St. Elmo Steak House recalls the sort of clubby beef palace every big Midwestern city once had, the one frequented by local bigwigs, sports stars and visiting glitterati. Its bar room wall is lined with photos signed by such diverse guests as Keith Richards, Jane Pauley, Ed Asner, and a wrestler identified as the original French Angel. There is even a shot of O.J. Simpson when he was best-known for his athletic skills. Up front is a case filled with raw steaks; adjacent to it is an open kitchen, scarcely bigger than that of a railroad dining car. Here meat is grilled and plates prepared by dexterous chefs, then whisked to tables by veteran waiters.
St. Elmo doesn’t have a formal dress code any more, but it’s not a place you’ll feel comfortable in Spandex or your jogging suit. One time a while ago when we were having dinner, a hirsute gent at a nearby table came to dine in a white strap T-shirt and torn jeans. We watched him fork his way through a slab of prime rib so compelling he didn’t even bother to look at his date (who was picking at a skinless chicken breast). While we couldn’t definitively I.D. Mr. Hungry, we suspected he was a celeb from the wall gallery, which apparently gave him dispensation to dine in his underwear.
“May we suggest incredible Martini before dinner [made with] extra dry vermouth?” asks the menu. The glacial stiffener makes a splendid companion to the house appetizer, six plump pink shrimp smothered with explosive horseradish cocktail sauce. Cuts of beef range from mighty two-pound porterhouses and 24-ounce sirloins to filets mignon capped with mushrooms. In addition, there are pork chops, veal chops, lamb racks, and gigantic (and gigantically expensive) market-price lobster tails. The sirloin steak, captioned “our favorite!” on the menu (and indeed, our favorite), arrives on a thick plate without so much as a garnish. It is a substantial strip of meat, glistening with juice, dense and full of flavor. On the side you choose from among a big baked potato, rough-hewn steak fries, or mashed potatoes. Creamed spinach costs extra, and is a worthy steak-and-potato companion.