During his 20 years of managing some of Chicago’s highest-volume kitchens, Mike Clark has worked in the likes of Gibsons Bar & Steakhouse, RL Restaurant and Tavern at the Park. He was, in fact, the founding chef/partner of the Gibsons Group Restaurants and developed their menu concepts, which means that when he talks about red meat, everyone listens:
Benny’s Chop House is more than a great steakhouse. It’s a great restaurant that serves steak better than most!
What is your favorite cut of steak? Why?
The dry-aged, 60-ounce ribeye because it has a wonderful tenderness and the dry age gives it an extra beefiness. Also because it comes from the rib (of the cow), the marbling gives it an extra juiciness. The fat melts out in the meat, which gives it a definitive flavor.
Do you prefer dry- or wet-aged steaks?
Benny’s caters to a sophisticated market and dry-aged steaks are the leading items on the menu. There is a more complex flavor in the dry age. The wet age is still dominant in sheer numbers though (in the industry).
How do you like your steak prepared? Why?
I like mine medium rare because it captures all that flavor the beef has naturally. As the temperatures get higher, it loses its juiciness that carries the flavor.
What are some of your favorite offbeat pairings with steak?
At Benny’s, we do this fabulous pork fat bacon. It is made with Berkshire pork belly out of Missouri. I also love pairing steaks with mushrooms and our signature hash browns, which make you feel totally satiated.
What do you feel are some of the most underrated steak cuts?
The skirt steak is underrated even though it’s risen in popular. It has a fabulous flavor to it, and the prime skirt steak we use has a wonderful marbling. It’s a lower-cost steak. It has certainly really risen in popularity. It’s risen in terms of its acceptance at all levels of dining. It’s always been a favorite of old Jewish and Greek diners.
What are some of the challenges when dealing with large parties when everyone orders a steak and wants it cooked to different temperatures?
Since everything else is going on in the kitchen as well, you want to be certain that all the other tables don’t fall behind. The broiler cooks will manage the different temperatures from the broilers. They analyze the field, they manage the separate cuts of meat on the broiler. Medium is the most popular, so you put them in a particular spot. You keep track of them. You dedicate particular areas of the broiler to specific temperatures.
I love that you have so many non-steak choices at Benny’s. What is one of your favorites? What are the best sellers?
We bring in hard shell lobsters from Canada. It’s a beautiful non-steak dish and available much of the year on our menu. The Alaskan halibut is the most wonderful piece of fish I can imagine. You can minimally season it and it’s a wonderful option to having beef at the restaurant. It comes from a fishery that is well managed by the government.
Benny’s Chop House, Mike Clark: The Steakhouse Interview
By Audarshia Townsend