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Great places to find prime cuts
A quality cut of steak was once a dish saved for royalty and special occasions. Today, Madison’s restaurants and butcher shops make a marbled, flavorful steak available to all who are willing to enjoy. Indulgers can savor a tri-tip on the grill, a wood-fired prime cut or martinis and tenderloin on the patio.
A Rare find
Since 2014, Rare Steakhouse has been a staple of fine dining on Madison’s beloved Capitol Square. Rare remains the only steakhouse in Madison to serve prime steaks that are dry-aged in-house, and it has one of the most extensive wine lists in the city. The team is working daily to improve its menu, craft cocktails and service, and Rare has cultivated an experience unlike any other.
“The moment you step inside Rare, you will know you have entered a classic steakhouse,” Rare Steakhouse owner Mark Burish says. “Every cut is hand-selected and custom dry-aged with our seasonings, ensuring the most tender and flavorful steak.”
These flavorful steaks are not necessarily a delicacy you can get elsewhere. The capital cut and rib cap, which capture tenderness and flavor, are unique to Rare, along with its Kobe beef and other signature cuts.
Before diving into a juicy steak, tempt your taste buds with Rare’s famous lobster bisque (which food critics love), some Maryland-style crabcakes or a delicious shrimp cocktail. If seafood isn’t your favorite, you can channel your inner Wisconsinite with a decadent Wisconsin cheese platter.
“Whether you are looking for an elegant night out or a simple escape from the daily grind, we have you covered. All are welcome; we don’t discriminate,” Burish says. “That is unless you order your steak well done. Just kidding … we may still serve you.”
After enjoying a melt-in-your-mouth steak and wine or a specialty cocktail, you may want to try the bananas Foster, says Burish. It’s a dessert that sends ripples of excitement across the dining room each time it’s brought to a customer. Nearby patrons can’t help but order one of their own, and soon, you can order one too.
“We can’t wait to see our customers enjoying the fruits of our labor again,” Burish says. “It has been hard on everyone, and we can’t wait to hear the clinking of glasses and forks in the dining room and bar.”
Hungry for quality
The best steak to eat is a steak that doesn’t eat at your conscience.
Conscious Carnivore has a selection of more than 15 cuts of locally sourced, high-quality steak, including 40-day dry-aged beef cuts, rib-eyes, porterhouse steaks, tri-tips and tenderloins.
Dave Gathy, the head butcher and co-owner of the whole-animal butcher shop, started off helping out his friend’s father in high school. He now runs the successful retail outlet of the first humane-certified meat processor in the area.
A humane certification guarantees the animal was kept out of feedlots, cages or crates and was fed a diet of quality feed, without animal byproducts, antibiotics or growth hormones.
Gathy says this treatment ensures the quality and taste of the steak at Conscious Carnivore, which opened on University Avenue in 2013.
“Every cut of roast or steak comes from a muscle,” Gathy said. “When the animal is actually outside exercising those muscles, it makes for a better-quality product — unlike when they are confined and unable to move freely, which makes for a flimsy, floppy product.”
As summer rolls in, Gathy prefers the tri-tip steak for at-home grilling. It’s a cut that comes from the back end and lies on top of the sirloin. Gathy says it is a very popular steak on the West Coast and is only starting to gain recognition in the Midwest.
“It is a marbled, juicy steak that is very versatile,” Gathy says.
Conscious carnivores are vigilant about what goes into their bodies, Gathy says. There is a right way and a wrong way to eat meat, and even though the butcher shop is his livelihood, he says eating less meat is encouraged.
“Eat less, but eat quality,” he says.
Gathy is hyper aware of what products he puts in his butcher shop, and as a business owner he’s also aware of the impact he can have on the community. For 10 weeks Conscious Carnivore is partnering with local restaurants to produce a specialty sausage; 100% of proceeds from the sausages will be donated to the featured restaurant. In just two days, Conscious Carnivore donated more than $900 to a single restaurant. The team plans to donate more than $15,000 over the summer.
Succulent steaks on the patio
Lee Drapp, general manager of Ruth’s Chris Steak House in Middleton, has a guarantee for his customers: “There’s something for everyone here.”
Drapp has been with Ruth’s Chris since before it opened here 13 years ago. He’s proud that the locally owned, nationally acclaimed restaurant has become part of the fabric of the Madison-area community and dining scene.
“What makes people keep coming back is our customer service and the people who work here,” Drapp says of his team, which was hand-picked based as much on personality as experience. “Of course, we also have a beautiful restaurant and serve the best steaks money can buy.”
Besides popular USDA prime cuts like the porterhouse, petite filet and New York strip, Ruth’s Chris offers a variety of succulent seafood, from Chilean sea bass to barbecued shrimp — as well as two daily specials Drapp dreamed up: an almond-crusted walleye topped with lemon beurre blanc sauce and hash browns, plain or loaded. These delicious dishes became so popular among customers, they were added to the Middleton location’s permanent bill of fare — a rare honor for a menu that’s stayed mostly the same since the first Ruth’s Chris opened in 1965.
“Most people do come to enjoy our legendary steaks, but they’re pleasantly surprised if they choose otherwise,” Drapp says of the restaurant’s abundant chicken, fish and vegetarian options.
New this summer: Step out onto the new outdoor patio with fire pit, a perfect spot to enjoy warmer weather and happy hour. The Ruth’s Chris Sizzle, Swizzle and Swirl Happy Hour runs seven days a week from 4-7 p.m. and features a robust $9 menu of martinis, wine and food that won’t break the bank — including items such as seared ahi tuna, steak salad and hamburgers. Customers can also listen to live music Friday evenings in the lounge.
Taste the difference
When you walk into Bonfyre American Grille, the first thing you’ll notice is the soft smell of a wood fire (from three types of wood, in fact: hickory, oak and a little bit of ash).
“There’s a nice, warm, comfortable atmosphere here,” says Alfredo Teuschler, owner and general manager of Bonfyre, which opened in Madison in 2009.
From prime cuts of beef to organic rotisserie chicken to fresh seafood, many of the items featured on the Bonfyre menu are wood-fired, creating a distinctive taste that new and returning customers often comment on.
“Cooking over a live fire adds to the flavor,” Teuschler says. “You can taste the difference.”
It takes extra training and hard work to handle the heat in a kitchen like Bonfyre’s. Thanks to the innovative exhibition kitchen design, diners can watch as the highly skilled cooks prepare their dishes over roaring flames.
Everything is made in-house from scratch using high-quality ingredients that are sourced locally whenever possible. Midwestern-raised USDA prime aged beef choices include a prime filet mignon, bone-in rib-eye, New York strip and sirloin. Feeling extra hungry? Try the Wood-Fyred Mixed Grille: a plate of prime top sirloin, herb chicken and BBQ ribs, served with Bonfyre mash and vegetables.
Bonfyre also offers shrimp, scallops and fresh salmon raised in Scotland — or try all three in the popular Wood-Fyred Seafood Trio, served in a lemon caper butter sauce with a vegetable risotto.
Teuschler’s approach to crafting new menu items is to be creative without going too wild, and to always use the best available ingredients. The Bonfyre menu changes seasonally, so summer is a great time to find a new favorite. The poke bowl — prepared with a choice of fresh ahi tuna, salmon or shrimp — is especially popular during warm-weather months.
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