Ed Bailey has never played by the rules. In 1984, the former men’s clothing store owner bought a McDonald’s franchise on the bottom floor of Valley View Mall and caught the attention of his corporate bosses by breaking the McDonald’s interior design mold and adding upscale touches to the decor. Over the next 20 years, Bailey acquired more than 60 McDonald’s stores. He installed marble floors, Austrian crystal chandeliers, and Ralph Lauren wallpaper. Then, in 1992, he spent $650,000 to open the most expensive McDonald’s built that year in the United States, at the corner of Preston Road and Royal Lane.
But Bailey really got corporate’s attention when, in 2006, he bought two Patrizio restaurants—one in Plano, the other in Highland Park Village. The Mickey D’s brass doesn’t like franchisees operating eateries that might compete with the golden arches. Bailey sued McDonald’s (over his ownership of the Patrizios and another unrelated matter) and eventually settled.
Now, though, Bailey is set to get out of the burger business. A sale of his 63 McDonald’s is slated to close by the end of the year. The deal should go for about $150 million, so Bailey will have plenty of cash for his big plans. He now owns four Patrizio locations and wants to open four more by mid-2010. And then there’s his own concept: Bailey’s Prime Plus, an over-the-top steakhouse aimed at female patrons (we’ll get to this in a minute). He has two Bailey’s now and plans to open two more.
Only time will tell if Ed Bailey’s big adventure will end happily. The past year has been difficult for restaurateurs. Fine dining has struggled to keep customers who are eating out less, skipping desserts and alcohol, or switching to less-expensive venues. Here comes Bailey with two new opulent restaurants that serve entrées ranging from $26 to $99.
He opened the first Bailey’s Prime Plus—at 7,500 square feet, costing $2.75 million—in the Uptown at Highland Village, in Cedar Hill, an area populated with chain restaurants. The other Bailey’s—12,000 square feet, $4.5 million—is nestled in the new Park Lane development across the highway from NorthPark Center. Walking into either location is like entering one of Steve Wynn’s flamboyant Vegas eateries. In Cedar Hill, the center dining room has a 22-foot-high domed ceiling reminiscent of the painted blue sky and white cloud murals over the Grand Canal in the Venetian. Gilded frames, bright and bold contemporary paintings, and huge flower arrangements compete for your eye. Pay no attention to the young server who admits this is her first job in “fan daning”; the talent pool in the area isn’t accustomed to serving $99 steaks. In the lovely green mosaic-tiled ladies’ room, women are treated to an array of complimentary freshen-up products, antiqued gold-leaf mirrors, and soft lighting. This is how one aims a steakhouse at women, I presume.
The Park Lane location is a bit more subtle than the one in Cedar Hill. The cavernous black and gold carpeted dining room is divided into four seating areas by floor-to-ceiling translucent panels. A long, marble-lined pond with six preserved ficus trees runs through the center of the room. The bar and lounge, done up in bawdy golds and reds, borders on being gaudy. At the back, cozy upholstered banquettes overlook a piano and a small stage where lounge singers and jazz quartets perform. Ornate chandeliers hang everywhere. Some are gold. Others are long chains of linked clear glass tubes that reach almost to the floor.
As I sat in the bar of Bailey’s at Park Lane and surveyed the crowd of well-coiffed cougars sipping Coco Chanels, AARP-ish couples with matching Rolexes swirling Chardonnay, and ladies of both sexes swigging cosmos and basking in the warm glow of luxury, I couldn’t shake the Vegas vibe. The dramatic fountain spurting dancing waters outside the lounge window made me wonder where the blackjack tables were.
As our foursome settled into red velvet lounge chairs, a cocktail waitress in a tiny black dress delivered complimentary glasses of Champagne to the three ladies in our group. Our gentleman companion received a generous pour of Oban. As we raised a toast, Bailey himself walked in. He looked like a taller, thinner version of Jackie Mason. Several at the bar jumped up in unison. “Oh, Ed,” they cooed. “It’s all just so beautiful.”
