Shane Allen, general manager and executive chef of Samba Brazilian Grill, began cooking when he was only 13 years old. “It’s the only job I’ve ever had; I love it,” he says. “I worked as head chef in kitchens all over the city before I knew I wanted a restaurant of my own.”
Samba Brazilian Grill offers unique, two-course South American-style dining, featuring unlimited choices from a 40-item artisan appetizer and salad bar and the rodizio service of gaucho servers bringing freshly grilled meats to diners and carving portions tableside. Large skewers are filled with roasted New York strip, rib eye, tenderloin and flank steaks, each prepared with different seasonings and marinades. Other meats on offer include whole legs of lamb, chicken legs, linguica Portuguese sausage, pork Parmesan loin, and bacon-wrapped turkey. There is also one sweet skewer that holds chunks of freshly grilled pineapple dusted with cinnamon and sugar.
According to Brazilian tradition, diners who would like to be served more meat set a green wooden pillar on their table within the gauchos’ view. When diners have had enough, they switch the pillar to red so they can enjoy their meal uninterrupted.
When Allen took over as general manager, he made sure to stay true to many Brazilian recipes. “We make a traditional meat and black bean stew called feijoada, and also offer a gluten-free version of the cheese bread pao de queijo. For dessert, we make a Brazilian flan, bolo de brigadeiro (a rich chocolate cake) and truffles.” Other items on the salad bar cater more to Wisconsin tastes, including potato and pasta salads.
“I think Samba Brazilian Grill is ideal for patrons who really enjoy finely cooked meats. That said, we also have many items that other diners can enjoy. The buffet includes dishes that are gluten-free, nut-free and soy-free, and we have enough vegetable options that vegetarians are also at home here,” Allen explains.
Lee Drapp has been the general manager for Ruth’s Chris Steak House in Middleton since the restaurant opened 10 years ago. A nationally acclaimed brand in a location that is locally owned, Ruth’s Chris specializes in steaks and chops of every cut and size, served with New Orleans-inspired side dishes that pay homage to the original restaurant in the Big Easy run by Ruth Fertel.
“We serve the best steak that money can buy and promise to give our guests an exceptional experience,” says Drapp. “That’s our culture. We place a premium on service and hospitality. Our restaurant serves sophisticated food in a casual environment, making it a great place for everything from a nice night out with the family, to special occasions, to business lunches, to after-work gatherings at happy hour.”
All the beef at Ruth’s Chris is USDA prime, sourced from Midwestern farms. Seasoned with salt and pepper, finished with a pat of butter and served on a 500° plate, the steaks sizzle when they are presented to diners. According to Drapp, the bone-in cuts such as the cowboy ribeye, filet, and T-bone steaks are the most popular items. Ruth herself favors the bone-in New York Strip.
Classic supper club dishes such as the wedge salad, creamed spinach, and potatoes au gratin are available to complement a hearty steak dinner. Other items, such as the white chocolate bread pudding, barbecued shrimp, and sweet-potato casserole reflect the restaurant’s southern roots. And, to please Wisconsin diners, Drapp has added an almond crusted walleye with a lemon beurre blanc sauce to the menu, adding a local favorite to the many crab, shrimp, and lobster offerings.
While Drapp would certainly encourage Madison steak lovers to join him for dinner at Ruth’s Chris, he’s also enthusiastic about the restaurant’s happy hour, from 4-7 p.m. daily. The $9 sizzle, swizzle & swirl happy hour menu features a variety of mixed drinks and casual food. As the weather gets warmer, the patio will also be open for dining.
General Manager Adrienne Shriver says steak is definitely a specialty of Food Fight restaurant Johnny Delmonico’s. “We serve Certified Angus Beef, which is known for consistent quality flavor, tenderness and perfect marbling,” she says. “We also offer a nice selection of other chops and seafood dishes. Our steaks are grilled at 1200° and finished with Wisconsin butter. “Because so many people have a go-to steak cut, it’s hard to say which is the most popular. Personally, I love both the veal porterhouse and the tomahawk bone-in ribeye.”
When Madison diners come into Johnny Delmonico’s, Shriver believes they are looking for that perfect cut, cooked just the way they like it. “However, I believe they are also looking for amazing service,” she adds. “Whether it’s explaining the different benefits of both wet and dry aged steaks, describing options for preparation, or simply helping to celebrate a big milestone in your life, service makes the meal.”
Shriver says it’s worth coming back to Johnny Delmonico’s frequently, since every month the restaurant runs a special “CAB and SLAB” entrée highlighting a high-end Cabernet by the glass and a steak not on the regular menu. “We are able to feature a unique grass-fed steak, Kobe or Wagyu, allowing guests to try something new. Often it is cut and aged specifically for Johnny Delmonico’s. This is always paired with a big bold Cabernet that we can offer by the glass, thanks to our Coravin wine system. I think it is a really fun way to splurge on something special, without committing to a full bottle,” she says. In addition, Shriver hints that extended hours and a late-night menu will be coming soon.Jack Sosnowski
has very high standards when it comes to the steaks he serves at his fine dining restaurant Rare Steakhouse, on Capitol Square in Madison. “First of all, we use all prime beef,” he says. “To be labeled prime, the quality of the meat has to be in the top two percent available in the United States, so that’s a pretty high bar. Then we take it one step further. We butcher on site, then we dry age the beef in-house —from 25 to 35 days. During the dry aging process, the meat’s natural enzymes break down and tenderize the beef. The result is a tender product, with a slightly nutty flavor. It’s the Old-World way of doing it and it’s the best way. We have a lot of pride in what we do, what we put on the plate.”
