Wednesday, September 15, 2021

Robert St. John: Steak Night

Check out this week's recipe! 

I had a very long, storied, and notorious college career but I ended up right back where I was born, in Hattiesburg as a graduate of the University of Southern Mississippi. I started my freshman year at Mississippi State University way back in 1979. In between Mississippi State and Southern Miss, I attended William Carey University, Belhaven College, Hinds Junior College, Jones Junior College, and the Chemical Dependency Unit at Baptist Hospital in Jackson (which is where— at 21-years old— I finally straightened my life out and got serious about school). I didn’t graduate with flying colors at Baptist Hospital, but something “took” as I’ve been clean and sober ever since. Most of my major coursework after that was done at the University of Southern Mississippi, where I received my bachelor’s degree, 21 years after my college career began.


There are five lessons in there, kids:

1.) Don’t do drugs.

2.) Don’t go to college until you are ready to go to college and know what you want to study.

3.) Once you start something, finish it. I graduated high school in 1979 and walked across the Southern Miss commencement stage as a 40-year old college graduate of the class of 2000.

4.) Everyone doesn’t need to go to college. 

5.) I don’t have a number five, I just thought it would be cool to have a list of five.


My daughter, like me, started out at Mississippi State University and ended up receiving a degree from the University of Southern Mississippi. My wife attended the University of Southern Mississippi. My son is a junior at Mississippi State University, and it looks like he will receive a bachelor’s degree in one shot and then head to culinary school to become a chef.


This past weekend I was in Starkville visiting my son who is now a junior. There are several passions that he and I share— movies, music, football, and food. He and I always ate breakfast together as father and son when he was young. That started because the girls liked to sleep late and he— at least in those days— got up early with me. These days he sleeps late too, so we mainly eat lunch or dinner together. His go-to is always steak, and we have great memories of eating steak dinners together all across the country. His mom and I hadn’t seen him in a few weeks, so we were looking forward to catching up over a steak.


We didn’t arrive in Starkville until late in the afternoon and hadn’t thought to make restaurant reservations in advance. I suggested a couple of places owned by friends of mine, but he said they’d be too crowded and maybe we could get a reservation at a newly opened steak restaurant, Prime 44.


He called but were told they were booked, as a brand-new restaurant at 6pm on a gameday weekend should be. But we picked him up anyway and started to make the rounds checking how long the waitlists were at other restaurants around town. He didn’t have much time to spend with us as he was DJing at a party that evening. While we were driving around looking for a place to dine, I passed Prime 44. “I’m going to pop in and see if they’ll take a party of three as walk-ins.”


“Dad, they’re booked. I already called.”

“Maybe they’ll have a couple of seats at the bar. It won’t hurt to ask.” The bar is always fine with me. If I’m in a short-order café I always choose the counter seat first. If I’m in a fine-dining restaurant that has a food bar overlooking the kitchen, that is always my first choice, it doesn’t matter where a dining room table is located or what view that table offers. When it comes to sitting at a bar to have dinner versus not having dinner at all, I’ll belly up to the bar in a heartbeat.


I walked in and checked with the host who told me that the only seats available were at the bar. “Perfect!” I said. “We’ll take them.”


The small bar seats five and luckily two good friends already occupied the two other barstools. The conversation was lively, and— according to my wife and friends— the cocktails were excellent. The food was outstanding. 


A tuna tartare appetizer was perfectly presented and tasted even better than it looked. I could have ordered two of those as a meal and called it quits. But we were at a steakhouse, and my son was ready for a large slab of red meat.


The boy and I have a rule when we eat at steakhouses. If the beef is graded out as choice, we order a ribeye. If the place is serving USDA Prime beef we go with a strip. The place is called Prime 44, and they serve prime beef, so the choice was easy. We both ordered a strip. My wife is a filet mignon eater. Always has been, always will be. 


The older I get, the more I change the temperature of my steak order. As a kid, and into my twenties, I was a rare steak eater. In those days there was never a steak cooked too rare for my tastes. Into my thirties and forties, I moved into medium rare territory. Sometime in my fifties I ordered a medium rare steak, and it came out just a tad over and it was perfect. 


