Slabs o' Flesh

For a well-prepared piece of meat, the no-frills Steak Out Restaurant is a worthy option

Outposts usually move farther and farther away from civilization, but The Steak Out Restaurant and Saloon has established a satellite location that's actually closer to Tucson than the original. A little.

The Steak Out has been a fixture in Sonoita for about a half-century. Its second location is more convenient for Tucsonans, but it's not exactly embedded in the metropolis. It's out by Dove Mountain, smartly located for the denizens of Marana and Oro Valley, as well as Dove Mountain golfers. The décor is as rustic as you'd expect from a Western steakhouse, but the prices are certainly not primitive; the steaks aren't as expensive as what you find at, for example, McMahon's, but you're not going to get a decent cut for less than $20.

So the question is: Is it worth it? According to a group of discerning friends who accompanied me to the Steak Out last week, it mostly is.

Maybe the décor doesn't suggest a $24 rib eye, but it's good enough: Wood-plank walls are adorned with rodeo photos and sky-dominant landscapes, while wagon-wheel chandeliers hang from the spacious dining room's high ceiling. It's not the sort of place you need to dress up to visit.

The service is informal, even folksy, but efficient, aside from the fairly long wait for drinks to be delivered. On the subject of alcohol: The wine list is not upscale, but it offers some very effective midrange wines. Beware of the strawberry margarita, though; there's sugar instead of salt along the rim, which is fine for a sweet drink, but the beverage itself is so salty that you can't taste the strawberries.

One thing that put off my friend John, a food writer from Florida, was the "family-style" delivery of the salad. It all came in a single bowl, a generous bed of hand-torn (rather than cut) green leaf lettuce supporting little piles of tomato, red onion and croutons. From this, you serve yourself, and add the buttermilk-ranch dressing or vinaigrette provided on the side. It's good that you can mix your own portions of oil and vinegar, but John was a little miffed that, at these prices, we were handed a do-it-yourself salad.

He and my other companions were well satisfied, though, when the slabs of flesh arrived. Each cut was cooked to order, and most of it was as tender and naturally flavorful as it should be. I was a little less enchanted with my T-bone ($25.95), part of which was very slightly underdone. The strip-loin side was a little tough, but the tenderloin side was nice and, well, tender.

There were no complaints about the melt-in-your-mouth filet mignon ($25.95), requested and delivered without the lining of bacon. Its tenderness was a real achievement in a cut that thick. The rib eye ($23.95) was well seared on the outside, tender inside. The Kansas City strip ($22.95) was equally admirable.

Each cut of beef was so good that we didn't need to adulterate its natural flavor with steak sauce.

All these items came with a choice of sides. The vegetables were perfectly grilled: crisp, flavorful and smoky. The ranch fries were crisp outside, moist inside, rather like a properly baked potato—which is another option, an item that is hard to do wrong. The ranch beans were good and creamy, yet not mushy.

There are no appetizers to speak of; a basket of dinner rolls will be delivered on request, but not automatically, to reduce waste. Apparently, a lot of carnivores resist eating bread or vegetables, and the latter are in rather short supply, aside from what may come as an included side dish. We did order a bowl of sautéed mushrooms ($6.95), just barely enough to split four ways; prepared in a port-wine sauce, they were an excellent, sturdy complement to the meat.

The desserts ($5.95 each) were variable. The Key lime pie was quite good (and I say this having eaten it in front of Floridians, who know firsthand what Key limes are supposed to taste like). The filling was tangy and devoid of green food coloring, plumped between a graham-cracker bottom crust and a tasty whipped-cream topping. The mud pie, standard fare at steakhouses, managed not to be icky sweet despite its ingredients, although its coffee flavor was too subdued. The brownie and ice cream combo didn't satisfy my Florida friends; they found it to be too gooey on the inside, which they discovered only after applying a chainsaw to the tough exterior. At least the cinnamon provided a nice flavor detail, and the vanilla ice cream was good.

So, is the experience worth the (mid)price? Perhaps the service is a bit casual for this price range; the desserts aren't attention-grabbing; and the list of side dishes is pretty limited. But the beef is good-quality and, for the most part, properly prepared. The Steak Out may not be a bargain, but it's a decent value, and is a worthy destination if you're heading into the wilds of Marana.