Friday, July 17, 2009
Mancini's Char House
Every month a couple of friends and I gather to grab a meal, catch up and essentially make fun of each other. It's always nice to know that I have a solid group of guys to turn to incase my self-esteem starts to reach an acceptable level. All kidding aside, it presents a great opportunity for some of my best friends to get together and share a good meal - and maybe even a few too many drinks if I'm not driving.
This last "mandate" took place at Mancini's Char House in St. Paul. This place is about as old-school as it gets and even though we were the youngest folks in there by a long shot, we still had a great time. Mancini's still actually has live entertainment in an actual lounge - one of the few places you could likely still find this type of set up outside of a gentleman's club.
On to the food. Mancini's can pretty much make you anything you want... as long as it's chicken, lobster and most importantly, steak. The menu may be a little limited for most folks, but this place is old-school (vinyl seating?) and knows to stay within their sweet spot. I gave the menu about a 3o second glance and settled on the petite, as in 8 oz. petite, sirloin. I don't eat a ton of corn-fed beef (not exactly a hot spot of locavores...), but sometimes if I'm going to break from my ideals, I might as well do it at a place where I know I'm going to get one prepared with serious knowledge and a lot of care.
After we ordered, our waitress brought us out a relish plate (again, old school) and a huge basket of bread. The relish plate was overflowing with cherry-bomb-like hot peppers, marinated tomatoes and pickles. Nothing was worth acclaim, but the huge piles of oily, greasy, garlicky bread created the perfect vehicle for soaking up all the vinegar and spices t these little snacks had been resting in. The bread, although completely detrimental to any sort of healthy eating, was quite good benefiting from a grilling session that emitted a char-based flavor evoked from the ghosts of thousands of perfectly cooked steaks.
A few moments later I found the waitress placing the classic steakhouse salad in front of me. I could see the bus boy in the back with a bag of iceberg twice his size and a pair of plastic gloves as he dished out plate after plate of salads to be dressed. The salad and the ambiance served as nice distractions as I patiently awaited my steak, which turned out to be well worth the drive from SW.
When the beauty arrived I had to take a second to appreciate it before tearing in with my Ramboesque knife. The grill marks were artful and a nice pool of juice started to gather as the everything distributed. Waiting seemed inconceivable and I cut off a nice hunk of the perfectly juicy, medium-rare meat. The steak was pure velvet, beef and butter - simple, unadorned and fabulous. It was a steak in its most virgin form, no demi, no gorgonzola air, no beet and Maytag crumbles - just pure satisfying beef.
It wasn't a meal for the ages, but the steak was quite good and took me back to all those meals I enjoyed in the local steakhouses when I was growing up with my parents. It's funny to think about how simplistically I viewed food back then (scarf and then get me home to watch cartoons!) and how much I appreciate it now. Mancini's may not be the picture-perfect ideal of my current food philosophy, but some nights you have to sit back, relax, enjoy good drink, good company, a good steak and forget about all those convictions if only for a small window of time.