The sprawling, 62-year-old Sandy Boulevard steak house the shape of a castle rampart—complete with a full suit of armor at the door—is the only place in Portland you'll ever see nattily dressed 70-year-olds arrive at a dim and packed lounge to eat beef stroganoff at 10 pm on a Sunday, while in the next booth a 25-year-old with a braided man bun and tattoos digs into a $15 8-ounce prime rib special.
A new owner took over Clyde's at the end of last year, and while the food menu remains a deeply anachronistic mélange of '50s-era dishes like prime rib soup and oysters Rockefeller, the eatery has been quietly upgrading the way the food is made, keeping the familiar items but improving the sourcing and making more ingredients from scratch.
The restaurant's previous owner, Clyde Jenkins, had already revived the place a decade ago by bringing live music to the dimly lit, red-walled lounge—whether packed Sunday night jazz or a grinding R&B dance floor on weekends—rescuing the Prime Rib from its moldering afterlife as a poor man's RingSide and retirement home away from home.
But the one thing Jenkins didn't seem to upgrade was the food.
In December, Clyde's was bought by Alex Bond—who also owns Saint Cupcake and Nob Hill Italian spot Serratto. Bond told WW he loves the restaurant's old-school atmosphere—and expanded the lounge's live music to all week—but alongside some new paint and a new patio out front, he's also gradually giving the menu some subtle sprucing.
Any change at all is, of course, a very dangerous business proposition in a place where 30-year customers voice terrified outrage when you swap the proteins in the Cobb salad. "Somebody was really upset that we got rid of one of our cocktail ryes," said our server on the bar side during one visit, referring to the obscure '60s party snack of melted cheese on rye with fondue dip.
But the new protein on that voluminous Cobb is a rare and lovely thing, a house-smoked turkey that's tender, moist, and full of oaky flavor. And that stroganoff ($16)? The noodles are now thick, fresh and a bit al dente. The meat atop it is prime rib, with a richly flavorful gravy. It's the best version of the fucked-up TV-dinner food I ever expect to have in town—leaving aside the much-different beef-tongue stroganoff at Russian spot Kachka.
Clyde's trademark 28-day aged prime rib is now also dry-aged an additional five days, and the same meat as in the $19-to-$37 slabs pops up in surprisingly inexpensive places. The $13 prime rib bites swimming in au jus come with wonderful garlic mushrooms for $2 more, and a $12 French dip comes stacked with tender prime rib.
But there's still plenty at Clyde's that needs fixing. A $29 12-ounce, medium-rare ribeye was unpleasantly tough at its price point, and an overtorched, milky-middled creme brulee failed completely. The young should avoid the sedately white-tableclothed dining room, where septuagenarians sup under smoke-stained replicas of Vermeer paintings. On our visit, service was so bizarre and slow, it felt like an episode of John Cleese's Fawlty Towers—a parade of forgotten orders and disappearing acts, in which each (excellent) sidecar cocktail was carried singly and wobblingly with two cupped hands, at five-minute intervals.
"Some people are really talented and can bring two drinks at a time," said our server. "But that's not me."
But that deep-boothed lounge maintains its beautiful, almost sultry vibe even when there's a Monday piano man singing the Lion King theme with no traces of irony, let alone during a rollicking Wednesday blues set. Order a classic-recipe daiquiri or Manhattan, and impress your Tinder date with the best American-style stroganoff in town.
Order this: Beef stroganoff ($16), prime rib bites with mushrooms ($15).
Best deal: 20 wings for $14.
I'll pass: Dessert in general.
EAT: Clyde's Prime Rib, 5474 NE Sandy Boulevard, 503-281-9200, clydesprimerib.com. Noon-midnight Monday-Thursday, noon-1 am Friday, 5 pm-1 am Saturday, 5 pm-midnight Sunday.