Here’s the beef: Steakhouses in downtown Austin

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Here’s the beef: Steakhouses in downtown Austin

Can you have too many steakhouses? In downtown Austin, the answer seems to be “apparently not.” Just when you think we’ve reached a tipping point, another springs up.

Most of these meat palaces are franchises of national brands, doing a good job of keeping Austin wide, if not weird. But there are a few locally owned steakhouses downtown, from Austin Land and Cattle on the west end to Vince Young Steakhouse on the east, with the legendary Original Hoffbrau sandwiched in between.

As legislators and lobbyists make their biennial pilgrimage to Austin to legislate, congregate and bloviate, I take a look at 15 steakhouses within shoutin’ distance of the Capitol and try and help you build a meal fit for a fat cat.

Austin Land and Cattle. 1205 N. Lamar Blvd. 512-472-1813, austinlandandcattlecompany.com

A baby born the year Austin Land and Cattle opened is old enough to legally run for state representative this year.

In a town that has taken to counting the years by the number of condo towers that have gone up, 1993 is a long time ago.

Not much has changed at the restaurant owned by Tommy Daughtry, Scotty Mescal and Christian and Theresa Mertens. That goes for the décor and the hospitality.

Steakhouses, even in relaxed Austin, are known for their tony air and showy aesthetic. Ostentatious Austin Land and Cattle is not. But Austintatious …

The restaurant’s design elements, from electric painted roosters to electric guitars, capture the spirit of the city. And, while the restaurant located in a strip mall that dates back to 1941 has been serving legislators and lobbyists since it opened, the operators treat everyone who enters like a big shot. Or is it that they treat the big shots like family, even wise enough to know who doesn’t need to be sitting next to whom come supper time?

Manager Scotty Mescal has worked the restaurant during legislative sessions since he was a kid and has seen representatives who are restaurant regulars work their way up to positions of power at the Capitol. Despite their august titles, Mescal says the House and Senate members leave pretense at the door.

“They all drop their complaints and grievances when they walk in the door,” Mescal said. “They’re at home here.”

Mescal studies the legislative handbook each session, making sure to address each member by the appropriate title. But they always insist on using first names.

“It’s like they’re family,” Mescal said.

In addition to playing dinner party host and making sure each regular ends up at his preferred table, Mescal gives rides to longtime regulars, acting like an ad hoc shuttle service. He also runs a steady lunch business, taking meals to the Capitol.

But it’s not just lobbyists and legislators who get special treatment. I was in Austin Land and Cattle with a group last year. When dessert menus were presented, I found myself wanting a chocolate milkshake. They delivered the off-menu request with a smile and a chuckle. You would’ve thought I was the lieutenant governor.

Getting started: Buffalo lamb chops with jalapeno blue cheese

Hard to resist: 10-ounce filet mignon with Gorgonzola butter

On the side: Loaded baked potato

Steering away from beef: Grilled salmon with tomato-basil vinaigrette

Of note: Weekday happy hour from 5 to 7 p.m. offers discounted beer, wine and spirits and great deals on bar menu items like a juicy hamburger and a steak sampler.

Bob’s Steak and Chop House. 301 Lavaca St. 512-222-2627, bobs-steakandchop.com

Background: The Austin Bob’s opened in August 2012. It is owned by the group that owns the San Antonio and Woodlands locations and is one of eight in Texas. The original opened in Dallas in 1993.

Getting started: Tempura-fried lobster

Hard to resist: 22-ounce bone-in prime rib-eye

On the side: Onion rings

Steering away from beef: Half roasted chicken in green peppercorn sauce

Of note: Bob’s is the only downtown steakhouse with open-air rooftop dining. Closed Sunday.

Capital Grille. 117 W. Fourth St. 512-322-2005, thecapitalgrille.com

Background: A fine dining fixture around the country, the elegant Capital Grille has more than 50 locations in 25 states. The Austin location, which took over the old Spaghetti Warehouse space, opened in March 2014.

Getting started: Prosciutto-wrapped mozzarella and tomatoes

Hard to resist: Gorgonzola and truffle-crusted 14-ounce dry-aged sirloin with Cabernet reduction. Steaks are dry-aged and butchered on site.

On the side: Lobster mac ’n’ cheese

Steering away from beef: Chilean seabass with mushroom-soy broth

Of note: The Capital Grille leases (annually) brass-plated personal wine lockers. Open for lunch weekdays from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., with a menu that includes a half-dozen burgers, including several Wagyu variations.

Eddie V’s. 301 E. Fifth St. 512-472-1860, eddiev.com

Background: Longtime Austinites Larry Foles and Guy Villlavaso (of Z’Tejas fame) founded Eddie V’s downtown in 2000. All eight locations were sold to Orlando-based Darden Restaurants for $58 million in 2011.

