Fort Wayne, Indiana-based Eddie Merlot's is a classic steak and seafood house—to a point. The design is notably modern, not dark wood, and the company was started with 21st century guests in mind: Baby Boomers, businesswomen and upwardly mobile 30-somethings. The chain serves grain-fed beef at its six units in Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky and Illinois, says Bruce Kraus, director of operations.
Located in San Diego’s diverse and vibrant North Park neighborhood, The Linkery opened in 2005, serving, as its name implies, links of homemade sausages and other charcuterie. The casual restaurant has evolved into a craft food and beer (and wine) destination and regional favorite. Most of the produce and meat, including grass-fed beef, served at the restaurant is from farms in southern California, says owner Jay Porter.
From the very start, we've served USDA Prime, which is the top two percent of all beef and is considered the most tender and flavorful. We receive all of ours from Greater Omaha Packing in Omaha, Nebraska, which has very controlled quality specifics for its cattle. We feel very strongly that the quality of Midwestern corn-fed steers produces the type of exceptional beef that our guests have come to expect at our restaurants.
We switched to grass-fed beef in 2007, 2008, around in there. We did it mainly for the flavor. Actually, I found the taste of grain-fed beef insipid. It had a buttery blandness to it. Well-raised grass-fed beef has a more complex flavor—more flavor in general—and the texture is better. We've used multiple suppliers, but now we are using Paso Prime, which is from three pasture ranches near Paso Robles along the central California coast.
We know we are getting the best beef. Then we age it. Beef needs to be aged properly for all the true flavors and textures to come out. In our aging process, we do have one dry-aged steak, but most of the beef is wet aged for a minimum of 21 days. Filet mignon, 6 ounce, ($26) or 8 ounce ($32) are the highest sellers. The next category is the 16-ounce ribeye ($37), bourbon-marinated ribeye ($41), and New York strip ($36, 12-ounce).
Our diners prefer grass-fed beef. More and more, our customers who taste it are not interested in grain-fed beef any more. It may be a little more expensive, yes, but it's worth it. We usually have as many as five beef items on the menu, or as few as two. There's always a steak ($25) and a hamburger ($11.50) on the menu, and we might have a Reuben sandwich with corned beef brisket or a beef tongue sandwich.
Wavering from the type of beef we serve would be a disservice to our guests. In business, however, you always have to look at many issues, including price. There's been a lot of pressure because beef costs have been very high, so anyone in the steakhouse business has to consider that. And the guest can't absorb all of that. Every so often the thought of changing our beef or the beef sourcing comes up, but it always goes away.
We are very happy with the beef and the farmers who produce it. Not all grass-fed beef is awesome, but good grass-fed beef blows away good grain-fed beef. There's nothing better than a grass-fed beef burger with a terrific microbrew. All of the meat we serve the same way. The animals are raised humanely and naturally. The result is healthier, better meat, and it's also better for the environment.