The finest cuts and where to find them
The Fox Cities lie in the heartland of a state where taverns literally raffle off cuts of meat, so it’s safe to assume our obsession with steak is real. Wisconsin’s enthusiastic meat culture has not left the Fox Valley untouched, as evidenced by the abundant selection of steakhouses in the area. Whether you want to impress a date or sink your teeth into a weeknight meal, these joints have what you need.
George’s Steak House
When it comes to steak, you’re in good hands at George’s in Appleton. The sought-after steakhouse has won the Golden Fork Award for Best Steak no fewer than 10 times. George’s doesn’t concern itself with trendy cuts like flank or flat iron steaks. Rather, they stick to what has worked in the Valley for the last 80 years.
“We don’t do a lot of fancy sauces and things like that,” says Brad Quimby, second-generation owner along with his parents Chuck and Edie. “We dabble in a few things, but for the most part it’s all about the meat.”
All of George’s steaks, from the tenderloin to the porterhouse, are hand-trimmed, USDA Choice grade or higher and aged for a minimum of 21 days. Quimby is partial to the filet mignon. Diners can choose from the signature 9- to 10-ounce filet or the petite 6-ounce filet topped with George’s famous shredded onion rings. The steaks are all seasoned with a house seasoning – a secret blend of spices that dates back to the restaurant’s original owner, George Fiedler.
A steak at George’s is more than a meal. It’s an experience reminiscent of vintage Fox Cities. Diners linger over old fashioneds in the dim, wood-paneled bar that gets filled with live piano music on Friday and Saturday nights. It’s common to hear the bartender calling customers by name. Quimby says diners at George’s are tended to by one staff member, unlike chain restaurants where diners encounter a number of different faces, from food runners to bussers, throughout their meal.
“Our way is kind of the old-fashioned way of doing things, but we feel it’s the best,” Quimby says.
Vince Lombardi’s Steakhouse
Vince Lombardi’s Steakhouse within the Radisson Paper Valley Hotel in Appleton has a legendary atmosphere that’s about as storied as the Packers coach for whom it’s named. The Brunswick-style bar and lounge has the vibe of an upscale man cave with dark woodwork and curved leather booths. Adorning the walls are over 400 photos, artifacts and pieces of memorabilia from Vince Lombardi’s personal collection, and at the center of the room sits the pièce de résistance – a replica Vince Lombardi trophy from Tiffany & Co.
As much as Lombardi’s is known for its museum-like decor, the restaurant is even more famous for its steak. General Manager Aaron Cole says the steaks are seasoned with a blend of about 20 different spices that are kept so secret even he doesn’t know them all. “There’s definitely sugar and brown sugar in it because it crystalizes on the steaks,” he says. “Our two most popular steaks are our filet, which you can cut with a butter knife, and our 20-ounce bone-in ribeye.”
Not to be overlooked is the 16-ounce dry-aged Kansas City strip. Dry-aged beef is kept in a refrigerated space so the liquids evaporate and concentrate the flavor. This results in a wildly flavorful, tender steak, but the process is time consuming and costly, so you’ll only find it in high-end steakhouses like Lombardi’s. Cole recommends pairing your steak with Chef Wes Karcheski’s seasonal risotto offering or lobster mac and cheese. (Tip: The ample-portioned side items are easily three to four servings, so ask for a half order if you are only sharing with a date.)
Diners won’t go thirsty either – Lombardi’s has received the Wine Spectator Award of Excellence multiple times for its epic wine list and offers bourbon, scotch and whiskey flights if you prefer spirits.
Bonus: During football season, Lombardi’s is a great place to rub elbows with NFL royalty. Opposing teams lodge at the Radisson, so coaches, owners and players are often seen dining at Lombardi’s prior to game day.
Red Ox Seafood and Steakhouse
The no-nonsense atmosphere at Red Ox Seafood and Steakhouse in Appleton is as straightforward as the food. Here, juicy steaks and hand-muddled old fashioneds are king. The old fashioned gets its edge from the mushrooms pickled in house, but when it comes to the steak, there’s more to it than that.
Owner John Hayes says his main beef distributors source Midwest-raised beef cattle that are grain fed and 70 percent Angus. When selecting a quality cut, Hayes looks for steaks that have been dry-aged for 21 days and have a good marbling factor, a quality for which Angus beef is known. Marbling refers to the ribbons of intramuscular fat within the lean sections of meat that provide flavor and can indicate a high-quality cut.
You get what you pay for in the world of steak, says Hayes who claims his powerhouse 22-ounce bone-in Black Angus ribeye costs him more to plate than many restaurants charge for theirs.
“Our steaks are not cheap, but well worth the price,” he says. “Our filet mignon at times is in the $20 per-pound range, but it melts in your mouth.”
When the meat starts this good, simple preparations are best. The hand-cut New York strip sits two inches thick and is seasoned simply with sea salt and a crackling of black pepper, seared to perfection in a hot broiler and finished with homemade compound au jus butter. All the steaks at Red Ox are finished with the same butter and, really, do you need anything more?
If the answer is yes, go for the popular 8-ounce garlic-stuffed tenderloin or the tenderloin smothered in Cajun-grilled shrimp and homemade chipotle hollandaise.
Chef Jeff Igel is program director of culinary outreach at Fox Valley Technical College in Appleton. He answers your culinary questions in our monthly column “Ask Chef Jeff.”
Yield: 1.25 pounds
1 lb butter
2 Tbsp fresh minced garlic
2 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce
4 Tbsp beef base or bouillon
1 Tbsp kosher or coarse salt
1 Tbsp coarse ground black pepper
Combine all of the ingredients in a mixing bowl. Brush on steaks immediately after grilling, just prior to service.