Last night The Wife and I headed over to a new restaurant in Burnsville, Steak America which is located at the corner of MN-13 and Cliff Rd in the building which housed a Denny’s and, most recently, a very short-lived Asian buffet. We arrived around 5:15p and walked into the space. Upgraded slightly since its Denny’s days, it seemed more open and had a small but nice bar serving craft (90 Schilling and Stone IPA to name two I remember) as well as the usual domestics both in bottles and on tap. We were quickly seated, walking past the stone fireplace in the center of the room and heading for a booth in the back corner.
The menu which isn’t really listed on their website, is lengthy and, honestly, seems pretty decent. The price points seem appropriate (6oz/$11, 8oz/$14, 12oz/$17, 16oz/$20, 20oz/$24 for steaks and $7 – $10 for appetizers) and there is a good variety ranging from steaks to seafood to pastas. Meals come with garlic toast and a choice of either a Caesar or chop salad served family style as well as a trip to the potato bar. Pretty standard fare for what this place seems to be emulating: a nicer Ponderosa.
Our server, nervous and unsure of herself, was sweet and friendly. While there were plenty of service issues, it wasn’t due to her not trying and wanting to be helpful. We had plenty of time to look over the menu and eventually placed an order for the Flash Fried Calamari ($10), a 6oz Tri-Tip Sirloin ($11), 8oz New York Strip ($14), and for the Rooster, the Steak Bites ($6).
It took almost no time at all for our Flash Fried Calamari to arrive. That’s because it doesn’t take very long to dump frozen calamari rings into the fryer and throw them on a bed of bagged lettuce with cold marinara and “churrasco sauce”. When it first arrived, The Wife told me to count the rings which looked just like Burger King’s onion rings; there were seven. Seven bag to plate calamari rings the size of BK’s onion rings for $10. What. The. Hell?! The server was around to ask how they were and I inquired if the 7 tiny rings were a joke. She said she believed it was a mistake and soon after a manager was out to say that the cook had used only one bag (well at least we were right about them being frozen) instead of two and he’d take the order off our bill. Eventually a pile of overfried rings arrived looking even more like onion rings and we dug in. Unfortunately they were exactly as you’d expect: chewy, tough, and flavorless. The marinara wasn’t anything awful but the “churrasco sauce” tasted like French dressing mixed with a spicy Italian dressing. The Wife noted the churrasco sauce looked very similar to Burger King’s onion ring sauce, rounding out our experience with this huge failure.
After quite a while our salads arrived with three pieces of garlic bread. The bread was nothing special and neither were the salads. The Casear was sweet (huh?) and the “Chop Salad” was really just a garden salad. Listen, calling something a “Chop Salad” may sound great in your head and on your menu but if you’re not going to take the time to actually chop everything up and you’re just going to deliver a bagged salad with a couple of cherry tomatoes, a few pieces of onion and green pepper alongside the shredded carrots in the bag, you might as well call it what it is: a garden salad and be done with it.
After a very long wait (this was only day three) our steaks arrived and The Wife’s 6oz Tri-Tip looked incredibly small even on an already tiny plate. Her’s was cooked perfectly medium rare, almost rare, and it was ok for the cut of meat it was. When I asked her what she thought she put her hands in the air, palms up, shrugged, shook her head, and said, “ehhhh, it was ok.”
My first steak came to the table and looked like someone had whacked it with a meat tenderizer. It was about a foot wide, 1/16th of an inch thick, and it was round. I don’t know about you but I’d never seen a round New York Strip steak that was 1/16th of an inch thick. In other words, it wasn’t a NY Strip. In addition it was also cooked medium-well even though I asked for the strip to be cooked blue. The waitress, noticing it was not cooked blue, immediately returned it to the kitchen and another arrived soon after. This one actually looked like a NY Strip steak and was basically raw. I mean, it had clearly touched the grill on both sides but it was red through and through and completely cold to the touch. The meat was fatty, tough, and basically tasteless aside from the heavy peppering it received. Seasoning a steak like that when the sear is adequate works well, but in this case, because the steaks are so very thin and an adequate sear is not possible while keeping the steak cooked anything but medium-well+, all that it left was a peppery raw meat that was very much like beef jerky. I left about a 1/3 of the steak on the plate–something I never imagined I would do to a steak.
The surprise of the evening were The Rooster’s steak tips. It was a good sized portion (almost the size of The Wife’s steak) and while they had some type of pretty terrible seasoning, they were nicely cooked and were the only truly edible item on the table. While The Rooster wasn’t a fan, since I hadn’t eaten all of my own meal, I decided to eat his instead.
Now, I figured since the steak was pretty terrible I’d at least have a chance to get something that was decent into my stomach at the Potato Bar. The Wife went first while I took care of the kiddos and came back with a plate full of sad looking potatoes. She noted that it was literally a “Potato Bar” and all they had were potatoes in various forms–nothing more. Thinking she was joking I headed up there with cheese, bacon, chives, and broccoli on my mind. What I found, just like The Wife said, were potatoes in various forms: baked, scalloped, American fries, mashed, fried wedges. To their credit they had a big pile of butter and sour cream at one end but that’s it.
I got a taste of all forms and brought them back to the table. The baked potato was what you’d expect however, everything else was absolutely disgusting and I say that with my tongue bitten because it was actually much worse than that. The scalloped potatoes looked like they were homemade but tasted like they came from a 10 year old box found at the thrift store food shelf across the street. The American Fries were cold and dried out. The mashed potatoes had no flavor except the burn of black pepper. The fried wedges were greasy and tasteless. Amazingly enough, Steak America was not only able to screw up a “potato bar” they were able to screw up potatoes in all their forms. While the steaks were their own spectacular failure, the “potato bar” was even more so; an impressive feat considering how awful the steaks were.
When we were done I said to The Wife, “this is like eating at a high school cafeteria.” Thinking for a bit she replied in all seriousness, “nah, it’s a half to a full step above that.” Oh, thanks for the clarification. The total bill, including tip, for two of the smaller steaks, a kid’s item, and an appetizer was $51 (BTW, they didn’t take the calamari off the bill like they said they would). Expensive? Not if I was eating a steak at Applebee’s, Ponderosa, or any number of other places, but when eating at a restaurant pushing out food a half-step above a school cafeteria where my lunch would probably be $3, yeah, it was expensive.
I was not at all impressed with the food but the people were great. They were really trying to work with the poor quality foods they had on hand and I think if the owners moved away from cuts of beef no one should eat; sourced from places that I assume normally go into the creation of dog food; while making the potato bar what it should have been, I really think this could really work as a Ponderosa knock-off. But until then, I’d rather eat the microwaved leftovers from Golden Corral’s B1G1 free night. While the teenager working the hostess station from his seat on the bench, who didn’t bother to stand up as we walked by, told us to have a good night and he hoped he’d see us again, I said, “no, I don’t think you will.”
Have you been to Steak America? If so what did you order and what did you think? Did you find it affordable for the quality you received? What restaurant would you compare it to locally? Whatever you have to say about this one go ahead and comment on as I’d love to hear your thoughts.
2400 Cliff Rd
Burnsville, MN 55337
See all the pictures from Steak America in Burnsville on Flickr here.