settled for medium. The celery sticks and blue cheese dressing that came with the dish were for sissies. We sampled the jumbo lump crab cakes ($17.99) that the menu described as grilled. We would have guessed broiled from the brown cap on top of the scoops of scallion-studded pieces of crab meat bound together with a basic cream sauce.
Mild tasting until dipped into the cocktail sauce served alongside or a homemade tartar sauce, twangy and sweet, pun intended. We chose ranch fries, for obvious reasons, and a fresh vegetable saute of the day that included zucchini, yellow squash and carrot slices.
We felt obliged to order a steak from the menu, pardner. The 14-ounce grilled ribeye ($17.99) seemed like the way to go. Bone-in, it might have been called a cowboy steak, but this boneless version seemed dry, tasteless and not especially tender. Red bliss garlic mashed potatoes were very good, served with more of the fresh vegetable medley. My dining guest and I agreed the vanilla ice cream in our fudge brownie dessert ($5.99) had an off taste from the freezer.
The dining room was pleasantly decorated with more cowboy ornaments than we could shake a six-shooter at. Cactus in all forms decorated the room and country and western tunes filled the air. Our server was dressed all in black with a cowboy hat to boot. Never a fan of theme restaurants as a rule, Pistol Pete's was a fun place without overdoing the cowboy shtick. All the other diners seemed to be equally as pleased with the large portions of very good food, clean and friendly surroundings.
The view from the dining area by the way, was mostly of the big Kmart sign with a longer view up the Black Horse Pike.
(C.C. Hoyt is the pseudonym of a southern New Jersey food writer. Write to Hoyt c/o Food Editor James Clark at firstname.lastname@example.org. Restaurant-ratings guide: 4 stars, extraordinary; 3 stars, excellent; 2 stars, good; 1 star, fair; 0 stars, poor.)
Steakhouse & Saloon
1000 Black Horse Pike
Hours: 11 a.m. to 1 a.m. Sundays to Thursdays, 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. Fridays and Saturdays
Liquor license: Yes
Disabled access: Steps on side, wide entrance to bar area
Credit cards: Most major
Price range: Appetizers, $6.99 to $10.99; entrees, $10.99 to $19.99
Our bill for two: $70 plus tip