If a chunk of steak can be nostalgic, if a cut of meat has a romantic glow around its name—surely prime rib is that steak. Just the words “prime rib” conjure up vivid memories: the blushing pink of the meat, the pearly ribbons of fat, the caveman appeal of a slab of food so enormous that you need a platter rather than a plate.
When restaurateur Nick Badovinus announced that his new downtown Dallas spot, Brass Ram, would be an old-school prime rib joint, he set up a David-versus-Goliath prime rib battle royale. Downtown already had a prime rib joint: almost-dive Midwestern bar Ye Olde Scarlet Pumpernickel.
Which one does it better? To find out, we dined at both spots. A side-by-side comparison follows, but just so you know: they’re both great.
Brass Ram: A typically Badovinus evocation of the world’s most opulent man cave. Expect the usual mix of sports memorabilia, vintage car photos, books about aviation, dim lighting, well-dressed staff, and booths so comfortable that when you sit down you’ll immediately decide to stay for a second cocktail.
Ye Olde Scarlet Pumpernickel: It’s a bar. And not one of those fancy new bars where people take selfies. The former City Tavern space is a joint with Schlitz signs, wobbly stools, and sports on TV. Like Brass Ram, Pumpernickel is a nostalgic throwback.
Brass Ram: If you didn’t know that Houston’s Kashmere High School had an all-student funk orchestra in the 1970s, you’ll know by the time you leave. We also had more Lettuce (the band) than lettuce (the food).
Ye Olde Scarlet Pumpernickel: A mix of West Coast hip-hop, Tupac at his best, and Eminem far from his best.
The Comically Masculine Interior Decorating Touch
Brass Ram: A pair of white boxing gloves hang on the fire extinguisher.
Ye Olde Scarlet Pumpernickel: The McGwire-Canseco Bash Brothers poster in the men’s room.
Brass Ram: Four martinis—the Gibson is magnificent—plus a bittered Manhattan that is boozy enough to pair with your prime rib.
Ye Olde Scarlet Pumpernickel: Pick from a back-bar wall of whiskeys, or dive into an entire fridge filled with nothing but Miller High Life.
The Prime Rib’s Macho Nickname
Brass Ram: Four sizes of prime rib are available. We sprung for The Duke, a three-inch behemoth suitable for sharing. Pop’s Cut is even bigger.
Ye Olde Scarlet Pumpernickel: The two sizes are Little Boss and Big Bossman. Naturally, we went with Big Bossman.
The Menu Humor
Brass Ram: Order the spinach “creamed in the Swiss fashion.”
Ye Olde Scarlet Pumpernickel: The menu boasts a picture of Bill Murray telling you not to order salad.
Brass Ram: Yes, the prime rib is of superb quality. Yes, it’s so pink it practically glows. But also—and at our server’s recommendation for sharing—it came sliced! Admittedly, this is indeed good for sharing, but I missed the caveman romance of a big hunk of meat. And I had to flip through the slices like a deck of cards to find some fat. Lesson learned for next time.
Ye Olde Scarlet Pumpernickel: The Big Bossman is a proper slab, like the prime rib of my nostalgic memory, with vivid pink meat, succulent globs of fat, nice outer sear, and a generous hand of finishing salt.
Brass Ram: This is where Brass Ram shines. Your prime rib comes with a crisp, fluffy Yorkshire pudding made with beef tallow. Try dunking it in jus, or adding a dollop of creamed spinach on top. Speaking of which, the creamed spinach is magnificent, and the mac and cheese isn’t a slouch, either.
Ye Olde Scarlet Pumpernickel: Green beans and broccolini are nicely grilled and salted with a heavy hand. Nice mashed potatoes with mushroom gravy, too. We also devoured a great appetizer fried pickle basket.
Brass Ram: Creamy, but mild. Not the kind of horseradish that torpedos your sinuses.
Ye Olde Scarlet Pumpernickel: Punchier than Brass Ram’s without going nuclear.
Brass Ram: Hoo boy. $99 for 20 ounces of prime rib, with no vegetables included, so another $18 each for the creamed spinach, mac and cheese, and veggie of the day (broccolini, on our visit). Order a few cocktails at $17-18 each, leave a generous tip, and you’ll hit $300 for two people. A point in Brass Ram’s favor: we had leftovers for lunch the next day. A point against: our (excellent) server was dismayed that we didn’t also grab some appetizers.
Ye Olde Scarlet Pumpernickel: The Big Bossman is just $40 for 21 ounces, and that includes potatoes and grilled veggies. Even with fried pickles, our food order was $100 cheaper than at Brass Ram.
Both meals satisfied our inner carnivores. Both boasted atmosphere to spare. They each have certain strengths and weaknesses—Brass Ram wins out on sides and cocktails, while Scarlet Pumpernickel is tops on horseradish and beers.
But it really comes down to the vibe and the price. If your prime rib nostalgia involves jacketed waiters, comfy booths, and curtained windows, head to Brass Ram. If you’d rather dress down, grab a beer, and indulge in a non-indulgent setting, that’s Scarlet Pumpernickel.
In downtown Dallas’ prime rib rumble, you can’t go wrong.
This story originally appeared in the May issue of D Magazine with the headline, “Who Deserves Your Prime Time?” Write to [email protected].