Kale and quinoa may grab a lot of culinary headlines, but surveys show it is steak and burgers that are actually increasing dramatically in popularity and flavor. A good steak has traditionally starred at celebrations, but, in recent years, it is popular for everyday dining as well.
After years of the no-fat mania, it is a joy to savor beef properly marbled for flavor. The worst burger I encountered during the no-fat era was served in an upscale Charleston restaurant for a large price and described as tenderloin. The lack of fat made it inedible.
Beef consumption was also discouraged by vegetarianism and the 2001 exposé, Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal by Eric Schlosser. The documentary he produced with Michael Pollan (Food, Inc.) educated Americans to the horrors of factory farms. With increasing appreciation now for small-scale purveyors of food and the growth of the Slow Food movement, our dining pleasure is enhanced by heirloom and artisanal ingredients.
The 2014 bestseller, The Big Fat Surprise: Why Butter, Meat and Cheese Belong in a Healthy Diet by Nina Teicholz, helps allay our fear of fat — it reports that “America’s nutritional guidelines are based on weak science.”
“Butter is back,” Mark Bittman gleefully reported in The New York Times, noting that the Annals of Internal Medicine found there was “no evidence to support the notion that saturated fat increases the risk of heart disease” and that there was “some evidence that a lack of fat may be damaging.”
The current beef renaissance is bringing on a flurry of steakhouses across America. Charleston chefs who are passionate about excellence are responding with new and delicious flavors.
Chef Jeremiah Bacon
Jeremiah Bacon, a Charleston native, is at the forefront of the beef renaissance. He spent years training in such acclaimed American kitchens as Per Se and Le Bernardin in New York.
When Jeremiah came home, he became chef of Carolina’s restaurant. His passion for culinary excellence was nationally showcased on the CBS Early Show, when he had the producer tasting a heads-on shrimp, such as those on Carolina’s salads. It was a surprising and delicious new treat at the time.
Five years ago Jeremiah became chef of Oak Steakhouse and began to work with Certified Angus Beef (CAB) in promoting excellence in beef. “Certified Angus Beef was founded by small farmers. There are 109 farms in South Carolina that produce CAB,” he reports with great enthusiasm. One of them is Yon Family Farms in Ridge Springs, South Carolina. Jeremiah’s visit to the Yon family responded to his passion for sourcing only the best ingredients, such as seafood from Clammer Dave and mushrooms from Mepkin Abbey.
Cattle at the Yon Family Farms, Ridge Spring, S.C. Image by Charleston Mercury Staff.
What does Certified Angus Beef mean?
Certified Angus Beef (CAB) is a branding organization founded in 1978. CAB must meet not only USDA standards for prime beef, but ten more standards, which include marbling. Of all the beef produced, less than one-and-a-half percent qualifies. Many savvy restaurants serve CAB but do not identify it on the menu, as this involves a licensing process. In New York, for instance, Daniel Boulud serves it in his restaurants, but they are not licensed. Danny Meyer’s Modern (also not licensed) uses CAB tenderloins in the beef en croute.
In Charleston, CAB appears on the menus of Oak, The Macintosh and Cypress. You may also savor it at Barony Tavern, Peninsula Grill and Brasserie Gigi, as yet not officially licensed.
Oak Steakhouse and The Macintosh
Oak Steakhouse has been a favorite destination for celebratory dinners since it opened in 2005 in a gorgeous 1848 bank building. Many locals are regulars in the bar area for convenient light meals.
Jeremiah, who also oversees the kitchen of The Macintosh, has been trained by CAB to carve beef the way it has been historically carved in Europe. One especially popular cut is the deckle steak, which is one of two parts in a rib eye steak.
Another is the bavette, which is comparable to flank steak but with more tenderness. It is served at The Macintosh with Brussel sprouts, pickled shallots, maitake mushrooms and whole grain mustard spatzle and a red wine jus.
Jeremiah is considering adding a mixed grill on Oak’s menu in the fall, which would give diners an opportunity to compare flavors of the different cuts. Oak’s steak selection is unusually extensive. The menu also credits Master Purveyors in New York for dry-aged beef. This family-run company has been servicing the best steak houses since 1957. The owners pride themselves on inspecting all meat that arrives and in aging only the finest of USDA prime beef in the traditional way that heightens flavor.
Hamburgers are enjoying boom times, led by such New York restaurateurs as Danny Meyer — his Shake Shack on Madison Square in New York became renowned for lines of people waiting two hours in blizzards for artisanal burgers. Shake Shack is global now and listed on the New York Stock Exchange. In 2001 celebrity chef Daniel Boulud created a DB “Royale” truffle burger, stuffed with foie gras for his DB Bistro Moderne, causing quite a shock at the price of $120.
The good news is that here in Charleston, you may feast on upscale burgers at a much more reasonable price. CAB beef is so tasty, it does not need revving up with foie gras — just a few grains of salt. On Monday night the bar area of Cypress fills up for a bargain CAB burger, every bite worthy of the white tablecloths and gracious ambience. “The Mac” at the Macintosh includes cheddar and bacon from Nueske, a family business that’s been creating memorable bacon since 1887. At Oak, the “Oak Burger” features CAB New York strip, filet and chuck and is served with Jeremiah’s popular truffle fries. Though not quite Texas, Charleston is beef country and many other fine establishments may satisfy the gourmet carnivore leanings of our readers.
Peg Moore may be reached at email@example.com.