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When did you last go to the Hilltop in Saugus?

This stalwart of Boston area dining deserves more than a passing (and bashing) mention in the Openings/Closings thread.

I blame myself for it closing, me and my crew kept them in good business back in the 1980s. But I bet I haven't been there in 20 years, and that was probably in Braintree. Longer ago for Saugus (1989, most likely).

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  1. Wow! CAnt remember the last time (Saugus)- but I think it was probably in the 80's , too!

    1. When they stopped serving the lobster pie.

      1. I didn't see any bashing, just honest commentary about what it was. I haven't been in over a decade, it was my parents who kept me going 'cus that's where they liked to go. The only thing I never understood was, especially in the butcher shop, you never knew what USDA grade the meat was. Speaking of Braintree, remember Hartford?

        1. I went a couple of times in 99/00 timeframe (about 2 years after I moved to the area) with friends from out of town that were curious. Thought the steak was good, but nothing special that I couldn't get elsewhere (Franks/Jimmy's/cook at home). I remember the huge bowl of salad and not eating much of it because all the salad dressings were horrible and they didn't have oil and vinegar.

          1. I'm going to guess about 15 years ago for the Saugus location, 10 years ago for the Braintree one. I would occasionally hit the Saugus retail shop when I needed a big roast, probably three years since my last visit there.

            Per the BBJ, it grossed $60M in its peak year, 1989. Wow.

            The character of Norm on "Cheers" often talked about his favorite restaurant, The Hungry Heifer, which I always took to be an allusion to The Hilltop.


              1. I've never been but my parents would take my grandmother. She was amazed at the portion sizes, brought most of her meal home and took home all the bread and butter because she couldn't bare to see it go to waste.

                1. At least 20 years ago. Did they ever let you request a room? Or we too young and dumb to ask. Some rooms were horrid and others more fun. Waiting for your number and assignment was part of the adventure. Although I don't remember which was the favorite room.

                  The patrons were treated like cattle!

                  Let's see - Sioux City, Carson City, Dodge City, Kansas City - I know I'm missing some.

                  Even back then, I knew there were no lobster shells in their dumpster, but a bunch of lobster cans. Never understood the hype!

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: Bellachefa

                    Brings back memories! We used to request a room- forget the name of it- it was the small dining room on the second floor. I do remember the drinks were really strong, which was not always a good thing with a long wait!

                  2. A couple of years ago I was driving by and stopped in on a whim. Hadn't been since I was a kid and was hoping it might deliver on solid, old-school drinks and steak. Sat at the bar, ordered a Manhattan, which I liked, and steak, which I found a bit tough and not a lot of flavor so I didn't care to take the rest of it home. Haven't had any desire to go back. But I still have fond memories of it in its heyday.

                    1. I cant recall but i do remember as a kid waiting for what seemed like hours in the hallway for our number to be called. My family would go every sunday. I always got the lobster pie.

                      In more recent history, when they closed a friend of mine bought the huge cactus sign at auction. I put it up on ebay and attempted to sell it to perhaps someone in vegas or something.. Got quite a few tire kickers but no bids.. It ended up being scrapped.

                      9 Replies
                      1. re: hargau

                        Your story about the cactus sign seems unlikely because (a) the Hilltop in Saugus is still open, and (b) the big cactus is still there. Or does this story also involve a time machine?

                        1. re: owades

                          I think It involves the cactus in Braintree

                          1. re: owades

                            It was the cactus at braintree. They auctioned off everything at the place. You could buy the antler chandeliers, the cows, etc... Thanks for calling my a liar.

                            1. re: hargau

                              Sorry for the misunderstanding. You didn't say Braintree, and the paragraph about "when they closed" followed directly after the paragraph about "as a kid waiting for what seemed like hours," which I took to refer to the Saugus location.

                            2. re: owades

                              Here is a photo i found on my computer that i used in the ebay auction for my friend. They removed the letters before selling it.. It sold for $100.. Cows were getting in the $800-1000 range.

