March 21, 1997 in Seven

Steaking Your Claim When You’re Hankering For A Thick Slice Of Sizzling Beef To Satisfy Thos Carnivorous Cravings, Spokane’s Steakhouses Are Ready To Serve It Up

By The Spokesman-Review

Steaks - once considered the ultimate symbol of good living - are making a big comeback.

In just the past few months, three more steakhouses have opened in Spokane. The trend suggests that after years of fretting over cholesterol and dutifully exercising, diners are ready to cut loose and slice into a big slab of beef.

Of course, some folks never abandoned the meat beat. With loads of successful beef-friendly eateries, Spokane has long deserved its reputation as a steak-and-spud kind of town. However, in the last five years, a number of small, innovative restaurants and exciting ethnic eateries have started to make inroads, giving the restaurant scene some creative clout.

So, does the resurgence of steak places mean that everything old is new again?

Not exactly.

Today’s steakhouse also includes a healthy dose of chicken and seafood items on the menu. Some spots even have vegetarian offerings. Along with the ubiquitous baked potato, updated accompaniments include garlic mashed potatoes and pasta. Other refreshing touches include the well-considered wine lists at some steakhouses.

While the typical steakhouse centered around dark, wood-paneled dining rooms, the new versions make the atmosphere as much of a draw as the food. Witness all the attention generated by the Aussie-accented Outback Steakhouse.

The real wild card at all these spots is how they treat their meat - how well steaks are seasoned and cooked, and the quality of the beef.

Over the years, cattle producers have responded to consumer demands for leaner beef. That led to meat with less fat, but with less flavor and a chewier texture in many cases. Leaner cuts also cook quicker, which might help explain why steaks are so often served medium when they’re ordered medium rare.

With a nod to beefy menus at places such as Chapter 11 and Dewey’s East, we limited this sampling to spots that identify themselves as steakhouses. So, here’s the skinny on Spokane’s steaks:

The Calgary Steakhouse has been around for a little more than 10 years, but it has a rich history.

The man who started it, Del Frisco, has become famous for his Double Eagle Steakhouse in Dallas, which he sold about a year ago. When he returned to Texas after the first six months of operation, he sold the Calgary Steakhouse to his sister, Linda Dean. And she has successfully polished the restaurant’s reputation.

Take a gander at the guest book near the front door and you’ll see addresses from Montana, Canada and as far away as Japan.

The dining room is fairly simple with evergreen walls and lots of wood trim that give it a clubby feel. Trophy deer hang on both sides of the fireplace adding to that effect.

On a recent visit, I sampled the sirloin and the filet with mixed results. Much is made at Calgary Steakhouse about the restaurant using only prime beef, the best quality available. But my sirloin was as chewy as any $5.99 Las Vegas special. It also didn’t have much flavor.

On the other hand, the filet was melt-in-your-mouth tender. It was juicy and properly cooked, though it could have used a heavier hand in the seasoning department.

The presentation of both dinners was less than spectacular - steaks plopped on a plate alongside some mildly spiced smashed spuds. Veggie sides cost extra.

The iceberg lettuce salads were pretty ho-hum, too, though the kitchen makes its own above-average dressings.

On the plus side, our server was pleasant and attentive and I liked that they have some Spokane wines on their list.

At the Calgary Steakhouse, meals average around $13.95 to $26.95 for the prime New York strip steak. A kid-sized portion of chicken strips was $9.95.

Wolffy’s Old West steakhouse is the kind of place where you might expect to see the cast of “Hee Haw.”

A buckboard wagon filled with hay sits in the center of the dining room. Antique wagon wheels lean against rustic wood walls. Other cutesy details include a host of old-fashioned signs. Hanging over our table was a placard that said: “Indoor Privy.” Very appetizing.

The far-ranging menu boasts of steaks grilled over apple and mesquite woods for a “real campfire taste.”

That cooking method did add a nice smoky flavor to the meat. And it filled the air with that fragrant barbecue-type aroma.

Again, my jaw got a real workout with the sirloin. I was turned off when I cut into a sinewy spot ribboned with pieces of vein. The savory seasonings saved it from being a total bust, but I left most of my steak uneaten.

The tenderloin - wrapped in bacon - was better. Tender, full-flavored and cooked medium rare, as ordered. But a couple of bites were laden with globs of fat.

Of all the steak spots I sampled, Wolffy’s had the best salads, including a terrific Caesar. The great garlicky cheese bread made for a great accompaniment.

Dinners at Wolffy’s range from $12.95 to $29.95 for 42 ounces of sirloin. (If you clean your plate on that one, they’ll put your name on a plaque.)

A Cut Above in the Valley was opened in the former Makena’s by people who ran a similar restaurant in Alaska.

They obviously know what they’re doing.

Finally, a good sirloin. The perfectly pink teriyaki steak was juicy and tender. The meat had been marinated in the teriyaki, so the steak was flavorful, but not overwhelmed by the slightly sweet soy sauce mixture.

Unfortunately, you’ll find this only on the lunch menu. In the evening, a filet, a New York and a 23-ounce porterhouse are offered, along with a selection of seafood, chicken and pasta.

Side dishes were forgettable, but a rich seafood chowder was excellent. It was filled with chunks of tender halibut swimming in a creamy base that wasn’t too thick or too thin. It was just right.

Dinner prices start at $10 for some of the pasta dishes and top out at $23 for the big T-bone. Lunch will run you about $7.

The Outback Steakhouse is brimming with the kind of kitsch that would make Crocodile Dundee feel right at home.

If you can get past the forced feeling of this Aussie theme, the steak is pretty darned tasty here.

Of all the places I visited, this was the only one that offered a thick-cut sirloin. It arrived at my table looking more like a fat filet mignon than a sirloin.

The meat was smeared with a dry mixture of herbs and a good deal of salt before it was grilled, giving it a good flavor. It was also juicy and fairly tender.

Salads at The Outback get high marks, especially the tangy Caesar. And the fluffy bakers were the only steakhouse spuds that didn’t taste like they had been sitting in a holding oven all night.

Prices range from $12.95 to $20.

The Arizona Steakhouse is a fun, lively place, drawing the pre-event crowd from the Opera House.

If only they did a little better job with the food.

The sirloin here had a good flavor, but was tough and overcooked.

The Caesar salad was mostly croutons (what’s up with that?) and the side dishes were a sad sight - a mealy baked potato served with a foil-wrapped pat of butter and a bland canned corn concoction passed off as a black bean salsa.

Why not embrace that Southwest theme and go with rice and beans?

I guess I’ll just stick with the top-notch margaritas and the tasty tomatillo-sauced shrimp cocktail there.

Dinner prices range from $10.95 to $21.95.

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Staff illustration by Molly Quinn

MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: A Cut Above, 11723 E. Sprague, 924-5011 Wolffy’s Old West Steakhouse, 319 W. Hastings Rd., 465-1453 Arizona Steakhouse, 333 W. Spokane Falls Blvd., 455-8206 Calgary Steakhouse, 3040 E. Sprague, 535-7502 Outback Steakhouse, 5628 N. Division, 484-6956

This sidebar appeared with the story: A Cut Above, 11723 E. Sprague, 924-5011 Wolffy’s Old West Steakhouse, 319 W. Hastings Rd., 465-1453 Arizona Steakhouse, 333 W. Spokane Falls Blvd., 455-8206 Calgary Steakhouse, 3040 E. Sprague, 535-7502 Outback Steakhouse, 5628 N. Division, 484-6956

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