The steaks are the “stars of the show” at The Hemingway and for good reason
You have to search a bit to find the steaks on the Hemingway menu.
Those expecting a wide range of different cuts of beef might be a bit surprised that, as was the case on a recent visit, only three options are listed under ‘Steak’.
A fourth choice, the Bistro Classic Steak Frites, is included in the “Appetizers” listings, while a fifth, a 36 oz. tomahawk rib eye, was on a card inserted into the menu which would list the evening specials, if available.
That’s the kind of upheaval in expectations Chef Trevor Tack wants to achieve with this new concept, which occupies the basement of the mixed-use building at 1515 E. 15th St.
“The steaks are definitely the star of the show,” Tack said. “It’s not like we’re trying to hide them or anything.
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“But there’s also a proven program that almost every type of steakhouse follows,” he said. “It’s ‘Here’s your big glass of Cabernet (like in Cabernet Sauvignon), here’s your big piece of meat, and here’s to not seeing you again for six months.’ I don’t want it to be a place where people only come for special occasions. We want this to be a place you want to come back to often, because it’s something more than just a place to eat the steak.
As for these steaks, they are rated as USDA Prime or higher and are aged to Tack’s specifications. Currently, Creekstone Farms, which supplies the beef served at The Hemingway, does the aging, though Tack said a special aging room is being completed.
“By mid-November, we’ll be doing all the aging at home,” he said.
And while steaks can be the “stars of the show,” they visually share the limelight with everything from appetizers, soups and salads, entrees and side dishes. Many of the items in these categories resemble the kind of stuff found next to steaks at any other chop house, including sautéed mushrooms, seafood bisque, obligatory wedge salad, creamed spinach.
But each of these seemingly familiar dishes suffered unexpected twists. The spinach cream, for example, is finished with Pernod aniseed liqueur, while the bisque has a broth that is both marine and surprisingly light.
Even the steak cuts themselves are a little out of the ordinary. Most steakhouses offer a 6 oz. portion for their little filet mignon. The Hemingway has a 4 oz. portion like its smaller tenderloin, which Tack says is one of the most popular items on the menu.
“So many places serve these huge cups,” he said. “I think people see that we’re offering a 4oz tenderloin and realize that they can enjoy a great steak and still have enough appetite to try other dishes as well.”
We recently met close friends for dinner at the Hemingway; it was a start of the week evening, but reservations are strongly recommended, whatever the time or day.
It’s an intimate space, with six four-top tables in the center of the room, banquettes around the perimeter that can accommodate between two and six diners. The restaurant bar has two two-seater tables with high-backed chairs as well as half a dozen bar stools.
The restaurant, designed by Tack and owner Brett Rehorn of Watershed Hospitality, features dark woods, inlaid tile floors, glass cabinets holding wine bottles, glass and silver accents and dazzling chandeliers, made from crystals that Tack said predates World War II, made by The House of Tulsa. Its underground location and modest entrance on the north side of the building might give the place a certain “speakeasy” vibe, but once you walk in, it feels like somewhere you’d want to spend a lot. of time.
Our party of four started with a few entrees, both recommended by our attentive and efficient server Kenny: the lamb lollipops ($25), glazed in soy sauce, topped with a peanut chimichurri sauce which added a surprising twist. sweet, served with Vietnamese-style chilli pickles; and the “Diables à cheval” ($18), tender prunes simmered in cognac and stuffed with form of ambert cheese and wrapped in bacon. It literally melted in your mouth.
Three of us then opted for “French Onion” ($15), which is Tack’s deconstruction and reconstruction of the classic soup. A big frico of crispy parmesan rests on a small piece of baguette topped with Gruyère cheese; the waiters then pour in a surprisingly light veal broth which, according to Tack, takes two days to prepare. A single section of shallot, slowly cooked until it looks like jam, is the only “onion” in the dish.
The components were all impressive – so many French onion soups are overloaded with salt and this broth was remarkably rich without relying on salt. Still, it was hard to fit it all into a single spoonful, especially since the piece of baguette had an impressively tough crust. Yet none of us left anything behind.
Conversely, the person who ordered the Crab and Lobster Billi Bi ($23) loved everything, and when I tasted the broth, I understood why. It had none of the creamy, lingual qualities of some seafood bisques, but that lightness allowed the flavors of lobster and crab to shine through.
For our starters, we opted for the Braised Beef Pot-au-Feu ($35) made with short ribs and vegetables in a horseradish veal broth; fresh salmon ($36) and two steaks: the 4 oz. Filet ($36) and the Bone-in New York Strip ($59).
Among the sides, we chose the Hasselback Potato Gratin ($15), Pernod Creamed Spinach ($12), Charred Asparagus ($13), and Sweet Corn Gratin ($11).
The substantial piece of boneless short rib in the Pot-au-Feu was so tender you wondered how it held its shape on its journey to the table, and the seasonings were reminiscent of beef stew elevated to the nth degree. The salmon was perfect, soft, tender, with really crispy skin.
New York Strip isn’t my favorite order for steak, but it might just be cooked just as well. Or rather, this bleeding medium. The tenderloin was medium rare, but the one my mate was served first was badly overcooked. It was washed away and a second steak was on the table within minutes. This was declared perfectly cooked.
All steaks come with a bulb of roasted garlic which one can use to add a touch of richness to their steak, as well as a sprig of rosemary which adds a resinous flavor to the plate.
As an accompaniment, tender and fragrant spinach, cooked with a minimum of cream that the Pernod slices gently; and the asparagus, augmented with a gochujang miso butter, was the table’s favorite, followed by the corn gratin loaded with jalapeno and cheese. The potatoes in the Hasselback gratin were a little undercooked for everyone’s taste.
The Hemingway has a full bar and wine list, both overseen by Scott Phillips. “We ate all the dishes together to compose our wine list. It may be a little left of center, but it’s still accessible. We just wanted to make sure every detail of this place was well thought out.”
Carla Cousins is the restaurant’s head chef, whom Tack credits as being “his right hand” in the kitchen.
Tack said the reason for naming the restaurant The Hemingway was because “he was a great American storyteller, and we want to tell stories through our food.”
“Maya Angelou once said that ‘people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel,'” he said. “Everything about this place is designed to make people feel good.”