Classic American steakhouses


The classic American steakhouse will never go out of style. Trends and food fads come and go, but steakhouses are dependable and reliable. They serve top quality prime beef but also feature seafood on their menus. There is something for everyone at the steakhouse.

Luke Palladino has top-quality beef, but I went for the finest swordfish dish I have ever tasted.

A rundown of Philadelphia steakhouses is in order. Chops opened in the Comcast building a few months back. There is The Prime Rib, Stephen Starr’s Barclay Prime and Butcher and Singer, Del Frisco’s Double Eagle Steakhouse, Morton’s, Kevin Sbraga’s Juniper Commons, The Palm, Ruth’s Chris and The Capital Grill.

The steakhouse philosophy is simple: The food is straightforward and beautifully presented. Menus are always a la carte.

Classic appetizers may include a raw bar of oysters and cherrystone clams. Shrimp cocktail and clams casino are also popular. Soups such as lobster or shrimp bisque are classic. I have never seen chicken or vegetable soup on a steakhouse menu.

If one salad defines the steakhouse experience, it is the wedge. One-half head of cold crisp iceberg lettuce is topped with bits of bacon and a chunky, preferably homemade blue cheese dressing. The runner up is the Caesar.

Prime beef, sometimes dry-aged, is the star. Some chefs prefer to slow roast prime ribs of beef. It should be roasted on the bone, and served rare to medium-rare. A rib steak is the same cut, but it is grilled or pan roasted. This cut is well-marbled. The fat adds to its luscious flavor and texture. Some steakhouses offer two sizes.

Filet mignon is also popular. It should be served rare. Anything else is a crime. If a fillet is just the tiniest bit overcooked, it will lose all its tenderness and juiciness. T-bones often make an appearance as does the porterhouse.

Sauces play an important role in serving classic steaks. Bearnaise and bordelaise are my favorites.

Jumbo lobsters take pride of place as well — either steamed or grilled — and served with drawn butter. I don’t think restaurants offer lobster bibs anymore. Dover sole, baked stuffed shrimp and thick fluke flounder are classics. But the iconic steakhouse dish from the sea — and one of my favorites — is baked crab imperial.

The supporting cast of sides enhances the experience. I have no idea why creamed spinach is usually offered, but it is uncommonly good. Asparagus with hollandaise is tops. Supersized baked potatoes and potatoes au gratin have always been staples. Sauteed mushrooms, golden onion rings and french fries may complete the list.

Desserts are classic all-American. Cheesecake, New-York style or otherwise, hot fudge sundaes, chocolate cake or brownies a la mode. All are delicious ways to end a meal.

When I think of the steakhouse, I do not think of new-fangled cocktails. The martini and the Manhattan are sure bets. I have a friend who enjoys Scotch neat before dinner. Rich, bold red wines from around the world are in order. Establishments have a sommelier to help someone in the selection process. Wine lists at steakhouses tend to be quite large and sometimes overwhelming, so set a price range.

I intend to review all the steakhouses in the city. It will be interesting to see if they all feature the classics, and more interesting to see if they have added anything new. 

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