According to local legend, Western movie star Tom Mix took his last drink at the Lariat. He had one more for the road, ignored the bartender’s warning, then jumped back into his 12-cylinder Cord and roared off into the desert night.
It was his last night on Earth.
Willie Nelson played the Lariat for a hot meal. Waylon Jennings was there. Ronnie Milsap was the opening act for his wife.
Carlos — everybody just calls him Carlos — is an old rancher who’s been coming here for more than 40 years. He’s in his mid-80s now, but you can still find him every Ladies Night and on weekends, out on the dance floor. He’s the one wearing the classic cowboy Stetson, Wrangler jeans, colorful western shirt and boots, and dancing with the prettiest women.
Oh, and there’s a ghost at the Catalina establishment, which has new owners.
“That’s just Clyde,” said Jeannie Delfakis-Benavente, co-owner of The Lariat with her husband Tony. “He was an old ranch hand with health problems who came here almost every day for years. I haven’t seen him, but people say his ghost hangs out in and around the kitchen.”
Busboy Clint Ward sets a couple of plates down and nods his head in agreement. “One time I was going to clean the restroom, opened the door and someone slammed it shut. I waited and waited and finally walked in. There was no one there.”
The Lariat was officially established as The Lariat Steakhouse & Saloon in 1948. Long before, though, it was a Catalina watering hole, the Benaventes say.
Now called The Lariat Prime Steakhouse, the new owners are trying to “bring back the quality that was a Lariat tradition,” according to Tony. At the same time, the couple brings their own personal expertise to create something new.
It’s a tall order. The Lariat is a steakhouse with indoor and patio dining, and a saloon with live entertainment and a wooden dance floor. The menu offers not only prime and certified Angus beef with all the fixins’; it also contains menu items like poblano cheese dip, crab cakes and mesquite salmon.
Seafood at a steakhouse? That’s where Tony and Jeannie’s knowledge and experience living in the Northwest comes into play.
“We have a mesquite honey glaze that goes over the salmon,” said Jeannie. “Next, we broil it over a cedar plank, the aroma is fabulous. It tastes like Oregon.”
The new owners are also making an extra effort to use local ingredients and producers.
“Nothing is pre-packaged here,” said Jeannie. “We even roast our own chilies, and just the other day Tony found two ladies from South Tucson who are going to be making all of our hamburger rolls and sandwich breads.”
Jeannie Benavente grew up in a Greek immigrant family. Her father and sister own the restaurant Athens on Fourth Avenue in Tucson, and her mother wrote a textbook on food service management. From her parents, Jeannie learned “how to plan, saute, deglaze, reduce, sear, roast, pan-fry, broil, bake and the meaning of the work ethic.”
Tony Benavente brings hard work to the table, too. When they first took over, he did all of the remodeling and cleaning.
Early on a Wednesday night, Carlos the old rancher has yet to make an appearance, but the night is young. In the dining area, the stone fireplace blazes. Out in the saloon is the sound of easy laughter as two couples play a game of pool. Country music plays on the jukebox, but this is no ordinary jukebox; it’s an “internet jukebox.” If you select a song the jukebox doesn’t have, it searches the internet until it’s found.
“We are very family-oriented and all of our staff are a part of our family,” said Jeannie Benavente. “We give them all the credit in making this a successful business.”
“That’s the beauty of this place,” adds Tony Benavente. “All ages and all types are welcome here. On the weekends, this place is packed. You’ll see a cowboy drinking a beer with a guy with a mohawk.”
Tony and Jeannie Benavente have two young boys, and they’re busy people. They seem to take it all in stride.
“I can thank my dad, Andreas Delfakis for my ability to handle life’s stresses,” said Jeannie. His favorite piece of advice — “don’t worry about it.”
The Lariat Steakhouse
16666 N. Oracle Road, Catalina