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In flusher days, swanky steakhouses were a popular breed, especially for fat cats and couples celebrating special occasions. But in these belt-tightening times, dropping $200 on a meal for two is, for most folks, out of the question. That said, I wondered: What are high-end steakhouses doing to accommodate the average Joe (or JoAnn)? Is there a new normal?
To find out, I did some steakhouse sleuthing at two of the region’s most renowned restaurants for a fine filet. (Note: Because The Dollar-Wise Gourmet is on a dollar-wise budget, I tried only the happy hours, not the meals.) The upshot? Morton’s happy hour rocks—for two people, it may double as dinner (it did for us)—and Ruth’s Chris’ $39.95 meal is a steal of a deal. Read on.
MORTON'S THE STEAKHOUSE
621 Capitol Mall
Happy hour: “Bar Bites,” offering 7 items at $6 and $7, plus reduced-price beer, wine and cocktails ($5–$7.50)
Taste test: Iceberg Wedge Bites, with chunks of real bacon and delicious blue cheese dressing; Mini Crab Cake BLTs, featuring plump crab cakes on buttery slider buns (yummy); Four Petite Filet Mignon Sandwiches (marvelous meat, a bit overwhelmed by bread)
Verdict: Plentiful portions + tasty fare = one of the best bargains in town
Meal deal: For $109.99 (for two), Morton’s version of the Happy Meal features salad, single-cut filets, two seafood items (broiled scallops, shrimp Alexander or jumbo crab cake), one potato and one vegetable to share, plus dessert.*
Parting thoughts: Let’s get real: A $110 dinner for two may be a value by Morton’s standards, but it’s still pricey. While the happy hour is great, Morton’s may want to think about being more magnanimous at mealtime.
RUTH'S CHRIS STEAK HOUSE
501 Pavilions Lane
Happy hour: “Prime Hour,” offering 9 items at $3.50 each, plus reduced-price beer, wine and cocktails ($3–$7)
Taste test: The itty-bitty price sounded great until the itty-bitty items arrived, including crab cakes that were more like droppings. The mini-beef burger was just OK. Best of the bunch: tender seared filet on garlic toast with béarnaise sauce.
Verdict: Lovely, low-lit booths are good for gabbing, but the portions left us wanting.
Meal deal: For $39.99, the Ruth’s Classics special includes starter salad or soup, choice of four entrées (including 6 oz. filet and shrimp), side item (garlic mashed potatoes, creamed spinach, more) and dessert.
Parting thoughts: Clearly, the meal is the better deal here. Hostess Sarah Wais says it’s been a “huge hit” in recessionary times. She expects it to continue, but to be sure, call first.
* Morton’s $109.99 dinner for two was a limited-time offer at the time of this writing.