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Chop House knows meat

by Brian Clarey

It’s the stress of early spring and overbooked schedules and the constant shuttling of children from car to school to dinner table to bed. It’s the short tempers and the mounting pile of laundry and the list of “to-dos” that keeps growing and growing and growing. It’s the bills and the price of gas and the wanton destruction of household objects by the little people who share our last name.

We’re starting to forget what it was like before, that we’re a couple and, ostensibly, one that’s still very much in love.

So here’s what we do:

We secure a last-minute babysitter, a trusted friend from work who accepts the job with equal parts human kindness and sense of duty.

We put on clean clothes and fix our hair.

We get in the car and head to the Gate City Chop House for a few stolen moments of rekindled romance and no-nonsense food.

I guess you could call the Chop House a chain, as they have four incarnations of the Chop House proper and three more under the label Chop House Grille. They’re all in North Carolina, mostly in the Triad area, and all run with a similar dedication to quality and luxury. But it’s not the kind of joint with a line out the door. They don’t have gimmicky uniforms or funny hats or anything that could be described as “flair.” And they do the simple things really, really well.

Steaks. Chops. Fish. Chicken.

Wine.

They serve dinner rolls at the Chop House, thick-crusted and with fluffy white insides – none of that multi-grain, rosemary-infused, fennel-dusted crap. And butter. If you want to dip your bread in salad dressing, you’re missing the point.

Water comes with a quarter of a lemon. Wine is served in big goblets. The plates are as big as competition Frisbees.

In lieu of a trip to the salad bar, my lady starts off with the tomato and mozzarella salad and it’s stupendous – big slabs of tomato and generous discs of mozzarella. Real mozzarella, made with buffalo milk. Me, I go for the oyster salad. There’s a big pile of fried bivalves in front of me, and bacon crumbles atop mixed greens with lots of walnuts and crumbles of bleu cheese – the good stuff – with two thin slices of green apple set to the side like the wings of a honeybee. Each salad rises four or five inches off the plate.

We eat. And we talk. About the kids, sure, but also about our friends, our jobs, the past and the future. We connect. And all the while a team of cooks scurries in an open kitchen under gleaming copper shingles to assemble the main course.

For her: Tuna. Blackened. Rare. Twice baked potato. For me: Prime rib, the big one, with horseradish sauce and au jus and a big-ass steak knife. Loaded baked potato. Each dish garnished simply with a parsley sprig and an edible flower.

The steak is rubbed only with salt and pepper and cooked on all four sides in a proper prime rib oven. The tuna filet is wide and thin and the blackening adds fire to the succulent flesh. The only complaint is minor: The fish and the prime rib are a bit closer to room temperature than we’d have liked. But other than that it is very, very good.

It’s not fusion or nouvelle cuisine. It’s not a bistro or a boutique restaurant. It’s not a turnstile dinner factory.

The Chop House does what it does very well: tried and true dishes that rely on the excellence of the ingredients and precision of kitchen techniques. It’s appropriate for special occasions, yes, and regular dinners for those who can afford. And also it’s a fine place to remember that mommies and daddies are also husbands and wives.

To comment on this story, e-mail Brian Clarey at editor@yesweekly.com.

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