Where’s the Beef?
The Cheapskate’s Guide to Cheap Steaks
By David Claude Bailey
Let’s just get this out of the way. I am an expert on steaks, having served a weekly apprenticeship that spanned almost two decades at the University of Steakology in Reidsville. In my youth, grill master extraordinaire Claude Colonelue Bailey presided over a smoking-hot seminar every single Saturday night. Sometimes he lectured on the uses and benefits of fresh garlic, A-1 sauce and even homemade rubs, but his lessons always employed lots of salt and ground pepper and a Weber that almost glowed under its burden of white-hot charcoal. I have eaten, by my scientific calculations, more than 4,000 T-bones, sirloins, filet mignons, porterhouses, New York strips and other delectable cuts of beef in my lifetime. I’m a glutton for homework.
His teaching assistant, my mother, turned out the extraordinary complements to our weekly lessons. She always peeled and hand-cut potatoes and double fried them. She’d pre-rub her salad bowl with cloves of garlic, and we’d usually have hand-beaten biscuits or, on special occasions, her cloverleaf rolls.
Inevitably after Dad remarked about how God is great, God is good, and had thanked Him for our food, mother would say, as if we hadn’t heard it a thousand times, “You could drive all the way to Greensboro and not get a steak dinner this good.”
My sister, Betty, and I would roll our eyes. And then, almost ritually, before the meal was over, Dad would wonder aloud why anyone would pay for a steak in a restaurant when you could cook a better steak at home. More sibling eye-rolling ensued.
Since then, I was fortunate to have been a restaurant critic for more than a decade and have tried steaks in dozens of restaurants, some of them Prime, aged steaks, seared at 800 degrees. Let me say that I certainly appreciate the difference between USDA, aged Prime meat and what’s available in the grocery store and at most restaurants. But being someone of Scots-Irish ancestry, it has always been with the utmost reluctance that I readily cough up $50-plus for a T-Bone steak. Especially, if I’m not on expense account.
So I have always been on the lookout for what I call The Cheapskate’s Cheap Steaks. Believe me, they’re out there, though I’ve wrestled with many gristly and fat pieces of meat to find them, at the best and the worst of restaurants. In fact, I’ve learned Dad’s lesson: At most restaurants, you’re better off ordering something other than steak.
However, over my years in Greensboro, I’ve found some notable exceptions to Dad’s rule. But it’s not just any steak that I’m after. To be a good cheapskate’s cheap steak, the meal should be a special experience. I’m always looking for a complete steak dinner — the meat, French fries, a fresh garden salad and a first-rate serving of bread. Plus, the ambiance of the place, in combination with the food, ought to provide more than the sum of the parts. What I’ve tried to do here is spotlight steaks and venues that are, above all else, places that present extraordinary cuts of beef, seared to perfection, in an ambiance that provides, for at least an hour or so, something you simply can’t reproduce at home. And all this at a price not a lot more than it costs me to grill a steak at home, just as my dad did.
200 N. Davie St., (336) 389-1010, facebook.com/europagso
The Meat of the Matter (How the steak, itself, rates) hhh (3 out of five stars). 6-ounce sirloin steak-&-frites, “lunch-sized (available at supper on request). Grilled — tender, juicy and not overly seasoned — Europa’s steak is a tad thin, though this is in the tradition of steaks I’ve had abroad. Larger 8-ounce “dinner” steak available for $18.
The Tab (For a steak dinner — with the price per ounce of steak calculated based on the total tab) $13 ($2.17 per ounce of steak). Served without bread or salad — steak & frites means just that.
Ambiance, service and measure of difference This lively, downtown brasserie has a stylish, Continental interior, featuring distinctive hardwood paneling. The vibe is urbane, almost clubby with attentive service. It’s hard to choose between the bustling bar and the popular patio. Measure of difference: Hippest spot in town to eat steak & frites.
Sides and Extras The fries are cut as shoestrings and best eaten before they cool. I enjoyed the cabernet butter, but ask for it on the side so it doesn’t overpower the steak. A salad is $2.50 extra, and I think Europa’s Caesar is well worth the price.
The Bottom Line With intimate corners and booths, plus sidewalk dining, Europa’s Continental “chic” nicely complements its reasonably priced and hearty fare — prepared with élan. And I highly recommend the mussels.
1421 Westover Terrace, (336) 370-0707, lucky32.com
The Meat of the Matter hhhhh (5 out of five stars). 10-ounce, Black Angus salt-and-pepper ribeye available at lunch only. I found this easily the best “cheap” steak in terms of taste, preparation and quality. Unlike some other ribeyes, the meat was marbled and rich, with excellent texture.
The Tab $16 ($1.60 per ounce of steak). Served with bread and one side. No salad.
Ambiance, service and measure of difference My advice? Eat in the bar with its rich, hardwood accents and intimate, high-back tufted booths. It’s, at the same time, both atmospheric and airy. I’ve always found the service attentive and obliging. Measure of difference: For us, Lucky 32 rates as a special-occasion destination.
Sides and Extras The Texas Pete-fried onions atop the steak were a fun addition. And I could almost make a meal off Lucky’s excellent bread. The fries are hand-cut, double-fried and first-rate. I, however, find it hard to resist Lucky’s collards, sassy and tangled with side meat. Salad is $3.25 extra.
