10 steakhouses that turn prime cuts of beef into masterpieces

Steaks can be complex, even for those who enjoy them regularly, so we’ve identified both the signature and most popular cuts at each location.
steak with scallops and covered with crab and a sauce
Photo by Nikki Hansen
Mariner's Inn

There may be no greater lover of steak than Ron Swanson, the ever-quotable, iconoclastic curmudgeon from the TV show “Parks and Recreation.” This is a man who once said he’d be having the “Turf and Turf” — a 16-ounce T-bone steak and a 40-ounce rib-eye — for a single dinner. Now that’s some serious commitment to meat. It’s the same kind of commitment you’ll find at local steakhouses, all of which age, sear and augment prime cuts of meat into works of art on your plate. Steaks can be complex, even for those who enjoy them regularly, so we’ve identified both the signature and most popular cuts at each location. Time to sharpen those steak knives.

Delaney’s Steak Seafood Wine
Signature steak: 12-ounce prime New York strip
Crowd favorite: 6-ounce filet mignon
One of the first things you’ll see when you enter Delaney’s, a rock-solid steakhouse near the West Towne Mall area, is a glass case with a pair of plates, each occupied by a cut of raw steak. If you ask nicely, co-owner and general manager Dan Delaney will take out the New York strip — the steak Delaney’s stakes its rep on — and give you the lowdown. “It doesn’t have as much marbling as the rib-eye, but it has more than the tenderloin,” explains Delaney. “It’s kind of that sweet spot for our customers.” Delaney’s cuts all its steaks in-house, and the restaurant isn’t big on dry-aging; meats are aged only for about a week before service. Delaney’s also leans into the comfortable supper-club vibe: This is the kind of place where steaks are seasoned simply (think salt, pepper and garlic) and fans are encouraged to augment them (think herb-laden bearnaise sauce, melted blue cheese and sauced crab, a la Oscar-style dishes). It’s all part of Delaney’s go-big strategy. “If you’re going to go to a steakhouse, you need to order a sizable piece of meat,” Delaney says. 449 Grand Canyon Drive, 608-833-7337, experiencedelaneys.com

Johnny Delmonico’s Steakhouse
Signature steak: 20-ounce bone-in rib-eye
Crowd favorite: 6-ounce filet mignon

steak with mushrooms on top

Photo by Chris Hynes/Food Fight Restaurant Group

Fun fact: There’s a reason Johnny Delmonico’s doesn’t just go by the name of the thick — like, seriously thick — and juicy rib-eye cut that inspired the restaurant’s surname. The original Delmonico’s restaurant in New York slapped a copyright on the name before franchising it across the country. Don’t let that distract you from splurging on the dry-aged, 20-ounce bone-in rib-eye. According to general manager Keith Boland (a man with more than a dozen years of experience with steaks), the rib-eye, a prime cut of Angus beef, is dry-aged for 60 days before head chef Tim Van Dorn works his magic on it. “The aging process intensifies the flavor of the meat,” Boland says. “Everyone obviously has their own favorites, but our rib-eye just melts in your mouth.” Speaking of those favorites, the steak that tops the list is the 6-ounce filet mignon, a tender, petite cut of meat that’s seared on the outside and pink on the inside, served with the right amount of seasoning and au jus. 130 S. Pinckney St., 608-230-5800, johnnydelmonicos.com

Rare Steakhouse
Signature steak: 22-ounce bone-in rib-eye
Crowd favorite: 14-ounce New York strip

sliced steak on a cutting board

Courtesy of Rare Steakhouse

Mike Kull, the general manager at Rare, likes to tell stories about the guests who ask his restaurant to dry-age steaks up to a year in advance — the better to have them ready for special occasions like birthdays and anniversaries, of course. While most of the dry-aged meats Rare serves don’t cure in meat lockers for quite that long — 45 to 75 days is the usual range — there’s no question the extended process brings out the best in the prime cuts served here, tenderizing them and making them ridiculously flavorful. “We do it because we believe it’s the right way,” says Kull. “And what you end up with when you do it that way is a buttery, popcorn-y flavor.” The dry-aged 22-ounce bone-in rib-eye that serves as Rare’s calling card is a perfect example — a sizable prime cut where the meat gains its taste both from marbleization (fat equals flavor) and its proximity to the rib bone. Head chef TJ Borup seasons each cut with a peppercorn mix and then broils it at a high temperature. It’s a pricey cut of meat, but as Kull correctly points out, what you’re really doing here is investing in an experience. 14 W. Mifflin St., 608-204-9000, raresteaks.com

Mariner’s Inn
Signature steak: Steer tenderloin filet
Crowd favorite: Admiral’s tenderloin
The upscale jewel of the von Rutenberg restaurant empire has always known its way around a good steak. Unlike the tonier locations on this list, Mariner’s keeps the experience on an even keel. The tenderloin is the star at Mariner’s. The more classic steer tenderloin filet is accented with a range of different sauces and arrangements. The steaks are topped with things such as a spicy, creamy Cajun sauce or mushroom ragout. The extravagant crowd favorite is the admiral’s tenderloin, twin petite filets topped with asparagus, scallops, crab and bearnaise sauce. No matter what’s on top, the quality of the meat from Neesvig’s in Windsor always shines through. 5339 Lighthouse Bay Drive, 608-246-3120, marinersmadison.com 

Samba Brazilian Grill
It’s tricky to list a favorite steak at Samba Brazilian Grill. If you’ve enjoyed the Samba experience before, you know that things are handled a little differently here: You’re not choosing a single steak from a range of cuts. Instead, four distinctly different types of steak arrive at your table, each one on a massive skewer that spends the right amount of time over an open fire pit before the meat is expertly sliced onto your plate by Samba’s crew of gauchos. There’s flank steak in a honey balsamic marinade, a beef tenderloin seasoned with garlic, a top sirloin with a fat cap to add extra flavor and, finally, a dry-spiced Alcatra beef round (think pot roast with savory seasoning). Samba general manager Kat Davis — who served as Samba’s head chef before becoming a manager — says the value of her restaurant’s all-you-can-eat business model is obvious. “You can get many more pieces of meat than you’d ever get in a single steak,” she says, laughing. “And when you’re done, you can go outside and deal with the meat sweats.” If you’re worried about getting your meat cooked the way you like it, don’t. Davis says all four cuts are typically cooked to medium rare, but the gaucho crew is happy to adjust upon request. 240 W. Gilman St., 608-257-1111, sambabraziliangrill.com

Smoky’s Club
Signature steak: 8-ounce filet mignon
Crowd favorite: 18-ounce rib-eye
No steakhouse represents Madison’s classic old-school supper-club vibe better than Smoky’s Club, which has been rocking it for more than seven decades. You won’t find a single bone-in or dry-aged cut on the menu at this staple; what you will find are deliciously seasoned filets, rib-eyes and New York strips, seared at super-hot temperatures (like, 500 degrees) on a cast-iron grill. The steaks are then served on a sizzler to keep that flavor exactly where it’s supposed to be. “When your steak hits the table, it’s so tender you could cut it with a spoon,” says general manager Matt Schmock, the son and nephew of Smoky’s owners, brothers Larry and Tom Schmock. The simplicity always delivers. 3005 University Ave., 608-233-2120, smokysclub.com

Tornado Room Steak House
Signature steak: 20-ounce tenderloin
Crowd favorite: 10-ounce filet au poivre

steak topped with an onion ring and brussels sprouts on the side

Photo by Jas McDaniel

There’s a whole lot of history at the Tornado Room, one of downtown Madison’s original steak-related haunts. Most of that history emanates from the steakhouse’s 50-year-old double broiler, a perfectly seasoned beast that reliably churns out delicious, lightly seasoned steaks that keep the crowds coming back. (Put it this way: You’re likely not getting a table on a Saturday without a reservation.) Tornado’s steaks, like the signature 20-ounce tenderloin, are cut on-site and aged for three weeks at an off-site meat locker. The presentation here is all about the meat — no lists of augmentations, fancy sauces or toppings to distract from the main attraction. The lone exception is the popular filet au poivre, a 10-ounce cut that marries a peppercorn kick with a smooth Cognac mushroom cream sauce. “Respect the meat” is the mantra of head chef Philip Kara, and it’s clear he’s living that mantra to the fullest. “Simplicity is what it’s all about,” he says. 116 S. Hamilton St., 608-256-3570, tornadosteakhouse.com

Worth the Drive
It’s a critical question: How far would you drive to enjoy an amazing steak? The good news is that you don’t have to motor more than an hour and a half outside of Madison to run into multiple steak nirvanas.

steak topped with butter, fried ship and broccoli

Photo by Matt Uptagraw/Courtesy of The Del-Bar

The Del-Bar, one of the state’s oldest and most celebrated supper clubs/steakhouses, is also one of few places in the entire state where all the steaks — the filets, rib-eyes and New York strips — are prime grade, making it a must-visit for any serious steak lover. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by options, start with the aged New York strip. 800 Wisconsin Dells Parkway, Wisconsin Dells, 608- 253-1861, del-bar.com

Point your car toward Sauk City and you’ll find Green Acres, a supper club-style steakhouse known for a 14-ounce, hand-cut rib-eye that’s aged 21 days to amp up its flavor before being charbroiled. Owner Dan Cunningham serves his rib-eye as a standalone and, each month, with a special featured topping. December’s offering is Carr Valley Cheese’s Glacier Wildfire Blue and bourbon butter caramelized onions. You won’t want to miss it. 7487 WI-78, Sauk City, 608- 643-2305, facebook.com/greenacresrestaurant

You’ll also want to swing by Ridgeway — that’s past Mount Horeb and Barneveld — to check out the offerings at Hi-Point Steakhouse, where the hand-cut Hi-Point Special holds sway. The special is both the signature and most popular item on the menu: a thick Delmonico center-cut rib-eye that’s dry-aged before being charbroiled. 6900 County Road HHH, 608-924-2819, hipointsteakhouse.com 

Aaron Conklin is a contributor to Madison Magazine.

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