The Cats Restaurant has been around in one form or another since the early part of the 20th century. At one point, it was a stage coach stop for wealthy San Franciscans traveling to Santa Cruz to their summer cottages. It served meals and operated a brothel for loggers who took down the redwoods to help rebuild San Francisco following the 1906 earthquake. The Leo and Leona statues of two white cats stand sentinel to the locked gate of the estate of the previous owners were erected in the 1920s. Presidents, politicians, and movie stars have all dined at The Cats over the past century.
The new and current owners have enthusiastically restored the interior and exterior to a burnished shine. Be sure to check out the tin ceiling and take a peak at the wall which remains exposed as the restaurant was built into the side of the mountain. The interior has been beautifully re-done so diners can enjoy real BBQ in a comfortable setting.
The new owners have taken extra care to develop a real Kansas City BBQ style menu, even bringing in a chef who knows meat. There is also a full bar and entertainment on weekends.
I had been waiting to eat here since it opened, but it is pretty crowded most evenings. I risked it and brought my niece, who was visiting from out of town. We arrived on a Saturday night at 6 pm. We were seated immediately.
Our server was enthusiastic about the baked beans and recommended several menu items. He was a great guide. My niece ordered a pulled pork sandwich with green salad and baked beans. I ordered the filet Mignon sliders (3) for myself. Then, since I had a hungry teenage boy at home who hails from Kansas City, I ordered 1/4 rack of Kansas City ribs with a side of a baked potato to go.
Diners are treated with a basket of warm garlic bread and a small bowl of BBQ sauce for dipping. This is a nice idea, but I would have gone a little farther - I would have set up three different BBQ sauces on a tray so diners could sample different sauces and then be able to tailor their entree choices to their preferred sauces.
The house salads which accompany entree orders are standard fare - iceberg lettuce, a few tomatoes, croutons, and choice of dressing. They are a generous size, but nothing special.
The pulled pork sandwich is made with a generous portion of pork, topped with a crispy cole slaw between two thick slices of bread. My niece couldn't finish it, but my teenage son was able to manage it easily when we brought it home.
The sliders were not as good as Main Street burgers in Los Gatos. I ate one and brought the other two home for my husband to finish. My husband commented that he would expect the meat to be of better quality. The sliders are served on standard small buns, with a small amount of cheese, no lettuce or other produce. It would have been nice if the chef had dressed up the plate a little bit - even if it was just with some pickles.
The baked beans are very good - but a little goes a long way. The flavor is very strong, almost to overwhelming and none of us could manage more than a few mouthfuls.
The menu is heavy on the BBQ. It would be nice if they added a couple of pasta or fish dishes for vegetarians, but it should be understood that this place is a BBQ joint. I would like to return to check out some of the other menu items.
Our server was attentive, enthusiastic, and very welcoming.
Arriving home, the BBQ ribs, the sliders, the remaining half of the pulled pork sandwich, and the baked potato were divvied up between my husband, our 16 yo son and his buddy. I liked that the restaurant had packed the sour cream and chives in separate containers for the baked potato for the take out order so the potato could be dressed by the diner. There was a generous portion of six ribs - pre-cut for easy eating. There were also two wet-wipes to help with cleaning up fingers.
All the food disappeared rapidly and I didn't get much feedback from the guys other than groans of pleasure, so I am guessing they liked it.
The entire meal (ribs, sandwich, salads, baked beans, potato, plus two glasses of Chardonnay) came to $66 plus tip. This fed two women, a grown man, and two teenage boys.
This would be a great place to take a date, celebrate an occasion, or get together with a few friends.
A word of warning - entrance and exit to the Cats can be tricky. There is a left turn into the Cats from Northbound Hwy 17 which means drivers have to cross southbound hwy traffic. If you want to return Northbound, you have to make a right on Hwy 17 going South, go up to Bear Creek Road (about two miles) then go over the overpass to access the Northbound direction. If you try to make a left from the Cats to get into the Northbound side of the Highway, your vehicle will likely become one of the many casualties and you will slow down all traffic for a couple of hours while the highway patrol comes to cite you and arrange for a tow truck. The best plan is to arrange your stop on your way to the beach coming from San Jose/Los Gatos.
If you are nervous about doing any of that, take advantage of the free round trip shuttle service from Los Gatos, which is being provided due to the limited parking and the dangerous highway situation.
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