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Steaking their claim: Steak houses in Florida

Florida’s appetite for steak houses just gets bigger.

In Florida’s newest steak houses, bigger, thicker steaks are on the scale. And in the best, chefs have new brags on beef sources and dry-aging and sophistication on the rest of the menu — more seafood is a must, and side dishes, vegetables and desserts are smarter, too. The new energy means the price of the favorite luxury is going up: Appetizers and sides are often $10; steaks start at $35 and flirt with $50. Most places still feel like a big-bucks club too, dark polished wood and brass with spots of rich red and baize green.

» PB Steak, Miami Beach

The Pubbelly gang has taken the traditional steak house to the most dramatic extremes high and low at PB Steak. Better known for pork-centric gastropubs with Latin and Asian accents, the Pubbellies took to beef with the same wit and barnwood informality. The space was the former Joe Allen’s in Pubbelly’s quiet, quirky neighborhood. "We want to satisfy the purist," says Pubbelly’s Andreas Scheiner. "But if you’re a foodie who wants something more risqué … ."

Like steak tartare sliders, bacon confit (with poached egg), pork cheeks with green pea ravioli and sweetbread a la Buffalo.

You can get big beef, too, dry-aged and sourced from small Florida ranches and big brands up to a $52 porterhouse or a $58 cowboy steak. To garnish, or as Pubbelly graffiti has it, "pimp it up," add bone marrow, foie gras mousse or wild mushroom fricassee; sauce with red miso jus; or short rib marmalade.

Diners can have a whole baby chicken, black cod or a hanger cut. Or they can nibble through prized oysters, curried mussels and small plates of crab bread pudding or chorizo with dates.

Beef prices, much higher than pork, are daunting, but PB still eats high off the steer and has a wild time of it.

» Bull and Bear, Orlando

Chef Francis Metais took the classic formula at the Waldorf Astoria at Walt Disney World to extravagant heights.

The menu may sound familiar, but just wait. When the monstrous tomahawk steak ($130 for two) arrives, the bone-in ribeye with the long Frenched rib comes with a candle for the waiter to carve by. And then pour its melted remains over the beef, for the "candle" is made of seasoned tallow.

That’s typical reinvention from Mattias, a Frenchman who trained under Paul Bocuse and Gaston Lenotre and now heads all food and beverage for the luxury chain.

His huge lobster, for instance, is spit-cooked vertically and served upright, its head stuffed with meat and butter that drips down to the tail onto a piece of bread.

» Eddie V’s Prime Seafood, Tampa

Florida-based Darden, which already bought Longhorn and Capital Grille, has still another brand in the trophy races, Eddie V’s Prime Seafood, for turf as well as surf.

Eddie V’s was born in Texas, where it still has six of its nine locations. It takes big-shot dining into cooler, nightclub retro zone with earthy tones, more stone than wood and leather and live jazz.

The first Florida Eddie V is in Tampa in the steak-heavy environs of Tampa International Airport.

As billed, Eddie V has more choices in seafood starting with lobster tacos and a shellfish tower. There are a dozen finfish and shell, handsomely plated and smartly trimmed with the likes of succotash and pork shank or mango, avocado and cashews.

Steaks range from $39 to $46 with contemporary sides, like Brussels sprouts with bacon, roasted beets and candied walnuts or fries with Parmesan and chives.

» Seagar’s, Destin

Seagar’s, the main restaurant at the Hilton, has been the top-dollar steak house in the Panhandle for years, and this year a new management team kicked it up a notch further.

The interior is blue with sailcloth colors, and the menu features a big seafood expansion, from a clever pair of raw tartares (tuna and red snapper) to a shiny three-tiered shellfish tower.

Modernized trimmings include tarragon gnocchi with scallops, a napoleon of stacked eggplant, green tomato and crab and a watercress salad that pairs watermelon and lavender.

Beef remains the main event, with filet mignon custom cut from 1 to 2 inches thick and the top-of-the-line $68 porterhouse weighing in at 28 ounces.

» Wolfgang’s Steakhouse, Miami

No Puck here. Think of the oldest steak house name -- Peter Luger’s of Brooklyn. It’s been there for 125 years, and for decades Wolfgang Zwiener was the head waiter. Today he has opened four steak houses of his own.

The menu is short, yet long on the classic old-school bests — seafood appetizers, tomato salads, cottage fries. Then comes the big guns, a 3-pound lobster and a porterhouse for four.

The true indulgence may come last. Every dessert, from apple strudel to tiramisu, can come with "schlag" — a puff of German-style whipped cream made in-house.