By Brooke Viggiano
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By Katharine Shilcutt
Our USDA Prime, dry-aged, bone-in strip was bright red and rare along the bone, and medium-well toward the thinner edge. It averaged out to the medium-rare we requested. The variance in doneness common in a bone-in cut worked out perfectly. Two of us were splitting the steak, and I like my meat rarer than my dining companion.
2804 S. Main
Pearland, TX 77581
Wet-aged 16-ounce Prime rib eye: $29
Dry-aged 16 ounce Prime bone-in strip: $50
Texas Akaushi Kobe rib eye: $85
32-ounce dry-aged Kobe rib eye: $95
The dry-aged meat had a dense but tender texture. It wasn't as juicy as a wet-aged steak, but it had a fuller, nuttier flavor. My only complaint with the 16-ounce bone-in strip was that the steak wasn't very thick.
When you order steaks based on their weight, sometimes you get thick steaks and sometimes you get skinny ones. In Beef 101 class at Texas A&M, I learned that a pound of steak from a small steer is thicker than a pound of steak from a bigger animal, which is why small steers sell for a premium price. At a top-notch steak house, the best idea is to ask to see your steak before it gets cooked. If it isn't very thick, you can ask for a different one.
Killen's steak list provides some of the clearest explanations I have ever seen on a steak house menu. The steaks all come from Allen Brothers in Chicago, arguably the best steak house supplier in the country. The most expensive steaks on the menu are Kobe beef. There's Texas Akaushi Kobe — you can choose a filet, a rib eye or a strip for $85. And there's a dry-aged 32-ounce Kobe bone-in rib eye that sells for $95.
At the relatively affordable end are six wet-aged USDA Prime steaks starting at $29. There's a filet-and-shrimp surf-and-turf combo and a chicken-fried sirloin, too.
Then there are the dry-aged USDA Prime steaks. A 16-ounce dry-aged bone-in rib eye goes for $46. The 16-ounce bone-in New York strip we got was $50.
We started our meal with creamy Buffalo mozzarella-topped tomato slices garnished with fresh basil leaves — which the menu described as an "Insulata (sic) Caprese." (The Italian word for salad is insalata, Platymantis insulata is a species of frog.) The Caprese salad was bland compared to the outstanding beefsteak tomato salad I had on my first visit.
Killen's beefsteak tomato salad is actually a buck cheaper than the Caprese salad and twice as flavorful. Instead of the delicate fresh mozzarella on the Caprese, the Beefsteak tomato salad is topped with bold Danish blue cheese, aromatic red onion slices and both balsamic and ranch dressings. It's a luscious blend of flavors.
Along with the Caprese, we got an order of Killen's giant onion rings. The crispy batter covering the thick onion slices was fried to a perfect golden brown. The rings came with ketchup. We sent the waiter back for some ranch dressing to dip the onion rings in. It wasn't until we were nearly finished that he advised us that the perfect dip for Killen's onion rings is actually their honey-mustard dressing. "I don't even like honey-mustard dressing on my salad, but it's an incredible dip for the onion rings," he said.
For our sides, we almost ordered au gratin potatoes and creamed spinach, until the waiter pointed out that that was an awful lot of cream. So we went with the skillet potatoes instead. The crispy fried potato chips were topped with onion crisps and bacon bits. They were the perfect foil to the rich spinach. Personally, I like creamed spinach made with chopped spinach leaves and blended into a casserole that looks like saag paneer. Killen's uses whole fresh spinach leaves, which tend to float around in the cream sauce without combining.
When the maitre d' brought the first bottle of wine I ordered to the table for my inspection, I noticed red stains on the label and a faint line of dried residue running down the bottle from under the foil. It was an Argentine blend, and the maitre d' said he thought the bottle was fine. I told him it looked like it had been cooked in the back of a truck on a hot day and sent it back.
My second choice was the 2001 Campo Viejo Gran Reserva, a Spanish Rioja with a delightful plum flavor and woody aroma. It was a little light-bodied for a steak wine, but a bargain at $32. We finished off the wine with a slice of boring chocolate cake.
"Don't let our building fool you. We are an upscale steakhouse..." read the first words on Killen's Web site. On my first visit to Killen's, I found the squat little building near the lumberyard utterly charming. I loved the lack of decorating. And I smiled from ear to ear when a customer walked in wearing khaki shorts, flip-flops and a well-worn camouflage T-shirt.
I went out to Killen's intent on championing the down-home Texas steak house in suburban Pearland over the stuffy national chains that are popping up in Houston like toadstools after a flash flood. But I should know better than to bring an agenda to a review.
Our waiter used to work for several of the big national steak house chains, and he gave us a monologue about their inferiority. A baked potato sells for $15 at some of these places, he scoffed. Killen's charges low prices for its homemade sides and uses higher-quality ingredients, he said.