The waiter in the white shirt and black vest has delivered your cocktail, a Martini so cold you think your teeth might crack as you take that first sip. You move on to the oysters, shucked and on the half shell, then slice into a massive but tender bone-in rib steak, the meat seared brown on the outside but a vibrant red medium-rare in the center. It’s Prime beef—the USDA’s highest grade—and has been dry-aged for a month. This is an elite type of meat, something you will only find at a top-tier steakhouse.
Sated after this luxurious indulgence of beef (along with the requisite sides like creamed spinach and hash brown potatoes), you sip the last of your trophy red while perusing the after-dinner drink list. It’s a near-perfect feast, but there’s still one thing missing—a post-meal cigar.
Many of the nation’s oldest and most venerated steakhouses are in places that have become decidedly unfriendly to cigar lovers, like New York City. That’s tough for those in the Big Apple, but the good news is that the rest of the United States has been enjoying a steakhouse revolution, and the classic giants have been joined by many contemporary new standouts worth a visit. There are more first-rate steakhouses than ever, and a surprising number of them offer a place for you to enjoy your cigar after, or even during, your meal. This luxurious combination of the finest red meat, red wine and brown tobacco can be found from big cities such as Dallas, Washington, D.C., Miami and Las Vegas to more surprising spots like North Carolina and the Hudson Valley.
“Chefs who would have done old gourmet French restaurants aren’t opening those anymore, but they are doing steakhouses,” says Adam Platt, renowned longtime restaurant critic for New York Magazine. “They are serving things like duck fat fries, creamed spinach with truffles, roasted marrow bones with morels. In a weird way we are living in a Golden Age of the steakhouse.”
So what makes a steakhouse great? Meat is the biggest part, but this has gotten complicated. For years, the best served Prime beef, and the very best dry aged it, concentrating richer flavor through evaporation. But while Prime means the beef is well-marbled, it doesn’t indicate breed, ranch, what the cattle was fed, and whether it was given drugs (most are). Modern steakhouses have increasingly added alternatives, such as naturally raised, drug-free cattle from a particular ranch or vendor, and common examples include Creekstone Farms, Pineland Farms, Heartland Beef, 7X and Certified Angus Beef Prime. These carefully sourced meats are showing up more often on steakhouse menus, many times with several options to choose from.
While most old-school places offer one type of beef in a choice of familiar cuts, many steakhouses today have a dizzying array of options and might have strip steaks from grass-fed Colorado cattle, corn-fed steers from Nebraska, imported and domestic Wagyu (see sidebar, page 100), all on the same menu—along with “butcher’s” cuts you’ve never heard of. Great steakhouses, old and new, offer classic starters—think French onion soup and wedge salad—plus traditional sides such as sautéed mushrooms and potatoes every way imaginable, while many add signature dishes.
This is when comfort food meets luxury dining, and it’s something that’s never going out of style.
Pappas Bros. Dallas and Houston
Walk inside Pappas Bros. and your eyes will be drawn to the glass counters displaying myriad thick cuts of steak, a reminder that the USDA Prime is butchered (and dry aged) in-house. This is also one of the few top steakhouses selling purebred, domestic Akaushi Wagyu. All this great meat can be enjoyed over cigars. Pappas Bros. offers more than 60 brands and sizes, with smoking, eating and drinking allowed on comfortable outdoor patios at the Dallas and Houston Galleria locations. (The eatery in Downtown Houston is not cigar friendly.) In Dallas, high-top tables complete with white tablecloths, ashtrays and green leather chairs sit in the circular brick-and-stone cloister surrounding one end of the building. It feels like being in an Italian monastery, with each table set against a broad, wall-like column alternating with open sections, completely sheltered from the outside. In Houston, cigar-friendly tables are set alongside the exterior walls of the restaurant, but within the enclosed courtyard surrounding a fountain by the main entrance, separated from the surrounding streets by hedgerows, wrought-iron fencing and the stone walls of the steakhouse itself. Each restaurant has the highest possible Wine Spectator Grand Award of Excellence, with approximately 4,000 bottles at each location. You’ll also find more than three dozen craft beers on tap—unrivalled in this niche—and a collectible whisky list, including such rarities as the 1946 Macallan. Pappas Bros. takes pride in making everything imaginable from scratch, from craft cocktail mixers to desserts created by a small army of pastry chefs. —L.O.