                              1. re: hargau

                                You have no need to prove you were telling the truth. Those who have enjoyed your postings over the years know better. Just consider the source.

                                1. re: hargau

                                  Only $100 for that gorgeous thing?

                              2. re: hargau

                                Hopefully the Saugus Cactus will find a proper home. Too bad your friend's cactus didn't at least make it to the Neon Museum and Boneyard in Vegas:(

                                1. re: Bellachefa

                                  The Neon Museum and Boneyard seems to collect and exhibit only signs from classic Las Vegas (see http://www.neonmuseum.org/about/the-c...). Something like the Hilltop Cactus signs (either Braintree or Saugus) wouldn't fit with their purpose—and, spectacular as they are/were in a Massachusetts context, they're not gaudy enough to stand out in that city of neon. And I don't know of another museum or collection that would be appropriate for the cactus sign(s). A pity, since the Hilltop is a genuine piece of Massachusetts history.

                                  Of course, if the folks who are rushing back for one last meal this week decide they still like the Hilltop, maybe it won't have to close.

                              3. About a month ago. Mrs Moose and I had been regulars before the sale, (anyone remember the $5 lobster pies at lunch on Fridays ??) and it holds (held?) sentimental value to us, so we sucked it up and went in once in a while. Food was even smaller than the last time (except the potato). You had to pay extra for a full size salad that was kinda browning in places. And the prices were even higher. Again.

                                Bought two bottles of dressing from the front desk on the way out, only to notice when we got home that they expired in three weeks.

                                On the plus side of the ledger, there was no wait, and the dining room wasn't anywhere near as deafeningly noisy as back in the day...

                                Ok, can anyone hook me up with a cow for my front yard??

                                1. I last went about a month ago with a bunch of friends. Had a very decent plate of steak tips, an "old school" little salad, and an inexpensive beer, all served by our friendly waitress, at reasonable prices. It's all I need in a no-BS steakhouse, and I'll miss it.

                                  1. I started going to the Hilltop in the 70's when I moved to the Boston area. I used to enjoy taking business guests from outside the US there and some who used make trips to the US more than once would always request that I take them there again. They were amazed at the number of people waiting, the overall size of the restaurant, the Western theme, the potency of the drinks, the size of the steaks and the fact that when they served the bread it came with a 1/4 lb stick of butter. I have many fond memories of the dinners I had in that place. Thirty or forty years ago the Hilltop was one of the best places around.

                                    1. I went with a group 3 years ago. My recollections: Buffalo wings were sweet, MR ordered Porterhouse was MW and tough. Sides were meh.

                                      1. My grandparents used to take me when I was a kid. I remember getting a dish all the time that was called something like "breaded cutlet" maybe, which was essentially breaded steak (?) parm, with red sauce, but no cheese. Does anyone else recall this dish? It seemed like the best thing ever at the time.

                                        I also remember waiting in that hallway forever...

                                        3 Replies
                                        1. re: ebone

                                          Hah, who knew, chicken fried steak at Hilltop.

                                          1. re: ebone

                                            The first time I went to Hilltop with some Boston locals, I commented on the weird long empty hallway leading to the entrance, and they sort of sighed wistfully and said that yeah, this used to be the line to get in. Ah, got it.

                                            1. re: Boston_Otter

                                              It used to be a big date place with my now wife when we were broke teens in the early 70s. You learned that when you first pulled off Rte 1 to let her get out and grab a number while I parked the car. It would save about 20 minutes off the usual 1 hour wait time. She'd get the Filet Mignon, I'd get the Lobster Pie, and we'd have ourselves a surf and turf. Funny but years later, even when the lobster pie was long off the menu you could order one and they'd do it. Shame it went so downhill and is gone forever. It was the #1 grossing restaurant in the country back in the day.

                                          2. 16 years, 2 day and 4 hrs ago once and only. Simply awful.

                                            1. About 15 years ago. I've been expecting this for a long time, surprised it lasted this long.

                                              1. A little over 10 years ago, I ate there on a Saturday night and the following morning, went to the hospital with chest pains from a blocked artery. While I dont blame the lobster pie directly for the MI, I could never bring myself to go back.

                                                As others have noted, in it's heyday, it was the bomb.

                                                1. For the Saugus one its been 20+ years. I took my dad to the one in Braintree a year or two before it closed. It was a serviceable meal. Steaks were well executed, sides were overly salted yet bland. I used to hit their meat market in Weymouth a couple times of year during their bag sales before we started buying half a cow.

                                                  What is funny is I saw their manager being interviewed tonight and she explained that the lack of business was "no one wants big steaks and potatoes anymore". That must explain Ruth's Chris, Capital Grille and all the other big name steak houses…

                                                  1. Oh shit...B and I just whizzed by on our way to the North Shore a couple of months ago. The Hilltop is a Harvard Med School tradition!

                                                    I'm gonna take him this weekend (hopefully it won't be too late).

                                                    We both love old school places.

                                                    2 Replies
                                                    1. re: digga

                                                      According to this evening's TV news, Oct 21 is the last day.

                                                      Is the HSH butcher shop still operating and if so, how are the price and quality?

                                                    2. Probably sometime in the late 80's. But I started going to the original in the late 60's, before it was discovered and before the cows. It was a much smaller roadhouse set back on the hill. We would go for the steak tips and probably cost around $3.00.

                                                      1. Was probably the 80's for me, too. I remember when there was a wait at lunch even on weekdays.

                                                        1. First and only time: June 2012.

                                                          1. The last time in Saugus was 15+ yrs ago. Those lines to get a table were insane! I had the worst meal ever in the Braintree one about a year before they closed. I use to love getting the lobster pies in the Saugus market for $7.95 many years ago and then they stopped offering it.

                                                            1. I went once, in 1979-ish, with my sister who was dating the owner's son. We met the boy and his family for dinner. They took us to a large family-style table. It all was going very well until I mentioned that I was a vegetarian. I remember some mushrooms with sauce, and I am pretty sure that sauce base was beef stock.

                                                              In the long run it didn't matter since my sister and this young man moved in separate directions soon thereafter. I am assured that my lack of meat interest was not part of that choice.

                                                              1. I can give you the date - Oct 2, 1993. It was an old family fave (grandparents and parents) and where we all went out for dinner the night before my wedding day. I had moved out of the Boston area by then (and have not moved back since) so have not had the opportunity to go back. Great memories.

                                                                1. Likely very early 70s. Even my parents who weren't the most discerning disliked it... They preferred The Continental ? And am I having a brain cramp or did they have little separate containers of sour cream for baked potatoes and charged extra for them?

                                                                  1. I went twice in the mid 1980's and got a kick out of the weirdo setting and all the guys with open shirts and those necklaces .

                                                                    It wasn't very good but it was entertaining.

                                                                    1. Mid 70's it was a regular Friday lunch tradition for me and a buddy of mine. Lunch special on Friday was the lobster pie.
                                                                      My buddy and I each got a lobster pie, no bread crumbs, and we'd also order the filet mignon. The waitress always asked if the third person was here yet !!

                                                                      1. My friends and I decided to stop by the Hilltop tonight for one last steak for the sake of nostalgia.

                                                                        At 5pm, lines were out the door, and we were told it would be a four and a half hour wait. Tons of people were basically camped out in large groups, waiting for hours to say goodbye to the Hilltop. Folks waiting said that the Lobster Pie was back until the last day they were open.

                                                                        No, we didn't stay, but a whole lot of people are sad to see the place go.

                                                                        1. Never went to the Saugus location, but spent a lot of time around there as a kid, and after countless drives on Rt. 1 that road won't be the same without it.

                                                                          Went to the Braintree location just once, in the early 90s (I think). I remember it because it was probably the last meal out I had with my granddad. He took me, my mom and my grandma there on a whim, and it sticks out because I was vegetarian at the time. Couldn't really explain that one to grandpa, though.

