Forget the resurgence of Southern cooking, the bounty of global flavors on Buford Highway, and the rhapsody over locally grown heirloom vegetables. After consuming 336 ounces (that’s twenty-one pounds—oh, my aching arteries) of ribeye, New York strip, and filet mignon in packed dining rooms over six weeks, I’m convinced that what Atlanta restaurantgoers really love most is steak. Our state may be known for poultry farming and barbecue pork sandwiches, but our city thrives on ambition, and beef epitomizes power and money. Little surprise that Buckhead shelters the metro area’s highest concentration of chophouses.
The appeal reaches beyond the meat: The steakhouse meal is an American ritual meant for impressing, for deal brokering, for celebrating. We pay dearly for chilled seafood and chopped salads, potatoes and spinach alongside our medium-rare hunks of glory, dirty martinis and bottles of Napa Cab, and ridiculously oversized wedges of cheesecake. Gruff servers are part of chophouse tradition in New York and Chicago. Here, however, we expect Southern hospitality, and local steakhouses that don’t know how to make their guests feel pampered usually don’t last. Remarkably, only one steakhouse, a Buckhead outpost of Morton’s, closed during the recent economic downturn—a testament to Atlanta’s love for the genre.
And our cow palaces don’t need to cleave to convention to succeed. Laudable variations weave French, Italian, and Argentinean flavors into the basic steakhouse template. My five favorites from this beef-athon (the rest are presented alphabetically) embrace both enduring classics and newcomers that flaunt cheffy creativity.
For the record, I excluded ubiquitous chains like Outback and LongHorn from my search, but did visit higher-end chains. Yes, that includes Ruth’s Chris Steak House, notably absent from the list: I tried enjoyable steaks at both the Downtown and Sandy Springs locations, but so much of the rest of the food (mealy crabmeat, limp salads, bland sides) missed the mark. I also didn’t venture into Brazilian-style churrascarias like Fogo de Chão; it’s a different experience entirely.
But I found plenty to savor. And as the temperatures outside finally begin to drop, the lust for beef rises. Now’s the time to treat yourself to a quintessential Atlanta dining experience in one of our finest steakhouses. —Bill Addison