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Steakhouses More Complicated Than You Think

This week's topic on WMFE-FM is Steakhouses. Scott talks with 90.7's Nicole Creston about the things that need to be considered when looking for a good steakhouse. You can hear the broadcast at 5:45 p.m. Fridays and 9:35 a.m. Saturdays. You can also listen to past podcasts.

You would think the topic of steakhouses would be a fairly straightforward one. After all, a steak is a steak is a steak, right? No, it’s a lot more complicated than that.

Most steakhouses can be placed in one of two categories, family style and high-end. The family style steakhouses are your Outbacks, Longhorns, Lone Stars and other chains. The high-end meat restaurants are your Ruth’s Chrises, Morton’s, Shula’s and Capital Grille’s, which, just to be clear, are also all chains, though at those prices I prefer to call them premium brands. I’ve often thought there was a market for a mid-level category, something above the plastic tablecloths and shuck-your-own-peanuts of the family style places but not as posh as the $37-per-steak (no sides included) upper echelon, but I’ve not seen anyone come forward to fill that void.

That would be simple enough if it were a matter of upscale versus casual. But there’s much more to consider when choosing a steakhouse. There’s the question of quality, as in the grade assigned by U.S. D.A. inspectors. In terms of grade, we’re usually talking about either prime or choice. There are six grades below choice, though only one, select, is usually found at retail level, and I know of no restaurants that serve select steaks. You’d be mistaken to assume that the prime steaks go to the high-end steakhouses and choice goes to the family-style places. In fact, many if not all of the most expensive steakhouses have at least some steaks on their menus that are graded choice. (And by the way, prime rib refers to the cut, not the grade; most prime ribs served in restaurants are actually graded choice.) We won’t get into the subject of grain versus grass-fed beef.

And which cut do you like? Do you want the relative leanness of a New York strip (Kansas City to some), the tenderness of the fattier ribeye (Delmonico) or a tenderloin (filet mignon)? Maybe you can’t decide and want a t-bone. Or is that a Porterhouse?

Then you have to decide the cooking method you prefer. There’s open flame, gas or wood (and which type of wood), and there’s the super-hot broiler. And once you’ve got that all figured out, how do you want the steak cooked?

So you see, there’s a lot to consider when you’re talking about steaks. Keep that in mind the next time someone says he doesn’t go for complicated cuisine and says, “I’m just a meat and potatoes kind of guy.” And by the way, baked, mashed or au gratin potatoes?

Here are some of the steakhouses I recommend:

Del Frisco’s Prime Steak & Lobster, 729 Lee Road, Orlando. Technically part of what is now the Del Frisco’s chain of restaurants, this steakery has maintained some independence. The steaks are prime and so are the prices, but this is a quintessential steakhouse and a good all-around restaurant, to boot.

Shula’s Steak House, Walt Disney World Dolphin Hotel, Lake Buena Vista. Once you get past the kitschiness of the menu written on an official NBA football (pigskin instead of cowhide), this is a fine upscale restaurant with consistently good-quality steaks.

The Capital Grille, Pointe Orlando, 9101 International Drive. Part of the Darden Restaurants stable of brands, CG serves a high quality of choice steaks, so good you might believe they’re prime. Excellent wine list, too, engineered by local master sommelier George Miliotes.

Jack’s Place, Rosen Plaza Hotel, 9700 International Drive, Orlando. The place has a bit of a Sardi’s feel from the dozens of celebrity caricatures that cover the walls, all drawn by hotelier Harris Rosen’s father. Probably no need to mention his father’s name was Jack.

A Land Remembered, Rosen Shingle Creek Resort, 9939 Universal Blvd, Orlando. The strangely named restaurant (it’s from the title of a book about Florida by Patrick D. Smith) is a destination for meat-seeking locals, as well as visitors.

As for the family style steakhouse, sadly I have none I can recommend. The quality and consistency are both too mercurial. It’s a category just waiting for someone to step up and drive the herd.

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