One dining experience that should be on everyone’s culinary bucket list is a meal at a classic old-style steakhouse, the kind of place with dim lighting, well-dressed servers, at least three good single-malt scotches behind the bar and (in this era of indoor smoking bans) the ghosts of good cigars past lingering in the corners.
In Charlotte, near my home of the past seven years, there sits one of the best examples of these temples of beef I’ve ever seen. With a decidedly unflashy name like Beef ‘N Bottle, you know something good has to be going on inside for it to have been in business as long as it has. The family lineage of the restaurant dates back to the Rat Pack era, and pictures of luminaries from that time line the walls.
But we’re not here for the decor. We’re here for the food and drink.
If you want to know about the wine list, click HERE I know next to nothing about vino beyond the few brands I enjoy, and Lisa “The Beer Goddess” Morrison ensured my obsession with beer/food pairings years ago. Beef and Bottle offers the usual beer suspects augmented by local brews that rotate with the seasons, the draft pints poured with a steady hand and a perfect head.
The staff at Beef and Bottle will be a shock for those of you accustomed to chain restaurants, where even the best servers are hamstrung by corporate rules on upselling, time per table and other business tools designed to maximize profit, not enjoyment. These folks know their stuff, but they’re not in any hurry for you to make up your mind. You’ll get your appetizer before your salad, and you’ll have time to finish your salad before your entree appears in front of you. One of my biggest pet peeves is having to either bolt down my salad or push it aside for fear of my entree getting cold. It’s not that hard to manage time and present courses properly, but it’s something that no chain restaurant I’ve ever visited has paid consistent attention to.
The appetizers are like a trip back in time. When’s the last time you saw Oysters Rockefeller on a menu? They’re here, along with a shrimp cocktail served in an ice bath, with gigantic shrimp plunged into a cocktail sauce that’s got a major dose of horseradish. In this era of molecular gastronomy and hand-picked baby field greens served with a garnish of lark’s vomit, it’s nice to see the classics observed.
And speaking of greens: the salad is another classic presentation, with a plate of lettuce accompanied by a tray of add-ons including radishes (a rarity these days for some reason) and cherry tomatoes. The house-made blue cheese dressing is a must here.
But Beef and Bottle doesn’t just ride on history. The French onion soup, for instance, is a classic example of the right place making the right dish. While the crusty bread and cheese on top are the visual come-on, the heart of the soup is the beef broth in which the onions swim. Where better than a place that’s done steak for more than a half-century to find properly made broth? They’ve got the best ingredients on hand, and use them properly. The sounds of my fellow diners taking their first tastes of the soup would have been right at home at a Roman Bacchanalia.
But enough of the preludes. Let us now, loyal readers, contemplate our steak choices. Yes, there are other options on the menu — seafood, chicken and pasta all try to catch our attention — but we know why we’re here. But what cut to choose?
I’ve always wondered why the filet is such an expensive cut. Yes, it’s from the tenderloin, the scarcest portion of the beef primal. Sure, it’s pretty and usually comes wreathed in bacon. But there’s the rub: the bacon is necessary because there’s just not as much interstitial fat, also known as marbling, in the tenderloin. The bacon adds a bit of fat from the outside, but it’s not the same. For my money, the ribeye or NY strip are far more tasty and satisfying in their pure forms.
The ribeye at Beef and Bottle is exactly as it should be. Cooked medium-rare, the well-trimmed fat around the edge is crispy and salty, providing a perfect counterpoint to the rich, tender interior. Against my usual instinct to keep the steak pure, I allowed the bartender, lovely Maria, to talk me into some blue cheese crusted atop the beef. I didn’t regret it.
Have you ever wondered why we wrap things in bacon? Why steaks are often served with garlic butter on top of them? Why cheeseburgers are so appealing? It’s a fat thing, basically. We’re genetically programmed to like the taste of fat, and if we can get two different kinds of fat in the same bite, say from tangy blue cheese and well-aged steak, our brains become Neanderthal-happy, grunting and waving bones at the sky outside the cave of our subconscious.
Steak … blue cheese … good locally made Oktoberfest beer … this, friends, is an experience to be savored. You don’t go to a place like Beef and Bottle for a quick meal. You don’t go there when you have to be somewhere else in an hour. You go there when the evening is open to experience and enjoyment, to decadent tastes and indulgences. Hurrying through a meal like this should be a felony.
I know. I know. You’re reading this and shaking your head. You don’t live in Charlotte. You live in Des Moines, Sacramento, Seattle or somewhere else. Guess what? Chances are good that there’s a brother to Beef and Bottle somewhere in your city. Look for an old but well-kept building where the parking lot is populated by expensive sedans at night. Look for a distinct lack of flash, neon or “flair” on the wait staff. And, most importantly, use your nose to sniff out the heady aroma of grilling steak. Then plan your budget, clear your schedule … and enjoy.
This place has been around forever but has the staying power and consistently good food to survive.
Looks like a set from the Godfather but part of that is because of links back to New Jersey. Much like Jersey restaurants, the walls are line with signed pictures of various celebrities who have come over the years. Interior is dark to the point that it can be difficult to read the menus.
That said, stay with the beef and you’re safe. Every cut of beef that I have eaten here, has been cooked to perfection. I prefer a medium rare and it always comes out medium rare as opposed to somewhere the other side of medium and rapidly approaching burned that I get at other establishments.
Salads are great but the baked potatoes could use a little make over.
Extensive wine list rounds out the package.
Wait staff has also been there forever so they are well trained.
For a good steak I would highly recommend.
Building looks like something out of the 40’s one step ahead of the wrecking ball but in this case, looks are vary deceiving.