Bourbon Steak Washington, D.C.
Michael Mina was one of the first celebrity chefs to jump into the modern steakhouse game, with his global Bourbon Steak and StripSteak groups. Most feature deep whisky lists, his signature Maine lobster potpie and imported Japanese Wagyu. But the D.C. location in the Four Seasons Hotel has the most extensive cigar program, including a partnership with nearby and venerable tobacconist Georgetown Tobacco. Various cigar, wine and whisky pairings are offered, and smokers can enjoy their meal and cigar on the lush garden patio, complete with firepits, which makes it surprisingly private for an urban hotel.
Mina has developed a signature two-step process for making steak, first poaching the beef in butter, then grilling it over a wood fire, solving the age-old dilemma of capturing two coveted but often mutually exclusive red meat traits: melt-in-your mouth tenderness and deep smoky flavor. The menu has a broad array of steaks from multiple places in Japan, plus Australia, Colorado’s coveted 7X ranch and Oregon’s Painted Hills Natural Beef. There’s grass fed, dry aged and rarely seen cuts such as rib cap and pave. There’s black truffle in the mac and cheese and soy caramel sauce drizzled over the Brussels sprouts. As the name suggests, there are more than five dozen Bourbons on the list,
but also a healthy slate of Japanese whiskies to complement the Japanese meat. Mina has developed a bag full of tricks to wow diners, and here he uses them all. —L.O.
Del Frisco’s Double Eagle Steakhouse Denver and Las Vegas
There are several high-end steakhouse chains in the country, but Del Frisco’s stands out for its beef, an impressive selection of 45-day, dry-aged Prime and array of Wagyu from Japan, Australia and the United States. The original was in Texas, and in the spirit of everything being bigger, the signature steak is the “Double Eagle,” a double bone rib eye you will likely never see elsewhere. Appetizers, sides and seafood offerings are more extensive and elaborate than most competitors.
The Las Vegas location boasts a comfortable, covered dining and cigar-friendly patio, serving around 20 selections of cigars and allowing you to have a smoke before, during and after your meal, if you so desire. The Denver location has a full-blown indoor cigar lounge, complete with masculine leather furniture and lots of rare whiskies and Ports, plus a more laid-back cigar- friendly outdoor patio with firepits. Both offer more than five dozen selections from the humidor. —L.O.
Chicago Prime Schaumburg, Illinois
The Windy City is full of great steakhouses, but they no longer serve cigars with the food. For that, you have to journey out to suburban Schaumburg, convenient to bustling O’Hare Airport. The beef here is Prime, and the owners have not forgotten that residents of Chicago, once a meatpacking epicenter, love meat in all forms, including filet au poivre, with a Cognac and peppercorn sauce, or Oscar, topped with crabmeat, béarnaise sauce and asparagus. There’s also the chophouse classic roasted prime rib, plus interesting beef alternatives, including a 20-ounce heritage breed Berkshire Tomahawk pork chop.
Chicago Prime is family owned and attracts loyal regulars, and many bring their own smokes to the large, cigar-friendly outdoor patio, which is as close as you can get to being inside. It’s covered, with gas firepits built right into the sleek, stone dining surfaces. For those not doing BYOC, they have half a dozen cigars on hand. —L.O.
The cigar-friendly outdoor space at Marcel is a fabulous mini-restaurant of its own, hidden behind curtains, with a big fireplace and heaters. No local Atlanta chef is more revered than Ford Fry, a five-time James Beard semifinalist with nearly a dozen eateries, including the four-year-old Marcel, an old-school, fine-dining spot with whimsical flair. Named for a prominent boxer of the ’30s, the food and decor are themed on the period, with high, red nail-head leather banquettes and opulent fabric wall coverings. The small humidor next to the hostess stand hints at the cigar-friendly area that awaits outside.
