Diners don’t go to Chinese restaurants expecting sushi, nor do they visit Japanese restaurants looking for Mexican fare, reasons restaurateur Scott Kay.
So don’t head to Grass Fed, Kay’s new Bucktown eatery, looking for grilled striped bass or herb-roasted chicken — because you won’t find them there.
What you will get is a $25 fixed-price menu that starts with a simple green salad and a slice of house-baked, grilled bread. And it ends with only one entrée — a grilled, 100 percent grass-fed sirloin steak with fries.
Kay and his business partners, Blake Bible and GM Josh Schonfeld, were inspired by the popular Parisian Le Relais de l’Entrecôte bistros that also serve just one main dish — steak frites. Kay became intrigued with opening a steak-fries restaurant after visiting a London Le Relais de l’Entrecôte knockoff.
“I liked the simplicity of the concept,” says Kay, who also owns L.A.’s Wood & Vine.
As a restaurateur, Kay dines out a lot, he says. “And I was just getting frustrated by the wealth of choices when you go into a restaurant and find 60 items to choose from.”
He was also bothered by the complexity of group dining — from the “who-gets-what?” ordering process to divvying up the bill.
“It becomes an event. And it takes away from enjoying a simple meal with friends.”
Additionally, he wanted to offer an alternative to the traditional pricey steak houses that have become special-event destinations for most diners. “A steak house is typically a place where you spend a $100 on a steak and order huge sides that you’re never going to finish….
“In looking at the steak house [concept], we wanted to do almost everything the opposite, other than providing a great cut of beef.”
Grass Fed gets its steaks from two sources —Paso Prime in Paso Robles, Calif., and Strauss, a Wisconsin-based collective. The restaurant’s most important objective is “having this truly natural product that is antibiotic-free, steroid-free and truly grass fed,” Kay says.
The eatery also offers daily special starters and sides that are “light, fresh and produce-focused.” Don’t look for vats of creamed spinach or platters of giant onion rings. “There are enough calories in one of those sides to feed you for several days,” Kay says. Instead, Grass Fed’s locally sourced accompaniments are meant to be healthy companions for the meat and potatoes or to serve as entrée options for vegetarian diners.
Okay, so if you’re just serving one main dish, it had better be damned good. And The Husband, The Girl (my daughter) and I can attest that Grass Fed’s steak frites are damned good.
Pre-sliced and simply seasoned — I only detected salt — the lean beef was flavorful enough to stand on its own. But I couldn’t get enough of the accompanying house-made tarragon-laced béarnaise sauce.
Crisp, hot shoestring fries also got a boost from Grass Fed’s sweet-smoky, house-made-and-bottled ketchup, which I would take over Heinz any day. (The Girl still votes for Heinz.)
Although portions were ample enough to skip the sides, we vegophiles opted to try a few ($6 each). Slaw-like shaved Brussels sprouts salad was studded with sweet raisins and pine nuts and tossed with an intense lemon vinaigrette. Quinoa salad featured bits of cucumber and tangy, oven-roasted tomatoes. And roasted cauliflower was not as ho-hum as one might expect — thanks to a dash of salsa verde.
The eatery also offers a short list of house-made desserts ($6 each). During our visit, the featured crumble was apple — an odd choice, we thought, for late summer, but still a solid rendition of this classic dessert. Whimsical “milk and cookies” paired iced cocoa with chocolate chip cookies.
Kay and his partners have no plans in the foreseeable future to expand their dinner menu beyond steak frites.
“I’m a firm believer that our concept will stand on its own with that one simple dish,” he says. “We’re not going to appeal to everybody, and that’s not our goal.”
Kay would love for Grass Fed to become a popular go-to neighborhood spot, and is not particularly worried about those “people who read Saveur magazine, go to every new restaurant, and then Yelp about it.”
As a Saveur reader, a new restaurant junkie, and a lover of a nice steak, my best guess is that Grass Fed will continue to attract both.
1721 North Damen Avenue
Chicago, Illinois 60647