Today I order a steak medium rare-plus. Medium rare is fine, and I’ll eat it all day long, and a steak cooked medium is way too over done for me. But that sweet spot in between medium rare and medium is the spot where a steak reaches perfection to my taste. Medium rare-plus reaches an internal temperature that allows the myoglobin to steam the protein without drying out the cut of beef.


Some steakhouses scoff at the thought of, “medium rare-plus” but the finest steakhouses know exactly what that means and are able to pull it off with ease.


The steaks at Prime 44 were spot on. The sides we ordered— sauteed spinach, crispy brussels sprouts, onion rings, grilled asparagus, and sauteed mushrooms— were all on point, the brussels being the stand-out side dish. 


The atmosphere and lighting felt a little like big city Miami, the service was spot-on, efficient, and perfect. The food was excellent. But what impressed me the most— and this is coming from a guy who has been a part of 22 restaurant openings over the course of his 40-year restaurant career— is that they are only three weeks into service and appear to be hitting on all cylinders. That is quite an impressive feat in this lingering Covid era with all the labor, hiring, and supply-chain challenges that are present in the restaurant industry across the nation.


I would easily put Prime 44 in my top-10 best restaurants in the entire state, and probably among the top three steakhouses. It doesn’t take 21 years of college to come to that conclusion, but it certainly doesn’t hurt.



RSJ’s Andouille-Stuffed Carpetbagger Steak



 Carpetbagger with Andouille Stuffing


6 New York Strip Steaks, 8-10 ounces each

2 Tbl Steak Seasoning

Salt and pepper to taste


Sprinkle both sides of the steaks with the steak seasoning. Grill over direct high heat until desired doneness is reached, approximately 8-10 minutes for medium rare-plus. Remove steaks from the grill and allow to rest five minutes. Using a sharp knife, butterfly the steak from the outer edge, horizontally along the center forming a pocket. Fill the pocket with the andouille stuffing allowing some to spill out onto the plate. Serve immediately. 



Andouille Stuffing


1 Tbl bacon fat (or canola oil)

3/4 lb. andouille sausage, medium dice

1 cup onion, small dice

1/2 cup bell peppers, medium dice

1/4 cup red bell pepper, small dice

1 Tbl minced garlic

2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes

1/2 cup Veal demi glace

1/4 cup unsalted butter, cut in to cubes

2 tsp kosher salt


Melt the bacon fat in a large sauté pan over high heat. Brown the andouille sausage and drain most of the excess fat. Lower heat to medium and add the onion, red and green peppers and garlic and cook 6-7 minutes more. Add the crushed red pepper flakes and demi glace. Bring the mixture to a simmer. Begin adding the butter cubes, a few at a time, stirring constantly with a wire whisk. Once all the butter has been incorporated, add the salt and remove the stuffing from the heat. Hold in a warm place until ready to fill steaks.


Yield: 6 servings


Anonymous said...

"1.) Don’t do drugs.
2.) Don’t go to college until you are ready to go to college and know what you want to study.
3.) Once you start something, finish it. ...,
4.) Everyone doesn’t need to go to college."

Amen to all of the above. I (somehow) managed to graduate from a brand name university in four years, near the bottom of my class, of course. Some of us are not grown up enough to go off to college at 17 years of age.

Have been a continuous friend of Bill W. for 36 years (If I make it until January, 2022).

A fellow on staff at COPAC used to say:
1). Don't drink (if you have a the phenomenon of craving)or do drugs.
2). Go to meetings.
3). Read the Big Book
4). Get a job.
5). Move out of your parents' home.

Some of the smartest people I know have a GED.

Anonymous said...

I am pleased to hear a solid review of the place and I hope they continue to thrive.

God bless anyone brave enough to open a restaurant.
Especially the ones who strive to really do it well.

Anonymous said...

If it's a steak worth having why stuff it with anythings?

Anonymous said...


Sometimes you just want something a little different regardless of how good a steak is on its own merits.

Like RSJ, I took the long route to a college degree, and I totally agree with his points as well.

Anonymous said...

