An Interview with Dee Lincoln Chef Andrew Powers, Who Makes Steak in Steaktown, USA
Chef Andrew Powers
Ask anyone who's involved in the Dallas food scene what our signature dish is, and they'll pretty unanimously come up with one answer: steak. Even though Dallas restaurants have been throttling toward lighter, more produce-focused offerings, beef is still king. Or maybe, in the case of Dee Lincoln's Steak Bar, queen.
Dee Lincoln has been the long established "queen of steaks" in Dallas for decades. After co-founding Del Frisco's Double Eagle Steakhouse, Lincoln is now building a new breed of steakhouse in Dee Lincoln's Steak Bar. In the process, she's brought along Chef Andrew Powers for the ride. Powers' background in some of the country's best fine dining establishment may seem like an odd fit, but he's been beautifully executing her prime steaks and burgers since the Plano location opened in April. I sat down with Powers to talk working with Dee Lincoln, adapting to the clientele in the suburbs, and transitioning from haute fine dining to casual.
Can you tell us a little about your background and how you ended up working in Dallas?
I grew up in Seguin, Texas, right outside of San Antonio. I moved to Austin and worked with Jim McNeal at Austin Country Club and did a little stint there for a while. Then, I ended up in Dallas and worked with Dean Fearing at The Mansion before Rosewood sent me to the Caribbean for a few years. I was a banquet chef at a resort in St. John's Caneel Bay, but I came back when I met my wife and we had a child. We decided it would be better to raise our daughter in Dallas. I came back and worked as a chef de cuisine for a while, and then I got the opportunity to work with Robert Colombo at Trece and I ran that for a few years.
Then I decided to just kind of move around for a while. I moved to Utah and worked at the Waldorf-Astoria in Park Cities, then to Moab, where I ran a kind of upscale dude ranch. And then, of course, I moved back to Texas. I worked at the Magnolia Hotel for a while, and then I got the divine chance to work with Dee Lincoln's, where I've been here for about a year.
How did you and Dee Lincoln cross paths?
The chef at Dee's restaurant in Dallas, Julliard Ishizuka, is a longtime friend of mine. We worked together at The Mansion and remained friends afterward. When she was concepting the Howell Street location in Dallas, he called and asked what it would take to get me on his team. I met Dee and Julliard at the Bubble Bar, and we talked for hours about food. We had a really great interview, I came up with a few dishes for her to sample, and the rest is history.
How did you influence the menu here? What did you bring to Dee Lincoln's that is from your background?
Julliard did a really great job putting this menu together, so I just had to tweak a few things. I added some new appetizers to the menu, and worked a lot on the desserts. She had some recipes that just needed a little tweaking. Due to working with Dean Fearing, my style is very southwestern. I love working with Texas flavors. I love chiles, I love smoke, so I tried to introduce as much of that as I could on the menu. I'm also kind of getting in a Cajun/Louisiana influence here and there. It was great that they let me be really creative and put my own spin on the menu here in Plano.
I kind of think of Dee Lincoln as sort of the female Dean Fearing here in Dallas. Were you familiar with her history in the city when you took on this job?
Not really. I grew up on a wildlife ranch, and I kind of became a chef later in my life. I always knew I wanted to be a chef, but I really didn't know much about Dee. I knew Del Frisco's, but that was really about it. But as soon as I met her and told people I was working with Dee Lincoln, that's when the information started to pour in. That's when I learned that she was the queen of steaks. It wasn't like I didn't hear of her because no one told me, I just never asked. I was so focused on guys like Thomas Keller and Wolfgang Puck, but once I started to work with her, I realized how important she was to this scene. If Dean is the patriarch of the restaurant scene here, Dee is the matriarch.
Do you think that Dee kind of gets underrated in Dallas? Everyone seems to be focusing on Dean Fearing, Kent Rathbun, and Stephan Pyles as sort of the founding members of Dallas' growing culinary scene.
Actually, I think that's kind of okay. She doesn't really worry about that stuff, she just does what she does. She wants to be known for having a product that is always best-of-quality. She doesn't seem to care about having that spotlight, but she's always been known throughout her entire career for having great restaurants with great feel. I hold her in really high esteem because she knows everything, and I've learned a lot from her. I consider her that, so I guess it's fine if everybody else doesn't.
Was it difficult to transition between working in a lot of very fine dining-style establishments to a relatively casual steakhouse?
