Sunday, January 13, 2013

Charley's Steak House, Tampa, FL

Over the past 25 years I've lived in Florida, Tampa has become awash in "high-end" steakhouses. All the usual suspects arrived one by one...Ruth's Chris, Fleming's, Capital Grille, The Palm and Shula's. Charley's, however, has been here the entire time...and is in a league of its own as far as I'm concerned. I've tried them all and, while all are more than adequate, none give me the warm fuzzy feeling I get when I walk into Charley's. The energy, ambiance, convivial buzz and hammered copper bar let you know right off the bat that you're in for something special. We converged once again to break bread with my favorite local resto blogger, JR (editor of The SOG City Oracle) and his lovely spouse, the Belle of Ballast Point (whom will be referred to as the BOBP going forward to save time since this post is going to seem like The NeverEnding Story before I'm done). I did not get photos of the entrees ordered by those two, but you may view them and read the Oracle's take on the dining experience right here. There was a swoon-worthy Wagyu ribeye involved, so I suggest you take a peek.

I get to Charley's about once every once every three or four years. Not because I wouldn't like to go more often...but because it's not cheap. And it shouldn't be. I'm kind of a creature of habit when it comes to Charley's because they offer a couple of menu items that I am invariably drawn to (moth to flame stuff). Even though vodka has proven to be a fickle friend over the years (nothing like that back-stabbing bitch Tequila, but untrustworthy nonetheless), I never fail to start off with one Cosmo...perfectly made and gigantic, just as God intended. The generous cocktail shaker overflow was poured into a water glass which was promptly and appreciatively snorted by the BOBP, who lost her Cosmo Virginity that night (she was long overdue).  

Before I get started on the food, I must say that our servers (the "Daves"...Dave One a seasoned professional and Dave Two a trainee) effortlessly met our every need.  We brought our own wine (you can do that at Charley's by paying a relatively nominal corkage fee of $15/bottle) and the reds were decanted for us while the whites were nicely chilled.  And, yes...I'm a heathen who likes to drink big, oaky Chards with absolutely everything...even red meat. Mer Soleil stood up nicely to my steak, I think.  JR liked it, too...although the BOBP and UD preferred the Italian Barolos we toted along.

First up...stone crab.  This shiznit is like crack to me...every time I eat it, it's all I can think about for days (my favorite food is a toss-up between these guys and foie gras).  It's hard to screw up stone crab unless it's not fresh, so of course these chilled claws along with their accompanying mustard sauce were amazing (we WERE at Charley's, after all).

Not surprisingly, everyone at the table agreed that the Beef Tenderloin Carpaccio was some of the best we've ever had. The freshness was undeniable and the accoutrements of capers, aioli, red onion and perfect little toast points rounded out this crowd-pleaser nicely.

The Charley's house salad (a simple but well-done concoction of chilled greens, chopped tomatoes, sliced olives, grated cheese and a pleasing vinaigrette) coupled with a basket of warm and tender fresh cheesy bread were the only things included with our entree selections...all other side dishes were a la carte.

A freshly butchered cow had been wheeled by on a cart a bit earlier so we could all view the available cuts and be briefly educated on the wet aging process.  This bloody bovine specatacle is enough to even make the most self-respecting caveman go weak in the knees.  Vegans, look away now lest you turn into pillars of salt.

I get the same steak every time I visit Charley's, which is kind of an embarrassing thing to confess.  I'm not a huge "red meat girl", nor is tenderloin high on my list when I'm in the mood for a steak...but I lurve Charley's 10 oz. filet prepared (modified) "Oscar-style". Topped with a fried soft-shell crab and slathered in Hollandaise sauce, this will definitely be included in my "last meal" request should I ever find myself on Death Row.

Upon slicing it open, something horrible and mind-scarring occurred. After requesting that be cooked medium-rare, there was only the vaguest hint of pink remaining in my steak.  I don't usually send things back to be "fixed" or replaced, having been regaled with tales of horror by a restaurateur I knew back in the '90s warning me of the potential dire consequences of doing so, but I felt relatively safe pointing the discrepancy out to our fabulous Daves considering the caliber of this particular restaurant.  I'm not sure I could've experienced a more concerned response had I discovered a dead rodent on my plate. While the seemingly horrified Daves rushed off to procure a perfectly prepared replacement filet, a manager approached our table to offer his apologies, ensure that I didn't need a sedative, smelling salts or an ambulance in light of the trauma I had suffered and offer comped desserts for our party.  This compensatory gesture and the level of professionalism displayed by the resto's staff far exceeded the minor transgression of serving me an overly grey tenderloin.

Oh...and both the BOBP (who had a classic Filet Mignon) and I ordered a fabu Loaded Baked Potato as a side dish.  Huge, salt-encrusted and jam-packed with sour cream, bacon and other goodies, this decadent spud was well worth the $4 surcharge.

UD's inner Neanderthal could not resist the only dry-aged steak on the menu...the dinosauresque bone-in Bison ribeye.  I was proud of him for lifting his bloody knuckles up off the cave floor and devouring every scrap of  this flavorful and deceptively lean cut of beef using a knife and fork.  I also didn't miss the opportunity to sneak a bite or two of his heavenly side dish of Au Gratin Potatoes.

How I managed to miss a taking a shot of JR's swoonworthy Wagyu Beef Ribeye, I'll never know (there's a slight chance that wine could be to blame).  You can view it here.  If you think you might want to order, be sure to bring your American Express Platinum card.  Pricey, but deemed "worth it".

Dessert time was almost like "Sophie's Choice". Behold some of our many options.  I'll take those smelling salts, now.

We ultimately decided to share two mammoth and mind-blowing sweet endings.  First up, a massive dense and moist slab of carrot cake topped with Haagen Dazs ice cream.  Ummm....Yeah, Baby!

The "Apple Fantasy" was another wonder to behold (and inhale)...a cross between a crisp and a pie, this dessert was chockfull of spicy, tender apple slices nestled among flavorful and substantial slabs of a thick, crust-like product redolent of brown sugar and cinnamon that was practically a dessert on its own.  Of course, there was more ice cream.

Charley's has been one of my faves for a very long time.  Expect to spend a leisurely three hours enjoying your dinner...this is an "experience", not simply a "meal".  One of the best dining options Tampa has to offer for steak lovers.

Charley's Steak House on Urbanspoon

My blog entries contain the unmitigated, and sometimes unforgiving, dining truths and perceptions I experience as an ordinary restaurant patron. Every meal I post about has been fully paid for by one of the participating members of my personal dining party. I do not engage in the gratis blogger freebie dining events I'm constantly invited to attend and never will. If I ooze font-like love for a restaurant in my blog, it's because they totally earned it…not because they gave me free food or knew I was going to share the experience on the internet.

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