Steaking a Claim
St. Louis' Grade-A Steakhouses
Photographs by Kevin A. Roberts
More than any other restaurant concept, the steakhouse has persevered in spite of old-school baggage: dark wood, low lighting, high prices, humongous side dishes, Pleistocene hunks of meat…and few other menu options. In SLM’s first-ever roundup of the top local steakhouses (listed in no particular order), we discovered that stodgy reputation is no longer deserved. The newest contenders—Prime 1000 and Shula’s 347 Grill—are contemporary yet classy, while Al’s Restaurant, the oldest and most traditional, now offers a de rigueur prix fixe menu and even “Wine Wednesdays.” Herein, SLM weighs in on both independent and chain steakeries. Go ahead and dig in—as with the perfect tenderloin filet, you won’t even need a knife.
Best Reason to Spend the Night in Collinsville
Instead of a dessert cart, Porter’s has a wine cart and an easygoing sommelier who offers no-obligation samples from a serious list. Remodeling has made things comfy, and the hotel location, serving three meals a day, means the kitchen has perked up and improved on one-time Tenderloin Room classics like Senate bean soup and pepperloin steak. Porter’s also understands rare, and shows a good touch with appetizers. Gone are the giant slabs of dessert, replaced by plenty of nonclichéd choices. DoubleTree Hotel Collinsville, 1000 Eastport Plaza, Collinsville, Ill., 618-345-2400, porterscollinsville.com
Best Historic Staple in a Land of Big-Box Stores
They don’t fool around here. The menu lists four choices—New York strip, filet mignon, rib-eye, and lamb chops—but take note of the day’s bone-in specials. There are no wrong choices, but devotees tend toward the 16-ounce dry-aged, USDA Prime rib-eye. The glossy, cabernet-spiked, black pepper–studded butter on top doesn’t hurt, nor does a mashed potato, chive, and butter dollop of Irish champ on the side. Inevitably crowded, this West County institution is comfortable, pleasant, and a reliable haven for the St. Louis steak lover. 16806 Chesterfield Airport Rd., 636-532-7684, anniegunns.com
If The Sopranos’ Last Meal Was Here, That Whole Final Scene Thing Would Have Made Sense
Carmine’s Steak House
Protein gets an Italian flavor at this downtown destination that’s more Old World than Wild West. A cracked pepper–dusted tenderloin in a Chianti sauce, or one charbroiled with a white wine–Gorgonzola sauce, affords Continental flair. If you like it simple, though, Carmine’s comes through with a massive porterhouse or a delectable bone-in strip steak that is strictly, gloriously meat and heat. An elegant interior and excellent wine list are an essential part of the experience. 20 S. Fourth, 314-241-1631, lombardosrestaurants.com
No, It’s Not the Address. Edmonds. Jim. No. 15. Fielded for the Cards.
From chorizo dumplings to barramundi, offerings here pinball all over the culinary scene. Carnivores, though, are attracted to the aroma of fresh meat. Or maybe the fragrance of garlic butter slathered over a tender filet or the 14-ounce rib-eye. Or the pungent blue-cheese fondue atop your New York strip. Or the vanilla cider glazing a double-cut pork chop. Whatever attracts you most, this happily upscale restaurant is among the finest of St. Louis steakeries, due partly to a recent change in beef purveyors (to the same company that supplies Gibsons in Chicago). If 15’s owner Jim Edmonds (the former Cardinal-turned-Cubbie-turned-Brewer-turned-Red) had a hand in that decision, then nice play. 1900 Locust, 314-588-8899, 15stl.com
Best Reason That Classic Steakhouses Remain So
Al’s is celebrating its 85th birthday, and there’s a reason for that long life. The meat, pricey as it may be, is wondrous, and practically any special request will be honored. A spoken menu from an elegant display on a silver tray adds a special touch to those seeking to impress. Fabulous onion rings make a fine appetizer; fried eggplant is a close second. A newly established prix fixe is a good buy, and the wine list is substantial. 1200 N. First, 314-421-6399, alsrestaurant.net
The Word “Legendary” Somehow Comes to Mind
