Hey, there! Log in / Register

Saugus landmark set to shut down; what's to become of the cactus, cows?

Hilltop Steak House

Boston Restaurant Talk rounds up sources that indicate the restaurant with the giant neon cactus and the lifesize fiberglass cows is closing forever in a couple of weeks.

Topics: 
Free tagging: 

Ad:
Like the job UHub is doing? Consider a contribution. Thanks!

Comments

Did not see this coming!

The market has been closed a long time, but the restaurant too?!

At least the Leaning Tower of Prince is still standing tall and proud.

up
Voting closed 0

I suppose I'm not surprised, and could see this coming. But, I just never imagined the day there wasn't a giant cactus and a bunch of cows on Rt 1.

up
Voting closed 0

Oh no! This will forever change the landscape of the jam-packed Rt. 1! If Prince or Hockey Town USA go, I'm not sure what I'll do.

up
Voting closed 0

The place has been going downhill since the Guiffrieda's sold it to the portion control kings. After that gone were the days of 2 hour waits on the weekend. Last time I was there on a Saturday night, I walked right in and the quality of the food had gone way downhill. Not sorry to see it go.

up
Voting closed 0

I saw this and thought about going in for one last burger. Now, I'm not so sure I'll want to do that.

up
Voting closed 0

Hilltop was one of the first places I went to eat when I came to Boston to look for an apartment. My family and I were staying in a hotel in Peabody and using Rt 1 to get into the city. Back then, it was still good portions and great steak and the lines were long (but fast). I guess that was after the sale of Giuffrida's interest in the late 80's and it was after that new owner sold to High Country (an investment group run by the Colorado businessman providing the meat to the restaurant).

But then Giuffrida died in 2003 and High Country wanted to buy the land and building from the Giuffridas and not just control of the restaurant business portion, but Frank's family didn't like the terms of the agreement. That's when I think everything started to go downhill. That's when High Country started throwing its weight around against the Giuffridas until they agreed to sign. Once High Country had total control, they started reneging on the free meals that Frank had written into the sales/lease contract for his family. They started crapping out on the portion sizes and it's seemed like the quality of the meat they've been sending has also gone downhill. They wanted to generate more profit so they went with cheaper, fewer, lower quality ingredients and ruined the restaurant in the process.

Instead of shuttering the place, there's probably enough goodwill in the community to give the place another chance under a new owner willing to re-honor Frank's wishes for his family and restore the high quality, big steak type of restaurant that it was in the early 2000's and earlier. Either that or call Gordon Ramsey and get him to Kitchen Nightmare the place. I gotta imagine the videography of the cows, cactus, and multi-dining room seating system would play so well he'd put it in the upcoming season.

up
Voting closed 0

Early 2000's? That place hadn't been the same since long before that. Last time I was there was early 90's, a pregnant vegetarian that couldn't get enough steak! Really, my husband would get nervous watching me watch his steak and would finally give me half of his. Haven't had a drop of red meat, chicken or fish since I had that baby...

In the good years, I remember the waitresses could only work a certain number of hours because they made too much money.

But to me, they changed the butcher shop at one point - late 90's? Built a new building out back but have sinced moved it back to where it was originally. We would get our Christmas roasts there up until a few years ago. Liked the butcher shop but skipped the restaurant.

up
Voting closed 0

Restaurant Impossible!

up
Voting closed 0

Corporation gains control of a product known for its quality, wrings the quality out of it by cutting costs, until the product is a shell of its former self, which no one enjoys.

As long as Brothers Kouzina is on Route 1, we'll keep motoring there. Good food, large portions, friendly, efficient service.

up
Voting closed 0

I'm told the Hilltop was a great restaurant in days gone past. However. a friend took me there a couple of years ago, and it was pretty bad; overpriced, bad service, and tasteless food.

The Prince (leaning tower of pizza) is still owned by the same family, I believe. Their weekday lunchtime pizza buffet is very good. If you ask the waitress at the counter, she'll request their particularly delicious jalapeño pizza for the buffet. This restaurant also has an unusual custom for tips; pay your gratuity via the "tipping tower of Pisa" as you leave.

For just hamburgers, it's hard to beat Fuddruckers, on the opposite side of the road; the garnish bar is like a free salad bar.

Kelly's is overpriced and very overrated, however the Revere Beach location is open until 3:00 am.

