Story and photos by Matt McGinnis
There is one huge reason why I’m not a vegetarian: steak. Oh, glorious steak. The mere smell of it sends me into a shark-like frenzy. Biting into that hot flesh is the closest I will come to being a vampire, giving myself over to that carnal lust. Fortunately, Austin is well stocked with prime steakhouses. There are at least a dozen places to get an amazing steak in the downtown area. ATX Man made the rounds to pick the best of Austin steakhouses
117 W. Fourth St.
Austin’s newest steakhouse is also arguably its best. Everything you want in a steakhouse is here. The Capital Grille, located in the former Spaghetti Warehouse on Fourth Street, pays extraordinary attention to its dry-aged steaks, flies in fresh seafood daily, has a master sommelier selecting the wines for its wine list and a team dedicated to personal service. The Capital Grille started in Providence, R.I., in 1990 and now has 57 locations.
The long-awaited opening of the Austin restaurant happened in April 2014, after it was announced in 2012. Despite entering a crowded market—there are nine steakhouses in a six-block radius of the Grille—the owners chose to enter the Austin market because of the strong economy boom and the growth of the foodie community. So far, the Austin community has been receptive. The star of the menu is definitely steak.
“We source our beef locally and then dry-age the porterhouse and strip steaks for about 24 days in a humidity- and temperature-controlled room,” says Chef Brent Jaeger, a veteran of The Capital Grille chain.
“Dry-aging gives the steaks a nuttier, more intense flavor. We have a third-generation butcher on staff who cuts each steak by hand every day.”
Can’t-Miss Menu Items
Start with the signature appetizer, which is flash-fried calamari served with a trio of hot cherry peppers. The serving is ample for sharing.
The bone-in, Kona-crusted, dry-aged sirloin is on the must-try list. This hand-cut strip steak has a crispy crust courtesy of a rub that includes Kona coffee for delightful bitterness, dried mustard for spicy savoriness and sugar for a hint of sweetness. It is served with caramelized shallot butter drizzled over the top, which picks up the sweetness of the sugar and brings out the flavors of the herbs. It’s unbelievably juicy and firm, yet yielding to the knife. Pair it with a bottle of sumptuous cabernet-sauvignon- based wine like Château Bernadotte Haut-Médoc, which will marry well with the rich beef flavor.
For a contemporary twist on surf and turf, try the seared tenderloin with butterpoached lobster tails. North Atlantic lobster is poached in the butter sauce then stacked on two impossibly tender petite filet-mignon cuts. The whole luscious stack is drizzled with butter sauce and fresh herbs. Bite into both the lobster and tenderloin at the same time. It is bliss. It will go particularly well with a spicy red wine like Delas Freres Châteauneuf-du-Pape.
The lobster mac ’n’ cheese is a perfect accompaniment to any steak. Packed with huge chunks of lobster and smothered with mascarpone, Havarti, Grana Padano and white cheddar cheeses, and topped with a crispy dusting of pan-roasted breadcrumbs, this could be a meal all by itself.
Finish dinner with a decadent coconut cream pie layered with whipped and coconut creams in a substantial, cakey vanilla crust and garnished with a crispy macaroon. Like all of the desserts here, it is made in house to order, from scratch.
Wine lovers will rejoice in selecting one of 350 bottles from throughout the world, housed in a lovely glass-enclosed wine cellar. If you’re serious about your wine, private wine lockers are available with the purchase of 12 bottles from the list. Wine members get priority seating and are invited to a special wine dinner every quarter. The gracious dining room has soft lighting and dark wood paneling, giving it a classic steakhouse feel.
Even though The Capital Grille wasn’t born and raised in Austin, it has a bit of a hometown feel, with large portraits of prominent Texans, such as President Lyndon B. Johnson and Farrah Fawcett, on the walls. The elegant setting is a draw for date night, birthday celebrations, girls’ nights out and business meetings alike. It’s destined to become a new staple on the Austin steak circuit.
Best Tried and True: ALC Steaks
1205 N. Lamar Blvd.
The only family-owned steakhouse in town, ALC Steaks—formerly known as Austin Land & Cattle Company—has been an Austin favorite for 21 years. The key to its success has been its casual, friendly atmosphere and excellent steaks. It may not be Austin’s flashiest steakhouse, but it certainly scores high marks for authenticity and charm. Situated just down the hill from the Capitol, ALC Steaks draws a crowd of families and prominent citizens.
