Mock all you want, but know this: like Birkenstocks, steakhouses have remarkable staying power. While you can (and should) cook a good steak, chances are you’re not friends with a good cattle supplier or have a commercial chicken at home. This is where steakhouses come in: they can transcend your need for an eye-opening experience, as long as the experiences are good enough to justify the cost of a tasting menu.
That’s where I come in. Over the past three weeks, I’ve visited several local steakhouses and tried out classic cuts like prime rib and NYC strip steaks when available. My arteries swelled a little, but I lived to tell the tale.
A few caveats: chain steakhouses were excluded from our list and we didn’t visit every steakhouse in the metro area. But if you’re looking for a break from the grill or a place to pamper yourself — or dad for Father’s Day — here are eight (ranked) options.
What to build in the middle of a parking lot, where an AMC, Chipotle and Williams-Sonoma movie theater beckon?
A steakhouse, but make it chic: Design it like an airplane lounge with high ceilings, bright lighting, and sleek, rounded edges.
“Welcome to Baldamar,” a hostess coos, before parading us through a dining room full of diners dressed as Disneyland guests stopping for lunch. Such are the difficulties of building a mall steakhouse.
Baldamar looks better than it needs to be, and the waiters play their part well, strutting around in leather aprons. Everything looks promising.
Until it isn’t. Both steaks — New York strip ($53, 14 ounces) and prime rib ($58, 18 ounces) — are sloppily prepared, as if the cooks amused themselves by playing Tetris on the grill. This may explain why some parts are gray and floury, while others are made at the right temperature. One corner of the steak has some crusty appearance.
Steaks can be certified top notch and “aged to order”, but you won’t know when the predominant flavor is salt and not much else, and when lack of rest drowns the meat in blood.
Your best bet is to order elsewhere on the menu; their sides are a little heavy with the seasoning, but they are at least tasty and look like the part. Much like those aprons.
1642 W. County Road B2, Roseville, baldamar. with.
7. Jax Café
Sure, there’s the ’90s website designed as if it sells memorabilia of a medieval castle, but the flesh-and-blood Jax Cafe isn’t the least bit tacky. Some would even say it’s elegant, with checkered rugs, wooden beams and the kind of paintwork you’d find in your distant uncle’s Scottish residence. Legends like Jax need no introduction.
Most customers here don’t care about frivolous things like optics. They’ve been going for decades – the Jax Cafe dates back to 1910 – telegraphing to servers using coded dialects so their meals never miss a beat. Our table next door orders a side of asparagus, brightly colored and as thick as sausages. Ours, on the contrary, is wrinkled, abandoned and colored like a barren field.
A New York strip ($52.14 oz) is also tough and stringy, and not properly rested. But at least it’s flavorful and seasoned judiciously, not needing much of the sauce. What’s probably best: béarnaise is very acidic and has the consistency of hot gelatin.
1928 University Av. NE., Mpls., jaxcafe with
6. Steak PS
PS: This place is special.
The location is odd, but look at the magnitude of it: the hallways are wide enough to fit a Humvee, and the decor draws on the beaux-arts remnants of its predecessor, La Belle Vie, darkening its walls and affixing animal heads to them. .
And the way the steaks are presented is a case study in how the markings are justified: the wooden boards these steaks rest on are thick and smooth, with a thin groove along the edge to catch the juices; there is usually a roasted garlic bulb, otherwise there is also charred lemon. And those steak knives!
They look like scimitars, only thicker, with a satisfyingly ergonomic handle trimmed with grain. They can cut anything, although the steaks are really tender enough.
One of the tenderest cuts offered at PS Steak is a wagyu Denver cut from Snake River Farms, a well-respected beef purveyor. You won’t find Snake River Denver steak at many steakhouses in the Twin Cities, but at PS Steak you can order 10 ounces for $68, pretty reasonable given its extensive marbling.
I wish the other steaks had more to offer. They are well-rested and carefully cooked, but don’t impart much flavor (slightly flattened) or texture (pale crusts).
510 Groveland Av., Mpls., psmpls. with
5. Gianni’s Steakhouse
The first thing you notice at Gianni’s is the number of men wearing plaid shirts, sleeves carefully rolled back to show off pacemaker-sized watches. Many of their faces are glowing like apricots against the sunset. Where are they from?
It’s Thursday and the weather is fine, so probably Wayzata. Gianni’s has been around long enough – over 25 years – to know how to woo these customers, both old and new. This isn’t the kind of steakhouse where wine glasses will bounce unharmed off the concrete floor.
This is the rare steakhouse where servers know how to pamper, negotiating speech tuned to the right tone. Your second espresso martini order is all about you, by the way, not them. And they won’t blink if you order their well-done filet mignon. Nobody looks here.
