Thursday, March 26, 2009

Steak: It's What's For Dinner

Maybe I've got too much time on my hands, but I have noticed that there are just too many pansy-ass chain steakhouses trying to pass themselves off as legit these days. Between Outback, Lone Star, Black Angus, and Logan's Roadhouse, the casual-dining steakhouse market is expanding faster than America's waistlines. So what exactly is the problem with these restaurants? Allow me to elaborate:

Logan's Roadhouse is an example of a lame casual dining steakhouseBy making steakhouses more accessible to casual diners, restaurant owners have increased their appeal to new markets and increased profits. On the other hand, they've filled their restaurants with all kinds of gimmicks that I don't want to see in a steakhouse. From side salads to families with little kids, steakhouses are no longer a place for adults to go and enjoy a hearty meal. They have become just as homogenized and cliché as every other fast-food chain out there.

When it comes to beverages, I think a good steakhouse should not even have a wine menu. I don't care if you fancy a glass of Yellow Tail or Shiraz with your top sirloin, go be a sissy at a bar somewhere. Steakhouses should only serve milk, water, lemonade, and beer with meals because soda is for kids and wine is for sissies.

Another thing that bugs me about steakhouses is when they try to act all intimate and fancy. You know, the ones that have an elderly couple holding hands at a candlelight table in the TV commercials. Black Angus, I'm looking at you and your high-backed booths and cloth napkins. The lights are so "romantic" and dim it's like eating in a damn broom closet. Cut that nonsense out! Turn the lights on and get real.

Perhaps the cheesiest steakhouse I've ever been to is Logan's Roadhouse. There's a brand new one by my house and the inside is so over-engineered I thought at first I walked into Chipotle by accident. The new-but-made-to-look-really-old decor does not impress me. I think the designers wanted the inside to look rustic and weathered like a local bar and grill, but it's not fooling me. I can just see the construction crews staining the wood panels to look older than they really are, as if it makes eating there more fun or something.

Every table at Logan's Roadhouse has a dish of peanuts waiting for you, and just to prove how badass you are, you can throw the shells on the floor when you're done. That's right, no napkins or trays for your shells. Come on guys. A real steakhouse like Bill Johnson's Big Apple has sawdust all over the floor. Not only is it a fire hazard, but it's probably in the food, too. That's what I'm talkin' about! I wouldn't have it any other way.

At Logan's, you can choose from no more than six cuts of meat while the rest of the menu has things like salads, seafood, and appetizers. Don't waste your breath trying to tell me that "those menu items are for the people who don't want steak." Ah, news flash, don't go to a steakhouse then!

If you want salad, go to Souper Salad. If you want seafood, go to Red f-ing Lobster. When I am in the mood for steak, I want to visit a restaurant that has a good selection of beef cuts on the menu! I want to choose from Ribeye steaks, T-Bones, Top Sirloin, New York Strip steaks, Porterhouse, and Filet Mignon! Seriously, what else do you want? A kids menu? Forget about it and get them a Happy Meal at McDonald's instead.

Probably the closest thing to a "real" steakhouse is the Miner's Camp restaurant in Apache Junction. The entire building is made of wood that looks weathered because it really is. It's been at the base of the Superstition Mountains for decades. The place looks like a strong breeze might knock it over before your food even arrives. I like that.

The dining experience is also very different from today's corporate-owned steakhouses. Instead of dining in dark, romantic booths, you sit at a long row of picnic benches with other customers. Nobody gets their own table.

The food is served on tin plates and cups which are delightfully noisy. Side dishes such as corn and potatoes come in small, cast-iron cauldrons (for lack of a better word). There's no jukebox playing today's top country music hits or any neon signs for Bud Light.

Although it doesn't have the sawdust or the best tasting food, the Miner's Camp is the realest steakhouse I've ever been to. If you're tired of family-friendly steakhouses that cater to families with small children and play piped-in Muzak while you wait for your cheese sticks to arrive, it's time for a change. Get out and find yourself a good local steakhouse where they take some pride in what they do. You'll be glad you did.

I'm not the only one who feels this way: