Posted On: 06/01/2009
Even the tried and true needs a good revamping every so often. In the case of Porter’s Steakhouse in Collinsville, the face-lift was long overdue. I never frequented Porter’s in the old days – the old days being anywhere from 1982, when it was called The Black Swan, to last year – but the remodeling job was massive. $12 million, in fact. True, that price tag includes transforming the previous Holiday Inn into a swank Doubletree Hotel, but still, a chunk of change was dropped by St. Louis-based Lodging Hospitality Management to keep the Porter’s name alive.
The Porter’s name itself gets a little confusing. Once, there were three Porter’s: Collinsville, Chicago and Chattanooga, Tenn. The Chicago location is gone, and the Collinsville and Chattanooga restaurants are no longer related. More confusing is when you Google “Porter’s Steakhouse Collinsville,” the correct map pops up but the link directs you to the Chattanooga restaurant’s Web site. And it seems they both serve “the world-famous pepper loin” (cue Law and Order sound effect).
History lesson aside, the new digs are worth the short eight-mile drive across the river. The sprawling space boasts a dining room decked out in wood accents, earth tones and deep reds (an homage to the classic steakhouse interior?); a stone fireplace; and three private rooms. The old cigar bar off the main lobby is gone, it’s now sleek and sophisticated, sans stale stogie smell. There’s also a new face running the kitchen. St. Louis foodies will recall Robert Flowers as the executive chef at the Lumière casino complex, but the globe-trotting chef has also cooked at the Bellagio Resort and Casino in Las Vegas as well as Walt Disney World and several Four Seasons hotel restaurants around the world. Another familiar face is floor manager John McGuire, former sommelier at Fifteen. (Editor’s note: Since Michael’s visits, Jonathan Hoffman has taken over as Porter’s executive chef.)
With new faces come new dishes, like appetizers of escargot, carpaccio and calamari. There’s also a massive crab cake not to be missed, its delicious, pure crabbiness punctuated by a drizzling of sizzling sherry butter and chipotle aïoli. Ditto the lobster bisque, if you think you can handle such creamy richness before a massive steak. I tried it, with the 22-ounce bone-in rib eye, and it’s a struggle. Steak-eaters know the rib eye is probably the best test for a kitchen because the fatty marbling that makes the cut so flavorful also makes it the most difficult to control under a raging flame. Throw in a big bone, and it’s even trickier to get the correct doneness. I ordered mine medium-rare and it arrived rare … very rare. Also disappointing was missing out on the full steakhouse treatment of perusing the evening’s meat selections under glass or the wine offerings from the traveling wine cart. At these prices, there is little room for error, even with a packed house of race fans in town for the drag-race finals at nearby Gateway Speedway.
What a difference a week makes.
On our next visit, a personable server enthusiastically pointed out each steak on the meat cart, describing them with all the inflections of a salesman giving a PowerPoint presentation. Next came the wine steward trundling toward our table with his cart of wares. The wine list is extensive, with many bottles displayed in beautiful cherry wood cabinets proudly bearing Wine Spectator tags, but forget all that and just listen to Jeff Callahan. Like a good sommelier should, he offers tastes and demystifies the wines, conversing as if you were his only customers. He’s been in charge of the wine list from the get-go (thank him for the history lesson). For this iteration, he added a few Crane Lake wines at $10 per bottle. Sure, it sells for less than $5 at the grocery store, but I rather like the idea of ordering a full bottle of wine for less than the price of a glass. But, alas, it was hard to resist the 2005 Franciscan Cab, even at $15 per pour.
The kitchen did a better job this time around, with the strip steak au poivre perfectly seared medium-rare and bathed with an aromatic cognac-green peppercorn sauce. The massive porterhouse was equally perfect. Of course, there are dishes like lobster, crab legs, salmon, tuna, lamb chops and pork, but with that “world famous pepper loin” hawked everywhere from the sign out front to the charger plate on the table, you get the hint. The slogan is even engraved on the steak knives, just in case you missed the point.
But a knife is barely needed for this signature dish, a beef tenderloin that’s been marinated in olive oil and herbs for 48 hours, rolled in cracked peppercorns, grilled, and sliced into medallions for either 9-, 12- or 16-ounce portions. Porter’s mustard sauce comes on the side (was that a hint of honey, perhaps?); it’s good for a few dips and bites, but I found it an unnecessary distraction for such richly flavored meat.
All the expected steakhouse sides are here, served à la carte, right down to the brown paper-wrapped baked potatoes and creamed spinach. I love hash browns with steak, and these came crispy brown straight from a special hash brown griddle. While the house salad is delicious and contemporary with its mixed greens, goat cheese, hearts of palm, dried cranberries and honey peppered walnuts, it was the wedge salad that captured me. This classic steakhouse iceberg lettuce salad is updated with Gorgonzola cheese and applewood smoked bacon; it’s also misnamed given that it was half a head. Try them if you must, but desserts, while good, are mostly an afterthought, with crème brûlée the most tried and true offering.
NEW AND NOTABLE
Don’t-Miss Dish: The World-Famous Pepper Loin, of course.
Vibe: The restaurant has been updated with a sleek, sophisticated interior, but it still maintains a steakhouse feel.
Entrée Prices: $19 to $159 (the latter for a mixed grill of 2-pound lobster, 12-ounce pepperloin and vegetables).
Where: 1000 Eastport Plaza Drive, Collinsville, 618.345.2400
When: Breakfast: Mon. to Sat. – 6:30 to 10 a.m.; Lunch: Mon. to Sat. – 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.; Dinner: Daily – 4:30 to 10 p.m.; Brunch: Sun. – 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Want to comment on this article? Login or sign up on Sauce.