Getting started: Jumbo crab cake with spicy remoulade

Hard to resist: Eight-ounce filet mignon and broiled cold-water lobster tail

On the side: Roasted baby beets and candied walnuts

Steering away from beef: Roasted Florida grouper in a lemon white wine sauce

Of note: The bar offers happy hour from 4 to 7 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday and all day Sunday and Monday. Open late (midnight) on Friday and Saturday.

Finn & Porter. 500 E. Fourth St. 512-493-4900, finnandporteraustin.com (This restaurant is now closed.)

Background: The steakhouse and sushi restaurant inside the downtown Hilton opened in 2004.

Getting started: Pan seared scallops with shaved Brussels sprouts and warm bacon dressing

Hard to resist: 16-ounce Strube Ranch rib-eye with house-made bacon and potato terrine and grilled broccolini

On the side: Take advantage of the sushi offerings and get sashimi pieces of sake (salmon), maguro (big eye tuna), and Hamachi (yellowtail) to complement your steak.

Steering away from beef: While best known for steaks and sushi, the restaurant serves an impressive vegetarian menu that includes root vegetable ravioli, cauliflower two ways and chili-glazed tofu.

Of note: Follow the twisting staircase to the Loft Bar perched above the dining room.

Fleming’s. 320 E. Second St. 512-457-1500, flemingssteakhouse.com

Background: Originally opened in Newport Beach, Calif., in 1998, Fleming’s expanded to downtown Austin in June 2001.

Getting started: French onion soup baked with Gruyère and Parmesan cheeses

Hard to resist: Dry-aged New York strip

On the side: Blue cheese mashed potatoes

Steering away from beef: Broiled swordfish with Israeli couscous with pine nuts and fennel cream

Of note: Fleming’s serves a prime rib dinner (includes salad, side and dessert) on Sunday nights. The restaurant features a new patio, renovated dining room and is now open weekdays for lunch.

Fogo de Chão. 309 E. Third St. 512-472-0220, fogodechao.com/locations/austin

Background: The Austin location of the Brazilian steakhouse is one of more than two dozen in the United States. It opened in 2007.

The meal: It’s a one-size-fits-all proposition at Fogo de Chão. Whether lunch ($29.50) or dinner ($48.50), you pay a flat rate for as much as your waistline can handle. Move from salad to sides of polenta, garlic mashed potatoes and caramelized bananas, and make sure you save room for the meaty madness that includes filet mignon, lamb, chicken, beef ribs and more.

Of note: Open nightly for dinner and weekdays from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. for lunch.

Original Hoffbrau. 613 W. Sixth St. 512-472-0822, originalhoffbrausteaks.com

Background: This throwback steakhouse opened by brothers Coleman and Tom Hamby has been around these parts longer than most Austinites. Built in 1934, Hoffbrau was serving up hot food before anyone had heard of tuna tartare. The restaurant is run by Coleman’s granddaughter and great-grandson, Mary Gail Hamby Ray and Zachary Ray. It may not be as fancy as its newfangled counterparts, but Hoffbrau has welcomed everyone from Lyndon Baines Johnson to Rick Perry over the years.

Hard to resist: Fried potato wedges, a house salad and 17-ounce T-bone for less than other places charge for a 10-ounce sirloin.

Steering away from beef: Don’t get cute, boss.

Of note: Opened Tuesday-Saturday for lunch and dinner (closes at 9 p.m.).

Perry’s Steakhouse & Grille. 114 W. Seventh St. 512-474-6300, perryssteakhouse.com

Background: There are now 10 Texas locations of this Houston-based steakhouse that started as a meat market in 1979. The downtown Austin location opened in 2008.

Getting started: Prime beef carpaccio

Hard to resist: 8-ounce Filet Perry, topped with jumbo lump crabmeat and herb garlic butter, served with steamed asparagus

On the side: Roasted cauliflower

Steering away from beef: A beast of a pork chop is cured, roasted, slow-smoked and caramelized and served with applesauce.

Of note: Lunch is served on Friday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., when you can get a smaller cut of the famous pork chop with whipped potatoes for $12.95.

Ruth’s Chris Steak House. 107 W. Sixth St. 512-477-7884, ruthschrissteakhouse.com

Background: Gary Porfirio and Bill Andrews opened Austin’s first Ruth’s Chris franchise in 1985 on Guadalupe Street and moved to the Sixth Street location in 1999. But the two men and partner Greg Davey recently sold the restaurant back to the parent company.

Getting started: Mushrooms stuffed with crabmeat

Hard to resist: Prime porterhouse for two

On the side: Potatoes au gratin

Steering away from beef: Garlic and herbed cheese-stuffed chicken breast

Of note: Weekday happy hour offers bar food (steak sandwich, spicy lobster) and cocktails (Manhattan) for $8.

