Cooked to Perfection

Flavorful Steaks in the Fox Cities 

On a Friday or Saturday night in Northeastern Wisconsin, a quintessential meal out on the town likely includes a great steak, sizzling and cooked to perfection when it arrives at the table. Add in good conversation, wine, cocktails or mocktails, and a heaping cup of great company, and it’s a recipe for a memorable evening.

When you fancy a flavorful steak, the Fox Cities provides plenty of delicious options, whether it’s a tenderloin, a New York strip, a ribeye, filet mignon or even prime rib (technically, a cousin to the steak, since it’s a cut that’s sliced from a cooked roast). 

From supper clubs to standout steakhouses, you can find it all right here in our neck of the woods.

Sourcing is Essential to a Great Steak

What makes a great steak for patrons is something that varies according to a person’s palate and preferences, of course. But according to Chef Michael England of TJ’s Highland Steakhouse in Oshkosh, the best steak starts and ends by sourcing quality beef—in his case, the finest dry-aged and domestic Wagyu beef in the country—and everything else falls into place. 

He says after running steakhouses for more than 20 years, it’s always been about quality, followed by simple preparation. He does not want to alter the taste of the steak with spices, seasonings, marinades or sauces, allowing the unique flavor to shine.

“It’s salt and oil. That’s it, that’s what goes on the steak,” he states. “No black pepper, no garlic, no rubs, nothing. And then we finish it with butter. That’s it; I don’t put anything else on it.”

The quality of the meat is key and the priority, agrees Nick Morse, chef and owner of Rye in Appleton. Second in line is preparation. 

“Any cut of meat can be made to be delicious if you know the best ways to cook it,” he says. “Take, for instance, a hanging tenderloin steak. You could simply season and grill a hanger steak and it would be good. But, if you were to sous vide that hanger steak for four to eight hours first, it allows for a breakdown of some of the collagen in the connective tissue to make it more tender. 

“Fat content and marbling also play a large role in making a steak great,” he adds.
Using the right equipment and a great cook are equally important, says Appleton’s Red Ox owner John Hayes. And if patrons have questions about what would best fit their preferences in taste and flavor, his staff is always happy to help guide you. 

“We can steer you into what is leaner, more tender or more flavorful, and even explain the varying degrees of doneness to you,” Hayes says.

How to Choose Your Cut of Steak

Bob Wall, kitchen manager of Van Abel’s of Hollandtown, says they use choice beef for their steaks, hand-cut in-house at the nearly 180-year-old supper club—located outside of Kaukauna in the Town of Holland.

“You can count on our tenderloin in several sizes, ribeye and our New York strip,” he says of their menu staples. “We have those year-round on our menu, pretty much the whole time. We don’t cut giant steaks; we cut reasonably sized steaks, 15 to 16 ounces, unless you want the big, giant 24-ounce ribeye that we then butterfly and serve, and it looks like a heart shape.

“As a classic supper club, those are the cuts that we feel are really the truest to our genre. Those are the ones that most supper clubs use. So, we don’t vary what we do with our steaks, and you can expect a consistent product, year-round.”

At Rye, the filet of beef has become a staple item. Years ago, Chef Morse tried to change it up, but was hit with such backlash, he quickly returned it to the menu for good. 

“All steaks we have are always hand-cut in house,” he explains. “My culinary team loves the challenge of learning how to break down different cuts of meat, so throughout the year, I look to source many different meats to run as specials.”

For something different from the supper club fare, TJ’s Highland Steakhouse features uniquely sourced beef and a state-of-the-art kitchen with a specially designed broiler, and operates with the goal of being one of the best steakhouses in America. Chef England’s experience as executive chef at The Palm Restaurant in New York City and Atlantic City, New Jersey, lends itself to a distinguished dining experience for Fox Valley patrons.

The steakhouse’s USDA Iowa Premium prime 35-day dry-aged beef cuts on the menu have included bone-in ribeye, Delmonico, bone-in filet mignon, New York strip steak, petite filet mignon and bone-in New York Strip. As Chef England explains, the dry-aging process occurs in a controlled environment, and as moisture is drawn out of the cut of meat, the flavor begins to build.

The American Wagyu, sourced through Mishima Reserve, Kuro, and Snake River Farms for TJ’s, comes prepared as a 6-ounce Zabuton (known as a Japanese pillow), eye of ribeye, flat iron, Spinalis Dorsi (ribeye cap) and Coulotte (picanha).