“It’s a huge hangout for politicians when the Legislature is in session. It is a tradition,” says General Manager Scottie Mescall, who has been a fixture at the restaurant since it opened. “We keep things low-key, so a fair share of celebrities come in again and again. The X Games athletes came in droves, including gold-medal winner Chase Hawk, who has been coming since he was 12 years old.”
It’s that personal touch, longevity of the staff and familial atmosphere that keep locals and out-of-towners coming back. Guests are greeted by name and hugs are doled out with regularity. This is the kind of place where it’s easy to become a regular. Husband-and-wife team Christian and Theresa Mertens own ALC Steaks and have steered its evolution since it started serving steaks and family-style coleslaw and beans in 1993. The menu has evolved to add salads, several side dishes and plenty of vegetables.
Can’t-Miss Menu Items
Warm up your appetite with Asian-style prime beef sashimi, thinly sliced strips of raw steak served with fresh jalapeño, ponzu and Sriracha sauce, and crostini.
The Buffalo-style lamb chops are downright fun. This best-selling appetizer is big enough to make a meal. The tender cuts of lamb are cooked with hot sauce and served with a side of blue cheese.
Loosen your belt and order the 22-ounce bone-in rib-eye. It, along with all of the steaks, is wetaged and cut on premise. It’s melt-in-your-mouth tender. Round out the plate with white truffle bacon mac ’n’ cheese and a loaded potato, and you’re sure to leave happy.
Best Porterhouse: Eddie V’s Prime Seafood
301 E. Fifth St.
Eddie V’s may be a prime seafood restaurant, but it’s also known for its Texas-sized porterhouse. This massive 42-ounce heritage-breed Angus is a step above prime in quality and is only available at the downtown location. It’s wet-aged and handcut, and the porterhouse quality stands on its own without a lot of seasoning or special toppings.
“We baste it with butter while it cooks and sprinkle it with salt and pepper, nothing else,” says Chef Chris Bauer. “It’s all about technique. We use a 1,400-degree broiler to get a nice charred crust outside and a tender, juicy center.”
Chef Bauer chose the 42-ounce size to add to the menu three years ago because the thick cut chars well but never overcooks. It is carved tableside, with the server slicing it off the bone and into strips. The porterhouse is presented on a cutting board with the juice spilling over the edge of the board. It’s enough to make a grown man drool. It has a sublime balance of crunchy, caramelized crust with a tender center. The filet side is so buttery it will make your knees buckle. The strip side is firm yet yielding, like an aerobics instructor. The ultimate pairing for this beast is truffled macaroni ’n’ cheese, made with baked gruyere, Parmesan truffle oil and black truffles sprinkled on top.
“During F1, these things fly off the grill,” says Chef Bauer. “It’s also a political powerhouse steak. The guys with the lapel pins buy a lot of these. This is a perfect steak for sharing, but some people eat it by themselves. One couple ordered both the porterhouse and a 22-ounce tomahawk bone-in rib-eye and ate them both. That’s almost four pounds of beef between two people!”
Best Place to Meet for Drinks: Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar
320 E. Second St.
Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse is an excellent place to have a killer meal, but it shouldn’t be overlooked as a fantastic place to meet friends for drinks. Not only do they have great drink specials, but they also have been recognized for an outstanding wine selection, receiving the Wine Spectator Award of Excellence.
Every day of the week, Fleming’s has happy-hour deals at the bar that they call 5,6,7. That means they have five menus in every category—cocktails, wine and appetizers— for $6 until 7 p.m. You can pick up pan-crisped pork belly and an Old Fashioned cocktail for $12 total. The deal even includes a burger or two beers for $6. I can’t see a reason to leave the bar.
The bar is well-stocked. Fleming’s has more than 20 varieties of scotch, a solid whiskey and tequila selection and an admirable collection of cognac. The wine list is fat, with more than 100 types poured by the glass. For those who are daunted by the seemingly endless drink possibilities, the menus are available on iPads, which categorize drinks by type of cocktail. They even offer wine pairings for various dishes.