Sullivan’s Steakhouse. 300 Colorado St. 512-495-6504, sullivanssteakhouse.com/austin

Background: Yes, there are Sullivan’s from Alaska to North Carolina. But did you know the downtown Austin location was the first in the country? It opened in 1996, when the Warehouse District had a lot more warehouses in it.

Getting started: Jumbo shrimp cocktail

Hard to resist: Dry-aged 14-ounce New York strip

On the side: Grilled asparagus

Steering away from beef: Cajun-spice-rubbed ahi tuna steak

Of note: Open for lunch weekdays from 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Thursday and Sunday nights at their bar, Sully’s, features $7 drink and food specials, in addition to live music.

III Forks. 111 Lavaca St. 512-474-1776, 3forks.com/Austin

Background: Dark wood, marble and chandeliers give some hint that this restaurant that opened in 2006 across from City Hall originated in Dallas.

Getting started: Lamb meatballs

Hard to resist: 24-ounce prime porterhouse

On the side: Creamed spinach

Steering away from beef: Lobster risotto

Of note: Good spot for banquets and private events.

Trio. 98 San Jacinto Blvd. 512-685-8300, triorestaurantaustin.com

Background: The restaurant at the lakeside hotel operated for years as the Café at the Four Seasons before transitioning to Trio — a restaurant focused on seafood, wine and steaks — in 2007. An aesthetic reboot, with a few menu changes, took hold at the beginning of 2014.

Getting started: Snapper ceviche with orange, fennel and serrano peppers

Hard to resist: Mesquite-smoked 14-ounce prime rib-eye. (One of the best steaks in town.)

On the side: Corn crème brûlée (as much a dessert as it is a side)

Steering away from beef: Redfish with maitake mushroom

Of note: Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Sunday brunch at Trio is an unparalleled bounty. Excellent happy hour runs daily from 5 to 7 p.m. with $5 off appetizers and half-off glasses of wine.

Truluck’s. 400 Colorado St. 512-482-9000, trulucks.com

Background: Truluck’s originated in Houston in 1992, with the Austin location opening in 2000. After undergoing massive renovations in 2013, it reopened in May 2014 with an expanded lounge, additional party rooms and an eye-popping second-floor dining room with floor-to-ceiling windows.

Getting started: Florida stone crab claws

Hard to resist: 10-ounce center-cut filet

On the side: Szechuan style green beans

Steering away from beef: Hot ‘n’ crunchy Idaho trout with rice pilaf, mango marmalade and homemade tartar sauce

Of note: Truluck’s offers a separate gluten-free menu.

Vince Young Steakhouse. 301 San Jacinto Blvd. 512-457-8325, vinceyoungsteakhouse.com

Background: Chef Philip Brown and his wife, Laura McIngvale Brown, originally wanted to open a smaller, more intimate restaurant than their massive downtown steakhouse. But when they decided to team up with longtime friend and Longhorn legend Vince Young, they realized a steakhouse was a natural fit. They opened the relaxed but opulent Vince Young Steakhouse in November 2010.

Brown, whose previous stops include Vino Vino in Hyde Park, didn’t want to be hamstrung by the expectations people usually have of steakhouses. He decided to bring a seasonal approach to the menu, changing it every few months, and offer unexpected touches, like housemade charcuterie, that gave him a chance to express his creativity.

Getting started: Charcuterie board and jumbo lump crab cake with jalapeno aioli

Hard to resist: 14-ounce dry-aged prime bone-in filet

On the side: Sautéed mushrooms

Steering away from beef: Pan-roasted duck breast with duck confit hash

Of note: One of the best bars in downtown for watching a game with a meal. Great bourbon selection.

A Cut Above

Best bartender to watch a game with: Buddy Jordan at Ruth’s Chris Steak House

Best “Cheers” vibe: Austin Land and Cattle

Best happy hour: Eddie V’s

Best locally owned steakhouse: Vince Young Steakhouse

Best lunch: Sullivan’s

Best service and best steak: Trio

Best view: Truluck’s

Moo-ving away from downtown

Want a great steak without having to visit a downtown steakhouse? I recommend the following …

Dai Due will pull cuts from their butcher case at your request, and their Tuesday night steak night is a great deal. A recent six-ounce sirloin tip for $10 was the best quality steak value I’ve ever had. (daidue.com)

Foreign & Domestic offers a rotating selection of steaks. Try and get there for the big, juicy dry-aged rib-eye for two. (fndaustin.com)

Gardner is veggie-centric, but their dry-aged rib-eye with smoked and pickled sweet potato is fantastic. (gardner-austin.com)

Jeffrey’s bone-in rib-eye from Beeman Family Ranch in Yoakum is the best steak I’ve eaten in the past year. (jeffreysofaustin.com)

Perla’s is best known for seafood, but I love their eight-ounce Niman Ranch tenderloin topped with a vibrant chimichurri. (perlasaustin.com)

Legislators weigh in

Legislators and lobbyists don’t spend all of their time in steakhouses, of course. I asked two government officials who have close relationships to the food community where they like to eat in Austin.