Steak shaming people on how they eat their meat is just silly. There are people who don't like a piece of meat put in front of them oozing blood. To each his own.

Anonymous said...

Oh the humanity.

Every night I also have to contemplate between
USDA "Prime/Choice/strips/ribeyes."

Perhaps RSJ will one day have to consider KFC or Popeyes.

Or ... flying 60 folks for a tour of Italy, or perhaps taking four friends on a drive along the Trace.

Anonymous said...

Thank you 11:03. Wasn’t really cut out for school for being bored to death studying things that weren’t important to me. Cut high school early with a GED and went to work while obtaining an associates degree. Worked for the richest family in the state for a year and a half on salary and quit when I wasn’t allowed to go to a doctors appointment. Became self employed at 21 years old and never looked back. Now 40 years later I’d put my portfolio against 95% of my classmates. YOLO!

Anonymous said...

I’m proud to say that Robert has been my friend for almost 50 years. I was the ying to his yang in many ways. OCD, straight A, finishing school early, etc. Robert was ADD. He could not sit through a class. However, he channeled that energy into his passion and to my reckoning is the most successful member of our class. He’s correct. School isn’t the path for everyone. I often tell his story to parents of hyperactive kids. Channel that energy!

Anonymous said...

"Steak seasoning?" Salt and pepper is steak seasoning. I'd rather be vaccinated on direct orders from Joe Biden by a non-masked Bill Gates than put "steak seasoning" on a decent steak. And if it isn't a decent steak, why would you want to eat it?

And I'll also add to the above comment about RSJ's "steakhouse problems" - until his columns here, I had a favorable opinion of him when I happened to hear his name. But his whining about possibly losing his house, etc. followed by the humble-bragging and expensive lifestyle posturing has left me and several others I know with a much lower opinion of him as a person.

Grey Poupon said...

Can't ever recall a time where a vintage Rolls Royce or Bentley pulled up next to me on the street and the rear window rolling down to reveal a gentleman asking me "pardon me, would you have any veal demi glace?".

"Medium Rare plus"? HA! I guess that's a mythical somewhere between "rare" and "burnt slap the F up"? Is it the same as "Medium minus"?

Number 5 on his list should be:

5) If you are a 60 year old male planning to stuff a strip steak with andouille sausage, you might better have your favorite cardiologist on speed dial.

Anonymous said...

Ever smoke a SPAM loaf ?

Anonymous said...

"Ever smoke a SPAM loaf ?"

No, but I bet ol' Bill Clinton would, er, inhale one. Thinking about it, so would Tate. Hmmm...fat birds - foie gras "de balourd" if you will - of a feather?

Anonymous said...

@8:02 9/16/21

Maybe expand your horizons and taste buds. Try lemon pepper on your steak sometime. Braise it in butter instead of grilling it dry. Make a dry rub of chipotle chili, ancho chili, smoked paprika, cayenne pepper, onion and garlic powder, salt and pepper. I love a plain old salt and pepper steak but adding some spice definitely elevates the flavor. We're not talking about dumping A-1 or Worchestershire sauce on the steak.

Anonymous said...

8:02, responding to 7:22AM -

On a steak, no. With "grilled meat" including beef, sure. I'd even add things like chimichurri (with parsley or coriander) and even classic or otherwise mignonette to the list as the wide variety of things that can and do pair well with a variety of grilled meats. But not steak, at least to my taste.

Anonymous said...

8:02 - Agreed on the points about RSJ. If you are his age and risk losing your house when the economy tanks or the illegitimate government in Washington locks down the economy, you have made the wrong financial decisions in life, especially if you can afford to jet set around the world eating high on the hog. I’ve never been to Italy and I can’t afford to eat at steakhouses very often, but at early middle age I own the roof over my family’s heads.

I will say that while a good steak is just fine with nothing but salt and pepper, something a little different is good too. I generally use garlic salt and fresh ground pepper myself. And for anyone who hasn’t tried it, one can grill a piece of venison tenderloin or backstrap exactly like a beef steak. Just don’t overcook it as there is no fat content. Poor man’s steak in a way but to my taste it can be just as good if you kill a nice younger tender animal.

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