Git Up, Baby!

Mike Shannon’s redone his namesake steak house -- and it’s a real humdinger

I'm not from St. Louis. My girlfriend and I moved here three years ago, more or less on a whim. Whenever I tell native St. Louisans this, they screw up their faces into an expression that's part disgust, part disbelief and part amusement, like I'm a kid they've caught eating his own boogers, and ask, "Why?" At first I try to explain why we like the city so much. Then I say, "Well, we moved here from Iowa." Finally I just shrug. I'm honestly bummed. Do I have to become that cynical about where I live before I can fit in with the locals?

Last October, though, I had a revelation, a brief moment when I felt like an honest-to-goodness St. Louisan. Albert Pujols had just hit his moon shot off Brad Lidge in Game 5 of the National League Championship Series, and even as I cheered along with everyone else watching on the big screen in some generic sports bar, I wanted to run out to my car and turn on KMOX. I wanted to hear Mike Shannon's head explode from the excitement.

So I'd be lying if I said I didn't feel a similar buzz as I walked into the new Mike Shannon's Steaks and Seafood for the first time. It was a contact high, a brush with St. Louis history. I never ate at the old Mike Shannon's — and from the description one waiter offered, "dark and dank," I'm not shedding any tears — but as soon as I stepped into the foyer and saw behind glass Shannon's uniform and the bats with which he hit the last home run in Sportsman's Park and the first home run in old Busch Stadium, I understood what he means to St. Louis. You don't love him because he played for your team. You love him because he is your team. He disproves that old Seinfeld bit about how when you root for a team, you're really just rooting for laundry.

You'll root for more than laundry at the new Mike Shannon's.
Jennifer Silverberg
You'll root for more than laundry at the new Mike Shannon's.

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Mike Shannon's Steak and Seafood
620 Market Street; 314-421-1540. Hours: 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Mon.-Fri., 5-11 p.m. Sat., 5-10 p.m. Sun.

Mike's Special Salad $8.95
Tenderloin (eight ounce) $31.95
Lamb chops $29.95
Mashed potatoes $4.95

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Of course, it's tough to visit Shannon's and not be astounded by all the laundry on display. The main dining room is sensational. The high ceilings allow space for both elegant touches — mahogany trim, a fireplace, open wine racks — and an impressive, though not cluttered, display of photographs, jerseys, bats and balls. I was especially entranced by the collection of autographed baseballs arranged behind glass in columns that, from a distance, look like colossal flutes of bubbling Champagne. Even those who don't care about baseball might sprain their necks taking it all in. (For my efforts, I found the scrawl of Cal Ripken Jr., my boyhood hero.)

The lounge, the other main dining area, features gleaming black tabletops, shiny metal fixtures on the bar and floor-to-ceiling windows with a view of a broad stretch of Market Street. The evening we were seated there for dinner, however, I couldn't shake the feeling I was in just another sports bar, as opposed to one of St. Louis' most expensive restaurants. Flat-screen television sets are as common here as light fixtures, and during our meal a speaker above the table blasted a steady stream of Green Day, Nelly and other Top 40 hits. I wanted to order a burger, fries and a beer, not a $35 steak.

For all its classy features — including the adorably named "snugs," private rooms for two to eight people — the new Shannon's remains a steak house, and its menu offers no surprises. Appetizers are a collection of crowd pleasers: toasted ravioli, fried calamari, stuffed mushrooms and, of course, shrimp cocktail. I generally avoid shrimp cocktail — cocktail sauce being the drooling-uncle-with-a-police-record of the condiment family — so instead we tried the "Maryland" crab cakes. As a Baltimorean I reject any association with small crab cakes topped with an unnecessary and frighteningly pinkish Cajun remoulade. That said, the crab meat was firm and sweet and the corn relish that came on the side added a piquant undertone. The calamari, though, was disappointingly tough, and the dipping sauce was straight-up Heinz 57. We were much happier with our soups and salads, especially Mike's Special Salad, a refreshing mix of tomato, red onion and goat cheese, and the New England clam chowder, so rich that my girlfriend felt full before her steak arrived.

Ah, the steaks.

I do love steak, and Shannon's serves prime beef wet-aged for three weeks, so you're guaranteed to get, at the very least, a very good cut of meat. (Though now that I've brought it up, I prefer dry-aged steak.) But like many high-end steak joints, Shannon's serves its steaks without accompaniment — no demiglace, no maitre d' butter, nothing. Which means the difference between a very good steak and a great one can be the difference between an ordinary meal and one that's divine. My girlfriend ordered the eight-ounce tenderloin, and even cooked medium (I prefer medium-rare), it was tender and juicy, with a delicious charcoal sear and a rich beef flavor. On the other hand, my sixteen-ounce strip sirloin, although tender and bloody, provided very little flavor other than charcoal. The thing is, I don't blame the kitchen. (Well, a more liberal sprinkling of salt before my steak went on the grill might have helped.) It's just the arbitrary nature of the aging process — and why I find the steak-house experience an inherently frustrating one.

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