State Rep. Eddie Rodriguez, D-Austin, founded the Farm-to-Table Caucus in the Texas House of Representatives in 2013, and state Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, serves as the caucus vice chair.

“The caucus focuses on issues relating to Texas family farms, ranches and coastal fishing operations as well as the distributors and consumers of their goods,” according to Rodriguez’s office. “Other areas of the caucus focus on issues relating to food security, nutrition, hunger, childhood obesity and increasing the availability of locally produced and harvested edible goods to Texas consumers.”

Rodriguez

Eden East: “They are on a farm, so it’s fresh, fresh, fresh. You can’t get more farm-to-table than that.” (edeneastaustin.com)

Odd Duck: “I’m a big fan. They’re so creative and their portion sizes allow for a chance to taste a bunch of different dishes.” (oddduckaustin.com)

Qui: “I’m a big fan of what Paul is doing, and he’s a big supporter of Urban Roots,” a nonprofit group dedicated to educating children about nutrition. (quiaustin.com)

Tamale House East: “We used them to cater my open house on the opening day of session, and my staff and I are big fans of theirs.” (facebook.com/tamalehouse.east)

Kolkhorst

“As a lawmaker during session, I’m usually working in the Capitol into the night, and so we will often order food to be delivered,” Kolkhorst wrote in an email. “However when I’m able to get out, I’ve often enjoyed Ranch 616, which has a very fun menu. I’m also found at Hut’s Hamburgers whenever I can get some casual downtime. If it’s Mexican food cravings, then it’s either Guero’s or Matt’s Famous El Rancho.” (theranch616.com; hutsfrankandangies.com; guerostacobar.com; mattselrancho.com)

Moo-ving away from downtown

Want a great steak without having to visit a downtown steakhouse? I recommend the following …

Dai Due will pull cuts from their butcher case at your request, and their Tuesday night steak night is a great deal. A recent six-ounce sirloin tip for $10 was the best quality steak value I’ve ever had. (daidue.com)

Foreign & Domestic offers a rotating selection of steaks. Try and get there for the big, juicy dry-aged rib-eye for two. (fndaustin.com)

Gardner is veggie-centric, but their dry-aged rib-eye with smoked and pickled sweet potato is fantastic. (gardner-austin.com)

Jeffrey’s bone-in rib-eye from Beeman Family Ranch in Yoakum is the best steak I’ve eaten in the past year. (jeffreysofaustin.com)

Perla’s is best known for seafood, but I love their eight-ounce Niman Ranch tenderloin topped with a vibrant chimichurri. (perlasaustin.com)

Legislators weigh in

Legislators and lobbyists don’t spend all of their time in steakhouses, of course. I asked two government officials who have close relationships to the food community where they like to eat in Austin.

State Rep. Eddie Rodriguez, D-Austin, founded the Farm-to-Table Caucus in the Texas House of Representatives in 2013, and state Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, serves as the caucus vice chair.

“The caucus focuses on issues relating to Texas family farms, ranches and coastal fishing operations as well as the distributors and consumers of their goods,” according to Rodriguez’s office. “Other areas of the caucus focus on issues relating to food security, nutrition, hunger, childhood obesity and increasing the availability of locally produced and harvested edible goods to Texas consumers.”

Rodriguez

Eden East: “They are on a farm, so it’s fresh, fresh, fresh. You can’t get more farm-to-table than that.” (edeneastaustin.com)

Odd Duck: “I’m a big fan. They’re so creative and their portion sizes allow for a chance to taste a bunch of different dishes.” (oddduckaustin.com)

Qui: “I’m a big fan of what Paul is doing, and he’s a big supporter of Urban Roots,” a nonprofit group dedicated to educating children about nutrition. (quiaustin.com)

Tamale House East: “We used them to cater my open house on the opening day of session, and my staff and I are big fans of theirs.” (facebook.com/tamalehouse.east)

Kolkhorst

“As a lawmaker during session, I’m usually working in the Capitol into the night, and so we will often order food to be delivered,” Kolkhorst wrote in an email. “However when I’m able to get out, I’ve often enjoyed Ranch 616, which has a very fun menu. I’m also found at Hut’s Hamburgers whenever I can get some casual downtime. If it’s Mexican food cravings, then it’s either Guero’s or Matt’s Famous El Rancho.” (theranch616.com; hutsfrankandangies.com; guerostacobar.com; mattselrancho.com)

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