Is there such a thing as a discount steakhouse? Well, if you don’t count crass franchises like Outback, Sizzler, and Longhorn — not until now. A few days ago Quality Meats, a well-regarded steakhouse just south of Central Park spun off Quality Eats in Greenwich Village, with the intention of showcasing, not porterhouses, ribeyes, and New York strips, but cheaper cuts of meat at reduced prices. In doing so, it has produced some admirable food, but has succeeded in being more like a parody of a steakhouse than a straight-arrow discount establishment. This is not necessarily a bad thing.
From time immemorial, the steakhouse formula has been well-established. Its principals include a preoccupation with steak — putting the best and most expensive cuts front and center — and a paucity of apps and sides, many hilariously spare in conception. Prototype Peter Luger, for example, offers starters that include simple sliced beefsteak tomatoes, and, even more absurdly, a giant unadorned hunk of bacon. Both taste good on their own (the bacon in particular), but seem more aimed at accelerating your enjoyment of the steak that is to follow.
The sides are distinctive, too, mainly focusing on creamed spinach seasoned with a little nutmeg, and hash brown potatoes. Both are admirable, but provide so little variety, that once again the overall effect is to shine a spotlight on the steak. Right off the bat, Quality Eats violates some basic principles. Even with six offered, steaks constitute less than 20 per cent of the menu. There are as many non-steak entrees as there are steaks, and the menu also flaunts extensive sections of apps, salads, and sides, many in a creative vein.
Among apps, there’s a crazy tabbouleh ($13) that’s mainly beets and kabocha squash, with a few grains of cracked wheat and some toast fingers sticking out like a log jam in a river. Hey, it’s wonderful, but you’d more expect to find it in an innovative vegetarian restaurant. The salads are similarly superb, including endive sliced and attractively heaped up with a Thai vinaigrette. And did I mention there are also grapes, toasted pecans, and something called cambazola, which represents a whipped-up combination of cheeses? Hamachi crudo comes with cherries, and as if the place were a street fair, a tartine of Italian sausage and sauteed peppers is served.
And some of the sides are even crazier. This is where the parody element comes in. Instead of the classic creamed spinach, we’re offered creamed spinach hush puppies ($9). These bouncy fritters are lighter than helium, tasty and ugly as hell in equal measure, and served with a "roast-beef mayo" that didn’t smack much of beef, but fulfilled the purpose. Baked potato monkey bread ($6) comes in a skillet and stands in for the usual baked potato. Flavored with chives and served hot with bacon butter, it may just be the best thing on the menu. But what tongue-in-cheek perversity prevents a discount steakhouse from actually serving baked potatoes and creamed spinach?
In a similar vein, and in a sort of Peter Luger parody, QE tenders big slabs of Nueske’s bacon ($15), but instead of unadorned, it rests on a schmear of peanut butter engulfed in a syrup of minced green apples. It’s not bad, but more shocking than anything else.
And what about the steak? Of the two a friend and I tried, the very cheapest on the menu was the bavette, a comparative bargain at $19. It was served nicely charred, sliced, and pink in the middle (indeed, perfectly cooked to order). On another visit, the top sirloin (a/k/a "cuolotte," $23) was also well-cooked, but the flesh was tough as nails, with a comparatively unassertive flavor. Other steaks — which you should explore on your own — include short rib, hanger, skirt, and "Don Ameche," which is some sort of tenderloin, though why it should be named after a forgotten comic actor from Wisconsin is beyond me.
We also tried the patty melt ($17), the menu’s beefy and budget-priced steak alternative. It was served like a club sandwich, with the patty split horizontally and mounted at two levels in the sandwich. It seemed intentionally greasy, though the accompanying spicy slaw was perfect. The cocktails ($12) are wild, including one called smokin’ grass featuring Scotch and lemongrass, and another known as Adios that highlights tequila, chartreuse, and tarragon, with Scotch bonnet ice cubes that, were they allowed to melt before you knocked back the drink, would render it undrinkably hot. The wine list is well chosen, though a bit on the expensive side, with glasses of everything available in the $9 to $25 range, the former for a decent Zweigelt.
The barroom in front is the larger of the dining rooms, with a rear, more intimate space up a short flight of stairs in the back. The paneling is dark; the ceiling scribed with the geometrically arranged cords for the retro light fixtures. It’s a fun place to dine, but as far as your actual beef goes, it’s buyer beware. You could make a meal of apps and sides, however, which could be delightful. 19 Greenwich Ave, 212-337-9988