St. Elmo's still delivers

I love St. Elmo’s Steak House. I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve actually ever eaten there mind you, but I love it, and the twice-yearly Devour Downtown promotion makes a great excuse to get on down to this granddaddy of Indianapolis dining establishments.

I took my dad to the venerable St. E’s on Saturday night under the pretense of doing research (I got a freelance gig that covered my meal if I was willing to write a report about it and take a few photos). Dad and I hit up St. Elmo’s for Devour Downtown two summers ago as well, if memory serves…

My dad is sort of funny about this sort of excursion. After all, this is a man who enjoys the weekly $1.99 country-fried steak special at KFC without fail and thinks it’s a great meal. To him, any dinner that costs more than about $10 is terribly extravagant. He admitted he didn’t just think he could enjoy eating at St. Elmo’s at regular price. And he’s right, it is expensive, as upscale steakhouses by nature are. Then again, it’s not like we’re eating at these types of place every week. In my book, a $30 three-course meal at St. Elmo’s once or twice a year is a STEAL, and an opportunity well worth taking advantage of.

We didn’t make a reservation during our previous visit and lucked out by just showing up around 5 p.m., getting seated right away. This time around was a different story. Hindered by bad weather, downtown construction and tons of traffic, we rolled in the door around 5:25 p.m. and were told we could expect an hour and a half wait before getting any sort of table. Ugh. Our lucky stars were shining on us again, though, and we were able to immediately snag a bar table from a couple who were in the process of vacating. Unknowingly snatching it out from under another pair, who proceeded to fix me with the evil eye for the ensuing hour, even though they got the table right next to us within a matter of minutes.

The bar scene at St. Elmo’s is actually pretty trendy and happening in spite of its old-school rep, but it did not make a great spot for dinner with pops. My dad has trouble hearing to begin with and all the loud ambient noise precluded any effort at dinner conversation. Our attempts at reading each other’s lips failed miserably, and we resigned ourselves to eating our meals while watching some golf tournament on the flat-screen TV over the bar.

On the upside, the food was fantastic. For $30, the Devour Downtown menu provided us each with a shrimp cocktail, filet mignon with red-skin mashed potatoes and garlic green beans, and a dessert. Everything is a slightly smaller portion than you usually receive, but still more than enough to fill you up. In fact, I took a few bites of steak and green beans home with the intention of assembling a kick-ass black-and-bleu salad for lunch the following day. (Alas, hubby intervened…)

The cocktail contained three HUGE succulent pieces of shrimp buried under an avalanche of St. Elmo’s signature blow-your-head-off horseradish sauce. Can’t speak for my dad, but my steak was perfectly cooked to medium-well just the way I like it, and tender like butta. Yum. Yum. And yum.

St. E's filet mignon

Dessert was perhaps the only slightly underwhelming part of the meal. My slice of cheesecake was rich and delicious and the accompanying raspberry coulis garnish tangy and fresh, but my dad’s crème brulee wasn’t all that. It was just a tiny custard cup with a barely-caramelized crust. Instead of that satisfying crack you get when you sink your spoon into the first bite of a really good crème brulee, this one only offered a few blackened spots on the surface, much like the cheese bubbles on a pizza. Eh.

Adding up the bill, we spent around $90 all in – two dinners, one glass of wine for me, tax and tip. Great value in my humble opinion, considering you can easily spend this much per head there any other time of year.

So what’s your vote? St. Elmo’s – hotspot that’s held up over time, or just plain over-rated?

For more info:

http://www.devourdowntown.org/

http://www.stelmos.com/home.html

 

 

 

 

 

St. Elmo Steak House on Urbanspoon

St. Elmo’s still delivers

I love St. Elmo’s Steak House. I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve actually ever eaten there mind you, but I love it, and the twice-yearly Devour Downtown promotion makes a great excuse to get on down to this granddaddy of Indianapolis dining establishments.

I took my dad to the venerable St. E’s on Saturday night under the pretense of doing research (I got a freelance gig that covered my meal if I was willing to write a report about it and take a few photos). Dad and I hit up St. Elmo’s for Devour Downtown two summers ago as well, if memory serves…

My dad is sort of funny about this sort of excursion. After all, this is a man who enjoys the weekly $1.99 country-fried steak special at KFC without fail and thinks it’s a great meal. To him, any dinner that costs more than about $10 is terribly extravagant. He admitted he didn’t just think he could enjoy eating at St. Elmo’s at regular price. And he’s right, it is expensive, as upscale steakhouses by nature are. Then again, it’s not like we’re eating at these types of place every week. In my book, a $30 three-course meal at St. Elmo’s once or twice a year is a STEAL, and an opportunity well worth taking advantage of.

