day forty-six: john thomas steakhouse
July 23, 2011 § Leave a Comment
Exactly one year ago today, for my 30th birthday, I went to John Thomas Steakhouse with my partner and mother for a celebratory meal. This year, in commemoration of that visit, I am blogging about said meal so that none of you need make that expensive of a mistake for your next birthday. For the price of a meal at John Thomas, one could eat at the best restaurants in the world; instead, here, one is most likely to receive a very expensive piece of meat that tastes like its been heated up by an underpaid line cook.* Want a side with that? That will be $7.50 please, for a mediocre plate of mashed potatoes. How about a salad? That will be an additional $9.75 please, for one thick slice of tomato and a slice of mozzarella. Oh, but it’s drizzled with basil vinaigrette? Well, then…
Reminiscing about this meal brings up a litany of expletives and also the scent of death. The carpeted interior of the John Thomas farmhouse — which is, admittedly, somewhat cute from the outside — smells like old people and mold. The only other people in the restaurant were a couple who looked like they might be in their 80s and were kvetching about the place in Noo Yawk accents. I touched the walls of the room where we were seated and they felt like felt, that cheap green felt that is sometimes stuck to the bottom of furniture so as to avoid the scratching of wood floors. I am a short person and even for me, the ceilings seemed way too low. I looked up at the heating/air-conditioning vents around the top of the room and saw rust all around the edges. Plus, the waiters all look like extras in some Amish musical, with button-up shirts, bow ties, and suspenders. WTF?
I tried to put this all aside and ordered the least expensive steak on the menu. John Thomas was running a recession special at the time (which seems to have ended now that all of us bankers and brokers are no longer suffering and can, thankfully, order full-price steaks again), so I was able to get a porterhouse for 2 for something like $80, which didn’t seem like much of a bargain to me. But maybe it would totally blow my mind, change my ideas about what a steak could be? I tried, as hard as I could, to keep an open mind.
I ordered my steak medium rare and while most parts of the steak were, in fact, a perfectly pink medium-rare on the inside, other, thinner parts of the cut were more toward the medium end of things. The outside of the steak was far too charred and actually detracted from the rich, silky taste of the aged beef. I would have been far happier, I thought, had I ordered this rare. Or if I had cooked it myself with a grill and a thermometer.
We all ate our meals and tried to find decent things to say about them that could possibly justify the exorbitant bill we were about to receive. Alas, we found little that could do so. Instead, we ate in somewhat guilty silence, while I felt like a total tool for having chosen this overpriced, underwhelming restaurant for my birthday, knowing full well that my mother would insist on paying for it.
Leaving John Thomas, it seemed to me that the place had been possibly be getting by on two things alone: 1) Being the only real steakhouse in Ithaca to call itself a steakhouse, thus making it an easy choice for dad-heavy graduation and reunion weekends, and 2) Serving as the dinner restaurant for the neighboring La Tourelle Resort. (If only Simply Red were open for dinner!)
Seriously, anyone can cook the food they have at John Thomas. If you’re hankering for a good steak, go down to the farmers’ market and buy some local, grass-fed beef, lightly season it with salt, pepper and maybe a little bit of olive oil and cook it to your desired temperature over a grill or in your broiler. If you’re hankering for a fancy seasoned steak, order one off the Internet to arrive tomorrow and, likewise, cook it to your desired temperature over a grill or in your broiler. Chances are it will cost far less and be more delicious than what you’ll get at John Thomas. And, the ambience will probably be nicer, too.
Okay, that’s out of my system. I’m off for some birthday fun.
(Shameless plug: If you’re in Ithaca/not at Grassroots tonight, head up to Pixel Lounge in Collegetown after 9:30 for what should be a totally killer dance party!)
* A good source tells me that one such underpaid line cook was, for some time, a regular at the Chanticleer. He wore medieval garb and had burns (steak burns?) all up and down his arms. I don’t yet know what to make of this but think, nonetheless, that it says something about the place.
Price: Sell your stocks, break into the trust fund ( > $40)
Hours: Sun-Th, 5:30 – 10pm; F-Sat, 5:30 – 11pm
Location: 1152 Danby Rd # A (on 96B, past Ithaca College, on the right, in front of La Tourelle Resort)
Website: John Thomas Steakhouse