Going to Indianapolis, I had heard that the one restaurant that I have to go to is St. Elmo’s Steakhouse. There is history’ it’s the oldest restaurant in the city! The food is really good, especially the shrimp cocktail! And on and on. So, when I found out that it was within walking distance from our hotel, I made a reservation for one of my co-workers and I to check it out and see what the fuss was about.
When we walked in for our 6:30 reservation, the place was packed. It was standing room only in the bar, and people were milling about the hostess stand waiting for a seat. I figured that this is a pretty good sign for a Wednesday evening. We were immediately taken to our table; through three individual dining rooms, down a flight of stairs, and then seated in another dining room. The space was interesting…definitely old school steakhouse. Dark wood and white tablecloths, waiters and waitresses in tuxedos, more people in suits than not. There were pictures of people that had visited in the hallways. Everything seemed to say that St. Elmo’s was proud of their history, and holding on to it. It was a vibe that I kind of liked.
We were greeted by the waitress, who took our drink order, then went over the menu. The only appetizer is the shrimp cocktail which comes in 5 or 6. Then they had the steaks and there were two specials; a seared Ahi and and a dry-aged Kansas City strip. She then explained that the rest of their steaks were wet-aged. We both ordered the shrimp cocktail (World Famous = might as well try), and then looked over the menu. I ended up going with my favorite cut of meat, ribeye, though I didn’t go for the bone-in (thought it was unnecessary to order a 20 oz. steak). I of course ordered it medium rare, and selected mashed potatoes as my side. I also had the option of tomato juice or bean soup, and went for the tomato juice.
A quick little side note…there are two ways to age beef, dry and wet. Dry-aged beef is when a slab of meat is hung in a temperature and humidity controlled room to literally dry. This is time consuming, sometimes up to four weeks, but is done to allow some of the moisture to evaporate thus concentrating the flavor, while allowing the connective tissues to break down for more tender meat. Wet-aged beef is taking the cut of meat and vacuum sealing it in a package to retain its moisture. It takes less time, and the steaks stay a bit bigger. My absolute favorite cut of meat is a dry-aged ribeye.
Getting back to the dinner, it took less than 5 minutes for our shrimp cocktails to arrive which made me think that they are not made to order. But I guess when you only have one appetizer, you just continuously make a bunch of them. The dish was pretty simple, a few shrimp in a dish, covered by cocktail sauce that was apparently more horseradish than anything else. I took my first bite with a large amount of the sauce, and could definitely feel it right away. The burn from the horseradish cleared out my sinuses pretty quickly and nearly brought a tear to my eye. It was good in a horseradish cleansing of the palette so you can’t really taste the shrimp kind of way. I worked my way through the shrimp, taking a little less of the sauce in subsequent bites. On one shrimp, I couldn’t quite bite all the way through, so went to bite and pull half of it out, and proceeded to flick cocktail sauce into my eye…that definitely brought a tear…
After the shrimp cocktail, I received a small glass of…tomato juice. I don’t know what I was expecting. Maybe I’ve been going to too many contemporary American places lately where when they say tomato juice you get some unexpectedly creative dish. This was about 4 ounces of what tasted like the same type of tomato juice my dad used to drink and sprinkle black pepper on or mix with a Miller Lite to make a red beer. I guess it was meant as a palette cleanser/cooler after the horseradish assault.
Finally the steaks made it out. I was definitely excited to dive in as steak is probably my absolute favorite thing. And in only two bites, my concerns were realized and I was disappointed. Somehow my steak, a cut of meat that should be incredibly flavorful because of all of the fat and marbling in it, was totally bland. It was cooked right, and had a nice crisscross pattern on it (which requires your steak to be flipped three times, and I prefer just once), but was horribly underseasoned and lacked all semblance of flavor. I ended up taking most bites with the potatoes which I rarely if ever do, preferring to enjoy the taste of the steak by itself, just to try and get a little flavor into each bite. At the end of the meal, I didn’t even take a look at the dessert menu, I was simply ready to go.
I don’t usually order steak when I go out for just this reason. If I’m going to order it, I want someone that can make it better than me. If you are a well known steakhouse, I shouldn’t be able to go into Whole Foods, buy a cut of meat for a third of what you are charging me for it, and make a steak that has 3 times the flavor. But that was the case with St. Elmo’s. I don’t understand why a place that is supposed to have the reputation of St. Elmo’s would not have more dry-aged options; why they would go for the cheap and quick route. A place that size should have their own room for dry-aging. In the end, St. Elmo’s was nothing but hype with not much substance. It’s not a good sign when the highlight of the evening was the onion bread in the basket. If you find yourself in the area, go to the Ruth’s Chris across the street. At least you will get some flavor in your steak.