A Steak Odyssey (and oddity!)
Mr. and Mrs. M. take a trip to enjoy the "old-school charm and style" of Butch's Old Casino Steakhouse on the corner of Michigan and James Lovell Street.
How many of you have been to House on the Rock, west of Madison? For those of you who have visited what is arguably one of Wisconsin’s oddest attractions, just imagine eating a fine steak dinner in there. That’s part of the experience you get when dining at Butch’s Old Casino Steakhouse on the desert-southwest corner of Michigan and N. James Lovell Street just west of downtown Milwaukee.
The contrast of the dim, frilly and mysterious interior from the bland and almost secretive-looking exterior couldn’t be sharper. Intended to impress upon its guests an old-fashioned, casino-like atmosphere (“comfortable and historic” is how they describe the atmosphere on their web site), it rather also reminds us of being in the Milwaukee Public Museum’s permanent exhibit, “The Streets of Old Milwaukee.”
We know we’re making it sound scary, but it is actually one of the neatest dining experiences offered in our area, and it’s one of our favorite restaurants. The place has an old-school charm and style. If there were after-dinner dancing there, we’d call it a classic “supper club.”
Not only does the interior have old-fashioned appeal, but so does its menu. Awaiting diners at their tables are old-fashioned bread baskets piled high with rolls and crunchy breadsticks, and your grandmother’s holiday relish dishes holding celery sticks, sliced radishes, pickle spears and scallions to nibble on while waiting for the meals to come out of the kitchen.
One of our favorite things to order here is a filet of beef which the proprietors specially cut themselves and call a “steer filet.” This most-tasty, char-grilled bit of bovine just has to come from the most delicious part of the animal because it is simply out of this world and so worth ordering at $23.95 for a 6-ounce portion, $39.95 for an 8-ounce portion and $41.95 for the mighty 12-ouncer.
We both got the 6-ounce steer filet. Mr. M. ordered the house salad with old-school, blue-cheese crumbles (which, for some reason, they call “Roquefort” and charge an extra two bucks), croutons and the works, which, like the bread, relish dish and choice of potato came with the meal. Mr. M.’s gin & tonic cost a reasonable $7, and Mrs. M.’s glass of Asti ran $8. Their bar features a large assortment of imported beers, wines and mixed drinks, with $5 Martinis!
The rest of the menu is like a good menu should be – simple, but full of nice options. Appetizers include classic shrimp cocktail for $10.95, Mozzarella Marinara for $9.95 and, of course, garlicky escargot for $8.95.
Other steaks offered include, among others, the classic filet (8-ounce for $22.95 or 12-ounce for $29.95), your New York Strip (12-ounce for $24.95 or 20-once for $31.95), a 12-ounce “Steak Sicilian” for $22.95 and a 24-ounce Porterhouse for $31.95.
Seafood options include what they call “Giant Guayma Shrimp” for $31.95, broiled Tilapia for $18.95 or Cajun-style blackened Tilapia for $19.95, an 8-ounce lobster tail for $26.95 and sautéed sea scallops for $25.95.
Specialties of the house offered include pan-fried “Chicken casino” for $21.95, BBQ ribs for $24.95, a 20-ounce Cajun-style blackened ribeye for $32.95. And from prices ranging from $23.95 to $37.95, an array of surf-and-turf combinations can be had.
For dessert, how about home-made cheese cake, fresh apple pie or a specialty dessert? Yes, please!
Being a little on the pricey side, we don’t believe that it’s cost-effective to eat out here all the time in this recovering economy, but it’s the perfect place to celebrate special occasions or treat a business associate once in a blue moon.
Butch’s Old Casino Steakhouse
555 N. James Lovell St., Milwaukee
Accepts major credit cards. Reservations welcome, but not always necessary.
2 tablespoons ground, black peppercorns
2 filet mignon steaks (3/4 pound each, about 2½” thick) – other thick (at least 1” thick) steaks work well, too!
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 tablespoon olive oil for frying, and 4 tablespoons for the peppercorn marinade
1 cup heavy cream
1/3 cup Cognac or brandy
1 tablespoon salt
Pat steaks dry and allow to come to room temperature while you prepare the peppercorns.
Place the crushed peppercorns in a medium skillet with the 4 tablespoons of oil and heat it over medium-low temperature about five minutes, until you can smell the peppercorns infusing their essential oils into the olive oil. Remove this mixture to a measuring cup or small bowl, add the tablespoon salt and mix well. Wipe the skillet out well with a paper towel.
Coat both sides of the steaks with the peppercorn mixture. In the skillet, heat the butter and the other tablespoon of olive oil over moderate-high heat until hot, just until it starts smoking, then sear the steaks for 4 minutes (3 – 3½ minutes for thinner steaks) on each side for medium rare. Transfer steaks to serving plates.
Pour off excess fat from the skillet and add the cream and Cognac. Boil the mixture, scraping up browned bits, until the sauce thickens and coats back of spoon, about 1 minute. Season the sauce with salt and spoon over steaks. Serve with pommes frites, a nice salad and crusty bread.