A cut above: Alternatives to traditional steak
Florida's restaurants now offer a host of alternatives to traditional steak.
At Orlando’s Citrus Club — a classic downtown power lunch spot — you’d think meat and potatoes would rule. Yet there’s only one steak and one burger on the menu. Instead, carnivores can delight in venison osso buco, wild boar shoulder over tagliatelle or a hefty pork chop.
Likewise, when big-wheel diners head into chef Chris Ponte’s new On Swann in Tampa, they’ll find only one steak — a big prime ribeye at $95 for two. Most of the menu is small plates and entrees at $25 or less.
“It’s crazy” that steak prices have risen so high, Ponte says. While Florida still has many old-school steak (and lobster) spots, at other restaurants, the classic ribeye, New York strip, porterhouse, filet mignon and delmonico are out of reach and off the menu.
Not to worry. Meat eaters are relearning what chefs and home cooks around the world always knew: There’s a lot of meat on the steer that makes for hearty red-blooded eating at less cost.
We have entered the age of the short-rib and the beef shank, oxtail, skirt, flank, flatiron, hanger and other “butcher cuts.” And the return to grace of the sirloin — aka picanha in Brazilian steak houses, “top cap” and “baseball’’ in others. Well cut and properly cooked, it’s delicious.
Most grades, brands and species labels apply to the whole animal, so prime, certified Angus or Kobe applies to meat beyond the fancy cuts. So a meat-forward, chef-driven restaurant like Meat Market in Miami can offer prime beef marrow, prime skirt steak, prime short-ribs and Wagyu sliders.
Likewise at Quality Meats in Miami. Look beyond the familiar cuts for more affordable bone-in sirloin, long-bone short-rib (it’s possible) or a bavette (flank).
At Michael Mina’s Stripsteak, short-rib and skirt steaks are priced under $40 while the finest Wagyu sells for $32 an ounce.
In Naples, star butcher Jimmy P’s opened Charred restaurant with all its gourmet meats. Those who won’t indulge in Japanese Wagyu can be happy with a baseball sirloin or a coulotte (sirloin cap), the house specialty.
Since Pot Roast & Pinot opened in Pensacola three years ago, its $18 namesake dish has outsold its eight-ounce prime ribeye — and every other dish. At lunch PR&P has brought back calf liver, which has been a “hit across the board” with both the young and hip and the not-so, according to manager Max Rowe.
Creative kitchens take new pride in their meat grinder to create signature blends. Pot Roast & Pinot makes its burgers with brisket and short-ribs. At Jimmy P’s, it’s Kobe beef and pork belly for burgers, while the grand Ulysses Steakhouse in Cocoa serves meatballs of Kobe beef.
Other meats from veal double chops to pork porterhouse are everywhere, but lamb is the up-and-comer.
At Louies Modern in Sarasota, there’s one steak, a Black Angus filet, but far meatier and cheaper is an all-lamb mixed grill: Chops, roast leg, meatloaf and meatball. Asian pork tenderloin and shortribs Burgundy, too.
Chef Ponte offers lamb meatballs with ricotta in his list of meaty alternatives to big steaks. Or you can dig into chorizo rice balls, a dry-aged burger, tomahawk pork chops or pasta with short-rib ragu. His best secret is the humble chicken liver. Extremely cheap, but in the pates and mousse of a top chef, exquisite.
A Steak Glossary
There are still plenty of classic steaks available and in greater variety than ever, so modern menus can get tricky.
Wagyu: The prized breed of black cattle from Japan now also are raised in Australia and the U.S., including Florida at Clear Creek Cattle in Ocala and Pasture Prime in Summerfield.
Prefecture: Districts in Japan, some of which are famous for their Wagyu, include Kobe, Shiga and Miyazaki.
A4/A5: The highest grades of Japanese beef usually found in the U.S. USDA Prime: The highest grade of U.S. cattle. Next best is USDA Choice.
Rib number: Ribeyes and New York strips may be numbered by ribs; 4 and 7 are the best.
Wild West cuts: The tomahawk is a bone-in ribeye with the full rib attached; a cowboy steak is similar, but with a shorter rib bone.
Dry-aging: The best restaurants age for 30 days; longer is better and will cost more.