With this week's news that meat magnates Ronnie Killen of Killen's Steakhouse and Ricky Craig of Hubcap Grill are teaming up to create a mega-steakhouse, Wonder Twins-style, it seems as good a time as any to examine the steakhouse scene here in Houston. (It should also serve as succor for those carnivores turned off by last week's list of the Top 10 Vegan Restaurants.)
While we're not quite the steakhouse town that we used to be (you can thank the oil boom and, later, the Enron crash for that turn of events), Houston still has some top-notch steaks for those willing to splash out the cash. And believe me -- these are some pricey places. For the cost of one ribeye steak and a side of brussels sprouts at Morton's ($57 before tax and tip), as an example, you could also have a four-course meal at Oxheart and have money left for a glass of wine.
That said, if you're looking for a terrific piece of meat and the swank atmosphere that comes with dining in a luxurious, well-appointed steakhouse -- these are the places to beat right now.
The steaks at Brenner's location on Buffalo Bayou are wet-aged, USDA Prime and they're served in a puddle of au jus. It's a smart idea: The meat juice soaks in as you cut each bite, so there's never a chance for dry-tasting meat. But the real allure at Brenner's -- also known as the old Rainbow Lodge location -- is its gorgeous, rustic building and the lush views onto Buffalo Bayou and Brenner's manicured gardens. In the evenings, Brenner's relatively new lounge -- Blue Bar -- is one of the most spectacular patios in town.
USDA Prime steaks are the main attraction here, but there are also plenty of grilled seafood selections and salads. In addition to all the steakhouse standards, Fleming's has its own twists such as a porcini-rubbed filet with grilled asparagus spears and a gorgonzola cream sauce. Sunday's are great for family affairs, when Fleming's serves a prime rib dinner with a trio of sauces, a salad, side and dessert. And with 100 wines by the glass, it's easy to keep everybody happy, no matter what they order for dinner. Most top-end steak houses resemble men's clubs and cater to businessmen on expense accounts, but Fleming's has a softer, more elegant decor designed to appeal to couples.
Although I personally always get the famous pork chop at Perry's, I do realize that it's a steakhouse first and foremost. The first Perry's was opened by Bob Perry in 1979 as purely a butcher shop and is now run personally by his son, Bobby. This original Perry & Sons Market & Grille on Scarsdale Boulevard remains a neighborhood favorite, although its chain offshoots across town are equally popular. Their USDA-aged Prime beef is butchered in-house and cut fresh to order with a few, fun signature items that make Perry's stand out: the Chateaubriand for two that's carved tableside (like the pork chop) and the Southwest filet mignon with applewood-smoked bacon, served with a corn and fig relish.
7. III Forks
Although III Forks is a Dallas-based chain, I still love it. Under chef and owner Ozzie Rogers, the upscale, beautifully-appointed steakhouse has become a great addition to the otherwise quiet Houston Pavilions downtown. Along with aged USDA Prime beef in all the traditional cuts, III Forks serves seafood and one of the best salads I've ever had anywhere: its award-winning III Forks salad with Granny Smith apples, toasted pecans, and Maytag blue in a walnut-molasses vinaigrette. The wine list is not only extensive but contains many labels not found elsewhere. III Forks gets bonus points for having truly knowledgeable staff at all levels -- from bartenders to servers to sommeliers -- and for having bartenders who can easily geek out with you over Dune, Doctor Who and graphic novels.
It's disconcerting to have the display cart's live lobster eyeing you while you're ordering your dinner, but if you can get past the active menu tableau, you'll find that the steaks at Morton's are expertly prepared. So is the baked lobster, for that matter, presented whole and split down the middle. The ribeye is one of the best pieces of meat you'll ever have -- it's a scandalous amount of flavor and juiciness -- and the Cajun version is equally good. Morton's offers larger-than-generous portions with prices to match, and although you may wince at paying $11 for a side of brussels sprouts, I'll at least say this: They're better than the ones at Uchi, and that's saying a lot.
The Houston outpost of the New York-based Smith & Wollensky chain (there are eight more across the nation) serves dry-aged USDA Prime steaks inside a swank Highland Village set-up. A personal favorite is the flavorful Coffee & Cocoa Rubbed Filet, which features a 14-ounce. filet rubbed with coffee and cocoa, then charbroiled and topped with ancho chile butter and Smith & Wollensky's own "crispy angry onions."The chain spends more money building and decorating its restaurants than most other chains do, and the lavish atmosphere is a delight to dine in. And while it's football season, check out Smith & Wollensky's fun tailgating specials on Saturdays and Sundays.
Killen's buys top-quality meats from Allen Brothers of Chicago, arguably the best steakhouse supplier in the nation. And unlike most steakhouses in town, Killen's squat building in suburban Pearland is just down the street from a lumberyard and the dress code is decidedly casual. But don't let the casual vibe fool you -- it's deceptively easy to drop some bills when you're faced with dishes such as a dry-aged Mishima center-cut filet or a dry-aged Wagyu grass-fed, all-natural ribeye from Strube Ranch in Pittsburg, Texas. Save room for dessert if you can; owner and chef Ronnie Killen is rightfully famous for his creme brulee bread pudding.
From the day construction began, Del Frisco's set out to be the top steak house in Houston. The 13,000-square-foot Galleria location is a copy of the 17,000-square-foot Del Frisco's in Manhattan. The walls are mahogany, the floors are Brazilian slate and the grand light fixtures are made from Spanish alabaster and cost $75,000 apiece. The total bill for the finish-out was reported to be more than $11 million. The food isn't cheap, either, with a nearly $90 Wagyu longbone rounding out the upper portion of the menu. But it's not the quality of the steaks that puts Del Frisco's above its competitors. It's the service -- only three tables per waiter, which is an astonishing ratio. And the "customer first" attitude is a stark contrast to the run-up-the-bill scams encountered at some other steak houses.
Pappas Bros. boasts massive USDA Prime, dry-aged steaks, a plush atmosphere and a special cigar lounge where you can enjoy expensive cognacs and big fat stogies after dinner. There is really very little else in town that can compare when it comes to smooth, old-school charm and elegance than Pappas Bros. Steakhouse. The steakhouse prides itself on a wine list loaded with rare old wines, such as an 1811 Château d'Yquem listed for $30,000, but you can find a decent vintage of Bordeaux or Burgundy for a couple hundred dollars thanks to talented sommelier Steven McDonald. But bring a big appetite and an even bigger expense account -- the cheapest steak on the menu is $43.
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Not only is Vic & Anthony's currently the city's best steakhouse, it's one of the best all-around restaurants in Houston, period. The charmingly old-school service is exemplary, the dining rooms are lushly appointed and lavishly handsome, the food is always impeccable -- hell, even the piano player in the dark, loungey bar is fantastic. A trip to Vic & Anthony's always feels like a vacation, especially if food is your destination. Indulge in a beautiful filet mignon or ribeye topped with bone marrow bordelaise, or split a porterhouse for two and save room for V&A's equally prime sides such as creamed corn or au gratin potatoes.