Mike Shannon’s Steaks and Seafood
This downtown staple is part baseball Disneyland and part steakhouse. Thank longtime Cardinal Mike Shannon for the former and those USDA Prime, 28-day dry-aged steaks for the latter. If that concentration of flavor isn’t beefy enough for you, opt for a local, grass-fed, bone-in rib-eye or tenderloin, topped with Jack Daniel’s bordelaise. And should you hear 45,000 people cheering in that building next door, well, heh heh, that’s better than the ol’ triple play, folks, and exactly what our former third baseman was hoping for. 620 Market, 314-421-1540, shannonsteak.com
You Can Sense the Ghost of Orson Welles—Ordering Extra Onion Rings With His Rib-Eye
There are critics who say the selection of wines by the glass here is inadequate. Yeah—and Linda Ronstadt’s iconic Rolling Stone cover was compromised by the color of her slip. Are you kidding? The glistening New York strip is a testament to beef’s glory. Kane’s rib-eye Delmonicos are unparalleled. And is there a steak that doesn’t go with the beautiful ’05 Domaine de Beaurenard Chateauneuf-du-Pape? We doubt it. 133 W. Clinton, 314-965-9005, citizenkanes.com
Where to Super-Size Your Meal for $65
Kreis’ feels like a Ralph Lauren ad and
looks deeply establishment. Martinis of gin and vermouth, carefully waved hairstyles, and slabs of prime rib larger than first base (for $64.95) all mark the spot. The menu, too, is retro-feeling, with a vast number of steaks and some Viennese specialties. We’re not sure who orders schnitzel, but potato pancakes aren’t a bad idea with the beef, as recommended by the adept and well-tenured service staff. 535 S. Lindbergh, 314-993-0735, kreisrestaurant.com
Best O’Fallon, Ill.,Steakhouse in Chesterfield
You’d expect it to be like the American Iron Chef: a lackluster imitation of the original. Nope. Andria’s Chesterfield incarnation is a decidedly upscale steakhouse, with an extravagant menu. The famed steak sauce looks like motor oil and tastes satisfyingly like Worcestershire and nuoc mam sauces married. Andria’s is a throwback to the Grand Old Steakhouse days, where filet mignon is “the ladies’ favorite,” and steak fries are puffy, starchy accompaniments to the excellent meat. 16125 Chesterfield Parkway West, 636-530-9800, andriaschesterfield.com
That Sam’s: Quantity. This Sam’s: Quality.
Just up the road from Grant’s Farm, this near-century-old building fits into the throwback aura of Germanic south St. Louis. Sam’s, like most restaurants, turned its dress code over to guys in polo shirts and ladies in fancy denim. They’re knocking back excellent beef, as well as potatoes in a twist of brown paper, topped with a scoop of butter so big it looks like French vanilla ice cream. Plan on highballs, not wine. 10205 Gravois, 314-849-3033, samssteakhouse.com
Best Brush-On Steak Sauce Not to Brush Off
Over the river and through the woods of suburban Illinois, Andria’s frame building and wide porch feels like grandmother’s house. While many steakhouses reek of testosterone, Andria’s is family-friendly, with homemade soups, unchallenging salads, and pleasant service. Steaks are brushed with the signature Andria’s Steak Sauce, a salty but tasty addition, and the pork chops offered standout flavor and texture long before “heirloom” pork entered our vocabulary. 6805 Old Collinsville, O’Fallon, Ill., 618-632-4866, andrias.com
Bet On It
Winning additions at St. Louis casinos
It’s a shame but not a surprise that Jeff Ruby’s Steakhouse, a 2010 SLM A-List winner and, in this writer’s eyes, St. Louis’ finest steakhouse—yes, I said it—has been less popular than expected at River City Casino. The turn-of-the-century riverboat décor was, dare I say, tastefully done, and Ruby’s cuts of steak and preparations far exceed expectations. Yet there have been few customers. One wonders how long that kind of scenario can last. Casino patrons have chosen to dine elsewhere, while diners from other environs apparently just haven’t made the trek…and don’t know what they’ve been missing. Fortuitously, there were two
other casino steakhouses that floated SLM’s boat. —G.M.