An added bonus is that it is easy for old eyes to read the menu in low light. If you don’t want to fiddle with a gadget to order the right kind of wine, you always can get a stellar recommendation from the talented and gorgeous sommelier, Melissa Lamb.
Nibbles to try at the bar include the tenderloin Carpaccio with creole mustard sauce. The generous portion of beef is tender and flavorful. The baked Brie is fantastic with an amber ale. Ooey, gooey hot cheese encased in puff pastry encrusted with candied walnut and cinnamon is like a holiday treat that you can enjoy anytime.
Despite being part of a larger group of restaurants, Fleming’s downtown has a bit of a mom-and-pop feel because many of the staff have been working there for a decade or more. Whether you stay at the bar or dig into a dry-aged prime rib-eye, you can expect friendly, attentive service from the tenured staff.
Best Non-Steak Option: Perry’s Steakhouse & Grille
114 W. Seventh St.
Perry’s is one of the city’s finest steakhouses, and worthy of a long visit. The Rat Pack would feel right at home in this stylish, classy den of meat. There is a lot to love about this place, starting with an elegant bar serving fantastic cocktails and the fantastic menu packed with classic dishes that harken back to the restaurant’s origin as a butcher shop that opened in 1979 in Houston.
You don’t have to be a high-flying politician to enjoy Perry’s. While a lot of lobbyist and legislators frequent Perry’s, walk-in guests are welcome. If you are coming for just one entrée, General Manager Jeff Halford recommends the famous Perry’s pork chop. This gorgeous chop is slow-roasted and smoked over pecan wood, and rubbed with barbecue spice and brown sugar. The rub gives it an amazing smoky, charred crust that protects the ultra-tender, succulent pork. The 32-ounce hunk of lusciousness is carved tableside into three portions: the eyelash, the tenderloin and the ribs.
Eat that flavorful eyelash first and work your way around the hot cast-iron plate to the loin, and then finish by gnawing the ribs off the bone. Get in there. Get that sweet, glistening fat all over your lips and fingers. Pair it with a Glenmo Ginger Blossom cocktail made with Gllenmorangie 10-year-old Scotch, lemon juice, honey water and fresh ginger, and you are good to go. Bring your appetite. This beast is enough for the stoutest man, or any man willing to share with a good friend. It’s a carnivore’s dream.
To avoid hearing Mom’s voice in your head, order some veggies to accompany the chop. You can’t miss the sweet Sriracha Brussels sprouts that are roasted with salt, pepper and a little caramelized Sriracha sauce. The smoky, crisp skins, spice and sweetness pair well with the pork.
Now that you’ve had your healthy stuff, treat yourself with the Nutty D’Angelo, vanilla ice cream crusted with pecans and flambéed tableside with brown sugar and brandy, and then drizzled in white chocolate and toasted almonds. It’s a spectacular show and flat-out delectable. Pair it with a lovely glass of Royal Tokaji Red Label Tokaji Aszu 5 Puttonyos dessert wine.
Best Must-Have Appetizers: Vince Young Steakhouse
301 San Jacinto Blvd.
Named for former University of Texas star quarterback Vince Young, this independent steakhouse deftly combines an upscale sports bar with fine dining. Steak is definitely a draw at Vince Young, but they have some of the best appetizers in town to nibble before the main course. Chef Philip Brown and his team make everything from scratch, from the ketchup to the bread to the desserts. That allows the kitchen to give special attention to the quality of ingredients when creating local twists on steakhouse favorites.
Vince Young Steakhouse makes a killer crab cake. Made with substantial hunks of crab and jalapeno aioli, this dish is mostly crab cake with none of that breadcrumb filler. Chef Brown gets the crab to hold together with a bare minimum of ingredients. Rather that tossing it into the deep fryer like some hockey-puck crab cake, this one is seared crispy on the outside, but moist and delicate inside. The aioli gives it a pleasant kick and delightful tanginess. It’s an ample enough portion to share with your date. Pair it with a glass or three of Pierre Sparr Gewürztraminer.
