Bare-knuckle steak

Sullivan's isn't a knockout, but the points add up

Just by their numbers and consistent rosters, steakhouses have inevitably become orgies of predictability. Everything is so much the same. No surprises. No skyscraper food threatening to puncture your chin. No bizarre sea creatures dressed in mango caviar hiding in the watercress.

Wine lists are hefty enough to crush a stag beetle. Plates are warm. Meat drips. Cabernet splatters. Spinach, mushrooms, and beans arrive in boats. Somewhere in one of the walls, cigars vacation in a humid, temperate climate. Dead men like Sinatra and Cole croon through speakers implanted in the ceiling. Dark wood paneling covers the walls.

Unless your lust for red meat is so ferocious that it'll keep a regiment of cardiologists in fresh Mercedes, it's hard to get excited over a good steakhouse more than a couple of times a year. They're basically all good (it doesn't take a culinary genius to shake a steak with salt and pepper, turn the broiler up past 1,000 degrees, and do finger push-ups on the meat to test doneness). Sides are the same. Salads are the same. They all offer shrimp cocktails and oysters on the half shell.

Location Info


Sullivan's Steakhouse

17795 Dallas Parkway
Dallas, TX 75287-7316

Category: Restaurant > Steakhouse

Region: Carrollton/ Farmers Branch

So you have to absorb other experiences to break the red-meat monotony. Sullivan's Steakhouse has a nightclub called Ringside at Sullivan's, which the press release says offers the best in jump blues and swing jazz. Now, I don't know what jump blues is. Maybe it's a pinstriped one-piece from Brooks Brothers. But the swing band the Lakewood Rats was pretty good (tight horn section). At least the crowd in the bar seemed to think so. There were more North Dallas barflies intently focused on those Lakewood vermin than there were dancers or people trying to one-liner someone into jumping and swinging on the Serta at home.

I was intently focused on the band too, but for different reasons. The stage at Ringside is tucked behind the mahogany bar, with the surface a foot or so lower than the top of the back bar. So I was waiting for the Rats' animated front man, Brian "Daddy-O" Hurley, to lose his footing and kick over a bottle of Stoli or maybe step in the maraschino cherry dish.

I figured a good dose of kinetic excitement like this would help me digest Sullivan's 20-ounce bone-in Kansas City strip, the house specialty. That strip left me feeling burdened with a belly knot of Gordian complexity. Plus, I was suddenly washed with concern for my cardiovascular system. I took no prisoners after I got a hold of that K.C strip, at least none shackled in doggie bags. It was so rich (fat without being fatty), tender, and silky that all that was left was the bone, picked so clean it would bore a hungry husky.

My hope was that a good surge in the heart rate might help my body cope with the sheer decadence of this slab. I was too immobilized to dance. Laughing seemed a good compromise. But Daddy-O never stumbled. Next time I'll buy him a martini.

Ringside isn't always this fun, though. On a visit during one of those precious few bitter Dallas winter evenings, the kind that kills all the plant life the Dallas summer didn't wipe out, we were shuffled there to wait for our reserved seats. The space was chilly. We needed drinks. My companion needed shrimp. Fried, if necessary.

Shivering, thirsty, and famished for bar grub, we watched a server dart between the cash register in the Ringside and the bar equipped with big-screen TVs on the other end of the building. She never once stopped at one of the tables to see if someone might need a double Scotch or a pair of wool socks. So we, against the direction of the Sullivan's hostess team, went to the big screen TV bar to wait for bad service, which geared up just as our table opened.

And this is where we eventually received the fried shrimp, which proved tasty, sweet, and firmly juiced with a coating sizzled to a muscular crunch.

Thankfully, this was the only service blunder at Sullivan's. Save for this bump, execution was uniformly gracious and efficient. And when the servers couldn't answer questions about the menu or the wine list, they offered to find out instead dishing up bull.

On one visit, the fire alarm was tripped, apparently by a glitch in the new heating system, which struggled to get its footing in the sudden chill. Strobe flashes viciously slashed the dining room. A series of rhythmic beeps--like the pulses from a garbage truck in reverse gear--mercilessly punctured the dining-room chatter and clatter. Servers immediately marched through rows of tables chanting: "Remain seated. Everything's OK. False alarm." This is when you really hope there's no server bull.

Sullivan's is a '40s-era-style steakhouse named after boxing hall-of-famer (inducted 1954) John Lawrence Sullivan--hence the "ringside" moniker for the bar. And his thickly mustached mug is everywhere, sometimes with his arms folded tightly across his chest to seemingly to pump up his pecs.

Born in Roxbury, Massachusetts, and known as the Boston Strong Boy, Sullivan was a legendary boxer--the last bare-knuckle heavyweight champion. He dropped out of college and haphazardly boxed his way to professional status, taking on all comers in barrooms, on barges, and in back alleys. He made his professional debut against "Cockey" Woods in 1878.

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