When master chef Hubert Keller announced St. Louis’ Lumière Place would be home to his first steakhouse, we knew the bar would get raised. Keller’s no one-armed bandit, but SLeek paid off with triple bars: It was the city’s first contemporary steakhouse, the first with a swank “ultra lounge” (with Keller as occasional guest DJ), and the first to offer true Japanese Wagyu beef. As one might expect from a master chef, presentations are innovative and artistic, but the Frenchman’s descriptions often fall short. If Keller’s seafood appetizer is a “platter,” then Queen Rania is an “average” woman. Beauty and depth are equal players here. SLeeK only gets dicey when choosing one’s side dish (there are 17) or accompanying sauce (out of a paltry 10). 999 N. Second, 314-621-9590, hubertkeller.com
At a steakhouse, it’s unusual when the center of the plate is not the center of attention. Rarely are the incidentals—side dishes, bread service, service in general—so memorable that you’d return just for them. But we will return to Bugatti’s, if just to reserve a half-round booth and revisit one of the city’s finest servers, Euylan (yoo-lun); to once again experience what may be the area’s finest bread presentation (yes, it’s in a St. Charles casino), a warm, airy loaf of ciabatta with three different spreadables; to relive that King Filet, straddled by perfectly seasoned, perfectly uniform asparagus; only to leave, again, both surprised and sated. 1 Ameristar, St. Charles, 636-940-4471, ameristar.com
A Great Steak for Less Than the Babysitter’s Going Rate
Tucker’s uses USDA Choice rather than Prime meat, and it’s reflected in the moderate prices, but the steaks, brushed with a “house” sauce (similar to, but chunkier than Andria’s), are carefully cooked and very tasty. The original Soulard space has romantic potential, and the “no highchairs” signs signal that all three locations aim at adults. Tucker’s bars are extremely popular, especially at happy hour, and behind the filet, strip, top sirloin, and porterhouse steaks (and a recently amped-up wine list), the menu has a wide range of fried bar food, pizza, and sandwiches. Beer seems to be the beverage of choice in easily the most casual of the restaurants on this list. 2117 S. 12th, 314-772-5977; 3939 Union, 314-845-2584; 14282 Manchester, 636-227-8062; tuckersplacestl.com
Not Enough Age
Two new steakhouses arrive in St. Louis, both downtown
Shula’s 347 Grill
Like its namesake coach (347 victories, the most in the NFL), Shula’s 347 Grill (one of four in his playbook) uses only Premium Black Angus beef from its own ranch, beef that still must pass strict grading standards—seven of them stricter than even USDA Prime. The result is billed as a center-cut steak of unparalleled quality, a.k.a. the Shula Cut. Local diners can make that call at this chain addition, slated to open downtown in mid-December. Here, standard steakhouse pretense and predictability—even the menu—have been replaced by approachability: 347’s menu casts a wide net, with equal weight given to nonbeef entrées, salads, and even sandwiches. Black-and-white photos of landmarks and legends lend a familiar touch; pigskin walls and contemporary tables and chairs date this steakhouse firmly in 2010. White tablecloths? No way. They’re as passé as the single-wing offense. 411 N. Eighth, 314-241-7267, donshula.com
If Mosaic owner Claus Schmitz dreams up a concept, then three things are guaranteed: It will be well-researched, be well-executed, and fill a culinary void. Introducing Prime 1000, the city’s most progressive steakhouse, which opened in November. In Schmitz’s mind, overportioned slabs of beef are now as overdone as the foil-wrapped potatoes that rode sidesaddle. At Prime, beef is indeed either USDA Prime or certified-organic grass-fed beef from Missouri pastures. All meats (and that includes the Duroc pork chop) receive 28 days of aging in St. Louis’ only restaurant room built specifically for dry-aging (wisely integrated into the décor to demystify the process). Above, sculpture and incandescent light join forces in spectacular chandeliers that conjure odd images (in our case, it was “blimp-meets-blowfish”). It appears artistry will be a prime directive throughout: on the 20-foot-high, glass–and–red granite walls; on the plate; in the air. It’s even in the tag line, which reads “Prime 1000: The Art of Steak.” Schmitz may again have St. Louis’ number… and it’s prime. 1000 Washington, 314-241-1000, prime1000.com
Steering You Straight
What you need to know about the nomenclature
Grass-Fed vs. Corn-Fed
Someday, we’ll sit down over a wedge of Stilton and some tawny port and argue the environmental, health, nutritional, and moral implications of grass-fed versus grain-fed beef. For now: What’s the difference purely in taste? Your palate will likely find grass-fed meat leaner (lacking some of the corn-fed cow’s fat, it cooks much faster), while corn-fed meat is more “minerally” or “liverish.” The former is an acquired taste—though one might insist it’s worthwhile in getting a more authentic beef flavor.