Sosnowski says that many of his patrons are surprised by the difference dry aging can make in the taste of their favorite cuts of beef. “Most of us are used to eating vacuum-packed meat, but this flavor is so much better,” he says. “Of course, part of that is starting with a great product. We only work with a third-generation meat purveyor out of Chicago called Whittingham Meats. We know exactly where the beef is coming from, and that’s the northern Midwest. These are grass-fed, corn-finished, grazing animals that have been raised in a great environment. All that care really impacts the quality and, frankly, you can taste it.”
As the owner of Rare Steakhouse and president of Noble Chef Hospitality, Sosnowski is extremely busy these days. “We opened a Milwaukee location of Rare Steakhouse last June and we’re actually opening one in Washington D.C. in September,” he says. “We’re very excited to come to our nation’s capital.”
So, what is Sosnowski’s favorite dish at Rare Steakhouse? “It’s called Jack’s Kansas City Strip—it’s 18 ounces, bone in. I put my name on it I like it so much. That’s a great cut of beef,” he says.
Marketing Director Ashley McGrail describes Bonfyre American Grille as a locally owned and operated contemporary American restaurant. “We like to take comfort food—dishes you might be familiar with—and add our own twist to them,” she says..
To ensure juicy, tender and delicious steaks every time, the restaurant procures all its meat from Niman Ranch, a network of small, independent family farmers and ranchers who raise livestock traditionally, humanely and sustainably. The beef is hand-cut in house with precision. then cooked to order on the wood-fired grill, which uses a combination of three different types of wood to flavor the steaks with slightly different smoky notes. McGrail says, “There is a certain art to cooking on a wood-fired grill. Our kitchen staff is specially trained to coax out the most flavor by grilling over the open flames.” She says the expert preparation takes the taste of the food “to the next level.”
The Seafood Trio dish also utilizes the restaurant’s signature wood-fired grill. Fresh salmon, scallops, and shrimp are quickly seared, then paired with Swiss chard, lemon caper sauce, and spring risotto. “The unique combination of flavors makes this dish one of the top-selling items on the dinner menu,” says McGrail.
“Another very popular item with diners is our barbecued ribs. The pork ribs are marinated for 24 hours and then slathered with our homemade barbecue sauce and grilled to perfection,” she says. “As a result, they’re fall-off-the-bone tender and delicious. Customers tell us constantly that they are the best ribs they’ve ever had.”
When Madison diners order a steak at Bonfyre American Grille, McGrail believes they are looking for value most of all. “That means a really excellent cut of beef, a great portion, great sides to complement it, all for a great price,” she says. “We believe our guests are there to experience more than just a meal, so we accompany our dishes with the perfect hand-crafted cocktails, comfortable ambiance, and excellent service as well.”
Delaney’s Steak, Seafood & Wine has been a fixture on the supper club scene in Madison since 1973. Founded by Jim Delaney, it is now co-owned by his three sons; Jim, Dan and Matthew. While Jim handles financial matters and marketing for the restaurant, Dan serves as the general manager.
Dan describes Delaney’s as “the look and feel of a traditional supper club combined with elements of fine dining and contemporary steakhouses.” Determined to change with the times, the restaurant has an updated bar, and a remodeled party room and patio area. It also features historic photos throughout the dining area of Madison alongside modern photos of Monona Terrace and the Capitol building. “We want to acknowledge our history, our deep roots in this community,” Dan says, “but also appeal to younger patrons. We want to be relevant and relatable to the widest variety of diners.”
Traditions that Dan upholds include the restaurant’s signature thin-cut onion rings and wonderful steaks. “Our steaks are all wet- and dry-aged,” Dan says. “That lets the steak’s natural enzymes break the muscle down and develop a deeper flavor.”
In addition to prime rib, New York strip, filet mignon, T-bones and ribeye steaks, Delaney’s also serves excellent seafood, sourced from Empire Fish Company in Wauwatosa. “We always feature a fish special and there’s other seafood on the menu,” Dan says. “My favorite is our pan-fried walleye. When you’re a supper club and steak house, you’ve got to have a good walleye on the menu.” Another seafood dish that Dan refers to as “an event” is the appetizer called Seafood Up. An array of chilled king crab, scallops, shrimp, mussels and calamari is served with dipping sauces in an oversized martini glass. “It’s a wonderful dish to share with the whole table,” he says.
Delaney’s also offers wine dinners quarterly that feature one winery’s vintages paired with a special menu to accent the wine. Information about upcoming wine dinners can be found on the restaurant’s Facebook page. “These are great evenings that allow us to showcase the talent of our chef with some great dishes that are not normally on the menu,” Dan says.•