Those of you who think steakhouses are already overpriced should just leave now because look what a hunk of meat will cost you at Marcel, the Westside steakhouse Ford Fry opened on Monday. A 30 oz porterhouse for two goes for $142. Sides not included. The 8 oz filet is $44.95 and a 16 oz New York Strip is $72.95. Here’s how those prices compare to other grills around town.
Subversive Steakhouse Tactics?
Marcel outprices every steakhouse listed above by the ounce for all three cuts. The price discrepancy is most apparent with the porterhouse (Marcel charges $2.76 more per ounce compared to Ocean Prime, which charges the least per ounce at $1.94). The price discrepancy is smallest with a filet mignon (Marcel charges $1.40 more per ounce compared to Viande Rouge, which charges the least per ounce at $4.20).
What’s the deal? I called Fry, who said that the subject has been on his mind for the last few months. He agreed that he was probably the most expensive steakhouse in Atlanta, and, as one might expect, he touted a desire to serve the best quality meat with the tastiest sides and appropriately priced drinks (steakhouses often bat in the $15 range for cocktails—Marcel ranges from $8 to $12). And then he went on. “I tried to look up this philosophy on [steakhouse] pricing. Nobody talks about it. It seems to be a big secret, possibly with some shyster elements,” he said.
Without naming any restaurants, Fry listed off a few tactics that, he says, many steakhouses use to cushion their margins. “What I learned from other chefs and people who sell meat is that some steakhouses buy at the low end of USDA Prime just so they can get their prices in line,” he said. He zeroed in on a restaurant that has “been around forever” and buys “commodity prime beef,” referring to steers that have been raised on very large scales, often inhumanely and injected with growth hormones. “When beef prices start to spike, they buy a ton and throw it in the freezer. That [information] came directly from the person who sold them their meat. We don’t have enough room [in the kitchen] to do that nor would we do that,” he said.
After testing basic USDA Prime meat as well as prime cuts from Creekstone Farms, Allen Brothers, and Meats By Linz, Fry said his team was most impressed with the quality, consistency, and trimming from Chicago-based Meats by Linz, which sends Marcel beef that’s been dry or wet aged for a minimum of 30 days. He’s paying for that quality, too. Fry said his food cost, which is how much he pays to buy and prepare ingredients, hovers around 45 percent, sometimes hitting even 48, just for the steak. For perspective, St. Cecilia, JCT. Kitchen, and No. 246 run at 32 percent, 28 percent, and about 31 percent, respectively. In plain English: Fry is saying that he’s making less money per plate at Marcel than at his other restaurants. “A lot of people don’t understand the costs that go into a restaurant,” he said. “There’s rent, labor, linen, bread service, and other elements that enhance the experience.”
So, is a steak dinner at Marcel worth it? Is the quality apparent, the technique convincing, and the experience complete? How’s that side of creamed corn gratin? Can you tell it’s topped with Thomasville Tomme cheese? Can you tell the steak was first flipped on a wood-burning grill and then finished in a cast-iron pan filled with knobs of butter and thyme? These are questions we’ll all have to figure out for ourselves in the weeks and months to come.
Chart Notes: Not every restaurant served the same size porterhouse, filet, or New York strip as Marcel. For purposes of clarity, I went with the closest equivalent that would feed the same number of mouths.