I knew my dogs would be eating more of my steak than I would the moment it was placed on the table. The flabby flank of beef – a weighty porterhouse – was as pale as the platter it was served upon. Absent was any measure of char that would bear witness that the meat came anywhere near an open flame. Lacking any satisfying crust, any still-sizzling blisters of fat, any salt-rubbed-and-torched flesh, what was the point of eating it?
Cutting into the meat provided little consolation; though cooked to medium-rare, the beef tasted as pale as it looked. Zero intramuscular fat coupled with a nonexistent char resulted in a steak about as flavorful as deli-counter roast beef. I almost felt bad for the cow.
But Ferris Steak House – despite surviving (thriving even!) for 70 years – has never served a great steak. My first meal at Ferris almost a decade ago, when the longstanding eatery was still on Detroit Avenue, was equally disappointing. And a short-lived downtown outpost in the early oughts supports the claim that when held up against other chophouses, this one pales in comparison.
After seven decades in business, Ferris closed a couple years back to relocate to a "better neighborhood." But when it did that, it forfeited one of the few things it had going for it: personality. Generations of diners put up with mediocre meat to relish in the saloon-style hideaway that was a throwback to another era. On weekends, you'd be hard-pressed to get a seat – and when you did, you'd be so engrossed by the magic stylings of Tommy "88" Stanton on the piano that you wouldn't notice that your steak was more than a few rungs below USDA Prime.
These days, Ferris is parked in sleepy Rocky River, in a reworked space that for years was home to O'Malley's Rockcliff. Now, instead of Rat Pack ambiance, diners are treated to a barrage of flat-screen televisions – even those seated in the dining room. Somebody thought it was a neat idea to install a double-sided bank of oversized TVs between the bar and dining room, endowing this steakhouse with all the charm of a sportsbar.
There are other odd touches here that shatter the impression of fine-dining. Placemats are in fact narrow strips of that sticky, nubby shelf liner. "That keeps the plate from sliding across the glass table when you are cutting it," our genial server explains. It worked, but it just transferred the motion to our wobbly table, which shifted so much with every slice that our drinks overtook their rims. Tabletop salt and pepper comes in the form of plastic-topped McCormick Grinders. And instead of a gently rounded butter knife, diners are compelled to mutilate their dinner rolls with a jagged-edged steak knife.
So, what's good here? The shrimp cocktail ($9) is fine, with five medium-size specimens perched on the edge of a cocktail sauce-filled vessel. The Wedge salad ($6) would have been much, much better had the kitchen not showered it with a sticky-sweet balsamic reduction, which wasn't even listed in the menu description. And what we thought were crunchy white radish cubes in the salad turned out, upon closer inspection, to be diced tomatoes. Apart from dangerously high levels of sodium, we had few complaints with the French onion soup ($6), an agreeable melted cheese-topped crock of oniony beef broth.
At $35, the Black and Bleu filet is the priciest steak on the menu, apart from the surf and turf options. It also proved tastier than the porterhouse ($34), owing largely to its bacon-wrapper and blue cheese topper. In an attempt to improve both steaks, we tacked on an order of Béarnaise ($3). It arrived cold, thick and overtly tart. The server, who gladly removed the fee from our tab, explained that the kitchen keeps it cool to prevent the sauce from breaking.
Going out for a thick, juicy steak is one of the most celebratory meals a diner can hope to have. When plunking down $35 for an entrée and $130 or more for a meal, that steak should be as close to perfect as possible. If it isn't, maybe it's time to find another restaurant or fire up the charcoal barbecue.
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