We didn’t make a reservation during our previous visit and lucked out by just showing up around 5 p.m., getting seated right away. This time around was a different story. Hindered by bad weather, downtown construction and tons of traffic, we rolled in the door around 5:25 p.m. and were told we could expect an hour and a half wait before getting any sort of table. Ugh. Our lucky stars were shining on us again, though, and we were able to immediately snag a bar table from a couple who were in the process of vacating. Unknowingly snatching it out from under another pair, who proceeded to fix me with the evil eye for the ensuing hour, even though they got the table right next to us within a matter of minutes.

The bar scene at St. Elmo’s is actually pretty trendy and happening in spite of its old-school rep, but it did not make a great spot for dinner with pops. My dad has trouble hearing to begin with and all the loud ambient noise precluded any effort at dinner conversation. Our attempts at reading each other’s lips failed miserably, and we resigned ourselves to eating our meals while watching some golf tournament on the flat-screen TV over the bar.

On the upside, the food was fantastic. For $30, the Devour Downtown menu provided us each with a shrimp cocktail, filet mignon with red-skin mashed potatoes and garlic green beans, and a dessert. Everything is a slightly smaller portion than you usually receive, but still more than enough to fill you up. In fact, I took a few bites of steak and green beans home with the intention of assembling a kick-ass black-and-bleu salad for lunch the following day. (Alas, hubby intervened…)

The cocktail contained three HUGE succulent pieces of shrimp buried under an avalanche of St. Elmo’s signature blow-your-head-off horseradish sauce. Can’t speak for my dad, but my steak was perfectly cooked to medium-well just the way I like it, and tender like butta. Yum. Yum. And yum.

St. E's filet mignon

Dessert was perhaps the only slightly underwhelming part of the meal. My slice of cheesecake was rich and delicious and the accompanying raspberry coulis garnish tangy and fresh, but my dad’s crème brulee wasn’t all that. It was just a tiny custard cup with a barely-caramelized crust. Instead of that satisfying crack you get when you sink your spoon into the first bite of a really good crème brulee, this one only offered a few blackened spots on the surface, much like the cheese bubbles on a pizza. Eh.

Adding up the bill, we spent around $90 all in – two dinners, one glass of wine for me, tax and tip. Great value in my humble opinion, considering you can easily spend this much per head there any other time of year.

So what’s your vote? St. Elmo’s – hotspot that’s held up over time, or just plain over-rated?

For more info:

http://www.devourdowntown.org/

http://www.stelmos.com/home.html

 

 

 

 

 

St. Elmo Steak House on Urbanspoon

14 West, not the best

Yesterday, hubby and I were recounting all of the Valentine’s Days we’ve shared thus far. Last year, we were in Paris — that’s going to be a hard act to top. Ever. Year before that, I was 8 months pregnant and laid up on bed rest. Neither of us can remember what we did the year before that, but for our first V-Day as a married duo (2006), I cooked a lovely candlelit dinner at our little rented cottage in Sonoma. We weren’t physically together for Valentine’s Day the year we were dating. I was in Indiana and hubby was in Germany, but I seem to recall he sent me some books for the occasion.

So that gets us up to speed. We weren’t sure we’d even have a chance to do anything romantic this year, between getting toddler-care squared away and hubby having to work at some sort of motorcycle trade show downtown at the convention center this weekend. Lo and behold, the daycare where the toddler attends offered a babysitting service last night courtesy of a Girl Scout troop trying to raise money for a trip this summer. Sold to the man without the hat! Hubby pledged to knock off work by 5 p.m. and date night was on like Donkey Kong.

I started thinking about dining options, worried that we might have trouble getting in somewhere nice, what with the trade show going on and the fact that it was Saturday night on Valentine’s Day weekend. My original idea was to hit Tastings, a relatively new wine bar located in the swanky Conrad Hotel. However, hubby and I knew we would want a full meal and it looked like they only served cheese plates, so that was out.

I’d wanted to try 14 West for a long time, and an online search discovered they had a special menu this weekend. Perfect! When I called, the only reservation times open were 4 p.m. and 9:30 p.m., both well outside of the babysitting window. Hmph. I put my name on a wait list and figured if all else failed, maybe we could eat at the bar. As luck would have it, I got a phone call around 3:30 from the hostess saying she’d had an opening at 6 p.m. I figured I must be livin’ right and quickly claimed it.

Hubby agreed to meet me in the 14 West bar at 5:30. I changed outfits about five times (hubby told me to wear something “hot”), packed up the little man and we were off. Right on time, I had just parked the car in one of the Circle Centre lots and was locking it up when I got a text. “Running late, just got called into a meeting.” Great. I texted back to ask how late and walked on up to the restaurant. With my hand on the door, hubby replied “45 minutes.” I nearly burst into tears, seconds away from spinning on my heel and calling the whole evening quits. Fortunately, hubby then called as I was on the verge of meltdown to tell me it was just a joke and he was waiting for me at the bar. Whew. Crisis averted.