This snazzy place is far from a tailgate saloon. However, if you want to conjure some of the playful feeling of a pre-game celebration, order the crispy quail. What could be better than deep-fried quail from Lockhart, Texas, served with bacon-infused tangerine marmalade and Sriracha sauce? The quail rests on a tarragon funnel cake for a sophisticated play on chicken and waffle. The juicy quail is mostly boneless, so pick it up and dig in. Enjoy it with a glass of slightly sweet and fizzy Mionetto Il Moscato.
If you’re still hungry after that, by all means, tuck into the unbelievably delicious 14-ounce prime dry-aged bone-in filet. It’s an experience.
Other Notable Steakhouses
III Forks Steakhouse, 111 Lavaca St.
The elegance of mahogany paneling and marble floors meets the ranch feel of antlers and longhorns. It feels expensive, and it is. With a selection of 10 USDA prime steaks and a selection of classic steakhouse sides, III Forks fits the bill for a Texas-style steak binge.
Bob’s Steak & Chop House, 301 Lavaca St.
This Dallas-based chain opened its doors across the street from the W Hotel in downtown Austin in the summer of 2012. While the wood paneling screams traditional, stuffy steakhouse, Bob’s is also studded with TVs for sports fans and has a rooftop deck perfect for enjoying an after-dinner drink by the light of the moon. Its prime steaks are all served with a signature huge carrot that would make Olaf from the movie Frozen blush.
Jeffrey’s, 1204 W. Lynn St.
While it’s not billed as a steakhouse, steak dominates the elegant menu at this beautifully refurbished fine-dining spot. Chef Rebecca Meeker serves prime steaks that are locally aged and cut. Choose rib-eye, strip or filet from three different ranches. Six cuts of Wagyu beef and five dry-aged cuts show this place means business about its meats. Prices range from $45 for an Akaushi “club-cut” New York strip, to $85 for a dry-aged bone-in tenderloin.
Ruth’s Chris Prime Steak House & Restaurant, 107 W. Sixth St.
This venerable restaurant group traces its roots to the 1960s, and is now the largest steakhouse chain in the U.S. The Austin Ruth’s Chris will celebrate its 30th anniversary next spring, and has hosted a long list of celebrities and hungry locals throughout the years. Ruth’s Chris set the standard for quality steaks in Austin, and has stayed true to its heritage with its USDA prime cuts served with Southern hospitality.
Steiner Ranch Steakhouse, 5424 Steiner Ranch Blvd.
Situated a stone’s throw from Lake Travis, this Texas-themed steakhouse is a long haul from downtown Austin. The menu of 10 steaks, punctuated by a 22-ounce cowboy rib-eye, makes it worth the drive.
Sullivan’s Steakhouse, 300 Colorado St.
This downtown steakhouse staple underwent massive renovations last year to give the space a more modern, elegant and less masculine look. The revamped menu adds more seafood and lighter items, but still retains a strong lineup of eight steaks that can be served with a variety of sauces or lump crab. The 26-ounce dry-aged long-bone rib-eye is certain to satisfy the biggest appetites.
Truluck’s Seafood, Steak and Crab House, 400 Colorado St.
The crab may be the draw, but the luscious selection of classic steak cuts will turn any carnivore’s gaze. After receiving extensive renovations that added a second floor with sweeping views of the city, Truluck’s is even more of a draw for steak lovers. The all-natural rib-eye always hits the spot.
Filet Mignon AKA tenderloin: This lean, succulent morsel is the tenderest cut of beef available. Known for its refined flavor, elegant shape, dainty size and compliant texture, it is a great choice for lunch or dinner.
Rib-eye steak AKA Delmonico: Plentiful marbling throughout the steak makes it juicy, tender and very flavorful. This finegrained steak can be served without a bone, but when it’s served bone-in, it may go by the name of cowboy rib-eye or rib steak.
Strip Steak AKA New York strip or Kansas City steak: Fine-grained with sturdy texture, this lean, tender and fullflavored cut is available boneless and bone-in, and cooks quickly.
T-bone Steak: The name says it all. A T-shaped bone divides a tenderloin filet on one side and a strip steak on the other in a T-bone steak. The porterhouse is the Mack Daddy version of the T-bone, with a more sumptuous portion of the tenderloin measuring more than 1 inch thick. If the diameter of tenderloin is smaller than an egg and at least a quarter of an inch thick, it’s called a T-bone.
Prime Cuts illustrations by Nora Iglesias.