“When we opened, we never envisioned cigars,” says sommelier Josh Ardizzoni. “But our clientele is very discerning, and they asked, so we utilized our outdoor space. Our cigar selection is curated, not overly large, but like everything we do, it’s high quality.”
Marcel’s beef stands out: all of it is Prime from the Linz Heritage Angus ranch, renowned for its 100 percent genetically pure Black Angus cattle (most “Angus” is not) with a half century lineage. Marcel starts with exquisite meat, dry ages it, grills it over a fire of Georgia hickory, rests it, and finishes it in cast iron pans, lacquered with beef tallow, butter and garlic. They come out perfectly sear-crusted and delicious. The period menu is short but packed with surprises like bone-in filet mignon, forgotten stars such as Beef Wellington and ultra-classic appetizers such as steak tartare, escargot, oysters Bienville and bone marrow with parsley salad. —L.O.
Old Homestead Steakhouse Las Vegas
You’re puffing on a fine cigar between bites of a perfectly seared rib eye when the waiter arrives with your Bourbon cocktail. It’s sitting under a clear glass bell that’s rigged to a handheld smoker, and after the press of a button the bell slowly fills with smoke, infusing your whiskey with a spicy, woody aroma that lingers over the dimly lit room. You’re sitting in The Clubhouse At Montecristo by Old Homestead, a small room tucked inside the 4,000-square-foot Montecristo Cigar Bar at Caesars Palace. The Clubhouse is a mini version of the Old Homestead steakhouse, which is right next door to the cigar bar, and it offers the aficionado the ability to light up a cigar, slice into a juicy steak and drink top-shelf spirits all at the same time, including the Rolling Smoke, the club’s signature cocktail, made with that smoked Bourbon. The full menu from Old Homestead is available here, in a room that can seat 10 in privacy and comfort. —David Clough
Knife Steakhouse Dallas
Knife’s signature is its ultra-aging program, with glass meat lockers displaying beef aged as long as 240 days, which is ancient in the steak world. “At Knife, you’re gonna be able to have 30-, 45-, 60-, 90- or 240-day dry-aged steaks any day of the week,” says chef John Tesar. “So if you like steak, come in and taste the differences. We’re going to take you on a taste journey of meat.” Tesar knows what he’s talking about: before he opened Knife, he earned five stars at the Mansion on Turtle Creek and amassed four James Beard Best Chef nominations, as well as doing a stint on “Top Chef.” He says you don’t have to seek out the pricey cuts to enjoy his steak. “You can spend a bundle here, but I’m a chef and apply chef techniques to less expensive cuts like sirloin flat, flat iron and coulotte.” Eschewing tradition, he sous vides his steaks before grilling, to boost tenderness. The meat is sourced from highly regarded Texas ranches like Heartbrand Beef and 44 Farms. The look of Knife mirrors these modern techniques, with open kitchens and glass-enclosed wine rack “walls.” The restaurant sells cigars, and has a cigar-friendly, outdoor patio, complete with a fireplace. —L.O.
Smith & Wollensky Miami Beach
As steakhouse chains go, it’s hard to top Smith & Wollensky, which has been serving hearty cuts of beef since it opened its first location in 1977. It serves USDA Prime beef, dry aged on site. There are seven throughout the United States (the original, in New York City, is owned by a separate company) but the one where your cigar will find a happy home is in Miami Beach. Dining outdoors in southern Florida is enjoyable for most of the year, and it’s hard to find a more comfortable spot than the vast outdoor area at Smith & Wollensky, which has views of the water and nearby Fisher’s Island, the most expensive zip code in Florida. Cigar smoking is allowed on the tables by the water, along with two outdoor patios, the outside bar and the upstairs deck. The menu here has a mix of the classic and the new. Choose from old standbys such as a bone-in rib eye or chateaubriand, or go for something more modern such as the Snake River Farms Swinging Tomahawk Rib Eye. When you bring out a cigar the waiter will respond with a proper cigar ashtray, and with so many in the handmade cigar industry doing business in south Florida, don’t be surprised to see a cigarmaker puffing away at one of the tables nearby. —David Savona
Angus Barn Raleigh, North Carolina
This immense and improbable restaurant looks like a barn turned roadhouse, with mismatched antiques ranging from swords to farm implements. Most prominent are a display of Colt revolvers and the world’s largest collection of Wild Turkey Bourbon decanters. There’s a main kitchen, another serving only those with allergies, and a third just for the private dining rooms in and around the trio of wine cellars, containing about 27,000 bottles, and displaying the Wine Spectator Grand Awards the restaurant has won every year since 1989.
