Steak is back. And it’s big, bad and bodaciously indulgent. New, modern chophouses are opening, and a bevy of bovine offerings are grilling and broiling their way onto other menus as well.
There was a time when Atlanta was known primarily for its steak-and-potatoes posturing when it came to restaurant menus, especially pre-1996, before the Olympics brought an international palate to a city raised on beef, fried chicken and Continental cuisine.
Conventioneers with expense accounts would blow into town, soak up some martinis and settle their stomachs with a big hunk of meat.
Fast-forward to post 2008, and we’ve got a dining public that relishes its newfound, hard-earned disposable income, and has been weaned on the likes of Food Network shows and the modern chefs who populate them. Enter an informed consumer who wants her dining dollar to be worth every penny.
"I think we're simply seeing a return to glamour, " said chef-collaborator Peter Kaiser (with chef and restaurateur Kevin Rathbun) of Kaiser's Chophouse (5975 Roswell Road, Sandy Springs. 404-549-2882, kaiserschophouse.com), which opened earlier this year. "Steaks, like classic cocktails, have a sense of nostalgia. We're seeing a return to that. People work hard, and they want to reward themselves. When Kevin and I were discussing what concept to open with, a chophouse made the most sense."
Kaiser’s steaks are categorized as “uptown” — think barrel-cut filets and prime dry-aged cowboy cut rib-eyes — and “downtown,” where bavette (flank) cuts and dry-aged drop cut rib-eyes are less expensive options.
Shaun Doty, chef and co-owner with partner Lance Gummere of the Federal (1050 Crescent Ave. NE, Atlanta. 404-343-3857, thefederalatl.com), agrees, but goes a step further in explanation. "I think it's a maturity thing — with the dining public, sure, but also with chefs. I can't just serve what satisfies my creativity as a chef; I have to meet my diners' expectations."
On his “mashup” French bistro menu, there is a section called “steakhouse traditions,” and it proffers dry-aged cuts, like a Kansas City strip and a porterhouse for two. Steaks weren’t a big part of Doty’s menu at his former restaurant, Shaun’s, which shuttered in 2010.
"Atlanta has always been a steakhouse town," said Matthew Ridgway, newly minted chef at Cooks & Soldiers (691 14th St. NW, Atlanta. 404-996-2623, cooksandsoldiers.com). "Steak is comforting to people — they want a steak, and they know a steak. The real question is, does the restaurant know how to cook a steak?"
His question is actually another answer for why steaks are so popular in restaurants right now. Who wants to spend $13 to $15 a pound on beef only to take it home and screw it up? Better to let a trained professional cook it for you. Plus, chefs have access to cuts of beef that aren’t easily found in supermarkets, as well as specialties such as dry-aged beef, something Doty, Gummere and Kaiser swear by for flavor and tenderness.
“We offer the chuleton — a double cut rib-eye — because it’s meant to be shared,” said Ridgway. “Since we offer many pintxos and tapas, I believe it’s a great shareable option and fits our concept perfectly.”
"It's not always about creating the most unique, never-before-seen dish," said Damon Wise, executive chef at C. Ellet's (The Battery Atlanta adjacent to SunTrust Park, 2605 Circle 75 Parkway, Atlanta. 678-996-5344, c-ellets.com), a new chophouse concept from Linton Hopkins. "It's about creating something memorable, high-quality and that guests love."
Hopkins, who owns Restaurant Eugene and Holeman & Finch, is well known for his exhaustive efforts in sourcing ingredients — most of them local. For meat, he and his team scoured the Midwest. “We took months to curate this program, trying hundreds of types of beef and varying cuts, traveling across the country to do so,” said Wise. “We want to serve the best-quality, best-tasting options and be representative of great American steaks.” The options at C. Ellet’s range from five types of rib-eyes to T-bones and center (barrel)-cut filets, range in size from 8 to 32 ounces, and come from Ohio, Kansas, Texas, Iowa and Nebraska.
Still hungry? Kimball House (303 E. Howard Ave, Decatur. 404-378-3502, kimball-house.com), the oyster-and-cocktail concept in Decatur, now offers options for a three-course steak dinner. Nine Mile Station (675 Ponce de Leon Ave. NE, Atlanta. 770-999-1532, 9milestation.com), the easy-breezy beer garden at Ponce City Market, boasts a 12-ounce filet and a 32-ounce tomahawk rib-eye on its menu. At American Cut Buckhead (3035 Peachtree Road at the Shops Buckhead, Atlanta. 770-415-9766, americancutsteakhouse.com), there's a new array of wet-aged meat selections, including a 40-ounce porterhouse and a 14-ounce New York strip to accompany the steakhouse's dry-aged options.
“Consumers feel they deserve a great steak,” said Kaiser. In Atlanta, they’ve got plenty of new options.
Check out what the AJC Fall Dining Guide 2017 has to offer: