It’s rare these days for me to encounter a dish I’ve never seen. At Steak & Grapes, I saw not just one, but a whole handful.
The good news is that, aside from a few head-scratchers, the restaurant delivered on its singular menu of interesting food. If there’s one thing I left knowing, it’s that this place knows how to cook red meat.
Steak & Grapes opened in November in the space formerly occupied by Louie’s Wine Dive, off 168th and West Center. Owner Mark Kitson, who also owned Louie’s, told me he decided to change the menu and name after his franchise restaurant didn’t work.
“This west Omaha neighborhood needed a good, locally owned steakhouse,” he said.
Steak & Grapes’ menu heavily skews toward beef, and during my three visits, I ate a lot of it.
The appetizer list is where most of the restaurant’s creativity lives. We tried the Gorgonzola beef, which has chunks of pink-centered beef served in an escargot dish with plenty of garlic and a sprinkle of partly melted cheese. It’s a take on the classic “baked dishes” that I’ve not seen before. Instead of a thick layer of cheese on top, the cheese sat below the beef, and pleasantly melted into the dish’s divots. Soft focaccia is great for sopping up the salty, funky cheese.
The buffalo trace whiskey “fingers” are the same sized chunks of beef, but served with an Asian-inspired marinade and a sweet chili sauce for dipping. It’s tough to cook small chunks of beef so that each one is pink inside; Steak & Grapes nails it.
The ribs were my dining partner’s favorite of the appetizers we tried. The menu says “ribs like you’ve never seen them before,” and they mean it. The ribs are fried, coated in a thin, salty breading. Imagine a tender chicken-fried rib, and that’s sort of what you get. Barbecue purists won’t be impressed, but this isn’t really barbecue to begin with. It’s its own thing.
Kitson noted that he’s got a lot of gluten-free items on the menu, and he said it’s important to appeal to diners who don’t eat gluten or have celiac disease. The ribs are gluten free, as are many other dishes marked as such on the menu.
I tried two steaks: the bacon wrapped filet, which is part of a surf and turf dish, and the 10 oz. ribeye. The ribeye had nice flavor and arrived nicely medium rare, but also had a few pieces of pure fat I pushed to the side. Better was the filet, with its tender flavor and hint of smokiness from the bacon. It, too, arrived perfectly cooked.
I liked a side of Brussels sprouts and, another night, a melange of roasted root vegetables, but both sides could have been served hotter than they were.
The two stinkers we encountered were in the seafood and fish categories. The fish and chips that came served with the “surf and turf” filet tasted almost entirely of fried breading and weren’t seasoned. I had a hard time spotting any fish.
I’m generally a big fan of scallops, but the scallops au gratin seemed to me like a good way to ruin the seafood’s delicate flavor and texture. The seared scallops come nestled in a bed of what looked and tasted like fried rice, the whole thing swathed in cheese sauce and coated with crushed-up cheese crackers. It wasn’t my thing.
Kitson said he’s changed the menu since he opened the restaurant last fall and is still refining some dishes.
The “grapes” — the other portion of the restaurant’s name — center on an ever-rotating list of wine displayed on a big chalkboard. I tried a smooth California pinot noir, an easy drinking viognier and a hearty cabernet sauvignon off the list, and each time I returned, the wines I’d had before had been replaced. Kitson said that’s the whole point. The wines usually rotate on Mondays and Fridays, and he said his goal is to never list any wine his customers have seen in a grocery store.
Lunch diners get a free glass of house red or white with their meal, and Kitson said he did that to stand out. More customers than you might think, he said, take advantage of the deal. The house white paired nicely with the large cheese and charcuterie plate, which comes with a variety of breads, jams and accompaniments. And the house cabernet was a natural fit with the wagyu burger, cooked nicely and served with crispy bacon on a soft bun.
One of Kitson’s goals with his new restaurant, he said, is to stand out from the pack. I can see how he’s doing it with his menu, and I think, for the most part, it works. He’s serving interesting, mostly successful dishes at a reasonable price. There’s something to be said for that.