Chicago steakhouses serve beef from elite cows

Chicago steakhouses serve beef from elite cows

By The Associated Press

CHICAGO – Fashionistas who want the latest in couture can go to Paris or Milan, but for real cow-ture, the place to be is Chicago.

The city once known for its stockyards is at the center of a hip food trend: designer beef.

Today, diners can select a steak that in its cow days ate nothing but sweet, tall grass. They can order a steak that comes from cattle that shared the same father. Or they can enjoy a piece of beef that is exactly like one designer Ralph Lauren dines on at his Colorado ranch.

Today, more than 30 years after the last major slaughterhouse closed, this city’s romance with beef remains. Steakhouses are almost literally around every corner. Last year the USDA found the per capita consumption of beef in Chicago was at least seven pounds more a year than any other part of the country.

Jason Miller, the executive chef at David Burke’s Primehouse, only has to look outside to see he’s in a place where people know and appreciate beef. “There aren’t very many small people walking around Chicago,” he said.

Chicagoans’ love for beef made it easier for Burke to spend a quarter-million dollars last year for a prize black Angus bull, named Prime 207L or simply “Prime,” to produce offspring that become the restaurant’s steaks.

The purchase made perfect business sense, he said, because by inseminating heifers with semen from the same bull, the restaurant guarantees its steaks are of the highest quality.

“We bought his genes, basically,” said Burke, whose customers tell him his steaks are the best they’ve ever eaten.

Not only that, but because the semen is collected several times a week and frozen, Burke expects that a decade after Prime dies he will still be in the fathering business. A photograph of Prime hangs in the restaurant’s kitchen.

Tallgrass Beef Company, which opened last October, touts the nutritional benefits of its Kansas, grass-fed beef. It is sold in a handful of Chicago-area restaurants, upscale markets and even a school.

Bill Kurtis, the owner of Tallgrass and longtime Chicago news anchor who now hosts A&E;’s “American Justice” and “Cold Case Files,” says his company’s beef is lower in cholesterol, higher in omega 3 fatty acids and vitamin E and free of growth hormones and other chemicals found in the traditional beef.

Customers get it for about the same price as corn-fed beef, said Grant DePorter, president of Harry Caray’s restaurant, which has been serving Tallgrass’ beef since November.

DePorter wouldn’t be surprised if the handful of restaurants serving Tallgrass’ beef grows substantially, judging by the competitors he said he’s spotted coming into the restaurant to sample it and the way they’ve praised it, not knowing that his wait staff was within earshot.

None of the accolades surprise Ted Slanker, who owns Slanker’s Grass-Fed Meats in Texas with his wife. What does surprise him, though, is that Tallgrass has made inroads in the restaurant market.

It’s one thing, he said, to sell to health-conscious consumers on the Internet, as he does. But it’s another to get people to spend a lot of money in a steakhouse on a steak that doesn’t look, taste or feel quite like the kind of steak they’re used to.

“It’s like being forced to eat kale and collards to people who are used to eating iceberg lettuce,” he said.

The recent boom in fine steaks is being felt from coast to coast, from trendy bistros serving Kobe beef and lovingly marbled meat, to expanding chains like Morton’s and Ruth’s Chris Steak Houses, which each have dozens of restaurants.

So chic is the lure of premium beef that even folks more associated with designer duds are getting into the act.

The chef at Lauren’s RL restaurant in downtown Chicago says diners there may order his special steaks to feel a little more like the glamorous designer.

RL serves steaks from Lauren’s ranch about four months a year.

“You’re not hanging out with him but it’s like you are sharing something with him,” said chef Isaac Holzwarth.