No. At the end of the day, I'm here to make sure that the customer has a great experience. Whether or not they had foie gras or a burger, it needs to be the best they've ever had. When you're young as a chef, you think you're only going to work with these ingredients like foie gras and caviar and lobster, but you have to really understand that chefs work for the consumer. That's the beauty of this place. We're just here to make sure that everybody who comes in here has a great experience, and hopefully they talk about us and say that the food is unbelievable.
In terms of pleasing the consumer, do you think there's a difference in what Dallas diners and Plano diners want?
There's a different demographic wherever you go. If you're in Uptown or Downtown or Plano or whatever, the demographics are all different. This concept is good for everyone, really. We do more steaks here, and an expanded seafood program, and they seem to do more burgers in Dallas. There are some differences, but there are some similarities that are very easy to translate.
What about palates? Does food have to be less spicy or adventurous out in the suburbs?
No way. The spices are the same are across the board. We're very far apart in terms of geography, but there are so many similarities. Uptown people aren't different than Plano people.
What did you have to adjust for this location based on Julliard's model?
There are a lot of families who come here, more so than the Uptown location. This is more of a neighborhood, but food-wise it's pretty much the same. We don't do a kids menu, but when kids come in, we can do chicken fingers or mac and cheese with no lobster. Surprisingly, though, most of those kids want steaks. I have a lot of kids who order eight ounce fliets, which is kind of unbelievable. We've had to be conscious to make sure that kids have plenty of options to choose from when they get here.
A lot of restaurants have been making the move to Plano. Why do you think there's such a migration here?
Uptown has so many choices now, so that's part of us. But the real reason is that this is Dee's backyard. She lives here, she has a great following here, so it just made sense. Everybody wants to open their restaurant in Downtown or Uptown because it's cool, but this was what was best for a second location of this restaurant. I think a lot of the other restaurants here are maybe just kind of jumping on the bandwagon because it's the place to go now, but it was just a natural fit for us. And we're doing really well here, getting great feedback from the neighborhood.
Are there people who are surprised at how casual this steakhouse is compared to the upscale places they're used to?
I don't think so. Actually, I think that's what we've got good here. It appeals to all the masses. You don't have to wear a three piece suit in here, you can be casual, but you can also have a dinner that the guy in the suit is going to have. I've never heard anyone say that they've expected more. If anything, people come in and get more than they're expecting. We have this gorgeous chef's table and an unbelievable specials board that is basically like my playground, and they love it. They probably didn't expect it, though.
Do you think that is the direction that steakhouses are going in general? Something more casual.
I think it's restaurants across the board in this day and age. Everyone wants to have a good dinner, but no one wants it to be stuffy. Back in the '80s, that's how it was. You got dressed up, you spent three hours at dinner, and ate really amazing food. Now, people want the really good food, but they don't want it to be stuffy and tight. That's what we have, upscale steaks in a casual environment. And I think that's a refreshing take on a steakhouse. You've mentioned the specials board a few times, and how it gives you so much creativity. It's interesting because most places use their specials board to just do different takes on steak, but you're doing more. Can you tell me a little about how you mixed up the menu using the board?
We'll always have our core items, but the board is a definite outlet for me to show my style. We're offering unique things like day-boat seafood catches, and that helps keep the kitchen creative and keep us from going outside of the box. It's exciting to be able to do a lot of different things every day. We're doing a different soup every day, have two or three fish options, and a lot of cool stuff with vegetables. It's great.
Do you feel like you have a lot of creative freedom here compared to your executive chef roles in the past?
I have a ton of creative freedom, and I love it. I can do anything so long as I maintain the steakhouse mentality. We don't want to have French bistro stuff on the board. You can do specials everywhere, but we can do a few. If we feel like using this new protein that we've come across, we can do that. When people come in the door, the first thing they see is that board, and that's made people interested in that food.
After being open a few months, do you have any plans to change the menu?
We're tweaking it, for sure. At a steakhouse, you're always going to have some really core items on the menu that just don't move as much as you'd like. We're going to focus more on the steak because that's what our customers want and it's what Dee Lincoln is really great at.
So how do you refine the steak? Beyond having really great product.
We're going to focus on making it consistent and ensuring that it's the best quality product we could have. We're going to add a few new cuts, and focus on having a product that makes your customer keep coming back over and over again.
In your mind, what's the perfect steak?
Being a Texas boy, I love a good rare-to-medium rare steak that is seasoned and cooked really well. Oh, and a great crust. I don't like a bunch of flavors and sauces masking the meat. I want the flavor of that steak to really shine.
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