May 17, 2013 Updated: May 17, 2013 at 5:26 pm
When I hear the words "chop house," I immediately conjure images of thick, juicy steaks, low lights, comfortable booths and a diffident wait staff wearing long aprons. You're in luck, because a trip to MacKenzie's Chop House Restaurant will give you all of that, and more. And less.
To be sure, at MacKenzie's you will get delicious steaks cooked exactly to order, juicy and delicious. The steak house standards are all done well, but don't expect too many surprises on the menu. The standards are high, the food is straightforward, and there's nothing wrong with combining consistency and tradition.
I had lunch at MacKenzie's on a day that was just a tad too cool to sit out on the lovely enclosed patio, but it looked like a nice place to relax over a meal. We sampled one of the specials, Chicken Fajitas ($9.95), and found them to be acceptable if not exciting. The saut?d onions and red and green peppers were the highlight - juicy and crisp-tender. The chicken was moist and nicely seasoned. The sides of guacamole, salsa and rice were all average.
The Bistro Steak Salad ($11.95) is a forthright salad. Nothing frou-frou here. Crisp greens with red onions, crunchy croutons, salty bacon bits and blue cheese crumbles are topped with a cooked-to-order tenderloin. The dressing is a strong Worcestershire vinaigrette that I would advise using sparingly. While the taste nicely complements the salad, a little goes a long way.
Another special that day was a chicken and noodle bowl ($9.95), a warm, Asian-inspired bowl of warm noodles, tangy, citrus-infused sauce and crunchy vegetables. When I ordered, the waitress immediately let me know the kitchen was out of one of the ingredients, daikon radish. While I love the sweet crunch of daikon, the bowl was delicious without it. Slivers of red cabbage and carrot gave it just enough crunch. Half moons of seeded cucumber and shiitake mushrooms combined with chunks of juicy chicken to give the dish the flavor of impending spring.
When I returned for dinner, we had some truly excellent service from a staff member named Kurtis. Still, another staff member stuck his arm in front of my face, with no warning, to clear a plate from the person next to me. I'm happy to report that was the only service misstep we experienced.
The calamari appetizer ($10.95) is exactly what you would expect: golden brown pieces of tender squid, a rich marinara sauce for dipping and pepperoncini peppers adding brightness and zing.
The beef with brie appetizer ($13.95) was not so well executed. The menu describes it as "beef tenderloin tips, baked brie cheese and garlic crostini," which led us to expect toasted bread topped with beef and melted brie. What we got was sort of a hot mess. A pile of very hard crostini was topped with a wedge of melted brie, which was in turn topped with beef tips in brown gravy. It was difficult to serve, and the cheese was difficult to distribute. The brie, beef and gravy all tasted good on their own but didn't come together in a happy marriage of flavors or textures.
MacKenzie's redeemed itself with the next course, a spinach salad ($6.95). Buttery fresh baby spinach was tossed with fresh Parmesan cheese, roasted red peppers and crumbled bacon. The maple vinaigrette created a nice balance between sweet and tart. The presentation with the crunchy croutons on the side was pleasing as well as practical.
But what of the steaks? You can't go to a chop house and not order something primal. The Baseball Cut New York strip loin ($29.95) stole the show. Lightly marinated in Italian herbs and olive oil, which accented the flavor of the meat, the steak was a perfect medium as ordered. Topped with an onion and garlic-infused sauce, this was the beefiest steak we tried.
The prime rib ($24.95 for the 12-ounce cut) was juicy and well marbled without being fatty. The tender steak came with a side of sharp horseradish cream that was the perfect foil for the rich meat. The white cheddar mashed potatoes that came with both of these steaks were smooth, creamy and tangy with cheese.
The 10-ounce buffalo strip ($33.95), which was ordered rare, was succulent. Perfectly grilled, it was a little tough on the edges, more tender toward the center of the steak. The garlic butter melded perfectly with the robust flavor of buffalo. The baked potato on the side was exactly as it should be, steaming hot and tender under melting butter.
The Kobe flank steak ($27.95) was one of the specials, and it was ordered because of the mystique that surrounds "Kobe." Later research led me to discover there's really no such thing as "Kobe" beef in the U.S., and there are no standards or guidelines about what can and cannot be called Kobe or American Kobe. Labeling aside, it was a fairly chewy steak with great beefy flavor, accented with a sweet glaze and a blanket of red-wine-braised onions. The side of thinly sliced potatoes layered and baked with Parmesan cheese was filling.
Another special for the evening was halibut ($28.95). The waiter told us that this was one of the chef's lighter dishes, and he was right. The fish was exquisitely cooked, luscious and fall-apart tender. The halibut was served over a small amount of creamy mashed cauliflower and was topped with nutty, al dente enoki mushrooms. This was a light, delicate dish, perfectly balanced but perhaps a little too spare. The diner who ordered it had more than enough room left for dessert, while the rest of us barely had room.
But we're glad we did make room. The strawberry lime sorbet ($7), which is served in a crispy tuile cup, was refreshing and fruity without being too sweet. The chocolate cake ($10) is sized for two but will easily feed more. The dark chocolate flavor is powerful and smooth, set off nicely by the vanilla ice cream. Best of all was the Sticky Toffee Pudding Cake ($8), a toffee lover's dream come true. The warm, spicy cake is topped with salted caramel ice cream that will make you pull the dish closer, so your dining companions can't reach it quite so easily. I resisted licking the plate when I was done, but just barely.
You can reach MB Partlow at email@example.com.
MACKENZIE'S CHOP HOUSE RESTAURANT
Restaurant character: A traditional steakhouse serving expertly prepared steaks and chops. Friendly service combines with an elegant, old-fashioned atmosphere to make everyone feel welcome.
Rating total: 4.25 out of 5 stars
Food: 4 out of 5 stars
Ambiance: 4.5 out of 5 stars
Service: 4.5 out of 5 stars
Address: 128 S. Tejon St.
Contact: 635-3536, mackenzieschophouse.com
Hours: 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Monday-Friday;
5-10 p.m. Monday-Thursday; 5-11 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 5 p.m.-close Sundays.
Entrées: lunch $9.95-$16.95; dinner $17.95-$39.95
Credit cards: yes
Vegetarian options: yes
What’s online as of May 8:
• 85 percent of 175 voters “liked it” on Urban Spoon
• 3.5 out of 5 stars based on 69 reviews on Yelp
• Periodically on Facebook; search
“MacKenzie’s Chop House”
• Three violations were corrected on site during a December inspection by the El Paso County Health Department.