Getting to the heart

Pappas Brothers is belly-full of old-fashioned decadence

Dining at Pappas Brothers Steakhouse left a question weighing heavily on my mind: What the hell has happened to cholesterol levels, blood pressure, and red meat phobia? The stench of such concerns doesn't pollute Pappas' ambiance. It's as though it's been siphoned off by the immaculately efficient ventilation system in the cigar lounge (even with a dozen obese stogies smoldering, there's no smog).

Facing you as you stroll through the entrance, next to a gurgling tank housing live lobsters, is a refrigerated glass case holding rows and rows of red, raw steaks. Split, butterflied, and ruinously expensive Australian rock lobster tails bulging with glistening grayish-white flesh add visual interest.

There's no visual beauty to those steaks, though (the strip and ribeye steaks are dry-aged prime). You won't find any vertical architectural do-dads prancing on the meat; no swirling threads of brightly colored, fussily pleated sauces hugging the steep carnal edges like ruffles and fringe. The preparation is minimalist. A light seasoning of kosher salt, pepper, and butter--to bolster and tighten the richness--is the extent of the manipulation. A dusting of chopped parsley over the plated slab dresses up the presentation and, perhaps, adds a bit of roughage.

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Pappas Brothers Steakhouse

10477 Lombardy Lane
Dallas, TX 75220

Category: Restaurant > Fine Dining

Region: Northwest Dallas

Pappas Brothers is all about the brute force of beef and the subdued robustness of a traditional steakhouse executed with style (there's a dress code, so hold the denim). And the steaks reflect that: firm, juicy, tender, bold with flavor, and void of gristle and loose globules of fat.

But the question still remains. What happened to the principle that a thick hunk of animal flesh is a crass, noxious thing to ingest? Where's the notion that evolution designed the human digestive tract exclusively to accommodate things like spinach, summer squash, and Chex party mix?

I remember the days when steak was the ultimate meal; a rare luxury (it still is, considering the prices charged at the litter of upscale steakhouses currently nursing their way to success in the metroplex) oozing with the carnivorous milk and honey of sizzled fat. These were the days when all salads were served loud orange, tinted from bottled French dressing; when we didn't have the sophistication to realize a steady diet of marbled loins would eventually result in countless European vacations for the nation's cardiac physicians.

But then we got wise and flaunted our health-consciousness. We became fatuous hams with bean sprouts caught between our teeth and wheat-germ dust in our nostril hairs. We scoffed at the Neanderthal notion of eating red meat even as infrequently as once a month.

It didn't last long. Maybe it was Morley Safer's "French paradox" piece some seven years ago on 60 Minutes, when he told us that if we drank a few glasses of red wine with every meal, the healthful impact would be such that we could eat whatever we wanted. In other words, we could eat all the rich red meat we wanted and ensure the only vacation our cardiologist enjoyed was a car trip to the Lawrence Welk Homestead in North Dakota.

It took a trip to Pappas Brothers for me to realize how thoroughly red meat has been transformed from dietary villain to dining diva. Even the greens can't escape the decadent shadow of carnivorous lust. Pappas Brothers' house salad, one of the most deluxe renditions ever to assume such a moniker (try it with the smooth avocado ranch), is topped with two thick, chewy slices of hickory-smoked bacon.

The simple beefsteak tomato and onion salad is like a replica of thick, blood-rare steak, with meaty-rich tomato slices drooling with juice and speckled with crumbles of tangy Roquefort cheese all polished with herbed vinaigrette.

What etched the completeness of this transformation firmly in my mind, though, was my Monday-night visit during the American Heart Association Convention, when some 50,000 people sucked the vacancy right out of the city's hotel stock. Pappas Brothers Steakhouse was packed with conventioneers gnawing on cuts of rich meat, dabbing their chins with white napkins, ever aware that at any moment the beepers and cell phones strapped to their waists could interrupt the lusty feasting with a coronary concern. The irony was almost too potent--as if the city were hosting a weekend convention of adult-video retailers and every inch of pew space in the metroplex suddenly became occupied.

Should guilt strike, however, while a dripping forkful of porterhouse makes its way to a watering mouth, Pappas Brothers has compensated with a healthy wine list. Or perhaps over-compensated. The list has more than 1,200 wines, the largest collection in the Southwest and among the five largest in the country. Virtually every major wine-producing country in the world is represented. There's even a 1900 vintage Chateau Lafite that can be had for $35,000.

For those with more modest tastes and pocket books, there are a few, though not nearly enough, wines in the $30 to $40 range. Zinfandels from Peachy Canyon, a Paso Robles producer you'll rarely find listed, are bold, spicy rich, and well-balanced wines that work well with steaks. The incredible red comes in at $34.

A recent article in The Wall Street Journal chronicled the desperate lengths some people will go to acquire juice from small-production California wineries with cult status. One plastic surgeon, seeking to up his allocation of wine, offered a face-lift to the woman managing the mailing list of Pinot Noir producer Richioli Vineyard and Winery in exchange for a higher position on the list.

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