The innovative barn-based steak house challenges expectations

It's a tad jarring to see a 160-year-old Pennsylvania Dutch barn emblazoned with a racy red neon sign that reads "STRIP," positioned just south of the traditional hex emblem. Had this structure appeared on a roadside it would be logical to assume that its main attraction was babes rather than beef.

The curveballs don't stop there. To enter the restaurant, diners push through a pair of etched-glass doors embossed with flame decals that would look at home on the side of a pimped-out Honda. From the building and décor to the menu and food, little about Strip conforms to our notions of a traditional steakhouse. And the tactic seems to be working; just two months in, this unconventional restaurant is seducing fans at a fast clip. Once the final few kinks are ironed out, Strip can look forward to a long and fruitful future.

Barns used to be a common sight in Avon, but most have been razed for development. With Olde Avon Village, Ron Larson has created a historic-building sanctuary of sorts, where old structures find new purposes. When Birds of a Feather, a craft shop, moved out of its 1850s farmhouse barn, Larson decided to open a restaurant, encouraged, no doubt, by the success of one of his tenants, Henry's at the Barn.

Rather than play up the Victorian-era nature of the structure, Larson decided to run in the opposite direction. "I want to smash diners' preconceptions about eating in an old barn," he says. While I admit to having modest barn-dining experience, I'm pretty sure it would be nothing like this.

The first floor is devoted almost entirely to the lively lounge, where guests enjoy an open kitchen from nearby high tops, sofas and stools. A mod white bar top runs the width of the room, curving at one point to become the kitchen pass. There are only a handful of conventional tables downstairs, so it's imperative that folks who can't climb stairs (no elevator here) say so when making a reservation. A short trip upstairs moves diners to a voluminous second-floor loft, capped by a soaring cathedral ceiling. Broad wood flooring, knotty-pine siding and post-and-beam framing contrast with contemporary fixtures and minimalist design.

At a glance, the appetizer portion of the menu appears to come from an entirely different restaurant. Where are steakhouse chestnuts like oysters Rockefeller, shrimp cocktail and lump crab cakes? Instead, diners select from curiosities like fried-egg pizza, Puerto Rican-style mofongo and something called Silver Grille ham loaf. My money is on the Short Stack ($14), one of the tastiest starters I've had of late. This stack is comprised of three fluffy cornmeal cakes held together with cheesy crab filling. Instead of syrup, diners drag the cakes through fragrant lobster sauce. For an extravagant treat, try the aptly named Temptation ($16), crispy panko-fried filets of Maine lobster tail served with melted butter. Though they possess pleasant spice, our sausage-stuffed peppers ($10) are loose, greasy and oddly textured.

Regardless of what else finds its way onto the menu, a steakhouse needs to have great steaks. Larson settled on nothing short of the best, serving only USDA prime-graded cuts. Choices run from a petite six-ounce filet ($24) to the cowboy-approved 24-ounce porterhouse ($39). Our Stripper ($26), a 12-ounce strip, arrives perfectly trimmed and textbook mid-rare. And it tastes fantastic. Other chops include a positively dreamy, meaty bone-in veal chop ($26), which is served, interestingly enough, with a soft-cooked egg galette. Lamb-chop fans will dig the Mary ($26), a pair of thick, juicy, but rather fatty, double chops. Other entrées include applewood-smoked chicken ($18) and an enjoyable horseradish-crusted grouper ($24).

Steaks are served à la carte but do include a choice of a sauce or compound butter. This detail isn't explained upfront by our server (and there's only the tiniest mention of it on the menu). While no big deal, failing to do so forces diners to make a snap decision. The béarnaise is killer, but the caramelized shallot sauce tastes like salty onion soup. There are a dozen choices overall.

Diners can and should augment their meal with one of 10 share-size sides. A warm and smoky five-bean salad ($7) summons thoughts of summer baked beans, and an airy corn-broccoli casserole ($7) tastes much, much better than it sounds. More like corn kernels in cream, the creamed corn ($7) could use some work.

Casual wine drinkers will appreciate the affordable by-the-glass and bottle options, with many priced south of $6 and $30 respectively. Serious drinkers, though, might like to see vintages next to their vanity bottles of cabernet.

Diners looking for a great steak in an extraordinary setting should set their sights on Strip.

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