14 West was hopping, obviously a popular spot. It’s pretty upscale, the décor is fairly romantic and hubby looked very dashing sitting at the bar. (My heart went pitter-patter all over again when I caught sight of him.) We enjoyed a drink – Stella Artois for him and a fragrant glass of Riesling for me — and chatted warmly for a cozy half an hour. The bartender was very friendly and had a wonderful laugh. I had high hopes for a lovely meal.

At 6 on the dot, we got up to claim our spot – a very wide table tucked into a corner upstairs in a crowded, noisy room. Hubby and I felt miles away from each other, but our table was nearly jammed flush with the one next to us. It was almost like we were on a date with the people sitting next to us instead of each other! Intimate conversation was a little difficult to achieve, but no matter. We settled in and turned out attention to the menu.

Our waiter, who we’ll call Brandon (because that was his name) seemed pretty stressed; we overheard him explaining to our fellow compadres next door about how many tables he had to take care of and how busy they were that night. Um. Yeah. Not what you want to hear from your waiter immediately after being seated. This didn’t bode well. Still, Brandon managed to get us our drinks fairly quickly and explained the steak frites appetizer in detail when hubby asked, but didn’t give us any schpiel about the special menu. We placed our order and waited. And waited. And waited…

We didn’t order anything complicated, two entrees and a Caesar salad for the hubster. I really wanted to try either the lobster mashed potatoes or the lobster mac and cheese, but the side servings looked huge and I knew my seafood-hating hubby wouldn’t have pitched in to help. A hostess with huge boobs brought us a couple warm pretzel rolls in the meantime, which we devoured in about two seconds. Thirty minutes later, we’d watched Caesar salads flying around the room to every table but ours. Brandon finally came by to let us know our entrees were on the way and got flustered when hubby asked about the status of his salad. Hubby told him if it was coming out as the same time as the entrees to just forget about it. So he did.

Entrees arrived a few minutes after. The food was delicious – hubby got a steak with steamed vegetables on the side. Nothing terribly fancy, but he said it was good. My meal was a nicely cooked piece of Chilean sea bass on top of risotto with some wild mushrooms and a basil sauce. It tasted great, but the serving size seemed a bit scant for $36 or whatever we paid for it. Also, when I took a bite of mushrooms, I felt something in my mouth that didn’t seem right and proceeded to fish out a dime-sized piece of cardboard. That was somewhat alarming. I’d already eaten half my meal by that point, so I went ahead and finished it, hoping I wasn’t in for some sort of delayed-reaction contamination.

Brandon finally came back to check on us and I pointed out the cardboard. He apologized profusely, promising to bring it to the manager’s attention. A short while later, he returned to let us know they were going to comp us two desserts, which we would have ordered anyway, so that worked out pretty well. I did find it a little off-putting that he didn’t let us select the desserts we wanted, instead just telling us which two they were going to give us. But hey, it was on the house, so whatever.

To Brandon’s credit, the desserts arrived fairly quickly – an individual cheesecake with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and chocolate drizzle, and a slab of chocolate mousse cake with another scoop of vanilla ice cream on the side, this one rolled in an addictively crunchy praline coating. Both were yummy. We polished off the cheesecake, but the chocolate cake was so rich, we could only manage a few bites. That’s saying something – I usually have no problem tackling the most decadent of chocolate desserts, but this was too much even for me.

By this time, we really needed to get going in order to pick up the toddler on time. Brandon dropped off the check, but then kept passing by our table without picking up my debit card. I tried unsuccessfully to flag him down three or four times before getting pissed off. We finally just stood up to leave and handed him our payment on the way out, standing in the hall while he ran my card. Even with the comped desserts and the subtraction of one of hubby’s Stellas, the bill still topped $100.

I realize Brandon was extra-busy and stressed, but still. There’s no excuse for lackluster service at a restaurant of this caliber, especially on a special occasion like Valentine’s Day. I tipped 10 percent; an amount hubby and I felt was extremely generous, all things considered. The food was great (well, apart from the cardboard) and the ambiance was nice, but overall, the 14 West dining experience was something of a letdown for us. And served as a reminder why we don’t tend to frequent upscale restaurants very often – too much pressure and too many high expectations that can fall short. When we’re paying that kind of money, we expect things to be pretty much perfect, and they rarely are. (St Elmo’s is one of the few spots that really delivers in this capacity.)

In retrospect, we figured we probably would have had a much better experience just eating at the bar like we’d originally intended. Live and learn. It was still great to get dressed up and meet my handsome husband out for a real date, so in that sense, it was definitely a happy Valentine’s Day.

A date with my dad

My dad had never been to St. Elmo’s, up until about a week ago. I’ve suggested going several times over the years, only to be soundly rebuffed. “It’s too expensive.” Some of Dad’s friends have been to St. E’s from time to time, including one gentleman he knows who apparently was extremely vocal about finding it overpriced and overrated. I think Dad had been swayed and made up his mind that there was no way he could consciously enjoy a meal that costs that much.

