How to cook a championship steak according to a grill master
Steakhouses aren’t about the food, they’re about the statement: Expensive, indulgent, the kind of thing that says to your client/date/partner: Yes, I have money and I’m dropping it on you.
And yes, you will drop major money. A spin through steakhouse menus around Charlotte finds prices that range from gulp to call-my-banker. A single-serving 20-ounce dry-aged ribeye steak at Oak Steakhouse will set you back $67 – and it arrives naked on the plate with a lone roasted tomato wedge. You want sides with that? It’ll cost you, pal. Prepare to shell out another $20, at least.
But: There are times when only a steak will do. Where can you get a great steak experience? Here are three new ones we tried recently, along with two old favorites that won’t let you down.
New player: SouthPark Grill
Go for: Bonafides. Owner Greg McIntosh is fondly remembered around here for McIntosh’s in South End, a local favorite until it got elbowed out by bigger players like Ruth’s Chris and the Palm. The new version, at 4300 Congress St., is luxe, with a buttoned-down vibe. All the seating is deep booths or in the bar. Wrapped around a narrow space, it’s the mullet of dining rooms: Party in the front, work in the back, with a clattery-loud open kitchen.
Steaks: The star is the 22-ounce ribeye, carved tableside, for $50. (It was hard to miss – my waiter mentioned it several times.) For a better deal, go with the 14-ounce center-cut New York strip, $37, a full inch thick and well-marbled, with good crusting. The sides aren’t exciting, just mashed potatoes and broccolini, but at least it comes with sides.
Side game: Not a lot, but you can request the smoky/sweet house steak sauce.
Skip: The lobster bites appetizer. Market price of $18 brought six to seven pieces of tempura-dipped fried lobster with two dipping sauces (ponzu and honey mustard). Half were big, tasty chunks, half were more gummy batter than lobster.
New player: Oak Steakhouse.
Go for: Bragging rights. The Indigo Road restaurant group from Charleston muscled into Charlotte with O-Ku (and soon Indaco) in Atherton Mill. This SouthPark steakhouse is plush, with a busy bar and a long banquette for cozying up at tables.
Steaks: Prices are stratospheric, with an emphasis on dry-aged beef from Debragga of NYC. That 20-ounce ribeye – did we mention it was $67? – had a little of the buttery flavor you expect from aging. Unfortunately, at more than 2 inches thick, it’s also apparently hard to cook consistently. Ours was well past the medium-rare we ordered, with a pink/gray interior, and was noticeably dry. Better choice: The 8-ounce filet, $39. It may not have a pedigree, but it arrived thick and juicy with the correct warm red center.
Side game: Priced to share at $9-$10, you could skip the steak and chow down on these. Don’t miss the addictive sweet/sour Brussels sprouts and the crispy potatoes – smashed red potatoes served in a pile with a creamy/garlicky truffle aioli. Salads are a great deal – half-portions are as big as soup bowls for $6 or $7. Burrata Salad is the standout: Leafy greens mixed with diced strawberries, crispy granola bits (sounds weird, but it works) topped with burrata, the creamy mozzarella that oozes when you cut it.
Don’t miss: Warm rolls with honey butter. And the Brussels sprouts. Seriously, those Brussels sprouts.
Skip: The house steak sauce. What is that flavor? Um, none that we could pick out. It’s bland and only contributes moisture. Next time, we’d opt for bearnaise or bordelaise.
New player: The Porter’s House
Go for: The relaxed vibe. This is the newest entry in the Dressler’s group, which includes Dogwood Southern and Dressler’s. It’s friendly and not too posh, with a comfortable stone and glass interior.
Steaks: Prices range from $30 for a 6-ounce filet to $39 for a 16-ounce Kansas City strip. (If you’re really out to impress, there’s a 36-ounce prime porterhouse for $95.) Heart of Ribeye Au Poivre at $33 is the best deal: A full 2 inches thick, the peppery crust and the bourbon peppercorn sauce keep it interesting.
Side game: The Wedge Salad is a classic, this time with the nice touch of slow-roasted confit tomato, and the creamed spinach is what it should be: Creamy.
Don’t miss: The bread – squares of soft house-made focaccia dunked in an obscene amount of melted butter and sprinkled with everything seasoning (garlic bits, poppy seeds and dried herbs). And Joan Dressler’s cheesecake: Made by the owner’s mother, it’s as fluffy as chiffon with the perfect sour cream tang.
Skip: Duck fat fingerling potatoes. They’re thick chunks that don’t have any of the flavor and crispiness that makes cooking in duck fat so special. The house steak sauce tastes so strongly of horseradish that it would be much happier with shrimp.
Vet: Epic Chophouse
Go for: Fun. A stalwart in downtown Mooresville, Epic has an old-school atmosphere that begs for graduation parties and birthdays.
Steaks: The New York strip is practically a bargain in this world, at $28.95 for a 14-ounce center cut. Even better: The 14-ounce ribeye with garlic butter glaze and smoked flaky salt.
Side game: They’re $5.95 and worth it for the creamed spinach with a hint of nutmeg. Another nice touch: A long list of potato options that come with your steak. The one you want is the potato cake, which is like mashed potatoes with a crispy crust.
Don’t miss: The Chophouse cheese toast appetizer -- long wedges of toasted bread topped with a puffy cheese sauce with a little green onion.
Vet: Beef ’n Bottle
Go for: The classic atmosphere. It’s true that some people don’t get the appeal. But for a lot of us, the Bottle is one of the great Charlotte traditions, with a Rat Pack vibe that calls for a hunk of beef and a cold martini.
Steaks: Go for the nicely marbled ribeye ($34 for 12-ounce, $39 for 16-ounce). All the steaks are brushed with butter and sprinkled with seasoned salt when they go on the grill, and they always arrive topped with an onion ring tilted just so.
Don’t miss: The cheese spread with crackers. Prepare to fight your dining companion for the Captain’s Wafers. If your dining companion is me, prepare to lose.
Skip: Nothing. Especially not a dry martini.