I was first introduced to Cliff’s Country Inn in Malta while visiting my sister JoAnn, who plopped a substantial package of red meat onto the table in front of me. “This”, she announced, “is the leftovers. And the dogs aren’t getting any,” she added, for emphasis.
Impressive leftovers, to be sure. “If you want prime rib, this is place to go,” she said.
Cliff’s Country Inn
WHERE: 57 Route 9P, Malta. Phone 584-9791 or www.cliffscountryinn.com
WHEN: 4 to 9 p.m. Mondays and Tuesdays, 4 to 10 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays, and noon to 10 p.m. Sundays
HOW MUCH: $85.31
MORE INFO: MasterCard and Visa. Children’s menu available. Reservations accepted. Wheelchair accessible.
And that’s how we ended up at a corner table on the deck at Cliff’s a few days later, on a perfect summer evening. The deck overlooks the parking lot, but beyond that, there are lots of trees and you can see a bit of Saratoga Lake.
If the weather is nice, pass through the burgundy-toned dining room to the deck. Cliff’s has your standard glass-topped umbrella tables and plastic chairs that are kind of hard to move around once you’re seated, but you won’t care because you’ll be thinking of meat. Vegetarians, stop reading and skip to the Lifestyles section now.
Aah, meat. “See those guys?” JoAnn asked, pointing to a table of four men in polo shirts and shorts. “They’re here for meat.” She kindly ordered the ham, leaving the beef to me.
Our server showed up and took drink orders while I gawped at the menu. Forget the burgers and sandwiches, I went right for the prime rib, which has pride of place on the menu: the English cut ($17.85) is the smallest, followed by the 12- 15- and 20-ounce servings. Not wanting to appear faint of heart and thinking of leftovers, I went for the 12-ounce ($21.95).
But first things first: I started with a tossed salad ($3.95) with raspberry vinaigrette, mixed baby greens on a glass plate with olives, red onion, one timid tomato slice, carrot and a few croutons. The dressing tasted like that stuff I buy at the supermarket, and the greens were a bit wilted, which made me suspect that some salads are made ahead of time, then dressed. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. You might want to get your dressing on the side, because their serving is very generous.
”Our clams are very clean,” the server told us as she dropped JoAnn’s first course onto the table. She got a pound of wide-open faultless steamers for $7.95. “Not too chewy,” was the verdict, and, “I haven’t had steamers this good in a while.”
We nibbled the warm bread and fished plastic butter packets out of a basket while we waited. Bread plates would be helpful here, but we weren’t complaining as the bread was good. Our salad plates were cleared promptly.
At last: The first prime rib of the evening was carried out onto the deck and headed for me. I instantly regretted ordering such a large slice, because it was, well, big. Embarrassingly big. My-pants-won’t-button big. And on the top, and here I must pause for emphasis, were three onion rings.
These onion rings deserve their own paragraph: they are breaded and fried until golden brown, crisp, the very acme of onion rings. They’re not greasy at all, and the piece of onion doesn’t all come out with the first bite. These rings told me that the fry cook should get a raise, and that Cliff’s cares enough about their food that they found rings that actually taste good. They distracted me momentarily from my beef. I ate them all first.
TASTY AND TENDER
”That’s a beautiful piece of meat,” JoAnn observed, as I started in on the deckle; that layer of meat around the edge is browner than the rest. The deckle has been called “the tastiest muscle in the entire cow” (Vegetarians, I warned you). The texture is more like that of a flank steak, and it’s often streaked with long streams of fat, but so much more tender.
My serving was perfectly medium rare, and juicy from marbling, which was more obvious the next day when I had it cold. It had excellent flavor, and you could cut it easily with a butter knife. Later, I took out a ruler and found it was an inch and a half thick. You can’t improve on this prime rib. JoAnn agrees.
Cliff’s has familiar, comfortable foods such as roast turkey and baked chicken (both $12.95), and JoAnn ordered the baked ham dinner ($11.95). It’s two wide, round slices of Virginia ham, and, because ham is usually served with something sweet, a small bowl of fruit. I’m telling you now, if you order something other than prime rib, you will regret it if your dining companion does.
Our server thoughtfully refilled drinks before we asked and packed up the leftovers. Cliff’s desserts are brought in, and I would usually skip, but JoAnn had already decided we should share the fried cheesecake. “It’s enough for two,” the server said.
It turns out the fried cheesecake ($5.95) is a sweet burrito with authentic cheese filling in a pastry pocket that is deep fried, then rolled in cinnamon and sugar. It’s the kind of thing you should have once a year; a dessert with consequences. The vanilla ice cream is especially good. We loved it.
Our neighbor just got his order: the 20-ouncer had arrived, a three-inch high slab of beef even Fred Flintsone couldn’t finish. JoAnn pointed: “That’s what you come for.” Aah, meat.
The tab for dinner with tax and tip came to $85.31.