The Big Steak Out
Had Marcel Proust been a Texan, he might have reminisced about good steak instead of madeleines. He would doubtless have recalled fondly potatoes sans aluminum skin, salad he didn’t have to fetch himself and waiters who didn’t introduce themselves.
In Dallas these days, however, he likely would have an easier time finding madeleines than a genuine Texas steakhouse. It’s relatively simple to find good steak in Dallas if you are willing to pretend you are in England, Austria, or on a train. And you can even find great steaks here, if you’re feeling rich and want to go the jackets-for-gentlemen route.
But finding a nice piece of beef in a plain old Texas steakhouse is another matter entirely. Remember the Texas steakhouse? Remember the Texas steak?
It’s not easy. My search for a reasonably priced steak in an authentic Texas steakhouse was dotted with deflated hopes and heartburn - and a few pleasant surprises. You’ll be glad to know the Texas steakhouse is still alive and still can provide the best ounce-for-ounce steak buys in the city.
There are a couple of things you need to remember on the steakhouse circuit. First, unless you’re in a gambling mood, stick with rib eye, T-bone, or filet. For some reason, decent Kansas City or New York cut strip sirloins are tough to find. Secondly, if you like rare meat, you’d better go ahead and describe the desired bloody center in gory detail. (At that, you will probably wind up with a medium rare steak.) Third, if you like wine with your beef, be careful: The wine lists in these steakhouses are limited at best. Besides, beer is a lot easier to find and probably will complement the meal better.
With steakhouses, you can only start with the stockyards and the original Cattlemen’s, 2458 N. Main (817/262-8787), in Fort Worth. The atmosphere is predictable: plenty of rough wood, pictures of prize bulls, branding irons and other cattle drive memorabilia, plus a smiling hostess replete in a flurry of Annie Oakley fringe and a brace of cap pistols. Mercifully, the hokey stuff ends there.
The service is cordial and efficient. Menus and before-dinner drinks arrive quickly. The menu is long and interesting, including not only beef, but roundup delicacies such as calf and lamb fries.
But don’t expect much in the pre-entree stage. The shrimp cocktail is frozen, boiled and bathed with the ubiquitous bottled red sauce. The soups are likewise unexciting. The salads, however, are fresh, crisp and simple, and all the dressings are passable.
Now to the beef. Cattlemen’s buys the best beef available and does its own aging. All the cuts are great. The strip sirloin (15 ounces, $7.50; 12 ounces, $6.25) is heavy and beautifully marbled, as it should be. The filet (7 ounces, $4.90) is likewise very thick and heavily aged. The rib eye (12 ounces, $6.50) and the yearling T-bone (14 ounces, $5.25) are also superb.
All are accompanied by a baked potato with trimmings that even Dr. Stillman would have trouble refusing. The a la carte sliced tomatoes are excellent in season, but the other vegetable options are either frozen or canned. If you have room, the desserts are tasty, though a bit heavy.
Don’t forget the Dallas Cattlemen’s (747-9131), 2007 Live Oak. It’s everything the original is save the stockyard.
Fort Worth hours: 4:30-10:45 (last reservations taken), every day. Reservations advisable. Master Charge. BankAmericard, American Express, Carte Blanche accepted. Dallas hours: 11-10:45, Monday through Friday: 5:30-midnight Saturday. Closed Sunday.
Another standby is Kirby’s (823-7296), 3715 Greenville, an unpretentious steakhouse of the first order. Here, as at Cattlemen’s, all the cuts are choice and properly cooked, though the strip sirloin ($6.95) is not quite up to the filet ($5.95) or the rib eye ($6.95). The service is businesslike and unobtrusive. The waitresses don’t rush you or push drinks. Again, you are safe with the standard salad, baked potato and sliced tomatoes.
Hours: 5:30-10:30, Tuesday through Thursday and Sunday ; 5 :30 - midnight Friday and Saturday. Closed Monday. Reservations advisable on weekends. Master Charge, BankAmericard, American Express, Carte Blanche, Diners Club accepted.
It sounds incredible, but it took Arizonans to teach Texans to use mesquite to cook steaks. Dunston’s, 8526 Harry Hines (637-3513), and 5423 W. Lover’s Lane (352-8320), calls itself an "Arizona-style steak pit" and actually does build its fires with mesquite logs. (It’s rare these days to find a restaurant using real charcoal, let alone logs.)
If you appreciate the authenticity, you’ll also appreciate the distinctive flavor of the steaks broiled over the mesquite-fueled fire.
Although the menu is identical at both locations, the Lovers Lane location is a salad bar trip and the surroundings are less than attractive.
But whether your salad is served, or you serve yourself, it is still inedible. The potato likewise is not worth the trouble.
The steaks, however, are surprisingly good. The over-the-edge-of-the-plate sirloin is especially flavorful for a thin steak. There are two sizes of filet, a nine-ounce one for $3.95 and a six-ounce one for $2.95, which have to be the best beef buys in the city. The meat is aged, succulent and well prepared, though often a bit overdone.
So your best game plan for Duns-ton’s is to skip the salad, order the filet, skip the potato, drink a beer and head home. You’ll be rewarded with a great steak for under $5.
Service ★★Ambience ★★
Hours, Harry Hines location: 6 a.m. -midnight, Monday through Saturday ; 5 p.m. -11 p.m. Sunday. Lover’s Lane location: 11 a.m. - 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. - 11 p.m. Saturday. Closed Sunday. Both accept BankAmericard, Master Charge and American Express. Weekday reservations accepted, not so Friday or Saturday.
Now that I’ve led you to believe the Texas steakhouse is not only alive, but well, I’m going to let you down. Sloane’s Steak House (528-9700), 2511 New Orleans Place, is where my deflated hopes and heartburn started.
It won’t take you long at Sloane’s to figure out you are going to get a lot of pomp without much circumstance - or satisfaction. To begin, the walls are that awful flocked red that looks like the boxes cheap stationery come in. To add to the atmosphere, there is a constant roar from the bar that makes conversation at your table all but impossible.
The menu is only slightly more encouraging. None of the appetizers look particularly appetizing, unless you want to play it safe with the standard shrimp cocktail. The house dressing - oil, lemon juice and garlic - turns out to be mostly garlic. It will anesthetize your taste buds.
To give credit where credit is due, the steak is good. But for the money ($7.95), Sloane’s is a questionable venture at best. I left wishing I had simply gone to Safeway and cooked burgers on the patio.
Food ★★Service ★Ambience ★
Hours: 7-11 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. Closed Sunday and Monday. Master Charge and BankAmericard accepted. Reservations advisable.