SPECIAL PROMOTIONAL: Here’s to the carnivores

Bonfyre American Grille
Bonfyre American Grille

Kathleen Davis has been executive chef of Samba Brazilian Grill for a year. She describes it as “a dream job” because she enjoys doing a little bit of everything in the kitchen and prides herself on creating great meals from scratch.

“I’ve tweaked a lot of our salad offerings, making them a bit more contemporary,” she says. “We now have a fennel cucumber salad and blood orange kale coleslaw on the buffet. I also make desserts–we offer a cheesecake of the day with flavors that depend on the season.”

A unique dining experience, Samba Brazilian Grill offers guests unlimited choices from a 40-item artisan appetizer and salad bar. With the rodizio service, gauchos bring freshly grilled meats to diners and carve portions tableside: large skewers are filled with roasted top sirloin, tenderloin tips in a house-made garlic herb marinade, and a flank steak bathed in a balsamic honey marinade with churrasco seasoning. Other meats offered include whole legs of lamb with fresh red pepper salsa and herbs, garlic chicken legs, linguica Portuguese sausage and parmesan pork loin. There is also one sweet skewer that holds chunks of freshly grilled pineapple dusted with cinnamon and sugar. “That’s everyone’s favorite,” says Davis.

Diners who would like additional servings need only set a green wooden pillar atop their tables. When diners have had enough, they switch the pillar to red so they can enjoy their meal uninterrupted. “Marinades, salads, sweets, I like to make it all,” she says. “Whatever makes the customer happy and puts a smile [on] their face, that’s what I want to give them.” Diners visiting Johnny’s Italian Steakhouse in Middleton’s Greenway Station will find the old-fashioned feel of a supper club with modern amenities and service–a high-end experience but without the high-end prices. Brand Manager Anne Coffman says, “As the name implies, the restaurant specializes in aged steak–in sizes to fit any appetite.”

Certified Angus Beef is featured throughout the menu. The signature dish is Johnny’s Steak DeBurgo, which features beef tenderloin medallions served in a roasted garlic, basil and oregano cream sauce. “But don’t let the steakhouse title fool you,” says Coffman. “We have popular menu items in many categories, including seafood and Italian dishes.” The cedar planked salmon, she says, is a real crowd pleaser. Johnny’s is also known for its martinis and hand-crafted cocktails. And, if diners save room for dessert, Coffman recommends Limoncello cake or one of their house-made desserts.

The restaurant’s concept began in Des Moines, Iowa, and currently has 12 locations from Texas to Michigan. Later this summer there will be a new location in Sun Prairie at the Hilton Garden Inn. “For lunch, dinner or brunch, it’s a great place to celebrate an occasion or go out with the family. The vibe is casual for our guests–come dressed in whatever you are comfortable wearing, then sit back and relax. Our staff will take great care of you. We’re very proud of our service and attention to detail,” Coffman says

Marketing Director Ashley McGrail describes Bonfyre American Grille as a locally owned and operated contemporary American restaurant. “We make sure a night at Bonfyre is more than just a meal. From beginning to end we provide our guests with exceptional value and quality,” she says. “That means an excellent cut of beef, a great portion, great sides to complement it, all for a great price. And we accompany our dishes with the perfect hand-crafted cocktails, comfortable ambiance, and excellent service as well.”

To ensure juicy, tender and delicious steaks every time, the beef is hand-cut in-house with precision. Then it’s 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. “Our staff is specially trained how to get the best flavors from our wood-fired grill. It’s really an art,” says McGrail.

In order to keep the menu fresh while still offering a classic steakhouse experience, Bonfyre chefs change some offerings seasonally. “We are always looking to keep our pulse on trends, while also keeping the highest standards of quality,” McGrail says. One new menu item that’s very popular with lunch crowds is Bonfyre’s poke bowl. The traditional Hawaiian dish features raw Ahi tuna or cooked shrimp in poke sauce, combined with red onions, cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, avocado, crushed peanuts, sesame seeds, spicy aioli and baby kale sprouts. It’s served with sushi rice, white rice, brown rice or spring mix. “It’s really refreshing this time of year,” McGrail says.

Lee Drapp has been general manager of Ruth’s Chris Steak House in Middleton since the restaurant opened more than 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.

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 menu features a variety of mixed drinks and casual food. “As the weather gets warmer, our new patio will also be open for dining,” he says. “And Fridays from 6 until 9 p.m. we’ll have live music out there.”

The new addition in front features a gas fire pit, high top tables and a mix of other casual seating options. Diners can access the patio from Coach’s Lounge, which houses a collection of Badgers football memorabilia, including trophies, autographed pictures and Rose Bowl rings from Barry Alvarez, who is a partner in this location.

“We have the best of both worlds in our lounge,” says Drapp. “Our state-of-the-art new indoor and outdoor folding glass windows actually combine the lounge with the patio. Ruth’s Chris Steak House is a wonderful experience–we hope to see everyone soon.”

Dave Gathy is owner and head butcher at Conscious Carnivore, a whole-animal butcher shop, where customers can find meat that is locally sourced, healthy and handled with respect.

With local animal sourcing and high quality butchering and packaging on-site, Conscious Carnivore offers organically raised, grass-fed meats from a small group of Wisconsin farmers.

“Our prices are very competitive,” says Gathy, “because we buy whole animals from local farms. We pay our farmers a premium to raise their lambs, beef cattle, goats, pork and poultry sustainably, keeping them out of feedlots. Our customers can feel good about their purchases because they know that the animals were treated well. And at the end of the day, the meat is higher quality because of it.”

After working at a local market when he was in high school, Gathy was formally trained in meat-cutting in Chicago. He has been operating his butcher shop on University Avenue in Madison for almost five years, building up a clientele among local restaurants, foodies and consumers who really care about the provenance of their meat.

Gathy says he is partial to the 40-day, dry-aged beef that the shop processes in-house. “Dry aging breaks down the muscle fibers of the beef so it’s more juicy and tender when it’s cooked,” he says. Conscious Carnivore dry-ages beef cuts from ribeyes, as well as New York strips, T-bones and porterhouses, and ground chuck for burgers. “It makes a huge difference,” he says.

General Manager Adrienne Shriver says steak is definitely the specialty of Food Fight restaurant Johnny Delmonico’s. “We serve Certified Angus Beef, which is known for consistent quality flavor, tenderness and perfect marbling. We also offer a nice selection of other chops and seafood dishes,” she says.

“Our steaks are grilled at 1200° and finished with Wisconsin butter and demiglace,” Shriver says. “Because so many people have a go-to steak cut, it’s hard to say which is the most popular. Personally, I love the 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 says. “Whether it’s explaining the different benefits of both wet- and dry-aged steaks, recommending the perfect wine, describing options for preparation, or simply helping to celebrate a big milestone in their lives, service makes the meal.”

Recently Johnny Delmonico’s began participating in the Maker’s Mark Private Select Program. “Members of our team traveled to Kentucky to craft our own signature barrel of bourbon,” says Shriver. “Now our customers can join the bottle club program and have their own exclusive bottle at the restaurant to enjoy whenever they stop in.”