Steakhouse chains may be reporting slimmer profits nationally — their fat-of-the-land margins trimmed by rising oil and corn prices and, in some places, shrinking consumer appetite — but you wouldn’t know it by an evening at Kirby’s, the small, Dallas-based chain that opened a Northside location here late last year. The exterior is strip-mall bland, the bar’s décor dominated by the company’s official image — a kitschy painting of an iconic James Dean in Giant — but the interior is warm, upscale contemporary, like Fleming’s with a Texas accent. It’s not as clubby as Morton’s or Ruth’s Chris, and a sight more relaxed than the Palm.
On a recent Friday evening, the roomy bar was buzzing with couples and groups in sophisticated but not stuffy duds, and no one seemed to be people-watching or sizing up the adjacent table. An older gentleman in a sharply tailored suit recommended a cigar from the bar’s humidor, and our neighbors at the faux-granite counter cheerfully their chairs when the hostess came to fetch them. That same hostess let us linger over our drinks when our table came up more quicky than expected; no pressure to close out and move into the dining area. And we wanted to linger a little, with the Kris Kimura quartet playing in the background (Kirby’s posts its live-music schedule online at kirbyssteakhouse.com).
The easiest way to have a mediocre meal at a restaurant is to order off-specialty, so we avoided the small temptation to have anything but a steak from Kirby’s more-varied-than-average menu and went for the Prime Porterhouse, served medium-rare. But first we whet our appetite with “Traditional French Escargot” and a classic wedge salad. The latter was an overwhelming slice of dressing-infused iceberg; a little less of the creamy blue cheese would go a long way. But the snails were plump, flavorful, afloat in butter, and not overcooked as is so often the case. A side of spinach sautéed with garlic and meant to be our penance for the rest of the meal was indistinguishable from the same dish served all over town, but when paired with the Porterhouse, who cares? More than two inches thick, and cooked exactly as specified, it was easily one of the top steaks we’ve had in town. The filet was nearly as flavorful as the strip, and the texture of both was right on — the product of good cattle and proper aging. And at $50, a good value.
So at this point in the meal we were feeling very satisfied, and two lively, nearby tables clearly were, too. A good deal of credit has to go to our wine steward, who returned with a bottle of 2005 Rusden Ripper Creek Cabernet/Shiraz blend based on our taste and price-point clues. It was delicious, with strong earth and leather notes balanced by berries, and not too fruit-forward. We would have been happy left alone with our steak and wine. I finished our bottle back in the bar, while dining companion matched a scotch with a Rocky Patel from the humidor. If I was picking a steakhouse on atmosphere alone, any other local chain would be a contender, but since woman can’t live (or drive) on drinks alone, Kirby’s is my new favorite steak chain — at least until Del Frisco’s comes to town.