For the obsessive collector of restaurant menus, these are boom times. In larger cities — New York, Chicago, LA — independent websites collate menus from dozens or hundreds of restaurants. If St. Louis doesn't yet have the food scene to demand a menu-aggregator site like Menu Pages, a decent number of local restaurants post menus online. Add those to all the freely available takeout menus and the paper menus that even nice restaurants let you take home because they print a new version every day, and (in my case, at least) you end up with a desk drawer overflowing with a collection of menus that you will never, ever be able to organize.
Still, for the true menu aficionado, the thrill is the hunt: Nothing gives us a greater thrill than to walk out of a restaurant with our heads held high and a menu secreted about our person. The more ungainly the menu, the better. (The adrenaline rush can lead to rash acts. A restaurant critic who shall remain nameless once was so desperate for the glossy bound menu of a certain St. Louis sports superstar's joint that he simply grabbed the copy atop the host's stand on his way out the door.)
So when the hostess at Andria's Steakhouse in Chesterfield handed over a copy of the restaurant's heavy, hardback menu, I regretted not having a coat in which to tuck it. My wife, alas, had brought a modest purse.
It's rare to encounter a new restaurant with such a weighty menu, but Andria's isn't a typical new restaurant. The original Andria's opened in O'Fallon, Illinois, in 1978. Its signature steak sauce is a fixture in area supermarkets. This second location opened in late December of last year in the old Aqua Vin space on the perimeter of Chesterfield Mall. This is right next door to the Brazilian steak house Bacana Brasil, which I guess makes this the epicenter for meat consumption in west county.
The new Andria's sprawls over several dining rooms, a large bar area and a patio that overlooks a trickling manmade waterfall. The ambiance is pitched somewhere between casual and classy. On a Tuesday evening, Muzak played, a fake fireplace flickered and the noise in the one occupied dining room was mellow, if not hushed. At Friday dinner, however, all of the dining rooms were packed and chatty, and the output of a singer in the bar, playing guitar to a backing track, carried throughout the restaurant.
Service is friendly but, even on the calmer Tuesday, occasionally inattentive, with long waits to place orders and get drinks. The wine list is lengthy and heavy on traditional, steak-friendly reds. Surprisingly, no draft beer is available. The bottle selection features mainly macrobrews.
You hardly need to open the menu. I say this having never been to the original Andria's. This is the classic steak-house template, from the range of meats (top sirloin on the low end, a twelve-ounce filet mignon at the high) to the appetizer selection (shrimp cocktail, stuffed mushrooms) to the available sides (potatoes French-fried, baked or mashed). The only thing missing is creamed spinach. Prices fall into the middle range of the steak-house scale. Steaks run from $20 to $35, but that includes one side and a large dinner salad.
Andria's touts its sauce, which is brushed onto the meat as it grills, as the secret to its steaks' flavor. I tried three different steaks — the strip, the rib eye and the filet mignon — and if it made a difference in the finished product, it was much too subtle for me to tell. Each of the three steaks had the pleasant, if expected, flavor of corn-fed beef properly charred and cooked to the appropriate medium-rare temperature. As steak aficionados won't be surprised to hear, the rib eye was the most flavorful, the filet mignon the most tender, the strip a good balance of taste and tender.
As I said, I've never been to the original Andria's. I wasn't sure how the famous sauce was supposed to taste. So I asked my server if I could have a small serving on the side. The sauce is thin and a rich caramel brown. The flavor is difficult to describe: I found a certain fermented quality to it, like soy or fish sauce. My wife thought Worcestershire sauce was an ingredient, but she wouldn't have bet money on it. Used as a dipping sauce, it gave the strip steak and the filet mignon depth and even a little edge, but nothing remarkable.
Andria's offers pork, chicken and seafood entrées, but I felt here as I often do at old-school steak houses: These are included for their plain-Jane appeal, or lack thereof, and are intended merely to drive you inexorably back to one of the steaks. I knew I should try one of them, yet the selection was so boring — fried shrimp, shrimp scampi, broiled salmon in a lemon-dill sauce — that I settled on the most steak-like, a Flintstone-sized twenty-ounce boneless pork chop. Basted with the famous sauce, this imparted the blandly appealing flavor of nicely grilled industrial pork.
Baked potatoes are served wrapped in brown paper, which your server twists open at the table. A nifty presentation, but a baked potato is still just a baked potato. I'm not a big fan of steak-cut French fries, but Andria's were better than average, crisp on the outside and fluffy within.
The appetizers were hit-and-miss. Lobster turnovers in a sherry-cream sauce were plump with tender lobster meat inside the flaky phyllo crust. Button mushrooms stuffed with crab meat, on the other hand, were basically mushrooms topped with breadcrumbs. I wondered, until I saw a thread of crab on the plate, if the kitchen might have forgotten the meat. The brief dessert menu tempts steak-stuffed tummies with key-lime mousse and crème brûlée in an edible chocolate ramekin.
Best to stick to the basics: steak and potatoes. Though you should read the menu. It's an interesting specimen. Andria's is an old-fashioned restaurant in terms of what it serves, but also in how it views food. Filet mignon, for example, is described as "the ladies' favorite." The pork chop is labeled, inaccurately, as "white meat." The grilled chicken is served with "Oriental vegetables." The menu is so anachronistic that, in another city, it might be viewed as a collector's item.
In St. Louis it remains all too common. Which might be for the best. As much as I wanted to swipe Andria's menu, I fear that karma's going to catch up to me. You try explaining to a cop that a restaurant menu fell off the back of a truck.