For seafood, no place beats the Anchor Bar in Beverly (on Route 1A, just over the bridge from Salem). The owners are fishermen; super fresh, very inexpensive, sit at the bar for a fun and friendly atmosphere.

up
Voting closed 0

Used to go to the Hilltop with my parents in the 70s and 80s. Food was great and the service was excellent. In the mid-1990s, I continued to go to the Hilltop, only this time with work and social groups, two to three times a year. By the early 2000s, we stopped going there because the quality of both the food and the service had declined so rapidly.

up
Voting closed 0

Going to Hilltop was a highlight of our childhood in Boston--the crowds, the cows, the stuffed buffalo heads, the giant burgers--being called on the microphone into the different rooms with names like "Sioux City!" It was the perfect combination of good simple food and restaurant theater. I always think of it fondly though it's been easily thirty years since I've been. RIP.

up
Voting closed 0

for a while when I was younger and the food was so bad, I could hear that woman's voice in my sleep, "Numbah seventy foah for Kansas City!",

up
Voting closed 0

Turn the cactus into a trident, and make it into a seafood restaurant - Jasper White's Summer Shack or a Legals perhaps?

up
Voting closed 0

If not already, try to make the cactus a camo cell antenna tower.
I can't imagine any zoning board in Mass ever approving huge signage like the cactus now. Everything has to be homogenized and boring for them.

up
Voting closed 0

The beige-ing of Route 1 continues.

Landmark the cactus. Give me one of the plastic cows. I only want it for a little while.

up
Voting closed 0

Remember when the MIT pranksters put one of the cows up ontop of the MIT dome?

Great!

up
Voting closed 0

There's still one of the Hilltop cows inside the Stata building at MIT. I don't know if they ultimately bought it, or the restaurant gave it to MIT (great publicity), but it's there in the permanent collection of "Hack" objects on display in the first floor corridor.

up
Voting closed 0

Remember the one in Nashua?

up
Voting closed 0

....was a fixture for my parents when ever they drove towards the cape they at lunch at the one on rte 3 -or - 93 wherever it was.

up
Voting closed 0

It was immediately off the highway at the first exit on 3 right after the split.

up
Voting closed 0

That was the start of the end of The Hilltop, when they branched out north and south...

up
Voting closed 0

It is now the Tufankjian Toyota place off Union street exit Braintree . In the back of the mall or whatever it is, was the old Grossman's distribution area , complete with the old submarine nets from the Big One. It was a Valley's steak house before that. It was clean , good portions , reasonable price, a geyser lunchfest. The Hilltop bought their stuff huge,the Saugus location had a warehouse underneath it . Bought their meat direct too I believe. Now the stuff is all boxed and pre trimed, not much butchery going on any more , no Southampton street meat yard , aw the humanity of it , all gone.

up
Voting closed 0

The decor is the best. I remember bringing a bunch of student workers there for dinner. It was a bit of culture shock for them, I think.

up
Voting closed 0

They managed to go bankrupt when steakhouses have come back into fashion?

It almost takes work to pull that off. Wow.

Hey - maybe after we buy our UHub Clubhouse in the Back Bay, we can use some cows on the lawn ...

up
Voting closed 0

It almost takes work to pull that off.

Not really. Hilltop is a long way from the clubby, upscale image that the new steakhouses project. Barring a complete makeover, it would have taken a major marketing campaign to completely rework their image to compete with the likes of Morton's and Fleming's (not to mention better food).

up
Voting closed 0

aren't going to ride up Route 1 on their bicycles when they can pay top dollar for beef down the Seaport.

up
Voting closed 0

Even with mommy and daddy's money.

up
Voting closed 0

I was not under the impression that hipsters were the customer base for steakhouses. Even though it's slang, "hipster" has an actual meaning, you know; it's not just an all-purpose insult for people you don't like.

up
Voting closed 0

Hilltop wasn't an expense account/cougar paradise where people dropped $50 on prime steaks. It was a family joint that got buy on huge portions at reasonable prices and high volume. Totally different clientele/operation and one has nothing to do with the other.

up
Voting closed 0

As a college student in the 80s, coming from the west and having lived in ranching towns (yes - giant cadillacs with longhorns! For reals!), I used to enjoy seeing all the Western Cowboy and Squaredance Skirt cosplay by older ethnic folks. Totally spaghetti western! I don't think those people went to the Hilltop for a giant cheapo steak meal - it was a dress-up night with drinks and fun with their cosplay crowd.

It was more than a discount trough - and they very possibly could have made an effort to build it into an affordable family steakhouse that people would have flocked to for value compared to the upscale places - some renovations and a menu adjustment would have done it. They had the basics in place and a long-term customer base to work from, too.

up
Voting closed 0

In high school in the early 80's, my square dancing group went to Hill Top after having dances with a local club. Like us, they had both a teen and adult club and Hill Top was a favorite hangout after a practice.

up
Voting closed 0

If the quality were great. As I remember, the Giuffrida strategy involved detailed penny-pinching in order to deliver the best meat at a good price--like he figured that adding one sprig of curly parsley on each plate (yeah--remember when that was a thing?) that people would just discard would add x dollars a year, so he said "no parsley."

up
Voting closed 0

Please don't misunderstand. I am not saying the Hilltop is beyond saving. I'm just saying that swirrly makes no sense when she laments that the hilltop didn't benefit from the era of the high end steakhouse. The hilltop and del Friscos are two different animals and they operate on entirely different business models. The fact that one is successful has no bearing on the other.

But it is a bummer that the hilltop is closing. Quirky throwback joints like the Hilltop are what made route 1 a lot of fun back in the day.

up
Voting closed 0

The fact that one is successful has no bearing on the other.