The Bottom Line Lucky 32 is always like an old friend to me, welcoming, cozy and totally predictable. Yes, the lunch-priced ribeye costs a couple bucks more than other steaks, but the total package of food, service and ambiance is hard to beat.
Oakcrest Family Restaurant
2435 Battleground Ave., (336) 288-7585,
The Meat of the Matter hhh (3 out of five stars). Two 5-ounce ribeyes. It’s hard to imagine getting more meat for your money. Marinated, liberally seasoned with garlic and griddled, here’s a classic, cafe steak — in fact, two of them for the price of one.
The Tab $9.99 ($1.11 per ounce of steak). Served with Texas toast, salad and fries.
Ambiance, service and measure of difference I love Oakcrest’s emphasis on family dining. Don’t expect fawning service, white tablecloths or atmospheric flourishes. Instead, look for a spanking clean, well-lit interior that screams ’50s diner chic, with pine booths, retro furnishings. Come twice and your waitress will know you by name. Measure of difference: Incredible bang for the buck.
Sides and Extras The service is family-friendly and the servings are humongous. And I’m a total sap for the garlicky, griddled Texas toast. Ask for the house-made Greek dressing atop the large iceberg-based salad. I found the rough-cut, skin-on fries, though probably frozen, some of the best in town.
The Bottom Line Unless I’m missing it, this is one of the best meat-and-potato deals in town. And sometimes a no-frills, expedient diner experience is just what you’re looking for.
1605 Highwoods Blvd., (336) 292-0226,
The Meat of the Matter hhhh (4 out of five stars). 7-ounce, center-cut “petite” sirloin. Lightly seasoned and nicely seared with grill marks on the exterior, yet rare on the interior.
The Tab $14.79 ($2.11 per ounce of steak). Served with bread, fries, steamed zucchini and a salad.
Ambiance, service and measure of difference With an inviting steakhouse/fern-bar décor, accented with hardwood and exposed brick, I like Tripps for its inviting, casually-elegant ambiance that feels nothing like a chain. Measure of difference: Here’s the total steak-dinner package — bread, salad, fries, vegetable and the steak itself — at an almost unbelievable price.
Sides and Extras Our meal started with a small, freshly baked loaf of bread, a nice way to begin the dining experience. The fries came sizzling hot, and the salad was fresh and generous, with almonds, bacon and garlicky croquettes. The combination was, all around, a notch above what I expect from a chain — or from anyone else for the price.
The Bottom Line Steaks are a specialty at Tripps, a Greensboro-based chain, but it was the entire experience that combined to deliver exceptional value — polite service, generous sides, a decent selection of wine and beer, plus a grilled sirloin thick enough to still be rare.
The Pavilion Restaurant
2010 West Vandalia Road, (336) 852-1272,
The Meat of the Matter hhhh (4 out of five stars). 5-ounce Petite Sirloin. In spite of the really low price, this was an outstanding steak, thick and juicy, well-seasoned and perfectly cooked rare, as ordered. No, it’s not a huge cut, but excellent, as are Pavilion’s other steak offerings.
The Tab $12.95 ($2.59 per ounce of steak). Served with Texas toast, fries and salad.
Ambiance, service and measure of difference I love the vintage, fine-dining décor of this venerable eatery, with its exposed brick walls, frosted-and-cut-glass panels between booths and découpaged tables featuring magazine covers from yesteryear. Measure of difference: Pavilion’s food is carefully prepared and, above all else, value-priced — in a setting that bespeaks a tradition of fine dining.
Sides and Extras The service is attentive, friendly and personable. The generous iceberg salad was fresh — the dressing, homemade. The crunchy, lightly battered fries came sizzling. And I inhaled my two slices of buttery, Texas toast.
The Bottom Line Going to The Pavilion is like stepping back into a more gracious and leisurely era. It is definitely an institution. But it’s kept pace with the times and, in my opinion, is one of Greensboro’s best- kept fine-dining secrets.
My house, by invitation only — and don’t hold your breath.
The Meat of the Matter hhhhhhh (seven out of five stars). 8-ounce, Angus top sirloin from Harris Teeter VIC-priced. Grilled rare to perfection on a Weber by a Kansas City Certified Barbecue Judge — me! Dusted with asada seasoning.
The Tab $10 ($1.25 per ounce). With Chef Anne’s pommes Lyonnaise, a salad featuring home-grown mesclun, along with her handmade, buttery biscuits, here’s a meal that’s hard to beat.
Ambiance, service and measure of difference Farmhouse shabby décor, complemented by eclectic furnishings, mismatched tableware but incredible, tableside service from the chef herself, Chez Anne is my favorite venue. Al fresco dining available. Staggering selection of beer, wine and single-malt Scotch. Measure of difference: No need for a designated driver.
Sides and Extras An incredible meal, cooked to order with the one added ingredient no one else can deliver — true love. I will definitely be eating here again.
The Bottom Line My dad was right. The best value on a steak dinner is the one you cook yourself, provided you have an excellent sous chef who will accept as a tip — and the highest compliment of her culinary skill — a hug and a kiss. OH