The Dollar-Wise Gourmet: For Steakhouses, a New Normal?


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.   


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)

: 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.


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.