Or lower-priced items with similar style to luxury brands.

Nope. If you look at other parts of the country, the resurgence of the top end has driven a market in the middle - people who want the steakhouse but want to bring their kids or family along or aren't obsessed with Kobe beef, etc.

Boston just had fewer steakhouses left to rebrand, as it were. I get the impression that the current Hilltop management was like Friendly, though - not interested in investing a penny.

up
Voting closed 0

One issue with the Hilltop is the size of the place - huge. Right up the road is Jimmy's Steer House (northbound side at the old Augustine's plaza) which is a much more modern looking/sized place - and more in line with expectations. Even if Hilltop could offer decent food again, the "dining experience" just is not in line with current trends, despite how much people say "I want good food at low prices." I just don't think they could fill the place.

At one point in the 70s the 2 largest independent restaurants in the U.S. (and I think this was in terms of sales, but could have been square footage - I can't find the reference) were Hilltop and Kowloon. Kowloon has maintained butts in seats not just because they continue to offer super sweet, MSG-laden US-style "chinese" food (and they benefit from the Tiki Kitsch craze), but also started offering other East-Asian cuisine, opened up a comedy club and became the go-to watering hole for North Shore townies (Go Sachems!!). All Hilltop could offer once Frank left was declining quality and those lovely ladies announcing the rooms and numbers through their nostrils (and they were also stealing a load of money that was supposed to go to charity and treating waitstaff like livestock). The place was running on nostalgia and restaurant-goer inertia for years. I'm just amazed that the Continental is still going and relieved that Sake has remained.

I heard rumors of a Market Basket going in to the Hilltop space, which would be size appropriate and sufficiently redundant for the Town Selectmen to be all over that like sick on an Allston sidewalk. And with the WalMart going in across the street, we're assured that whatever goes in there you'll never be able to get through the traffic to get to it anyways.

up
Voting closed 0

I don't see any reference to that on the linked page. You can go out of business without being bankrupt (or even close to it).

up
Voting closed 0

Either way, they are going away, though.

up
Voting closed 0

Just lock the doors, turn out the lights, and call it a career. Not ever biz has to go bankrupt before it goes out of biz.

up
Voting closed 0

@dvdoff: I too will remember that woman's voice, although after waiting two hours in the long hallway, it was great to be called. As for the decline, I don't normally order seafood at a steakhouse but years ago when Frank Giuffrida owned the Hilltop, a friend suggested the Lobster Pie. It was delicious and the portion size was generous. I began ordering it to go when I was in the area. Initially, the takeout container was the rectangular aluminum one that usually holds a typical sub shop salad, in this case packed with buttery lobster and breadcrumbs. Under new owners and despite stable or decreasing lobster prices, the container continually got smaller over the years as the price increased. The last time I got it, the container was about the size of a child's cupcake and looked like it would fit into an E-Z Bake Oven. I never went back. Looking at the menu now, I see they don't even have it anymore, probably due to complaints about the portion size and price. Sad, but not surprised to see the Hilltop go.

up
Voting closed 0

The Hilltop's heyday was in the 60s and 70s. My parents would get dressed up and go there from East Boston, alone or with friends, and it was considered a night out. Many others did that as well in that era. This clientele stayed with them into the 80s and early 90s as they aged, and the Hilltop became more known as a place for an older crowd. It had really declined by the 90s however, and, landmark though it is, it has outlived it's usefulness, like the also recently closed Anthony's Pier Four which has a similar story.

up
Voting closed 0

OK, I'll divulge my age.
I remember hitting the Hilltop in the 60's, coming back from family ski trips sometimes. We lived on the south shore so I didn't make it to rte 1 up there much, but I remember going there and seeing that cactus.
When you think about it, the Hilltop was the perfect restaurant from a business perspective. They turned tables over like you couldn't believe. The lines were long, but they got eaten up pretty quickly.

Thanks to kaz for jogging the memory a bit about the ugly squabbles when they got taken over. It was sad to see at the time because the place was such an institution then. Downhill from there, you can only live on your reputation for so long.

up
Voting closed 0

Where's greater Boston news about health and medicine?... When you get the flu vaccine which do you ask for a) High dose for folks over 65? b) Quadrivalent or trivalent? c) No mercury?

up
Voting closed 0

They haven't closed yet, so you still have time.

up
Voting closed 0

I just leave that up to the doctor , but maybe there is an answer here for you :

http://www.immunize.org/askexperts/experts_inf.asp

From a local source , look here :

http://www.health.harvard.edu/newsletters/

up
Voting closed 0

Want to give a plug for this place. Old school place with good steaks at decent prices. Not as kitschy as HillTop but a nice joint.

up
Voting closed 0

Frank's is pretty good. I'm not blown away by the steaks but the sides are great. I like the steaks better at Jimmy's in Arlington but the sides aren't as good there, and so the circle of life continues.

up
Voting closed 0

I remember very well the good food and iconic restuarant. fond memories. just like all of the old institutions closing due to poorly managed buyouts. what a shame.

up
Voting closed 0