Back in Central Iowa again for a weekend earlier this summer, it was getting late in the day and we decided to go get something to eat. I decided to go to a place that my wife and I had both been to before - but not together. I took off toward Altoona and The Big Steer steakhouse.
I can't tell you when the Big Steer first opened - I seem to remember first seeing the place back in the 80's on trips to Des Moines. It had been over 12 years since I had last been in the place and Cindy and her kids had gone there during a trip to Adventureland earlier than that. Randy and Sherry Fix are the owners of the Big Steer and have been for years.
The Big Steer is located on Adventureland Drive in Altoona just down the road from both Adventureland and Prairie Meadows Racetrack and Casino. (see map) The restaurant is easy to see thanks to - of course - the big steer statue out in front of the place.
They're open until 9:30 at the Big Steer and we walked in at 9:28. I asked the hostess if it was too late to get in for dinner. She went back into the kitchen to check with the cooks. I took a look in the bar area - the place where I ate the first time I came in years ago - and it was empty. She came back out, grabbed a couple menus and said, "We can get you in." We promised her that we'd order fast and eat fast.
She guided us to a booth in the dining room. The dining room was still about a quarter full and we were soon greeted by our server for the evening, Ted. We promised him that we'd be quick so he could get out of the restaurant sooner than later. I ordered up a Boulevard Double Wide IPA and Cindy got a glass of malbec wine.
Steaks are the main dish at the Big Steer, although I did look closely at the prime rib they had that evening. Pork chops, chicken entrees and seafood including lobster tails, shrimp and salmon filets are also available at The Big Steer.
I prodded Cindy to make up her mind quickly so that by the time Ted came back with our drinks we both would be ready to order. When he dropped off the beer and wine, he wanted to know if we needed some more time to look over the menu. He was sort of surprised when we told him we were ready to order.
Cindy got a Caesar salad to start off the meal while I got a house salad with parmesan dressing. The salad plates were filled with cool and crisp lettuce greens. The parmesan dressing was light and not overpowering. The salads came with some warm homemade bread.
Since most of the other diners had their meals, it didn't take long to get our meals. In fact, Cindy still was eating her Caesar salad when her dinner was brought out. She ended up getting the Steak de Burgo with a side of grilled asparagus. The steak was a 6 ounce filet - medium - that was topped with a butter/garlic/white wine de Burgo sauce. Steak de Burgo is sort of a staple at Des Moines area steak houses, first introduced to the area in the late 40's at the classy Johnny and Kay's restaurant near the Des Moines International Airport. (Johnny and Kay's closed in the early 70's.) Now you can find Steak de Burgo - in many variations - at many Des Moines area restaurants.
(Here's the recipe of how to make Steak de Burgo, courtesy of the Des Moines Area Community College culinary education department via the Iowa Beef Industry Council - For each beef tenderloin steak: sauté beef tenderloin steak to medium-rare in 3 tablespoons of butter in heavy skillet. Remove steak from pan. Add 2 teaspoons chopped garlic and sauté. Add 2 teaspoons fresh or dried basil and deglaze pan with 2 to 3 tablespoons white wine. Pour sauce over steak to serve.)
I went with the 9 ounce USDA Choice filet - rare. I got a side of fresh hash browns mixed with fried onions and topped with cheese to go along with it. I figured I'd have a couple three bites of the hash browns because I was going to concentrate on the steak.
I was joking that the steak was still "mooing" when it was served, it was so rare. It had a cool deep red center and was tender and juicy - just the way I like it. It was a fabulous steak. It was late, I was hungry and I made short work of the 9 ounce filet.
Earlier when we had sat down, we noticed some people at a table near us eating creme brûlée. I'm a sucker for good creme brûlée. After we'd finished and Ted came to ask us if we wanted any dessert, it was after 10 p.m., we were the last people in the place and they were already starting to clean the dining room. I said, "You know, if it were around 7:30 we would get some of the creme brûlée. But we know you want to get out of here, so we're going to pass."
Ted produced our bill, placed it on the table and sincerely said, "Thank you for your consideration." It looked like he'd had a long night.
Even though we hurried ourselves through dinner, we didn't feel hurried or got any part of an attitude from the staff at The Big Steer because of our late arrival. Ted's service was professional, the food was very good, and we enjoyed the time we spent there - although it was less than 40 minutes from the time we entered the place until the time we left. The Big Steer is one of those steakhouses that shows how good Iowa beef can really be without being really fancy. It's worth a stop if you're traveling along I-80 and you're looking for a good steak dinner.