Walter Mencken 11 a.m., May 24
Cowboy Star: Tender is the bite
East Village choice: An $82 steak, or happy hour?
It stands opposite the Grocery Outlet, that new cheap-cheap grocery chain on Market Street that sells discontinued stock at cut prices so you really can buy cheap eats.
But don’t expect that here at Cowboy Star and Butcher Shop (640 Tenth Avenue, near Market Street, East Village, 619-450-5880), home of “fine western fare.”
I’m looking at the menu. Uh, porterhouse steak for two, 40 ounces. Forty! Cost to you? Just $82.00.
“But compare us with Morton’s,” says Doug...
...He's one of the two guys here manning the upfront bar. “You pay for the steak, period. Here you get the steak with sides, like potatoes, a vegetable, sauce.”
Still, $82 is $82. Plus, even their 8-ounce filet is $39. Lucky for me, I made it in before six o’clock. That’s when happy hour ends. (It goes from 4:00 - 6:00 p.m., Tuesday to Friday.)
So now, fifteen minutes later, I’m drowning in the pleasure of “steak and frites,” an 8-ounce steak in a red Bordelaise sauce with “hand-cut” fries. That same $39 deal, I guess, but in HH, I get it for $12.80, frites included. Garth brought it to me...
...Plus I have a $3 Saint Archer Pale Ale. New brewery, Miramar road. Not bad. Not sure who Saint Archer was.
I mean, not cheap, but when I came in, I really thought I’d blown it. It’s in an ancient brick and timber warehouse that they say used to belong to a little ol’ lady in the 1880s. And it’s kinda on the edge of East Village. You’ve definitely got to seek it out. So yes, we're on a somewhat scuzzy street, but once you’re in, it just breathes money. Like cowhide chairs in the waiting area...
...4X Stetsons on the wall, long hanging candelabras that have actual fat candles in them, shorthorn cow skulls, a framed dollar bill (“That was the first dollar we made when we opened five years ago,” says Doug. “It was for a Miller Lite.”), locked cabinets protecting the more valuable libations, and – the ultimate signal that this ain’t your average steak bar, no TVs. Nearest thing is a poster for the 1952 Gene Autry movie “Night Stage to Galveston.”
“We’ve had more people who came in strangers and ended up lifelong friends than I can tell you,” says Doug. “Because this bar, you get into conversations. Can’t help it, pretty much.”
I like it, the atmosphere. Low burble of conversation around the bar, and also a long table of business people talking over some big negotiation. I settle onto a tall chair next to this guy Will. He’s local. Lives in one of the condos. A software guy. Comes here all the time. Is eating the lamb tartar (lamb heart and tenderloin). Cost him $16, minus 20 percent for happy hour. And it does look pretty delish, even though yes, it’s raw.
The HH choice is from ten items on the bar menu. They have the lamb tartar, charcuterie (different sausages with mustard and cornichons… small gherkins – pickled cucumbers), $16 before the discount. Then, and this is tempting, mussels and clams in a broth with toast ($14), oysters ($20, doesn’t say the number), stone crab salad ($15), fries and dips ($8), roasted bone marrow ($9 - ooh. Would love that), the steak and frites ($16), lemon cured Hamachi – the Japanese amberjack fish you often see in sushi – ($18), and a cheese plate ($19).
Have to say, a lot of this ain’t that familiar to me. Or it’s just gonna cost too much, even with the 20 percent off. Whatever, I shamelessly hide in the safety of the half-pound steak with frites.
Boy. Tender? Ain’t the word for it. Melting’s more the word. And they promise this was once a happy, grass-fed cow who wasn’t brought up in a shed. No growth hormones, no antibiotics squirted into them. They say some outfit called Humane Farm Animal Care has recognized Cowboy Star for supporting the Certified Humane Raised and Handled program.
It all sounds good to me. And the Bordelaise sauce helps with the flavor: it’s made up from dry red wine, bone marrow and shallots.
I come back out onto Tenth $17.06 poorer after tax, plus the little passel of Washingtons I left for tip. Say $21. But I’m plenty full, and feeling like I’ve just eaten some very good meat. And it’s given me ambitions: like to be able to go in with Carla and casually order that 2-1/2lb, $82 hunk o’happy cow.
Regrets? One. That I didn’t ante up $2 more for a $5 glass of Cab Sauv wine to go with that beautiful steak, instead of the $3 beer.
Guess I’ll have to go back and do it right next time.
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