At the Red Ox, they offer a house tenderloin, filet mignon, bone-in ribeye, New York strip and prime rib nightly. Their tenderloins can be made for dining patrons as garlic-stuffed, or garlic and jalapeno stuffed.

“We have veal dishes that many places have gotten away from,” adds Hayes. Those choices include veal schnitzel and veal marsala.

A Culture of Community

There are many choices for a great steak in the Fox Cities and surrounding area. Whatever you prefer, be it going out as a group of couples for dry martinis and filet mignon on a Saturday night, or getting dressed to the nines with your partner for fine dining on a Wednesday evening, the significance of a night out and a great steak is not lost on anyone who owns a steakhouse or supper club in and around the Fox Valley.

It’s a community within a community, nurturing us with a good meal and a great time as we celebrate life’s finest moments and make memories there. 

At the historic Van Abel’s, where many generations of family have owned the establishment in all of its iterations—and many generations of families keep it humming along as members of its longtime staff—catering and event manager Diane Van Abel says they feel there’s a sense of responsibility to the community.

“We talk about it all the time,” she reflects. “We like to be like Cheers. People come because they meet other people.”

At the heart of their service is encouraging families to sit at the table, pass food and take the time to engage in conversation and revelry, which is something so many of us no longer take the time to do, given our hectic schedules.
“We hope that we can bring that back as a staple, just from still serving family style in the restaurant,” she says.

“It’s about so much more than the food,” agrees Red Ox’s Hayes. “There is such a resurgence right now for independently owned supper clubs and steakhouses. Younger generations have gotten away from chain restaurant dining and are experiencing what their grandparents did. It’s ‘cool’ again. Our average guest [at the Red Ox] is [aged] probably 20 years younger than [they were] 20 years ago.”

Palate Pleasing Steak at Home

When our busy and diverse family, career and caregiving schedules get in the way of a fabulous night out on the town for dinner, achieving a great steak at home is possible too. 

Jeff Bruce, senior meat and seafood director with Festival Foods, says almost any retailer will carry standard middle meats—cuts from the loin—like a ribeye, New York strip or top sirloin and standard end cuts, like chuck or round steak. 

“Most retailers would have these steaks pre-priced in self-service cases, and there are a few stores like Festival Foods that sell thicker, signature or marinated cuts and even Certified Angus Beef® Prime sold over the counter in a full-service meat case.”

When choosing your cut, Bruce says that looking for small, white “flecks of flavor,” or marbling, is important. This ensures that a steak will be juicier and more flavorful.

“At the store you will find various ‘brands’ of beef,” he explains. “It’s important to look for any grading or specifications behind the brand. USDA grades beef in tiers that vary in marbling specifications. USDA Select would have minimal marbling and typically costs less than higher tiers, such as USDA Choice and USDA Prime being the highest grade possible.”

Bone-in cuts, such as a T-bone, can add flavor, but they’re also normally larger in diameter, resulting in a larger portion that might need to be shared, especially if it’s cut thick. A thick steak will tend to hold its juices in as well. Bruce also suggests looking for a quarter inch of fat around the top edge of the steak, especially if it’s from an angus breed. 

It’s worth noting that while that fat can add a great flavor to the steak, it’s not everyone’s preference. If your dietary needs require leaner cuts, “loin” and “round” will be your better options, explains Casey Wing, registered dietitian and digital content specialist with Festival Foods. For those needing lower sodium options, avoid marinated/flavored options, as they will be higher in sodium than plain steaks.

And when it comes time for you to cook the steak, Bruce says a 100 percent foolproof and fun way to cook a steak is by doing a “reverse sear.” 

“This is done by seasoning the steak ahead of time and then cooking at a lower temperature in a smoker, oven or sous vide, and then once the meat thermometer reaches 10 degrees from the desired doneness—I like to achieve a final temperature of 130 degrees for medium rare—the steak is thrown on a very hot grill or cast iron skillet with butter or oil for only a minute or so to get the outside seared. The result of cooking with this reverse sear method is a perfectly done steak all the way through and a nice, caramelized crust on the outside,” he says.

“Letting meat rest after cooking allows juices to redistribute throughout the steak; temp will rise slightly as it rests too,” Wing adds.

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Food & Dining

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