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February 2020 Food & Drink Food and Drink Life Magazine

In praise of the Midwestern steakhouse

Frozen in culinary time

February 26, 2020

4:44 PM

26 February 2020

4:44 PM

In the 20th century, you joined a city or country club for status and a good meal on the regular. But who wants to eat the same food from the same chef every meal for the rest of your life? Now we go to restaurants. There’s always a new spot, a new dish, a new someone you need to impress by swiping right across the menu. It’s been my lifestyle choice for over a decade now. My life revolves around food, and most of my monthly budget goes on gastronomy. But I’m tired. Most of these hotspots just aren’t that hot. My jaded palate needs something new — or rather, something old.

Back home in Detroit for a few days, my friends and I investigate rumors of a restaurant frozen in time, a place where your slab of red meat still comes with soup, salad and a baked potato. Known as ‘supper clubs’, these spots were once common in the Midwest. You could take the family out for a nice dinner and know you wouldn’t be wasting your money.

We enter Clawson Steakhouse’s austere interior at 6:30 because we can’t get a reservation and want to get a table in time for the jazz band who go on at 7:30. The maître d’ guides us through a sea of empty tables, all reserved for the regulars. The VIPs get the swank spots in front of the dance floor; we’re exiled to a terrible table in Siberia without a clear view of the stage.

But what can a group of millennial first-timers expect? This is Boomer turf — surf ’n’ turf, even. Not that this will dissuade us. We’ve come for decadence, indulgence and as much shrimp cocktail and Champagne as our stomachs can handle.

Nostalgia runs deep when it comes to food and drink. Like Thousand Island dressing, this yearning for culinary yesteryear keeps bubbling up. In Chicago, Brendan Sodikoff has been serving giant pieces of beef in dimly lit spaces for years. He recently opened his first New York City outpost, 4 Charles Prime Rib. Good luck getting a reservation. In New York alone, a half-dozen new ‘supper clubs’ have opened in the past few years, with dozens more mimicking the style.

Swanky coastal steakhouses can replicate the food and feel of a Midwestern supper club, but if they replicate the prices, they’ll have the half-life of a hotdog at the World Series. At the Clawson, we can barely contain our excitement. We’re trying to pace ourselves, but the Taittinger is too reasonably priced and we admonish our friend Colleen when she tries to order our first course before we’ve started on our second bottle.

Men have always used big meals to show they’ve arrived. Women have now joined the club. The Instagram feed of a woman-about-town in a major city shows that these meals are the new Cosmo. When you’ve emptied a bottle of Champagne, pimped a gigantic shrimp cocktail and smashed the double-cut prime rib, you too can consider yourself a mistress of the universe.

We know we’re pushing it as we call for our third bottle of Champagne. Ordering more sparkling when the red meat is about to be served could look amateurish. But we don’t care: we know what we’re doing. ‘Learn the rules like a pro so you can break them like an artist,’ said Pablo Picasso, who is rumored to have trained as a short-order chef in Ann Arbor.

The center table in front of the dance floor is taken by a man in his seventies and a woman who most certainly isn’t his wife. As other diners come toward him and pay tribute, shaking his hand and saying how great it is to see him, he starts working on a plate of wing dings (Michigan-speak for chicken wings). The band is on soon, we’ve ordered our fifth bottle, and the giant slices of chocolate and carrot cake are on the way. It’s going to be a good night.

This article is in The Spectator’s February 2020 US edition.

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