Steakhouse Series: Austin Land & Cattle

 
By Mike Sutter | Fed Man Walking | 10.16.11
 
During Austin Restaurant Week earlier this month, I checked in on four steakhouses with the idea of translating that week’s three-course dinner deal into a broader experience. Today I’ll look at Austin Land & Cattle Co. For reviews of III Forks, Perry’s and Trio at the Four Seasons, click here
 
Austin Land & Cattle Co. (ALC Steaks)
1205 N. Lamar Blvd. 472-1813, www.austinlandandcattlecompany.com.
Hours: 5:30 to 10 p.m. Sunday-Thursday. 5:30 to 11 p.m. Friday-Saturday.
 
The interior of Austin Land & Cattle — or ALC Steaks; their website and signage carry both brands — is like a Tudor-style feed barn, a place where locals go to feel comfortable, and the room was full even on a Monday night. Take away the menu, and this could just as easily be a place for Mexican food or chicken-fried steak. The industrial tiles on the floor bounce sound like a high school gym, and sure enough, two guys walked past in shorts, one in a T-shirt with the sleeves torn off. Do I have to say this, fellas? No sleeveless shirts and flip-flops in a place where dinner costs more than you make in a day. Were you born in a feed barn?
 
This was the first time I’d eaten in the ALC main room. In the past, I’ve been happy to stay in the bar for deeply discounted happy hours (5 to 7 p.m. Monday-Friday) with one of the best steak sandwiches in town for $8, or a steak sampler for $9 with one of ALC’s sauces, especially a jalapeño blue cheese that leaves room for real green chile heat to bring out the blue’s salty character.
 
ALC has exactly none of the polish of its downtown competitors, even though the price points aren’t that far apart. ALC completes the plate with veggies and a starch, but so does III Forks. But let’s put aside the steamed spinach leaves, the undercooked carrots and the garlic mashed potatoes with the personality whipped out of them. It’s the meat that counts, and my aged ribeye ($30-$38) was perfect, tender even when it was cooked rare, a fiery red the color of cardinal sin, with a sharp sear and museum-quality grill-marked quadrillage.
 
The ALC wine list is rougher than most steakhouses in this price spectrum, emphasizing value and familiarity over creativity, at least by the glass. For me, ALC is more of a Mexican martini place. With Don Julio Añejo, it’s $11 and burns like firewater. It’s blessedly more tart than sweet, swirling with pulp from oranges and limes and finished with olives, but you won’t get the shaker that comes with so many Mexican martinis around town.
 
Everything else was a distraction. Sweet potato clam chowder ($6.50) seemed like a safe choice. The potatoes made only the slightest difference when I caught specks of orange against the modestly sweet clams. But there was another element at work, clumps of undissolved flour, accidental texture notes that made me picture a big vat of the stuff bubbling aimlessly on a stove in the back. Dessert was a bowl of flavorless strawberries and gummy raspberries spackled with whipped cream.
 
Service was a study in benign neglect, the victim of a full house, and the long waits would have been fine if not for the noise, the random blues riffs and the nonstop rattle and hum of silverware and clanking dishes. I sat across from a table of six guys who looked like they could butcher their own beef. One of them tested a steak knife against his thumb, his body language suggesting he’d like to sharpen the edge, an appropriate metaphor for this rambling place.
 
(Photos by Mike Sutter © Fed Man Walking)