Everything here speaks to longevity and tradition: six decades after it opened, it is owned and run by the founder’s daughter, and the staff of 400-plus, many here for two, three or four decades, includes a full-time restaurant historian, oyster shuckers and trained butchers. Unlike most of their peers, the eatery focuses on second-tier USDA Choice instead of Prime, and they wet age instead of dry, so the beef is not quite over the top, but the restaurant does everything in a big way, including cigars. There’s a kiosk-style, walk-in humidor by the front door, and with waits for dinner sometimes stretching to two hours, some guests enjoy a pre-meal smoke on the large front porch that has both covered and uncovered sections. But to smoke while eating, walk through the hidden door that takes you to The Meat Locker, an actual steel, commercial walk-in freezer that is now an open-air smoking lounge created to work with anti-smoking laws. The entire space is within a private outdoor courtyard with an odd British Pub meets speakeasy theme, and it serves the full menu. A full-time cigar steward can help you find something from the list, which has just about every major brand represented, including a custom Angus Barn model and rarities such as Fuente Fuente OpusX Power of the Dream and Padrón Family Reserves. —L.O.
Morton’s The Steakhouse
Of the big, high-end national steakhouse chains, Morton’s is the most cigar friendly, with five locales welcoming smokers. The first Morton’s opened in 1978, and each location plays it safe in terms of the classic steakhouse menu, with USDA Prime in familiar cuts, with about the most daring take being the Cajun-seasoned rib eye. Morton’s makes up for its predictability with reliable consistency, making it a go-to choice for steak lovers on the road. All 70 locations feature a minimum of 200 (and as many as 500) wines. The cigar-friendly locations all sell cigars and have outdoor dining patios, the most famous of which is in downtown Washington, D.C., a favorite of politicians and lobbyists, with its cigar patio overlooking the heart of the K Street corridor of power and influence. While there are a few actual outside tables, the bulk of the vast patio is weather protected by plastic walls and a ceiling and is split into areas with regular restaurant tables and couch seating around lower tables.
Morton’s in Scottsdale, Arizona, has a large, covered Southern-inspired verandah for your cigar, complete with regular tables, faux-wicker chairs and (rarely needed) gas heaters. In Coral Gables, Florida, Morton’s sits in the middle of a downtown block and has its outdoor seating behind towering columns under the portico of its pink building, just off the sidewalk with an Old Havana flair. In Fort Lauderdale, the restaurant has a much more modern look, anchoring the street-level corner of an office building with outdoor seating under canvas umbrellas on either side of the restaurant, separated from the lightly trafficked sidewalk by high hedges. The Morton’s in Rosemont, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago, has a large, stone patio in the back, with plentiful regular tables enclosed by wrought iron railings. The patio is surrounded by extensive landscaping and has a surprisingly escapist feel. —L.O.
Charley’s Steak House Orlando, Florida
Orlando can be a dining desert, with mediocrity on too many menus, but the Charley’s Steak House on International Drive is worthy of your attention. The steaks here are very good, if not world-class. Wet aged, rather than dry, they are seared over mesquite and oak on a large, circular grill. But what makes this a must-stop for the cigar lover is the restaurant’s covered cigar patio, which has several tables, some couches and its own bar. The restaurant has a small selection of cigars available for sale, makes a mean Martini and throws out the welcome mat for those who like to smoke while they feast on beef. —D.S. ϖ