Smoke With Some Style

The Settlement is on the edge of town, but is adding some flair to the standard steakhouse concept

If you're planning to head out to The Settlement on the far, far, far eastside, you might want to check the temperature outside. The former Bone-In Steakhouse has remade itself into a more innovative take on the standard western palace of smoked and grilled meats, but they're still relying on swamp coolers to manage the temperature, a fact our waitress (who had it worse than we did) apologized for while we sweated it out a bit on an early evening in June. Still, as long as you can avoid the heat, there's plenty on the menu that makes The Settlement worth a visit.

It's not like there aren't enough steak places with a rustic cowboyish feel around town. Ignoring the chains, between Lil Abner's, Silver Saddle, Daisy Mae's and a few others, if you want a slab of meat with cowboy beans on the side and a cold beer, you have choices. On the eastside, the most popular choice is probably Pinnacle Peak, but that's partially due to its location in Trail Dust Down and the tie-cutting schtick. On the edge of Saguaro National Monument East, The Settlement is even further out there for most Tucsonans (unless you happen to live on the east end of Vail, then it's right down the street), but smartly, with the name change, they've clearly decided to try to add some foodie touches to the standard steakhouse offerings. Steaks come with an offer for a complimentary compound butter (rosemary, garlic or cilantro; we tried the rosemary and garlic, which were both tasty, in that they were both butter with flavors we enjoyed), the salad dressing options go beyond the standard Kraft-like options (I tried the smoked tomato and onion vinaigrette, which was tasty albeit a little campfire tasting; the vanilla vinaigrette seemed troubling, but maybe that's your thing), and they make their own bacon in-house (and it's great) which shows up on the menu in quite a few places.

The booze gets the same attention to detail, with local beers on tap (I had the Dragoon IPA for $4.50) and a cocktail menu reflecting on classics like the Moscow Mule ($8) that wouldn't be out of place at a downtown restaurant, using well-regarded top shelf liquors like Bulleit bourbon and American Harvest vodka. The little things make a difference at The Settlement, which helps especially since this is the sort of establishment where you're likely to run up a bill pushing three digits for two if you have drinks and appetizers.

But, hey, all the compound butter and local craft beer in the world isn't going to make up for a lousy steak (well, the craft beer might help in certain volumes), and on that front, The Settlement really does deliver. The first time I went, I went for The Gaucho ($26.95, comes with either two sides or a salad), tender strips of what I believe was skirt steak (our waitress was kind and friendly, but was lacking a bit of knowledge on the steak and wine fronts) with a solid char from the mesquite grill and a bright, tangy chimichurri sauce. My wife went for the 16 ounce bone-in ribeye ($23.95, also comes with two sides), which was a little more medium-well than the medium rare she ordered, but was still a nice cut of meat well-prepared. On our second visit, we still stuck to the smoked meat products, my wife giving the ribeye a second shot and receiving a perfect medium-rare steak. I ventured away from the steaks, going for the half-rack of baby-back ribs, which had a competition-grade level of smoke and flavor, with a nice dry bark from the rub.

The service was solid both times (other than some forgivable knowledge gaps), the food came out quickly and hot, and the sides generally held up to the standards set by the entrées we tried. Sure, I might avoid The Settlement until the temperature drops a bit, but when I'm in the mood for a steak, I'm likely to head to the eastern fringe of the city again to get one.