Before I get into the meat of the matter (pun intended), allow me to share the crux of a debate I have going on with many of my friends. I believe there are too many steak houses in this nation. My friends, including some who run this Web site, believe there are not enough meals in the day and that all of them should include steak. One thing on which we all agree is that going out for a great steak is a celebration, especially when paired with a great cigar. So it was that I attempted to produce such a moment in Tucson, Arizona, on New Year's Eve day.
Arizona recently passed a law that prohibits smoking indoors and in many public places. Still, some businesses have made a point out of creating an environment where cigars are welcome. McMahon's Steak House is one such restaurant. The Tucson restaurant has a patio in back, just outside the bar, where meals are served, TV can be watched and cigars can be smoked. They'll even sell you a very good cigar if you forgot your own.
I was in Tucson to celebrate the entry of 2008 with friends from New York who have a beautiful house in which they are planning to live in retirement. Now that I live on the West Coast, I rarely see these friends. I was looking forward to spending time with them and having a cigar. So two weeks earlier, I searched for a place that would accommodate us with a meal and an ashtray. McMahon's seemed as if it would work.
The reservation -- again, made two weeks in advance -- was for lunch. Shortly after being seated, the waitress came over and told us that a "limited menu," only burgers and salads, was available this day. This news left us disappointed and I asked for the manager. I explained to him that I had made the reservation way in advance and at no point was informed that there would be a limited menu. He apologized and immediately said that the steaks would be available. I thanked him and we settled in to order.
Of course, we ended up ordering only one steak, a large rib eye. The rest of the meal consisted of chicken sandwiches and burgers, mine being one that combined the ground beef with porcini mushrooms and topped with morels. Had to try that. The other burger was of the "Kobe" variety.
An hour later, the food arrived. The burgers and the rib eye were so beyond the medium-rare we had requested that they were all sent back. The new manager apologized. I asked if the restaurant managers had anticipated far fewer customers this day. He admitted they had and were significantly understaffed. I didn't dare ask if their grill guy was in the kitchen this shift.
The burgers and the steak came back about 15 minutes later. They were closer to medium-rare, the ribeye being a little undercooked and absolutely delicious. I think I mentioned it was huge.
The problem was that our cigar moment had been denied by the time it took to get through our meal. The hour that it took for the food to come out the first time ate up our smoking opportunity. We were disappointed, but shifted our attention to having a cigar on the patio of my friends' house and looking at the sun go down for the last time in 2007 while we drank very great booze.
We finished lunch with an order of the restaurant's signature dessert, Champagne Fried Strawberries. Way too sweet for me and a deceptive name. The strawberries are battered and have a lot of cinnamon and sugar in the mix. They are then quickly deep-fried. The Champagne is in a creamy sauce on the side. Not even close to providing the satisfaction that the La Flor Dominicana Coronado Double Corona I had in my pocket would have delivered.
Ultimately, this was just a bad day for McMahon's. The steaks are good, the management is responsive, and cigar smokers are welcome. McMahon's is worth giving a second chance.
Alejandro Benes did not create the title, but spoke on "Beef's Stake in the Restaurant Industry" at the recent convention of the National Cattlemen's Beef Association in Reno, Nevada.
McMahon's Steak House
2959 N. Swan Rd
Tucson, AZ 85712-1222
Phone: (520) 327-2333
Mon. to Fri.: 11 a.m. to close
Sat. and Sun.: 5 p.m. to close
McMahon's maintains a small humidor in the bar and offers cigars ranging in price from $9 to $34. Davidoff, La Flor Dominicana, Arturo Fuente, Rocky Patel and Camacho are featured brands in various sizes.