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We have a winner

After months of eating pounds of steak, we have a winner in Steak Quest.
Posted on Nov. 28, 2011 at 12:00 a.m.

Marshall V. King

Dining a la King

ELKHART — The perfect Elkhart County steak would be a combination of the three finalists, but we don’t live in a perfect world.

In Elkhart County we have good steaks and a couple great ones. But I think the best to be found is at Heinnie’s, 1743 W. Lusher Ave., Elkhart. I made that decision after a final blitz of tasting all three finalists on one night. It’s not often you get to order three steaks in three hours.

Truth readers voted for Heinnie’s as well. Of the 914 votes cast online and using ballots in the newspaper, 528 were for Heinnie’s. Fifty-eight percent of the reader votes went to the bar and restaurant on the southwest side of Elkhart. As co-owner Bill DeShone said, they’ve been serving steaks longer than most other restaurants in Elkhart, so they have the biggest customer base.

That’s true, but the reason Heinnie’s wins my vote and the reader vote is because it consistently serves one of the county’s most flavorful steaks. I prefer rib eyes, but even the sirloins and New York strips are great.

You may be able to find a better filet in Elkhart County. And this decision doesn’t take prime rib into account. Not everyone puts prime rib in a different category, but I do because baking a steak and grilling it are two entirely different processes.

Of the three finalists, Miles Lab is the only one to use what’s graded as prime beef. It’s also the only one to use a flat-top grill rather than a gas charbroiler, as Heinnie’s and Lucchese’s do.

Of the three finalists, Lucchese’s uses the most basic seasoning, but has the best sauce in the black-and-blue concoction that’s available on the side.

And of the three finalists, Heinnie’s uses an herb butter baste the family developed in the 1980s when Harry DeShone was expanding the menu for the bar. It’s the key to best steak, along with a controlled amount of flame. Grill cooks — John Ontiveros and Blake Pierce are the two main ones — sprinkle water from Jack Daniels bottles to knock back the flare-ups, but the steaks have the taste of a bit of flame.

The perfect Elkhart County steak would use Miles Labs’ beef, on Heinnie’s grill with its herb butter, and served with a side of the black-and-blue sauce from Lucchese’s.

Lucchese’s steaks a claim

Lucchese’s hasn’t always had a rib eye on the menu, but in the last several years, Executive Chef Zach Lucchese made steaks more prominent at the place his grandparents started.

The meat comes via Sysco from BPI. It’s good quality meat.

He and his staff season it simply with salt and pepper from SALT Sisters, a local spice purveyor, and olive oil before it goes on the charbroiler.

A steak with mushrooms and one side is $19. With risotto and the sauce, it’s $21. I like the sauce on the side since it’s so rich.

Lucchese’s serves Italian food, but ranges outside that sometimes. It is highlighting local food.

The large restaurant along C.R. 17 in Elkhart got 96 votes online and 46 on paper for a total of 142 (16 percent). Of those, 16 paper votes were from nine Lucchese family members, which was totally above-board in the voting process.

Lucchese’s has a great steak. It’s just not better than the other two.

Miles Lab revives great tradition

When Casey’s closed, Elkhart lost a great steak place. Dave Cormican started working for Casey Montagano in 1966 and was in the kitchen in the 1970s. Bing Mark also cooked in that kitchen and Cormican says he’s the one who came up with the seasoning blend he used for years as an employee and owner of Casey’s and now as an employee at Miles Lab.

Mike Miles opened his own restaurant a year ago. He worked for others for years and took over the beloved Bulldog tavern at 3763 E. Jackson Blvd., Elkhart.

Cormican went to work for him. They quickly got rid of the charbroiler because the fat content in the burgers caused huge flare-ups. “We decided we’d rather not burn the place down,” Miles said.

As he has for decades, 67-year-old Cormican seasons the steak and puts it on the grill under a lid so the steam helps cook it.

It’s Allen Brothers prime beef. “Let the meat do the work,” Miles said of its quality contributing to the flavor.

It ends up with a nice crust from the grill and is buttery. The cuts are always large. A rib eye must be close to 20 ounces. “Dave’s never cut with a scale before,” Miles said. The restaurant also has a prime filet and an Angus strip, which is less expensive.

The rib eye is a pricey steak. The night I was there mine cost $39, with soup and a side.

Reader voting came in at 44 on paper and 152 online for a total of 196 (21 percent). Of those, eight were from Christy Miles, Mike’s wife. Again, totally above-board.

Glenda and Gerald “Tony” Hurst sent in nine votes. I talked to them the night I was judging. They’d gone to all three finalists. They liked Heinnie’s and Miles, though they said the steak was too rare for their liking at Heinnie’s. Even so, she said, “For me it’s a toss-up between here and Heinnie’s.” They cast nine paper votes for Miles Lab.

The texture of that steak is amazing. It just doesn’t have as much seasoning or flavor as the one at Heinnie’s. It’s a great steak. It’s just not the best in Elkhart County.

HEINNIE’S wins

Harry DeShone and his family came up with the herb butter baste on their back deck prior to adding steaks to the menu in 1985. When he went to South Bend and opened Maxi’s and when the family opened Stacy’s in Michigan, the same baste went there.

They won’t say what’s in it, but the mystery tastes good.

In the kitchen they cut the steaks and then tenderize them with a Jaccard tool. On the charbroiler, it gets the baste. The water fights back the flame.

Heinnie’s isn’t fancy. It’s not a high-end steakhouse. It’s a blue-collar place with a great set of steaks from which to choose.

By the way, my wife did a blind tasting of the three finalists and picked Heinnie’s.

Not everyone will agree that this is the best steak in Elkhart County, but after losing a night of sleep, it’s the one I picked. I can defend it. I ate pounds of steak in the past months.

Heinnie’s finished second in Burger Quest, but not in Steak Quest.

Picking a winner for Steak Quest was harder than for any other search I’ve done in Elkhart County. The three finalists are all very, very good.

But Heinnie’s is the top of the heap.

I’m hungry, just not for steak for a while. Let’s eat.


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