Until Devour Downtown came to the rescue… Twice a year, a collection of the most upscale downtown Indianapolis restaurants bands together to offer 3 course meals for $30. The promotion takes place twice a year and lasts for a few weeks at a time. (How could I not have known about this before now??) We’re talking about the best fine dining establishments in town, places you couldn’t get in and out for less than $50 to $100 per meal under normal circumstances. What a deal! And on the list, I found St. Elmo’s.

For non-Indy readers, St. Elmo’s Steakhouse is perhaps the quintessential Indianapolis eatery. It’s been around for a century and serves what I would venture to say are some of the best steaks you’ll find in the Midwest, if not the country. The menu is a short list of meat, yet their claim to fame is a shrimp cocktail starter with a horseradish sauce so spicy it’ll blister your sinuses. The place is seriously old school, and everybody who’s anybody dines here when they come through town. In fact, the walls are lined with autographed photos of sports stars, musicians, politicians and celebrities who’ve visited at one point or another.

When Dad came over to visit us and the boys last weekend, I decided to spring my ambush on him. He’s really helped me out this summer with babysitting on many occasions, and I never did get him a Father’s Day gift this year. I based my pitch on the premise that I’d much rather do something like take him out to dinner at St. Elmo’s than struggle to buy him some piece of clutter that will only end up relegated to a closet, drawer or shelf only to sit there unused and forgotten. It wasn’t as hard a sell as I expected; he agreed much more readily than I thought he would, although he feared such an outing might quickly become a habit.

It being a Saturday night, I figured a reservation was probably a smart idea, but when I got online to make one, the earliest seating we could get wasn’t until 8:30 p.m. Bummer. It was only mid-afternoon and neither of us had eaten much for lunch, so we decided to chance it and head down early, arriving at about 5:20 p.m. To my delight, there were tons of open two-tops in the bar and when we asked the hostess about a table, she got us seated immediately in one of the main dining rooms – score!

I think Dad was momentarily blinded by the wait staff, all smartly decked out in tuxedos, but when he saw the diversity of our fellow patrons, he relaxed a little bit. In our room, there were all kinds of dining customers – from a few couples on dates to a young family with two small kids to a tableful of Gen-Con gamers. The crowd ran the gamut.

The Devour Downtown menu is a scaled-down version of St. Elmo’s classics – we both opted for that famous shrimp cocktail followed by filet mignon entrees. The waiters were super-attentive without being insincere, overbearing or oversolicitous; in my book, one of the the marks of a truly good restaurant.

A throw-away gimme in many restaurants, the bread basket merits mention here. This basket contained half a dozen or so pieces of warm nibbles in a variety of styles – dense rye slices, a light yeasty roll, and several squares of an addictively cheesy flatbread.

Our shrimp cocktail arrived lickety-split – three huge succulent pieces of shrimp buried under an avalanche of horseradish barely laced together with tomato sauce. Tasty, tasty, tasty. It comes with a wedge of lemon and a few packets of soda crackers to offset the heat.

Next up, the pieces de resistance. The steaks were ideally portioned and thick, expertly cooked to a slightly rosy pink medium well, just like we like ’em. Sides of red-skinned mashed potatoes and garlicky al dente green beans rounded out the plate perfectly. I wish I’d had a camera to take a picture of my dad’s face as he sunk his teeth into that first juicy savory bite. This is a man who eats chicken-fried steak from KFC every Tuesday without fail and thinks it’s a great meal. He immediately proclaimed that he was now ruined and will never eat steak (I use the term loosely) at Golden Corral again.

Even though the St. Elmo’s plate was a smaller-than-normal version, I still couldn’t finish it. I wanted to save room for a bite of dessert and ended up packing the remaining few bites of steak and green beans to take home.

For dessert, we shared a creme brulee and a piece of cheesecake draped with some kind of berry sauce. I could only cram down a taste or two of each and figured we’d end up taking these home too, but Dad polished off the entire remaining portions.

All in all, the meal was absolutely delicious and perfectly paced. Between our two $30 specials, an iced tea for Dad, a massive glass of Shiraz for me and a big tip, we still made it out of there for less than $100. I’m telling ya, this is the way to go if you want an excuse to eat at St. Elmo’s, or any fancy downtown restaurant for that matter, without breaking the bank. We’re already looking ahead to the winter Devour Downtown for our next father-daughter date at St. Elmo’s.

Dad said he woke up the next morning still thinking about the meal and didn’t know why he’d waited so long.

St. Elmo's Steak house, an Indianapolis tradition

St. Elmo's Steak house, an Indianapolis tradition

St. Elmo’s Steakhouse – http://www.stelmos.com