Dry-Aged vs. Wet-Aged
Steaks can age two ways: enclosed in plastic bags in their own juices or, more expensively, hung open-air in climate-controlled rooms. Wet-aged, they acquire a juicy tenderness. Dry-aged, steaks lose moisture, concentrating a “roast-beef brown” flavor. Most of us favor wet-aged, probably because we’re accustomed to it, though dry-aged aficionados are enthusiastic. Either way, remember other factors—climate, breed, feed, and slaughter—affect beef as well, and postmortem aging is no guarantee of quality.
Kobe vs. Wagyu
Don’t confuse Kobe beef with Wagyu in general. The first, though it comes from the Wagyu breed, is almost unavailable outside Japan. The second is beef from Wagyu grown in the United States. Restaurants sometimes play with terms like “Kobe style” to deliberately muddy the difference. Marbling makes both special, with veins of fat that give the meat a frosted appearance. The taste? Exquisite if you’re eating it sliced thin, served rare. For normal-sized cuts, it’s usually not worth the outrageous price. —D.L.
The Chain Gang
Four prime contenders
Ruth’s Chris Steak House
Yeah, the name makes no sense to us, either. But this chain has maintained steakhouse élan, with a refreshingly formal atmosphere that’s never stiff, by flaming steaks at a sun’s-surface temperature and paying attention to detail, like that sizzle of butter on your bone-in rib-eye. The Porterhouse for Two, along with glasses of Napa Valley cab, is as romantic as carnivorism gets. The whiskey-laced bread pudding nods at Ruth’s Chris’ birth along Broad Street in New Orleans. 1 N. Brentwood, 314-783-9900; 315 Chestnut, 314-259-3200, ruthschris.com
Stoney River goes for the Mountain Lodge look. Along with superior steaks (and a foothill appetizer of blue-cheese chips), an outdoorsy atmosphere prevails. You’ll fancy a postprandial canoe ride—right after you tuck into a fragrant, meltingly tender filet marinated in coffee, molasses, and brown sugar. The horseradish-encrusted strip steak wins praise, with or without caramelized-onion mashed potatoes, cinnamon-spiked sweet potatoes, or three-cheese macaroni. On second thought, forget the canoe—just bring on that cappuccino crème brûlée. 377 Chesterfield Center East, 636-536-1301, stoneyriver.com
You expect to meet the cast of Mad Men at this unapologetic, testosterone-scented temple to cosmopolitan cow consumption. Steaks and strictly a la carte prices are both brawny big. A porterhouse here has the table groaning. Even the normally petite strip steak is formidable. More reasonably sized offerings include a Cajun-spicy rib-eye and a hopelessly extravagant filet Oskar topped with a crab-loaded béarnaise sauce. With its dress code of “business attire or smart casual wear,” this is old-school steak dining at its finest. 7822 Bonhomme, 314-725-4008, mortons.com
Fleming’s combines a plush contemporary feel with the atmosphere of a private club that would definitely blackball your brother-in-law. Broiled, corn-fed cow here is well-trimmed and extravagantly marbled. But this is a place to try some decidedly nonstandard steakhouse preparations: filet rubbed with porcini dust and splashed with gorgonzola cream; a veal chop with béarnaise sauce; peppercorn-flecked strip steak; and a most gratifying aside of 100 wines by the glass, a number unmatched in St. Louis. 1855 S. Lindbergh, 314-567-7610,