The Bass Pro Shop of steakhouses5/7/2014
“Don’t sell the steak, sell the sizzle.” That phrase, coined by Elmer Wheeler in the 1920s, urges salesmen to focus on the experience around a product rather than on the object itself. The idea is to appeal to the senses and emotions of the customer. The phrase made a comeback with stockbrokers in the 1980s, but I don’t recall it ever being literally applied to the selling of steak.
Montana Mike’s is a Texas company with 27 stores in the Midwest and southwest but none in Montana. Des Moines is by far the largest city represented in the chain. Only Branson, Missouri, has more than one store. The company motto is “Welcome to Big Steak Country,” and it plays the theme up. Lots of dead animals hang on the walls along with antique skis, snowshoes, signs and outdoor equipment. This is the Bass Pro Shop of steakhouses, where inanimate objects appear to be using steroids. Wood and leather booths are supersized, as are steak knives, dinner rolls and a barroom TV. Some cocktails were served in giant Mason jars, and chocolate milk was being served in glasses that made pints look puny. Even water glasses were pint-sized and constantly refilled.
Appetizers were big, too. Fried zucchini and fried mushrooms were hiding deep inside thick batters of “hand-breaded secret ingredients.” Onion rings had a lighter batter. Even wings and campfire shrimp were battered and fried. Dinner salads consisted of nicely chilled iceberg lettuce, carrots, onions, cucumber, cheese and croutons. All dressings were creamy — even the balsamic vinaigrette was thick.
I don’t think many diners come to this steakhouse for salads, though. Montana Mike’s bills its beef as USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) Angus. That indicates that the cow’s hide was 51 percent black. It does not mean the meat is USDA prime, choice, select or worse. It also advertises “naturally-aged” beef. That doesn’t mean anything, as all beef begins a natural aging process as soon as it’s butchered. Dry-aging is superior to wet-aging, though, so that would have been useful information. With Montana Mike’s price points, one does not expect prime beef or dry-aged beef. One should expect specific information, though.
Baby back ribs were accurately described as “fall-off-the-bone tender.” They were smothered in a very sweet red sauce. Montana Mike’s menu uses the word “smothered” frequently and accurately. Chicken-fried steak was made with thoroughly tenderized sirloin. Oddly, its thick breading did not have the crisp texture of something that had been fried. A “mile-high” ribeye delivered a good 14-ounce steak dinner for $22. Mashed potatoes were excellent but were smothered in a dreadful salty gravy. I doubt it was made with real glace of demi-glace. Fried okra reminded me of the appetizers. Green beans were superior, fresh and steamed to be served with bacon. Sauteed mushrooms were not as successful, tasting salty.
Desserts — cheesecake, chocolate cake and mudslides — were gargantuan for their modest $4.49 price tag. A child’s menu was also a bargain at $4-$6.50. Sandwiches ran $7.50-$12. Appetizers were $3.50-$8. Entrees cost $10-$25 and included two side dishes. The place seemed to be doing a brisk carryout business.
Bottom line: Montana Mike’s delivers a good value particularly for large appetites. Among similarly priced steakhouses in Des Moines, it ranks somewhere below Trostel’s Greenbriar, Jesse’s Embers, Iowa Beef and Outback but in the ballpark with Texas Roadhouse and Lone Star.
Side Dishes A sign that spring have sprung, Paradise Biryani Pointe opened on Mills Civic Parkway in late April with lines coming out the door and into the parking lot… Opening weekend at Eatery-A saw as many as 30 people waiting outside for doors to open. CV
Jim Duncan is a freelance writer who has penned nine different columns for Cityview and its sister publications beginning in 1987.