I hope Bailey has a Facebook page filled with thousands of friends like these. Because while the bar was busy, on both of my visits to the Park Lane location, during prime weekend hours, the dining room was sparsely populated.
As we were escorted through an almost empty room to our table, I noticed a line of servers, bussers, and staff waiting at the end of the room. We were seated, and they descended on us like locusts. Servers tripped over themselves as napkins were unfurled, water glasses were filled, and oversized gold-plated menus were placed in our hands. Then came the questions: “May I bring you a cocktail or a glass of wine?” “Would you like me to suggest any starters?” “Do you have any questions about the menu?” A tape played in the back of my mind: “Hi, welcome to McDonald’s. May I take your order?”
“May I speak to your sommelier, please?” I asked after perusing the list of more than 600 wines. “Oh, I will be happy to help you,” said our server. “Tonight is his night off.” And then it happened. I hate it when this happens. I took a deep breath and asked the eager server to suggest something unique for about $60 a bottle. He proceeded to flip the plastic-coated ecru pages and point out the bottles with a $60 price tag.
I waived him away and went to work. I skipped past the usual steakhouse suspects—Cakebreads, Duckhorns, Ravenswoods, Jordans, Kendall Jacksons—and, after noting only a few wines from Screaming Eagle and Harlan Estate that might satisfy a wine braggart, I settled on a 2006 Domaine Faiveley Mercurey Pinot Noir from the Côte Chalonnaise appellation in Burgundy. It proved to be a serviceable, clean, silky wine with gentle flavors of fresh red fruit and delicate spice.
The wine paired well with our entrées. A generous portion of double-cut Colorado lamb chop was perfectly pink and covered with a peppery, peach-flavored marmalade. We had no complaints about the 22-ounce bone-in cowboy cut rib-eye or the 18-ounce bone-in strip. Bailey’s is a steakhouse, and it delivers nice steaks.
You can also put your own designer touches on the meat. Play it safe and fluff up your filet “Oscar style,” with lobster, asparagus, and béarnaise. Feeling lucky? The pepper-crusted Cabernet syrup and garlic-herb butter is a sure bet. But if you really want to raise the stakes on your steak, for $19 you can add layers of foie gras, truffles, and wild mushrooms. Super-size me, indeed.
Bailey tries hard to make you happy with your meal. So why, after two visits, was I only mildly impressed? I went back again.
Sitting in a high-backed, silk-upholstered booth near the center of the room, we ordered a feast. We started with the lobster-stuffed avocado: a whole avocado cut in two, filled with a tiny bite of lobster and battered, deep fried, and served with a rich sauce of cilantro and lime-spiked cream. The dish was so heavy and salty that we should have finished it and left.
We went on to salads instead. The That Salad was a nice mix of sweet, salty, and tangy. The baby greens were tossed with brandied Michigan cherries, candied pistachios, and Oregon blue cheese. The chopped salad with house-made ranch was drenched with dressing and salt. One bite and we had it wrapped up for the compost pile.
On to the onion rings, which were the best bites on the menu. Thick-cut rings were battered and fried crispy with proportionate kicks of salt, pepper, and garlic powder. The firm coating stayed on the onion with each bite, even after dipping the tip in a small pot of vodka-spiked ketchup.
Once again, the rib-eye was cooked as ordered—medium-rare plus. But a layer of salt glistened across the top. A side of creamed spinach was more cream and thick, gooey white cheddar than spinach. Lemon sole—and the thin strips of lobster meat on top of it—was overwhelmed by what appeared to be an entire cup of citrus butter sauce.
Perhaps I’m not a big fan of Bailey’s because Ed Bailey seems to care more about the atmosphere than the food or service. He throws an impressive party; not every steakhouse in town offers you a steak knife from a wooden box. Maybe I can’t get into the place because I’m not a big fan of fantasy Vegas-style settings—especially when the expensive rooms are not full of paying customers. On the other hand, maybe it’s just the simple fact that Bailey’s Prime Plus is designed to be a steakhouse for ladies, and I’m just an old broad who likes a little more testosterone and dark wood with her dinner.
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