                                                                          1. About 4 years ago, we went in for dinner. This was just after we moved to New England, so we missed the "good ole days" of Hilltop, but many people told us about it so we had to give it a try. The experience was pretty much what I expected. Faded glory. Hilltop had become the ghost of a much better restaurant that had died many years ago but that didn't seem to realize it was it had passed.

                                                                            1. To the one in Saugust specifically? Probably the mid 80s to late 80s for me. To the Braintree one, maybe early 90s too. The last trip at a Hilltop with some friends, and my friend wanted to take her rice pilaf to go. The waitress came back with a little plastic bag and dumped the rice in the bag and handed it to her. By then of course we were wondering what the attraction was with this place.

                                                                              My family was a more frequent visitor to their market to be honest to buy the super-duper sized sides of steak that we could have the butcher custom cut to our preference.

                                                                              1. At the Saugus location: late '70s, several years in a row for the annual Melrose High School Bandaiders dinner in a private room,so there was never a wait. There usually was a choice between steak and chicken. If I remember correctly I would have choosen chicken.

                                                                                1. word on the street is the waits are longer then back in the day.....lots of people showing up for one more cattle call. a friend had a 1 1/2 hour wait the other night.

                                                                                  1 Reply
                                                                                  1. About 25 years ago and I could never understand why people stood in ling so long for their product they put out. I always thought Valles Steak House was much better quality and a huge selection . Now there both gone.

                                                                                    1. The Cactus Has Found A New Home: The Institute of Contemporary Art! What better place than that?


                                                                                      1. I think I the last time my family went (Saugus -- I've never been to the Braintree one) was shortly before I left for grad school, so probably the summer of '79.

                                                                                        1. I think it was 4-5 years ago I ate in the Saugus location. Spouse and I went in for kicks, neither of us had been in years and figured we'd try it again. Nothing like we remembered and a completely unremarkable dinner.

                                                                                          1. Last time was this past Monday, and previously, once every couple of months. H grew up in Melrose, and it was a nostalgic visit for him. He misses a lot of the menu items of days past--meatloaf, unmarinated steak tips.

                                                                                            On Monday, we arrived at 11:15 for the 11:30 opening, and the line had already filled the "hallway". They were taking numbers by 11:50. I expect they're going to have an auction of the cows, "art", etc, because when a customer asked for a regular menu in lieu of the paper sheet we were given, the server obliged but said "Make sure to give that back--those are like gold"

                                                                                            On that Monday, H had the Hilltop Salad (I never got the appeal of their version---way too lettuce-y-) with the house dressing, the house cut filet mignon, and green beans. I had a cup of their chicken soup, the ribeye, and green beans---I would have ordered their squash, but they were out. Both steaks were really good, and cooked correctly (perfectly medium rare). As a bonus, I got a great Manhattan cocktail---for some reason, I've always been lucky with getting very good cocktails there.

                                                                                            The waitress told us they'd been forced to close at 8:10 the previous evening (Sunday), when they ran out of too many menu items.

                                                                                            She cited their aging customer base and gone-too-long updates as reasons for the closure. Their refrigeration system alone, she said, is not at all energy efficient, wasting thousands a month, but with waning business they couldn't afford to update it. So, according to her story, too many months operating at a loss did them in.

                                                                                            Anyway. My husband and his family will miss that place a lot---it's a part of their childhood and family history. For that reason, I'm sad to see it go.

                                                                                            1. Sometime in the mid-80's...my great aunt would take me there. She would order a highball...me, a Shirley Temple, even well into my teens. The food? I don't remember.

                                                                                              My family ordered a prepared Thanksgiving dinner from there in the mid-2000's. Mediocre.

                                                                                              More recently, friends were still going to the market for steak tips, etc.

                                                                                              I'll miss it, and its kitsch but have never considered it a destination as an adult. I'll remember fondly for those special lunches with my aunt though, and listening to hear our number over the PA.

                                                                                                1. Auction scheduled for next week. Talk about bringing home the Christmas Beast!