Yes, the steak: New York strip, ($55.16 oz) is cooked evenly enough, and the char is there. Rib-eye ($80, 22 ounces), doesn’t have that charcoal, even if it’s grilled in the same 900-degree oven — and looks paler — but at least it’s juicy, fatty, and tender. While it’s still a pleasure to eat, I wish I could taste more “meat” – the rib eye is wet-aged (hence the moisture), in contrast to the strip, which is dry-aged and meatier. Aside from my conversation with the chef, there are few details about the steaks’ provenance, except for some marketing language on the menu: “Created and handled with humanity.” As well as the neighborhood.
635 E. Lake St., Wayzata, giannis-steakhouse. with
At Murray’s, newly created waiters/sculptors accompany a veteran for three days before handling the knife themselves.
“It looks intimidating, but it really isn’t that bad,” our server said, cutting slices of a whole loin, the size of a meatloaf, with clockwork precision.
Murray’s Silver Butter Knife Steak, which serves two ($135.28 oz), is tender enough to warrant its moniker, though be warned, the way it’s cooked means only a limited section, the core, is made. according to your temperature preference – the outside is cooked more aggressively.
Less celebrated, but equally noteworthy, is the rib eye ($67.18 oz), well-marbled with a slight hint of dry-age. Standing in a pit of liquid grease suggests that a textbook isn’t the point – the sheer greasiness of it all is worth it.
26 S. 6th St., Mpls., murraysrestaurant. with
3. Barbecue São Paulo
A notebook on each table is revealing. So, too, are the banker lamps, retro shutters and discreet service. The St. Paul Grill is funky, but seriously.
Their steaks certainly set the tone – they are nearly perfect.
The grill marks are dark and pretty, while the crusts are well seasoned with just the right amount of salt. No eulogy on where the steaks come from or the types of lives these cattle lived. Dry aging may slightly increase the strength; otherwise, a recent order of rib eye ($64.95, 16 oz) was juicy enough and well-rested, arriving with a more generous-than-expected rib strip full of buttery flavor.
The rest of the menu might seem apathetic, but the sides reliably fulfill their role, as expected from a place so refreshingly devoid of vanity. Go.
350 N. Market St., St. Paul, stpaulgrill. with
2. The Lexington
First impressions matter, but Lexington doesn’t seem to live up to them.
The entrance looks like an elusive gentlemen’s club. There is no security on the outside, but the host inside behaves like one. Tonight, he’s also playing the role of production coordinator, sneaking around the dining room, tablet in hand.
No matter: Lexington is one of the most beautiful traditional steakhouses in the area. It’s quiet and furnished with the kind of ornamentation (chandeliers, free wood paneling) that would resemble the hall of a well-endowed fraternity if it weren’t for Ella Fitzgerald singing in the background. It’s so elegant that you’d feel out of place wearing shorts to dinner, even though many diners do.
They come for the steaks, which are grilled on Minnesota hardwood and come from a breed of cattle that lends itself to a mouthfeel so remarkably clean it makes me forget I’m eating steak for the fourth time in a week. Undercooked cuisine may not produce iron-rich red meat; it’s more pink, with a distinct mineral touch – more characteristic of the New York range ($59.14 oz) than rib eye ($69.16 oz). While the sirloin has more flavor, the previous cut has my pick as the best of its kind in the cities.
1096 Grand Av., Sao Paulo, thelexmn.com
1. Manny’s Steakhouse
Manny’s Steakhouse may have moved and changed hands since 1987, but one of its cooks, Luis Agudo, is there most of the time.
“We call him El Presidente,” a server tells us. Agudo, the kitchen manager, has been cooking Manny’s steaks since 1997 and has turned proper cooking into a science. There’s a deep, fierce charcoal in each of his steaks, with rounded, smoked edges – almost like cured sausage. There’s its nuanced use of salt, fading into a vibrantly reddish flesh characterized by its robustness and minerality, thanks in part to a judicious 21-day dry aging of grass-fed and corn-fed cattle. The Sirloin Eye ($79.95), for this reason, is a trailblazer.
A dinner at Manny’s reminds us why the bells and whistles warrant a prize on a night out, even if you’re at the bar where I had dinner. Every meal here begins with a procession. The meats are still ceremoniously transported on a cart. The wine list is studied. And the service is authoritative but graceful, delivered in steakhouse baritone by servers so devoted to Manny’s beef that a general question was answered with a one-minute manifesto. Twice.
“This is probably more than you expected,” our server said. This also applies to steaks.
825 Marquette Av. S., Mpls., mannyssteakhouse. with
Jon Cheng is the Star Tribune’s restaurant critic. Contact him at email@example.com or follow him at @intrepid_glutton.