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Restaurant Reviews --> Sullivan's Steak House

Sullivan's Steak House
(Good meat + simple food in large portions + good service) / ($$$$ food + $$$$ wine) = big profits

Most high-end steak houses are best enjoyed when someone else picks up the tab. I have to admit to being as guilty as anyone of taking advantage of VPDs (vendor-paid dinners). In fact, I remember a $2,400 evening at Del Friscos in Dallas that made me somewhat notorious in the western wear industry. Justin Boot Company's sales manager's only mistake was saying "come on Doug, y'all pick us out some really good wine." Today Linda and I find that the best restaurant, and certainly the best wine list, is at home. However, since our CPA has expressed the opinion that dinners for reviews in the newsletter should be deductible, we have decided to tackle a few more reviews. This week - how to survive dinner in a steak house when you're paying the bill. Over the last ten years, five new steak houses have opened in Indianapolis. And, with the exception of Shula's, they are all pretty good. We chose Sullivan's Steak House for this exercise because their food and wine prices, while still substantial, are somewhat reasonable when compared to Ruth's Chris and Morton's. All of these guys have the formula for relieving corporate America of those excess profits. No creativity required...
(Good meat + simple food in large portions + good service) / ($$$$ food + $$$$ wine) = big profits

I have always found that visits to expensive steak houses are better in the anticipation than the experience. Large pieces of rare beef along with oversized appetizers and side dishes can often leave even the hardiest appetite wishing he had ordered the fish.

The Atmosphere
We arrived at 7:30 on a Wednesday and found the "cigar and martini" culture alive and well. Despite Allan Greenspan's "exuberance" warnings, America is flying high and eating well (or at least spending a lot of money on food and wine). The clientele was decidedly male, as one might expect from this bastion of the business dinner and the platinum American Express card. Kind of makes you wonder what happens if the bubble bursts and accounting departments start taking hard looks at those expense reports. (Lone Star, Sullivan's parent, trades as STAR on the NASDAQ - sell'm short when the belt-tightening starts.)

Sullivan's decor is very decidedly manly, dark wood, photos of boxers, a copy of John L. Sullivan's championship belt and a boxing mural in the bar. It all begs the question: why name a steak house after a boxer? Perhaps Lone Star's marketing department was looking for a dead sports hero who couldn't embarrass them or collect royalties? The spacious dining room is flanked by an open kitchen and a glass-enclosed wine wall and accented with fresh flowers. The room is well laid out with plenty of space between tables and sufficiently carpeted and partitioned to allow comfortable conversation. Linda and I shared an excellent, almost slushy martini festooned with six giant olives while we reviewed the menu and wine list and contemplated how to escape with our savings intact.

The Wine
Sullivan's wine list contains an impressive collection of California Cabernets and Merlots from all the high profile winemakers. Kimberly, their sommelier/wine manager, is very personable and quite knowledgeable. And, she has left a few reasonably priced jewels scattered among the overpriced big names. I usually don't choke on a wine list until the prices go beyond twice retail. Sullivan's stays in the 1.7 to 1.8 range on most of their wines, which is substantially better than many other local restaurants. In fact, they take their lowest markups on the mid-range wine, leaving those cavalier enough to order Silver Oak ($140) or Caymus ($250) to take the "big hit." In keeping with our survival mission, we found a excellent central coast Cabernet from Justin on the low-end of the list. When dealing with this list don't stray beyond California. There are plenty of great Cabernets and Merlots, but none of the Zinfandels are exceptional or well priced, and the best Pinot Noir is the David Bruce Central Coast 1998 at $41 (wine guy retail $20). The best value/quality combinations we found were: Justin Paso Robles Cabernet 1997 $35 - (Wine Guy retail $20) as a point of comparison Dunaway's downtown has this on their list at $47 (greedy, greedy!) Chateau St. Jean Sonoma Merlot 1997 $35 (Wine Guy retail $21) Swanson Napa Merlot 1997 $46 (Wine Guy retail $27) Fife Napa Cabernet 1997 $52 (Wine Guy retail $29)

The Food
The service was prompt and efficient. Our server was attentive without being obtrusive. The menu is steak house 101. Appetizers include such basic things as shrimp cocktail, crab cakes and seared tuna in the $7 to $10 range. We shared the Calamari at $6.95. They were piping hot, tender and served with a cocktail sauce that seemed to be catsup and horseradish with a little diced onion and pickle relish. Simple, well-prepared, and one order is more than enough for 3 to 4 people. One of Sullivan's best attributes is that they include a large lettuce wedge with your entree. The house dressing is an excellent, slightly sweet, creamy bleu cheese served with a diced fresh tomato garnish. Unfortunately, our salads had been prepared earlier and refrigerated. The dressing had penetrated the lettuce and tomato pieces were surrounded by tiny red halos after soaking for some time. We picked at the salads and awaited our entrees. The entree menu features plenty of steaks and chops at $17 to $27, fish and shellfish at $15 to $20 and the obligatory chicken dish at $13. All sides dishes are ala carte, will generally feed two or more and are priced from $3.50 to $4.00. Linda chose the petite filet at $20 while I decided on their signature steak, a 20 oz Kansas City strip at $27. We decided to split the au gratin potatoes and sautéed mushroom caps at $4.00 each. The steaks arrived sizzling from the kitchen with the side dishes only moments behind, all delivered by three different servers. Linda's medium filet was done perfectly, nicely charred on the outside and pink throughout. My steak reached a perfect medium-rare with a warm red center. Both steaks were excellent, although I would probably opt for a filet next time since bone-in steaks are so difficult to eat without having your wife think she is dining with a caveman. Both side dishes were large, but undistinguished. The au gratin were diced potatoes in a light cream sauce, untouched by seasoning, but topped with melted cheese and chives. The large mushrooms caps had been cooked in butter, but showed no evidence of being sautéed. In addition to the steak, the robust Justin Cabernet was certainly one of the highlights of the meal, and complemented the beef perfectly. The after dinner drink and dessert menu features the usual array of expensive French rocket fuel and steak house desserts with a chocolate soufflé feature. Conscious of our mission and more than full, we passed on dessert and sipped the last of the Cabernet. Our total: $125 including tip. Our conclusion; yes... you can visit one of our beef palaces without taking a second mortgage. Our recommendation: if you really want to go out for a steak, go to Sullivan's, stick with the baked potato, ask for a "made to order" salad, try the Justin Cabernet and you will have as nice a steak dinner as you're likely to get. Except, perhaps, at our house! As for Linda and me, we'll stick with our trusty Weber gas grill! Since we depend so heavily on numeric wine scores here at the store, we have decided to use the Wine Spectator rating scale 80-84=Good, 85-90=Very Good, 90-95=Outstanding, 95-100 Extraordinary We gave Sullivan's... Ambiance and service 89 points Food and Presentation 86 points Comparative value 88 points (compared to other Indianapolis steak houses) Wine List - California Cabernet and Merlot 90 points Wine List - everything else 84 points

Sullivan's Steak House

Across from the Fashion Mall, Keystone at the Crossing
3316 E. 86th St.
Indianapolis, IN 46240
(317) 580-1280