Psst... We're working on the next generation of Chowhound! View >
HOME > Chowhound > California >
Nov 7, 2011 09:24 PM

San Luis Obispo: Madonna Inn restaurant and cafe review

We decided to pull out all the stops and do a road trip to the Madonna Inn and actually see what it is really like from the inside out.

Booked a room, (yes one of the rock rooms, yes over the top and learned what a Toto Washlet was all about -don't ask-- won't tell - and why they are all the rage at sushi restaurants just to keep this hotel review tied into a restaurant discussion forum)

And then we went to both dinner and breakfast at the Inn. Dinner in the pink and glitter main dining room and breakfast in the Copper Cafe. You just have to love this place for its honesty. Its decor is high quality kitsch with obvious craftsmanship in all its swirls and carvings and geegaws, which is its saving grace.

The booths are spacious and real leather (if pink leather can ever be "real") and its food at every level is also real and of very good quality. The layers of multiple dining areas, dance floor and banquet space with all their swags and twinkle lights and christmas trees was really quite delightful in its own weird way. I was reminded of the House on the Rock in Spring Green, Wisconsin.

Not that this ever added up to being a fine dining experience, but it was a very good dining experience with only a few false notes in the side dishes. No, this was really not rice pilaf and you really shouldn't "bake" your potato in aluminum foil anymore.

But other than that, they put on a very credible dining experience from a smart little traditional appetizer tray with crisp veggies, cheese, olives, pickles and salami. The breads were fresh and the butter was sweet. The homemade chicken curry soup was terrific with real chunks of chicken in a very competent cream soup base. The steak entrees were marbled, tender and plentiful, cooked perfectly as requested.

(NB: Propane flavoring on the steaks not withstanding - I would like to fault this because of its decidedly chemical taste, but we have also run into this exact same flavor on steaks in other restaurants around this area (Casmalia Hitching Post and the Grass-fed beef place in Parkfield that I wonder if this is some local tradition or what, even though it is not to our own tastes - do they brush their steaks with liquid smoke at all these spots, so I will withhold judgement on this odd similarity even though we did not like it we are now wondering why we keep running in to this in places that should know better. Are we missing something here? )

But the real treats at the Madonna Inn really are the dessert choices and I looked forward to finally getting my slice of Madonna Inn lemon meringue pie. Nope, out of luck again so I was forced to choose something else and toyed with the raspberry cake or the toffee crunch cake and opted for the latter. This was divine.

Superb white cake in about four layers with whipped cream frosting and the most wonderful homemade soft yet crispy hunks of toffee crunch slathered all over it. I would stop there every time now when we are passing through just for another slice of this Toffee Crunch Cake. Go out of your way for this one.

Breakfast was my standard hash browns and biscuit side orders with very fresh squeezed orange juice. All freshly prepared and very good. DH had the eggs benedict and the hollandaise did hit an off note as it was heavy with mustard taste with little tartness to contrast with the eggs, maybe too thick of ham but a perfectly buttered and toasted english muffin base. It was more hearty than refined.

Mustard of course is a good way to revive a turned hollandaise and i wonder if this is what happened to this batch. Not good but not terrible because again it was a freshly prepared product so it was the sum of some very good parts; just not a delicate and perfect hollandaise. It was a mustardy egg sauce. Okay but not what it should have been. Excellent coffee, and always delightful and professional service from their young, but well-trained staff. Probably Cal Poly college students?

This is a place to do at least once, even for those of us who have driven past it hundreds of times and wondered how the heck could some place like this ever exist in the first place, let alone on the outskirts of San Luis Obispo. You learn when staying here this whole project is/was a labor of love and this tradition is passing down now to the next family generation.

Because quality was built into the kitsch from ground up it is holding its own now for around 50 years. We need some whimsy in our lives and a reminder of what honest food without pretension can still be. You eat well here, and you pay high prices to do so, and you also get a trip down memory lane to a special time and place in America when road side art defined our highways steak was all one needed when they went out to dinner.

Madonna Inn
100 Madonna Road, San Luis Obispo, CA 93405

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. Yes, our family went there once upon a time on the way to the Monterey area. Stayed there (one of the fairy tale rooms, not a rock room) for a night. We enjoyed it!!!
    Had some kind of pastry/cake in the Copper Cafe the next morning before heading out. It was huge, rich, and delicious.
    You know, I don't know how to explain the Madonna Inn - without heading too much off topic, it should be experienced at least once, if you are in the area. It is truly a one of a kind place.
    - Tip: check out the men's restroom, even if you are not a man.

    Madonna Inn
    100 Madonna Road, San Luis Obispo, CA 93405

    1. Thanks for the comprehensive, wonderful review. I am already salivating over the cake. I'll let you know how much we loved it after our Xmas din there. Maybe won't try the propaney steak. That would bother me too. (But who eats steak on Christmas, anyway?)

      1. I tried the Pink Champagne Cake - just ok. I wanted to try that Toffee Cake, next time I go. Anyone try the cookies?

        2 Replies
        1. re: hhc

 Wow, your photo got me at the hello, and I am salivating this early in the morning just looking at the Toffee Crunch Cake also realizing my description of it being "slathered" with the most delicious homemade toffee honeycomb was not too far off the mark.

          When i first saw this cake piece I thought the toffee pieces would be too hard and crunchy to even be enjoyable but they are tender crunchy in a way that is hard to describe - so I expand now to delicate toffee honeycomb with is more like a krispy Kit Kat Bar, Nestle Crunch like heft to it. Tender, crisp and delicious. A winner through and through because the white cake was moist and very nicely made in four layers and the whipped cream base frosting cut down on the high sugar/fat content which made the over all effect very light and pleasing.

          Kudos to Madonna Inn for creating this delectable Toffee Crunch Cake - now even more reasons to make this a road trip pit stop besides the half BLT and chunky home made blue cheese dressing salad.

          Madonna Inn
          100 Madonna Road, San Luis Obispo, CA 93405

          1. re: glbtrtr

            I can say, from experience- that the rueben and banana cream pie are pretty darned tasty! We have had steaks at the Inn- as part of a 40 person birthday meal, and I had no propane taste- in fact ours was delicious!
            The most important thing to keep in mind when going to Madonna inn- is not to expect too much- to just walk in and enjoy the decor- order your meal and enjoy!

        2. Some pics below:

          1. I saw this place on my way up to Monterey, and was curious. May have to give it a try. Oh, yeah, and the Toto Washlet is nice. My husband wants one for the house after trying them in Japan.