Expect no foodie lingo here, no “artisan” this or “hand-crafted” that, no menus tripped up in adjectives. Expect no calculated stabs at branding or ambiance. You won’t find proclamations of culinary hipdom here.
But you will find a mighty fine steak.
And you will find stellar service, the kind of service that brings you back to the warm, welcoming time capsule that is Okeechobee Steakhouse.
It has been this way for 67 years, for this is the iconic West Palm Beach steak house’s anniversary week.
This is a place built on a family’s commitment to exceptional beef, well-prepared dishes, genial and polished service and rare consistency. The Lewis family opened the steak house under the name Okeechobee Drive-In back in 1947. A couple of decades later, the Lewises added a new dining room, a full bar and a new name: the Okeechobee Steakhouse.
Still today, a diner can sense that history in the restaurant’s polished dark wood booths that are lined with coffee-toned leather banquettes, in the alabaster light fixtures that cast an almost sepia glow over the place, and in the menu’s beautifully spare language: Porterhouse Steak. Delmonico Steak. Bone-in Ribeye Steak. Shrimp Scampi. Grilled Chicken. Steak and Lobster. Classic Escargot. Classic Caesar Salad.
The bells and whistles are reserved for food quality and service. We learned this on a recent visit when our server introduced himself, then slipped his Okeechobee Steakhouse business card on the table: “John D. Mitchell Jr., Server,” it read in a crisp font, a declaration of good intention.
John D. Mitchell Jr. made good on his intention of excellent service, from his primer on Okeechobee’s Certified Angus Beef selections to his wine-pairing suggestion (a subtly aromatic, balanced cabernet blend from Blue Rock Vineyard in Sonoma’s Alexander Valley, $42 per bottle).
His steak primer confirmed my initial choice of cut: I went with a 14-ounce, nicely marbled Delmonico steak ($40.99, with Caesar salad $46.98). This was one gorgeous cut of steak, presented simply and unaccompanied on a large white plate. The spare presentation only added to the drama of this main-event steak course, showing off its perfect char and juiciness.
It proved to be as delicious as its look, grilled to a spot-on medium-rare finish. The béarnaise sauce I ordered on the side ($1.99), while tasty, proved unnecessary. This steak had all the flavor it needed, from smoky, lightly salty char to tender interior.
A steak and scampi combo ($39.99, or $50.97 with au poivre sauce and gorgonzola salad) proved excellent as well. The steak in question was a New York strip sirloin ($26.99 on its own, as an 8-ounce selection), a boneless center cut steak that’s denser and less tender than the Delmonico, but quite flavorful.
This plate’s revelation: the dish of Shrimp Scampi ($12.99 if ordered as an addition to any steak) nestled next to the steak. Garlicky and so tender, the shrimp are expertly sautéed and served with a slice of crusty, grilled bread for sauce-dipping.
Such a meal is ample on its own, considering the salads, which I should note were both fresh and flavorful, but not amazing. The Caesar ($13.99 as an entree), tossed with a light and tangy dressing, would have benefited from bolder flavors, perhaps a good boost of garlic. The gorgonzola salad ($13.99 as an entree) offered brighter notes, but could have used more gorgonzola.
Add an appetizer and dessert and this meal becomes a feast. We chose a stuffed mushroom starter ($12.99), mushroom caps stuffed with meaty crab and roasted, and we were quite pleased.
The evening’s sweet finale delivered as well: a pair of house-made pies, a thick and nutty coconut cream ($8.99) and a decadent peanut butter pie ($8.99). I loved that the coconut cream pie was served with a berries and cream garnish, strawberries and raspberries that were fresh, sweet and reflected the restaurant’s attention to detail.
But if you love peanut butter, try the latter – the peanut butter pie is rich, shareable and so delicious.
If the meal feels like a special-occasion feast, that’s because it is. It’s always a special occasion when a restaurant embraces quality, service and all the intangibles that too often are lost in today’s obsession with precious food and branding.
Once upon a time, that which aspired to be hip was branded “nouveau.” Today, much of what aspires to be hip is dubbed “retro.”
The Okeechobee Steakhouse feels no need to declare itself either.
It just is, gloriously so.
ADDRESS: 2854 Okeechobee Blvd., West Palm Beach
PRICE RANGE: Expensive
HOURS: Open weekdays for lunch from 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. and for dinner from 3 to 10 p.m. Open Saturday from 4 to 10 p.m., Sunday from 4 to 9 p.m. Early dinner is served daily from 4 to 6 p.m.
CREDIT CARDS: Major credit cards
RESERVATIONS: Strongly suggested, but walk-ins welcome
NOISE LEVEL: Low-key, manageable, good for conversation
FULL BAR: Yes, cocktails, wine and beer are served, and there’s a separate bar area.
WHEELCHAIR ACCESS: Yes, including restrooms
WHAT THE GRADES MEAN:
A — Excellent
B — Good
C — Average
D — Poor
F — Don’t bother